The perfect Lunar New Year dinner for good luck, according to the Cantonese


Like so many other Chinese festivals, the Lunar New Year is celebrated with food.

But for the Cantonese, the food that’s eaten also carries special meaning, carefully chosen because of the belief they will usher in good luck, wealth, better grades, and so on. As such, a number of dishes will be ubiquitous at dinner tables in Cantonese households and restaurants during Chinese New Year.

The big feast is the reunion dinner, or 團年飯, which happens on new year’s eve. For the year of the dog in 2018, the feast will happen on Feb. 15.

The dish and its Cantonese pronunciation How the dish is prepared Auspicious meaning in Cantonese
Sang choi ho si
Lettuce and dried oyster, steamed and served with oyster sauce Sang choi, or lettuce, sounds like growing money.
Ho si, or dried oyster, sounds like good things.
Fat choi ho si
“Hair vegetable” with dried oyster, steamed and served with oyster sauce, or boiled in soup Fat choi, which gets its name “hair vegetable” because of its long, black strands, sounds like fat choy, which means to get rich.
Ho si, or dried oyster, sounds like good things.
Fat choi zyu lei
“Hair vegetable” with pig tongue boiled in soup Fat choi sounds like fat choy, which means to get rich.
Zyu lei, or pig tongue, sounds like luck.
Fat choi zyu sau
“Hair vegetable” with pig knuckles, steamed or boiled in soup Fat choi sounds like fat choy, which means to get rich.
Zyu sau, or pig knuckles, sounds like handy, suggesting one would be able to achieve things without much effort.
Kan choi siu juk
Stir fried celery and roast pork Kan choi, or celery, sounds like working hard.
Siu juk, or roast pork, is considered lucky because of the meat’s red skin.
Nin gou
Sticky rice Nin means year and gou, or cake, sounds like high or tall. Together, they suggest getting taller year after year.

Steamed fish Jyu, or fish, sounds like leftovers, a symbol of being well off. The fish, which is served whole, should have some meat left on it at the new year’s eve dinner. The leftover fish represents a surplus at the end of the year, as dictated by the idiom 年年有餘 (nin nin jau jyu), which means every year will have fish.

Chicken Gai, or chicken, sounds similar to tangerine (see below), which is a homophone for luck.

Tangerine Gat, or tangerine, sounds like luck.
Luk jau
Pomelo Luk, or rolling, together with jau, which sounds like to have, suggests continuous prosperity. Chinese people also believe that the leaves of a pomelo can help drive the devil away.
Tong jyun
Sweet sticky rice ball Tong means soup, and jyun, or balls, means reunion in Cantonese. The sticky rice balls are an after-meal dessert.
jau gok
Sweet fried dumplings The dumplings represent wealth because of their resemblance to gold ingots, a currency that was used during the Tang dynasty and beyond.

Read this next: How to prepare for Lunar New Year, according to my 80-year-old Cantonese grandmother

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