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5 ‘lucky’ Chinese New Year dishes you need to try

By Sarah Moran 1 February 2019 | Last Updated 14 January 2020

With Chinese New Year fast approaching, one thing that we can look forward to the most (other than getting red packets) is gathering with friends and family to feast on all sorts of festive food. While different families celebrate the holiday in different ways, almost every family will try to pile as much “lucky” food as they can onto their plates. From sticky desserts to traditional noodles, these five popular dishes will help you feast your way to prosperity this Year of the Rat.

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1. Chinese New Year cake (年糕)

One of the most common things people eat during Chinese New Year is a steamed rice cake called neen go. The word neen means year, and while go means cake, its pronunciation sounds like the word ‘higher’ and thus symbolises growth, prosperity, and going ‘higher’ in every area of your life.

These cakes are made with glutinous rice flour, water, brown sugar, and have a moist and chewy texture. You can easily find them in supermarkets, local bakeries, and tea houses, as they are a popular gift to give when visiting someone’s home during the holiday. The pastry chain store Kee Wah Bakery, which has branches in many Hong Kong MTR stations and shopping malls, sells delicious Chinese New Year Cakes that are chewy and only mildly sweet.

If you do decide to give neen go a try, most people like to dip their sliced rice cake into battered eggs first before frying it in a shallow pan. Not only does this give your neen go a ton of extra flavour, but it also stops the cake from sticking to the pan.

Photo credit: The Spruce Eats

2. Glutinous rice balls (湯圓)

Tong yuen, literally meaning soup balls, are glutinous rice balls that are traditionally filled with black sesame or peanut paste filling, with an accompanying sweet soup flavoured with ginger and rock sugar. Eating glutinous rice balls during Chinese New Year is said to bring your family closer together because tong yuen sounds like the Chinese word for a reunion.

You can find these in the frozen section of most supermarkets, but they’re also a staple on the menu of local dessert shops. If you’re craving good old traditional glutinous rice balls, then Fook Yuen Desserts in North Point is said to have some of the best in Hong Kong.

3. Water chestnut cake (馬蹄糕)

Made with water chestnut flour, chopped water chestnut, and sugar, ma tai go is another traditional steamed cake eaten during Chinese New Year. Many families prepare this cake for the holiday because not only is ma tai the Chinese name for water chestnut, but it can also mean a horse’s hooves—an animal which symbolises strength and power in Chinese culture. If you want to try this lucky cake, then Ho Kwong Desserts in North Point is known for selling freshwater chestnut cakes that are handmade every day.

4. Longevity noodles (長壽麵)

Cheung sau meen, which translates to longevity noodles, are basically any type of noodles that don’t get cut or broken up. As you can probably guess, these noodles symbolise a long and healthy life for whoever eats them.

During Chinese New Year, many people make this dish using yi meen, a type of Cantonese egg noodle which is made from wheat flour. However, any kind of noodles will do as long as they don’t break. Some people cook the noodles in plain soup, while others stir-fry them with eggs and char siu—it’s entirely up to you. While restaurants in Hong Kong don’t typically serve this dish, you can buy a pack of traditional noodles from Wong Chi Kei and make them yourself.

Photo credit: Royal Plaza Hong Kong

5. Big bowl feast (盤菜)

Big bowl feast, which is more commonly known as poon choi, is a traditional Chinese dish that is popularly eaten in the former walled villages of the New Territories. Poon choi literally means a pot full of vegetables or side dishes and is made by layering different types of “lucky” food together before cooking it in one giant pot.

The main ingredients of this feast usually include abalone, pork, chicken, mushroom, broccoli, black moss, and more. If you’re looking for authentic poon choi, then Ping Shan Traditional Poon Choi in Yuen Long is your best bet, but you can also get a bowl from Tai Hing, MX, or Café De Coral if you’re looking for an option in town.

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Born and raised in Hong Kong to expat parents, Sarah grew up as your typical third-culture kid, caught between two worlds. As someone who is nosy (or just curious) and loves the written word, there was never any other career that appealed to her as much as journalism. When she’s not busy on her mission to find the line between not enough coffee and too much coffee, you can find her exploring the city or getting stuck in a good book.