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Celebrate the Year of the Ox With These 5 Traditional Chinese Lunar New Year Dishes

Dumplings In Hot Oil - Traditional Dishes - Best Lunar Chinese New Year Dishes - Year of the Ox

The New Year and Year of the Ox commenced on Friday, February 12th, 2021. For many countries, this is the biggest vacation of the year and the largest full halt of business. Also known as the Spring Festival, many people utilize this period to have large family gatherings and dedicated family time. When most people think about family, we think of food.

Tidbit on personalities and traits on those born in the year of the Ox: Strong like an ox, reliable like an ox but can be stubborn in their own ways. They are also said to be patient, calm, methodical, and can be trusted.

Despite the date and grand new year, the way people celebrate this year will likely be different given the global pandemic of COVID-19 and the various mutations. For some families, they are able to have safe gatherings and carry on as normal. For others, it might mean skipping going to your family's house this year. However, this does not mean anyone should be missing out on the staple foods! 

A lot of dishes, besides being exceptionally flavorful have a special meaning behind them. Similarly, even having an assortment of meats(Duck, Pork, and Chicken) can be a symbol of success and having a successful past year. Surprisingly enough there is even more luck and symbolic meaning that can come into play with these dishes, seeming from how the dish is prepared, served, and even the naming and pronunciation! While typically many dishes and recipes can follow a similar style, no matter where you eat them, it is common to see many variations of even staple dishes, depending on the specific province or region of that family or chef. 

Sautéed Rice Cakes

Chinese stir-fried rice cakes with pork and leafy greens is known in Chinese as “chǎo niángāo” (炒年糕) - Best Lunar Chinese New Year Dishes - Year of the Ox
Credit to The Woks of Life

Besides being a team favorite, you can do a lot with rice cakes, soups, sautéed, hot pot, you name it! In Chinese, “Gao” means cake and these rice cakes serve as the base for a sticky rice dish. Tying into our hidden meanings, the production is nearly the same as the Chinese word for “higher” so this dish helps set the bar higher for the year to come. If you are a fan of traditional sticky rice, this brings it to a new level of a slightly sweeter taste, but a perfect balance of savory flavor.

Dumplings In Hot Oil
Dumplings In Hot Oil - Best Lunar Chinese New Year Dishes - Year of the Ox

I think it is fair to say at this point everyone is well versed with dumplings. But are you will chili oil? Dumplings can commonly be found for the Lunar New year as their shape is said to come from Ingots and their color very close to gold. ( A gold ingots is a fancy word for a gold bar). Similarly, to having a variety of meats as a sign of achievement from the past year, you can find dumplings containing an assortment of meats. We couldn’t write this without giving a shout out to the culinary team at Momofuku with their unreal Chili Crunch Oil they recently launched in their pantry store. Now get the dumplings dipping in the chili oil!

A Whole Fish
Whole cooked fish 'yú' Chinese New Year leftovers meaning abundance of food - Best Lunar Chinese New Year Dishes - Year of the Ox

Carrying strong with a wide assortment of food, nearly every Chinese New Year, you will see a whole fish. Yes, not a piece for everyone, but a whole fish with the head and tail intact. While it can be intimidating and you might think the fish is staring at you like Mona Lisa, it is one of the tastiest ways you can consume fish! Just like our favorite rice cakes, the pronunciation of fish in Mandarin is “yú” which is nearly the same as "leftover" in English. You might be like, “I get what it is going on now” and if you were thinking this symbolizes the extra fish for leftovers having more to carry over into the next year, then you are spot on!

Lettuce Wraps

Lunar New Year Lettuce Wraps - Lettuce in Cantonese is “shēngcài” 生菜  sounding like the English phrase “growing fortune”.- Best Lunar Chinese New Year Dishes - Year of the Ox
Credit to MomoFuku Peachy Keen

Lunar Lettuce Wraps will knock any wrap, taco, or burrito you have had, out of the park. Not to mention, how lean and tasty they are! Lettuce in Cantonese is “shēngcài” 生菜 sounding like the English phrase “growing fortune”. Considering this, it is traditional to use the lettuce leaf to wrap other lucky ingredients. Commonly seen is a base of shredded chicken, seasoned with garlic and red pepper. When it comes to vegetables, you will see scallion/green onion, water chestnuts(an office favorite), ginger, and celery. We couldn’t forget about the sauce, which can vary depending on the household and where you are, but a strong medley of soy sauce, sherry wine, oyster sauce, and sugar for balance.

Oranges or Tangerines
Mandarin Oranges or Tangerines to finish your meal Symbolizes fortune - Tangerine in Chinese is  “chéng” 橙 - Best Lunar Chinese New Year Dishes - Year of the Ox

Besides a nice pallet cleanser of citrus flavor, Oranges, Tangerines and even Kumquats are common Chinese New Years' gifts, thought to bring happiness and bring good luck. Tying back to the hidden meanings and distracting us from the citrus explosion is the color of the skin of all of these fruits. The Orange and dark yellow color, slightly off gold is said to bring prosperity. While oranges are more popular in traditional Chinese dining, or at least more relatable at Americanized Chinese restaurants after your meal, Tangerines are very much in the game and present on the table. Tangerine in Chinese is “chéng” 橙 which has a very similar pronunciation to the word "fortune". This is another reason they are commonly exchanged as gifts when going to see family members. 

We hope our five dishes for Chinese New Year inspired you, or at the very least made your mouth water, and wish you a prosperous Year of the Ox.

If you are working with frozen meat or vegetables throughout any of your Chinese New Year meal prep, don't forget to use a ThawTable. Have any good recipe or meal guide that we should consider adding or write about in the future? Let us know @MeatpackingMarketNYC or leave a comment below.

Gong xi fa cai(Mandarin Chinese for Happy New Year) from the Meatpacking Market NYC Team

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