Lucky Chinese New Year Food

Have you wondered why some delicacies only seem to be available during the Lunar New Year?

Well, that's because these dishes have a special meaning – they are often very auspicious, representing good luck, fortune, and health for those who enjoy them during the Lunar New Year!

Here are eight auspicious foods, including their nutrition health facts, for the Lunar New Year that'll fill your tummy with all the good luck and fortune you'll need.

1. Whole fish (鱼):

As the Chinese saying goes, nian nian you yu (年年有余) which means having abundance every year. In fact, the Chinese word for fish (鱼) sounds like the word for abundance (余).

It is important for the fish to be served whole – intact, with the head and tail still on – so as to represent a good and lucky year ahead, from start to end.

Nutritional Fact: Tuna, mackerel, sardines, salmon, tenggiri batang and ikan tenggiri papan are oily fish — the good kind of oily — as they contain omega-3 fatty acids, a "good fat" that supports overall heart health. Omega-3 fatty acids have been associated with many health benefits including defending against depression and reducing the risk of heart disease.

Healthier cooking tip: Remember to opt for healthier cooking methods such as steaming instead of deep-frying your dish. Deep-frying the fish may reduce the omega-3 content and the excess oil from deep-frying can contribute to weight gain. Try this recipe: steamed red snapper in tomato herb stock (375kcal per serving).

2. Noodles (面):

When served during the Lunar New Year period, noodles are usually not cut to ensure that they are kept as long as possible. As they represent longevity, the longer the noodles, the longer our lives!

If you are tired of those calorie-laden Lunar New Year food and have decided to opt for a healthier meal, try a simple bowl of longevity noodles, also known as chang shou mian (长寿面).

Nutritional Fact: Wholegrains are nutrient-powerhouses: they’re rich in vitamins, antioxidants, and fibre. These nutrients can help lower blood cholesterol and reduce the risk of diseases such as diabetes. Because they’re rich in fibre, wholegrains also help you to feel full, so you’re less likely to overeat or feel peckish between meals.

Healthy shopping tip: Opt for wholegrain noodles when you’re at the supermarket. Just look for the “Higher in wholegrains” Healthier Choice Symbol, it’s that easy!

3. Mandarin oranges (桔子):

Mandarin oranges represent luck and prosperity as the pronunciation of its Chinese character – jú (桔) – sounds similar to the word for luck (吉). Also, its colour, orange, is the closest to gold.

Try your best to choose oranges with leaves on them, as the leaves symbolise longevity as well. Furthermore, these oranges are often sweet, therefore bringing sweetness, wealth, and luck when presented in pairs during visiting. However, be mindful not to put these oranges in fours as that might be seen as representative of death (死), which is highly inauspicious!

Nutritional Fact: Oranges contain enough vitamin C (40mg from a small orange) to meet the recommended daily intake of 30mg. Oranges are also relatively low in calories — a small fruit contains 45 calories with no cholesterol or sodium. They also help to control blood sugar, protect the skin, boost the immune system, relieve constipation, lower blood pressure and maintain a healthy heart!

Healthy eating tip: Remember to eat in moderation this Chinese New Year. Fibre-rich and vitamin-packed fruits still contain some sugar (fructose).

4. Raw fish salad (鱼生)*:

A CNY favourite in Singapore, this dish is made up of strips of raw fish mixed with vegetables, sauces, and other condiments such as peanut crumbs and fried crisps. It is commonly known as yu sheng (鱼生), which sounds like an increase in abundance (余升) when pronounced in Mandarin.

Furthermore, its Cantonese term of lo hei (捞起) also sounds like rising abundance. Auspicious wishes are said out loud when the ingredients and sauces are added into the base before the toss starts. Thus, it is no surprise that this dish symbolises ample abundance, prosperity, and good fortune.

Nutritional Fact: While vegetables and raw fish are relatively low in calories, the number of calories in yu sheng may contain similar calories to a main meal. This is mainly due to the amount of oil and plum sauce added. You can ask for less oil, less sauce and pickles, fewer flour crisps, and more fresh vegetables when eating out to make your yu sheng healthier.

Making yu sheng at home this Chinese New Year? Try this healthy yu sheng recipe.

5. Egg rolls (蛋卷):

In Chinese tradition, eggs represent fertility and mortality, which explains the reason red eggs are usually given out in the first-month celebration of a new-born.

The shape of egg rolls also resembles that of gold bars. As such, egg rolls are an auspicious festive delicacy, symbolising wealth and fertility in the household.

Nutritional Fact: While eggs are a good source of protein and packed with vitamins like A and B12, egg yolks are also high in cholesterol. Love letters (3 rolls, 39g) contains 168 calories within their wafer-thin folds.

6. Dumplings (饺子):

Though uncommon for Singaporean Chinese families, eating dumplings (jiao zi, 饺子) during Lunar New Year is an old tradition in China. This is said to bring wealth and prosperity, as the shape and colour of these dumplings resemble that of silver ingots used in ancient China.

For that reason, these dumplings are sometimes even called yuan bao (元宝). They are usually made of dough and are filled with meat and cabbage. However, for additional luck and longevity, some even add in peanuts! If you are getting some from the supermarket, be sure to check out those with the Healthier Choice logo – that might help you save some calories!

Nutritional Fact: Try making dumplings at home, as it’s generally healthier than buying them. You’ll be able to control the amount of seasoning that goes into your jiao zi, and you can even opt for a vegetarian version of this beloved traditional dish by filling your dumplings with leek, scallion and garlic — foods that are high in antioxidants!

Healthy cooking tip: Remember to reduce your calorie intake by going for steamed or boiled dumplings instead of the fried ones. Instead of jiao zi, why not have some xiao long bao this year? Try this steamed shanghai dumpling recipe.

7. Sea moss (发菜):

Black sea moss is usually served with braised oysters as an auspicious Lunar New Year dish, or with other assorted premium delicacies in a "treasure pot" (also known as pen cai, 盆菜).

This is because the black sea moss translates to fat choi (发财) in Cantonese, which means becoming wealthy. With the most popular greeting in the Lunar New Year being gong xi fa cai (恭喜发财), it is no surprise that this ingredient is often included in auspicious dishes!

Nutritional Fact: Oyster contains protein, iron, zinc, copper and manganese — nutrients that are beneficial to health. For example, zinc helps boost metabolic activity and improves immune functions.

Healthy cooking tip: If you are making pen cai at home, be sure to line it with lots of vegetables such as cabbage and radish. Use leaner cuts of meat instead of roast pork and remove all visible fats of roast duck or chicken. Moderate the amount of seafood to avoid excessive cholesterol intake. Use less salt and other seasonings since the individual ingredients are already packed with flavour.

8. Rice cake (年糕):

Ubiquitous in every Chinese household in Singapore during Chinese New Year, rice cakes (nian gao) are a very popular dessert during the festive period. Its sweetness represents a rich and prosperous year ahead, and its round shape symbolises family reunion. Also, the Chinese word for cake (糕) sounds like the word for high (高).

When combined, rice cakes (年糕) signify soaring towards greater heights in the New Year. While these rice cakes are usually served sliced and fried, you can also opt for the healthier cubed and steamed option, which is equally tasty with a dash of freshly grated coconut.

Nutritional Fact: This Chinese sticky cake is made with glutinous rice flour, sugar and oil. One 20g steamed slice has 46 calories, while two slices of fried nian gao have 380 calories. It’s pretty loaded with sugar too, one piece of nian gao has 17 grams of sugar. Let’s make healthier choices and opt for the steamed ones this year!

*Members of the public should note that there are always risks involved in consuming raw food as harmful bacteria may be present. Those who wish to purchase ready-to-eat (RTE) raw fish dishes are advised to do so from retail food establishments that have separate processes to handle RTE raw fish from other raw food meant for cooking.

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