The delicious foods of the Chinese New Year
Loop North News


14-Feb-21 – It is the Year of the Ox, and with the Chinese Lunar New Year, many Chicago restaurants are serving special dishes.

“Staff favorites include steamed fish, chicken, and lobster,” says Ling Liu, manager of Minghin Cuisine, a seafood and dim sum restaurant with locations in Chinatown, Lakeshore East, South Loop, and Streeterville. “These are favorites because they are representations of the hopes that are brought into the new year.”

Photo by Tao Jiang

(Left) Chinese steamed fish. Photo by Tao Jiang. (Click on images to view larger versions.)

Liu explains that the pinyin – that transcribes Chinese characters for pronunciation purposes – for fish is yú. There is another homophone in the Chinese language that is also transcribed as yú but means “more than.”

“For the new year, hopes include having more than enough money to be able to afford more than just basic necessities,” she says.

Though only the first seven days of the new year are considered a public holiday in China, celebrations can last up to 16 days.

Lobsters are another popular dish for the New Year and the reasoning, says Liu, is based on energy.

(Right) Chinese lobster with ginger and spring onion.

Adobe Stock

“When lobsters are caught from the water, they are very lively and energetic,” she explains. “The hope is that the new year will bring you the energy, health, and liveliness you need to carry about your daily tasks and more.”

The Chinese character for chicken, says Liu, is similar in sound to the last character in the phrase “a good world.” While not a perfect homophone, she says, “basically, the new year brings hopes of having a good life.”

“There is no Chinese holiday that isn’t centered around food and family,” says Christina Pei, a graduate student at Northwestern University, who hastens to add that every family has their own food traditions for New Year’s.

China is a vast culinary paradise, with each region host to completely different foods. Pei was born in Northeastern China – her father is from Beijing while her mother is from Manchuria – and thus her family’s food traditions come from the Northeast.

“Dumplings are a must-have,” Pei said. The shape of the dumplings are important because they are similar to the golden and silver ingots of ancient Chinese money, she explains.


“Dumplings are supposed to be the pouches of wealth and that’s why they are had at the stroke of the New Year.”

(Left) Chinese dumplings.

Pei says many other traditional foods evoke the New Year, often because they sound like the words for “year” (nian) or “round” (yuan) or “wealth” (fu), and every family adopts their own favorites.

“It’s about bounty,” she says. “It’s about having a lot of everything to eat.”

By Elisa Shoenberger | Loop North News |


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