The Lunar New Year marks the first full moon on the lunar calendar. And while many East Asian cultures follow the Chinese Lunar Calendar and celebrate on the same day, each culture honors its own unique celebrations and rich food traditions. Here is just a taste of some of those traditions.
Chinese New Year
Festivities are celebrated for a two-week period, with many symbolic food traditions. The word “yu” means “fish” in Chinese but also sounds similar to the words “wish” and “abundance,” and during Chinese New Year celebrations, it is customary to serve whole fish with head and tail intact to symbolize the wish for abundance in the coming year and a good beginning and ending for the months to follow. Often whole chicken is served to symbolize family togetherness, and oranges and tangerines represent good luck and health.
Vietnamese New Year
For this three-day to a week-long celebration, serving sticky rice cakes has a long tradition and is customary during Vietnamese New Year or Tet to show gratitude for ancestors—and to celebrate the role of rice in Vietnamese culture. In Northern and Central Vietnam, a square sticky-rice cake called Bánh Chung is a popular offering representing Earth. And in Southern Vietnam, a savory or sweet round sticky-rice ball called Bánh Tét is traditionally served and said to represent the moon.
Korean New Year
During this three-day celebration, it is customary to visit family, perform ancestral rites, wear hanbok (traditional Korean dress), eat traditional foods, and play folk games. Tteokguk (rice cake soup) is often served to symbolize good health, a long life, and to commemorate turning a year older in the new year. It is also a traditional dish served for Korean New Year or Seollal celebrations. There are many recipe variations passed down through families, featuring a clear broth, sliced rice cakes, and marinated beef, chicken, or fish.
With so many wonderful food traditions that follow Lunar New Year, it’s the perfect time to try a new dish or two to celebrate the holiday.