January 13, 2017
On Saturday, January 28, people of Chinese culture across the world will light up the skies in celebration of the arrival of the year of the Monkey. Unlike the standard Gregorian calendar, which is based on solar cycles, the Chinese calendar is solilunar – based on both the phases of the moon and the solar equinoxes – so its New Year falls on the second new moon after the winter solstice – usually between January 21 and February 20.
The most important holiday in Chinese culture, the Chinese New Year celebration spans 15-days of family, folklore, and feasting. Traditions and superstitions abound, from filling the house with lucky red decorations to distributing red envelopes with gifts of cash for good luck to – most importantly – eating as many lucky foods as possible. On the Eve of the big day, families gather for a lavish reunion dinner called "Nian Ye Fan" (the most prepared-for meal of the year, by far), where generations bond over course upon course of symbolic and traditional dishes often made only once a year.
Whole fish for wealth, dumplings for prosperity, noodles for long life…there’s a seemingly endless list of “must haves” for the Nian Ye Fan table – but nothing brings good luck quite like fruits and vegetables. Check out our list of produce essentials for a happy, healthy, wealthy, and wise Chinese New Year!
These giants of the citrus family are a staple in Chinese New Year celebrations, symbolizing prosperity in wealth and children in the coming year. The Chinese believe it is important to have at least one pomelo in the house for decoration, or better still, to have a pair, since good things always come in pairs! Resembling a large grapefruit, the pomelo is an ancient citrus fruit native to South and Southeast Asia. The pomelo’s pale green, thick outer skin hides segments of white pith enveloping pockets of deep pink flesh with large, firm juice sacs that can be separated dry but burst with juicy, mild, grapefruit-like flavor when eaten.
Known as the “little gems of the citrus family,” kumquats are entirely edible and burst with a sour-sweet punch. In fact, the word for kumquat in Cantonese also means “gold” and “good fortune,” making it an essential part of any good Chinese New Year celebration. Small – only about 2 to 2.5 inches in diameter – and brightly colored, these citrus fruits are native to South Asia.
Recipe: Candied Kumquat "Flowers"
Mandarin oranges are one of the most historically significant and symbolically important parts of the Chinese New Year celebration. Their shape and color symbolize the sun and embody the yang principle, which represents the positive element and generative force in nature. Thus, oranges are considered auspicious fruits and important symbols for the New Year. In fact, a pair of mandarin oranges, together with red envelopes filled with small sums of money, are traditionally placed next to the pillow of every child in the family on New Year’s Eve in order to ensure them “dai gut lai see,” or “good fortune and good business,” in the coming year.
Recipe: Candied Mandarin Orange Peel
Baby Bok Choy
Baby bok choy is used in countless Chinese recipes both on its own or incorporated into more complex dishes. During the Chinese New Year, bok choy represents luck and wealth, making it an obvious addition to any celebration. Baby bok choy, served whole, serves the dual purpose of wishing long life to ones parents, as well!
Representing the importance of unity in the Chinese culture, the snow pea is traditionally used for the Lunar New Year celebration. It emphasizes the togetherness of family and friends, and is used in a number of different traditional recipes, including Buddha’s Delight, which is an important vegetarian dish to cleanse the body for a new year. In addition, snow peas are believed to help bring wealth and riches in the New Year along with a few other seasonal vegetables, like mustard greens and bamboo shoots.
Recipe: Lo Han Chai (Buddha's Delight)
The main ingredient in Turnip Cakes – as essential dish on New Year’s – daikon is a mild winter radish with a long, white taproot also known as “white radish” or “Chinese radish.” Turnip Cake is considered a good omen for the Lunar New Year: the cherry on top of all the other good fortunes your fruits and vegetables will bring!
Recipe: Savory Turnip Cakes