How to Make Chinese New Year’s Eve Dinner
January 21, 2023  Print
As you may know, Chinese New Year (which marks the beginning of the Spring Festival) is typically celebrated with a reunion dinner (年夜饭 Nian Ye Fan). This dinner is served the night before Chinese New Year / the Spring Festival. Family members gather together for a large meal to celebrate the coming of the new lunar year.
It’s definitely not easy for Asian families outside of Asia to have a day off to celebrate Chinese New Year/Lunar New Year. This is because Chinese New Year is typically only celebrated in parts of Asia. Luckily, this year’s Chinese New Year falls on a Sunday, which gives families like mine much more needed time to prepare a proper reunion dinner.
For those of you who want to celebrate Chinese New Year with some signature Chinese dishes but don’t know how to start, don’t fret. You are certainly not alone. It definitely takes some planning and preparation. But it’s actually much easier than you think. All you need is a few meat and seafood dishes. In Chinese, people tend to refer to those as “硬菜.” It literally translates into “hard dishes,” which makes no sense in English. What it really means is that the dishes have more substance and higher value. In general, meat and seafood dishes tend to fall under this category.
Another aspect of the Chinese New Year Eve reunion dinner is its symbolism. Most, if not all dishes, carry auspicious, good luck, or prosperous symbolic meaning. I mentioned in one of my previous posts, Chili Bean Whole Fish, that a whole fish is a must-have in the reunion dinner. This is because of fish’s association with two Chinese idioms. The first is “有头有尾,” which means there is always a head (beginning) and a tail (end). The second is “年年有余,” which translates into “may you have surplus every year.” That’s why you will always see a whole fish, not fish fillet, on the table at the New Year reunion dinner.
Other dishes are also commonly made for the reunion dinner due to aspects such as their shape or name. One example is Pearl Meatballs, which is one of my go-to Chinese New Year Eve reunion dinner dishes. The round shape of the Pearl Meatballs along with their glistening appearance make this dish a perfect candidate. The name, “pearl,” adds to the auspicious qualities of this dish. In Chinese culture, pearls symbolize good luck, good health, and harmony. The shape is also important. Round, or “圆” in Chinese uses the same Chinese character as “团圆,” which means reunion. As a result, many dishes in the Chinese New Year Eve reunion dinner have a round shape to symbolize family unity and happiness.
To celebrate Chinese New Year, there are also different culinary customs from different geographic regions. Northern Chinese will almost always include dumplings in their celebration, whereas Southern Chinese tend to be more diversified. Some examples from Southern China are sweet rice ball (汤圆 tang yuan), rice cake (年糕 nian gao), cured meat (腊味 la wei), and egg dumplings (蛋饺 dan jiao).
My husband is originally from Southern China, whereas I am from Northern China. I also spent quite a few summers in Hong Kong when I was a teenager. For my own family, we have embraced culinary customs from both Northern and Southern China. You can probably tell from my recipes. They are not bound to one particular region.
Below, you will find a detailed list of my dishes that I think are suitable for a Chinese New Year Eve reunion diner. I would recommend picking one or two dishes from each category. The dishes in the vegetable/other category are light dishes. They help balance the meat and seafood dishes from the other categories. If they are good enough for the Chinese New Year Eve reunion dinner, rest assured that they can also be used for other gatherings.
Build a Chinese New Year Dinner Menu:
- Choose one or two seafood dishes below.
- Choose one or two meat dishes below.
- Choose one or two vegetable and other dishes from below.
Options for Chinese New Year’s Eve Dinner:
Vegetable and others:
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