The Lunar New Year is Taiwan's most important and longest holiday. You may have also heard of it referred to
as the “Chinese New Year” but the reality is that many cultures around the world celebrate it, including
Taiwan. One of the many hallmarks of this 16-day celebration is the feasting involved. Loved ones gather
from near and far to enjoy a variety of dishes, often around a rotating turntable (or “lazy Susan”).
What's on the menu? Food that's believed to usher in good luck as we hop into the year of the Rabbit in 2023! Scroll through the lazy Susan to find out 9 essential Lunar New Year dishes and what each symbolizes!
To celebrate the Lunar New Year, people often wish each other “年年有餘”—or “may you have a surplus [of prosperity] every year.” In Mandarin, the word for “fish” has the same pronunciation as the word for “surplus.” To represent abundance then, a whole steamed fish is commonly served to ring in the new year. However, according to custom, you should save the head and tail to eat the next day.
Symbolism: Family unity
In Taiwanese Hokkien, the word for “chicken” resembles the word for “family.” Since families gather to celebrate the Lunar New Year, it’s no coincidence that an entire chicken is often served.
Symbolism: Health and longevity
The Mandarin word for “chives” sounds like the phrase for “long time” as well the phrase “long fortune.”
Symbolism: Wealth and fortune
The humble dumpling is a Lunar New Year favorite not only because of its taste, but also because of its resemblance to ancient Chinese gold ingots. Because of this, dumplings naturally represent wealth. Some areas go a step further with this symbolism by hiding coins in a few select dumplings. The lucky person who bites into one can look forward to good fortune in the coming year.
Symbolism: Luck and prosperity
Oranges, apples, and pineapples are exceptionally popular during the New Year because each of their Mandarin or Taiwanese names are homophones for something positive. The word for “orange” sounds like luck; “apple” sounds like “peace”; and “pineapple” sounds like “prosperity coming.” For these reasons, fruit also makes a popular gift—think of it as one of Taiwanese people’s “love languages.”
Symbolism: Health and longevity
In Taiwanese Hokkien, the name for mustard greens literally translates to “long life vegetable.” According to custom, it’s a must to eat these greens in one bite since they represent your life—lest you want to shorten it.
Symbolism: Prosperity and growth
Nian gao is a must-have sticky rice cake that’s central to celebrating the Lunar New Year. Since the dish’s name resembles the phrase “higher year” in Mandarin, this traditional food represents success and growth in one’s career.
Savory radish cake earns a reputation for bringing good fortune because the Taiwanese word for “radish” sounds like the phrase for “good luck.”
Symbolism: Family togetherness
Before the invention of electricity, families gathered to eat around an oven to stay warm in the winter. The oven was often placed under the dining table, and its flames were said to embody the family’s prosperity. Today, the beloved communal nature of hot pot carries on the same warmth and energy.
As you might imagine, dinner on Lunar New Year’s Eve is an hours-long affair complete with the exchanging of red envelopes. We hope you’ll get a chance to try some of these beloved Taiwanese dishes, whether or not it’s for the holiday. But no matter how you’re celebrating, we wish you a wonderful year with lots of lucky days ahead!
Julia Janicki - Concept, development, motion design
Daisy Chung - Concept, design, illustration
Joyce Chou - Writing, research