Year of Dragon

I don’t remember New Year in Taiwan (I must have spent Lunar New Year there during the three Taiwan years). In Canada, it became a time for my family and family friends to get together. We ate a lot, talked a lot, and laughed a lot. It was always very 熱熱鬧鬧 (re4 re4 nao4 nao4; literal translation: hot hot noisy noisy; it means hustle and bustle) and this created an atmosphere that was 喜氣洋洋 (xi3 qi4 yang2 yang2; translation: full of joy).

This year, we had some close friends and family (my brother) over for New Year’s Eve Eve dinner (due to schedule conflicts we couldn’t do New Year’s Eve). I love cooking for friends and family. I tried serving most of the traditional Lunar New Year food:

水餃 (shui3 jiao3) – dumplings
春卷 (chun1 juan3) Spring Rolls
長年菜 (chang2 nian2 cai4) Longevity Vegetable
年年有『魚』 (nian2 nian2 you3 yu2) – 年年有餘
八寶飯 (ba1 bao3 fan4) – Eight Treasures Cake
蘿蔔糕 (luo2 bo1 gao1) – Turnip Cake
佛跳牆 (fo2 tiao4 qiang2)
糖果 (tang2 guo3) – Candy
鳳梨 (feng4 li2) – Pineapple – 旺來 (ong3 lai2)
橘子 (ju2 zi5) – Oranges

Other Lunar New Year traditions…

水餃 (shui3 jiao3) – dumplings

Actually this refers to the dumplings you boil. I made dumplings but pan-fried them instead. So they were really 鍋貼 (guo1 tie1). They resemble the shape of historic Chinese money (元寶 yuan2 bao3 – like this). It symbolizes wealth and a profitable future!

Wrapper Recipe
Adapted from Rasamalaysia
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup of water
Extra flour, for dusting and rolling


  1. Combine the two different flour. I ran out of all-purpose, so used a bit of whole wheat. You can just use all-purpose.
  2. Combine the flour and water. Knead until the mixture is not sticky. I usually add most of the water and see what the consistency is, then add the rest (if needed). One way to prevent dough from sticking to your hands is oil your hands a little before handling the dough.
  3. Cover the dough with a damp cloth for 30 minutes.
  4. I broke the dough into four pieces and worked with one quarter at a time, while covering the other quarters with damp cloth.
  5. Set aside a bowl of water to seal the dumpling. Dust the surface you are using to make the wrapper. Roll the dough into long cylinder and cut the dough into 12 pieces. I actually found that it was better to cut a piece off then roll it and fill it, then cut the next piece…etc. I found that the dough was less dry this way. Although, if you have someone helping you with the dough, you can have one person cutting and rolling the dough; the other person can fill and wrap the dumpling.
  6. Dust the rolling pin. Roll each piece into a ball and flatten it with your hands. Roll it flat with the rolling pin (should be fairly thin), the diameter should be about 4-inch. Fill the wrapper and seal it by dipping your finger in water and moisten half the circumference of your wrapper.

Recipe for Dumpling Filling
I made four different types of dumplings:

  • chicken, chopped cabbage, and chives + minced ginger
  • chicken, chopped cabbage, and dill + minced ginger
  • lamb, chopped cabbage, and chives + minced ginger
  • lamb and dill

In each of these, I had about 200 grams of meat and added about 1/2 cup of cabbage to each except the last combination. For seasoning, I added soy sauce, sesame oil, rice wine, salt, and pepper. I eye-balled everything because it’s one of those things you can adjust to your own taste. I let the mixtures sit and soak in flavours for about 30 minutes.

Recipe for Dipping Sauce
My family usually make dipping sauce for dumplings with minced ginger, minced garlic, soy sauce, sesame oil, black vinegar, and sometimes hot sauce.

I normally dust a baking sheet and lay the completed dumplings on it. Then put the whole tray in the freezer. It’s easier to pack the dumplings after they are frozen individually.

春卷 (chun1 juan3) Spring Rolls

Our New Year is also known as “Spring Festival” (春節 chun1 jie2) because it marks the end of Winter. So, you might see the word 春 chun1 (Spring) written upside down on red paper and posted on walls. Upside down 倒 dao3 sounds similar to 到 dao4, which means arrive or here. The upside down word for Spring indicates the arrival of Spring.

Normally people have fried spring rolls, but I don’t particularly like to fry things. It gets a bit messy and too oily, so I made rice spring rolls instead. Actually, I had some help assembling the spring rolls.

Ingredients for the Spring Roll:
Rice paper
Rice noodles (round ones)
~20 large shrimps
Thai basil
Chopped almonds

Ingredients for the sauce:
Adapted from Jenluvzyou
Almond butter
Mushroom sauce (or you can use hoisin sauce)
Sesame Oil
Hot Sauce
* Can vary amount according to your taste


  1. Cook about 200 grams of rice noodles. Drizzle with sesame oil and set aside.
  2. oak the rice paper in water. (There's usually instructions on the back of the rice paper container.)
  3. Lay a piece of lettuce in the middle of the rice paper. On top of that put some basil and noodles. Finally, put two shrimps on top.
  4. Fold two oppsite sides (smaller sides) and roll up the spring roll.

長年菜 (chang2 nian2 cai4) Longevity Vegetable

This is also called 芥菜 (jie4 cai4 – Brown Mustard according to Wikipedia). It tastes like bok choy with a bit of bitterness to it. Because of its stringy texture, it becomes very chewy. This symbolizes 長長久久 (chang2 chang2 jiu3 jiu3) – longevity (also long continuation in the blood line – a lot of things relates to continue the family name).

芥菜 – brown mustard greens (two bunches)
Enoki mushrooms – two bunches *amount vary according to how much veggie you have
1 tbsp garlic, minced
Corn starch + water *in one of those Chinese rice bowls, about half of that
Salt to taste


  1. Boil the greens with salt for 2-3 minutes. Strain and rinse with cold water (to preserve the green colour).
  2. Do the same with the Enoki mushrooms. Set both aside.
  3. In a wok, fry the garlic with oil. Then add the vegetable and mushrooms, fry for a couple of minutes. Season with salt.
  4. Stir in the cornstarch mixture until you get the desired consistency. Remove from heat and serve.

年年有『魚』 (nian2 nian2 you3 yu2) – 年年有餘

It is important to have a fish dish on New Year’s Eve. The word for fish 魚 (yu2) sounds the same as the word for surplus 餘 (yu2). The phrase 年年有餘 (nian2 nian2 you3 yu2) literally means every year have surplus. This means may every year be filled with brimful of happiness/a lot of wealth!

This recipe is actually from my friend M.

Fish – we use the whole fish because it represents completeness; I got a fish like a red snapper
5 cloves of garlic, minced
5 slices of ginger, minced
1 tbsp black vinegar (see recipe for dumplings)
1 tbsp soy sauce
A dash of rice wine
A dash of sugar
A bit of water
A pinch of bonito flakes
2 bunches of green onion, chopped
Flour – to rub the fish with before frying
Canola oil


  1. Wash the fish and dry with paper towel. Make three slits on each side of the fish. Rub both sides of the fish with flour.
  2. Heat some oil over high heat. Fry both sides of the fish until you get a nice golden brown colour. Set the fish aside.
  3. Remove some oil from the pan, return to stove with medium heat. Add in ginger and garlic. Fry for 30 seconds or so. Stir in vinegar, soy sauce, rice wine, sugar, water, and bonito flakes. Add the fish, cover and let it cook until most liquid has evaporated.
  4. Turn off the heat. Add the green onion before serving.

八寶飯 (ba1 bao3 fan4) – Eight Treasures Cake

A dessert that is commonly served for Lunar New Year. There is supposed to be 8 treasures (8 different kinds of dried fruits) but due to lack of time, I didn’t have 8. I made it out of purple glutinous rice (紫米 zi3 mi3) instead of the traditional white glutinous rice.

Purple glutinous rice 紫米 (~2 cups)
Taro (medium sized), peeled and cut into cubes
Pineapple (one ring)
Dried fruits (I used 紅棗 – hong2 zao3 – dried jujube)
Butter (less than a tablespoon)
Canola oil

Traditionally you use lard in the recipe, but I opted for a healthier version – with canola oil.


  1. Soak the rice overnight. I cooked mine in the rice cook/steamer.
  2. I also cooked the taro in the steamer (should be soft enough for mashing).
  3. Mash taro with sugar (to taste) and butter until you get a mashed potato consistency. Traditionally you use red bean paste for the treasure cake, but I like taro with the purple rice.
  4. Grease the bowl you want to use for the eight treasure cake. Place the ring of pineapple on the bottom. Line the sides with dried fruits. Essentially you are assembling the cake upside down.
  5. Spread a layer of rice on top of your fruits.
  6. Scoop the taro mixture onto the centre. Cover it up with remaining rice.
  7. Steam in the rice cooker/steamer. When it’s done, flip it over onto a plate.

蘿蔔糕 (luo2 bo1 gao1) – Turnip Cake

There are two reasons why we eat turnip cake for New Year.

1) Turnip in Taiwanese is 『菜頭』 (cai4 tau2). This sounds like 彩頭 (cai3 tou2) in 好彩頭 (hao3 cai3 tou2) – good fortune.

2) 糕 (gao1) cake also sounds the same as 高 (gao1) tall. So, we have a saying 步步高升 (bu4 bu4 gao1 sheng1) – stepping higher and higher (for work: promotion; for school: getting higher marks).

I didn’t have time to make it from scratch this year. Normally, I get ready-made turnip cake from Chia Lee Mfg. Co. Ltd. (佳利食品公司) 23 Milliken Blvd #B19, Scarborough, M1V 5H7; phone: (416)754-0985. They have really good vegetarian food there too (a lot of variety). I didn’t have time to go there before Lunar New Year, so I decided to try radish cake from T&T. It wasn’t as good. It was more mushy than Chia Lee’s.

Here is a recipe for turnip cake.

佛跳牆 (fo2 tiao4 qiang2)

The dish literally means “Buddha jumps over wall”. The first documented appearance of this dish was at a banquet in Fuzhou. It was in Qing Dynasty, a banquet was held for Zhou Lian, a government official. Zhou Lian really liked this dish, the host said that this dish signified, “吉祥如意、福壽雙全” (good fortune according to your will, happiness and longevity both complete).

I made a vegetarian version of this dish.

Chestnuts (roasted and peeled) – 8
Bamboo shoots
Cabbage (boiled) ~2 cups
Mushrooms, fried *I like mushrooms, so I put in more mushrooms than most recipes and I used different mushrooms
Taro, cubed and fried
Tofu *I used fried bean curd 油豆腐 (you2 dou4 fu3)
Salt and white pepper, to taste
2 cloves of garlic, fried


Put all ingredients except stock and garlic in a earthenware pot (I didn’t have one so I had to improvise). The recipes I’ve seen all called for using cling wrap to cover the pot during steaming. I didn’t want to use cling wrap, so I just steamed it regularly. Turned out ok.

If you want to add meat to it, you can use ham or spare ribs.

Here is a video of how to make this dish (it’s in Mandarin):
電鍋食譜 電鍋佛跳牆

糖果 (tang2 guo3) – Candy

Candy is definitely an important part of Lunar New Year. My husband would agree. Apparently we offer sweet food to “bribe” the gods into reporting good things about the family. Also, wishing that the New Year will be 甜甜蜜蜜 (tian2 tian2 mi4 mi4) – very sweet.

鳳梨 (feng4 li2) – Pineapple – 旺來 (ong3 lai2)

In Taiwanese, pineapple is ong3 lai2. It sounds like 旺來 (wang4 lai2). 旺 (wang4) is prosperity, 來 (lai2) means come. Pineapple symbolizes prosperous New Year.

橘子 (ju2 zi5) – Oranges

Another symbolism related to words. The word 橘 (ju2) for oranges sounds similar to 吉 (ji2) luck. Having oranges on New Year signifies a lucky New Year.

Other traditions of Chinese New Year

Other traditions, that I know of:

  • Clean before New Year. This includes throwing out garbage and getting rid of unwanted things. I’ve been told that you shouldn’t clean on New Year’s Day, it signifies throwing out your wealth.
  • Red pockets: I used to get this once a year from all elders in the family. Now that I am married, it’s my turn to give to the younger generations.
  • Traditionally, you spend New Year’s with your husband’s side of the family. The second day of the New Year (初二 chu1 er4), you and your husband go back to your family’s home to celebrate with them (初二回娘家 chu1 er4 hui2 niang2 jia1).
  • The traditional New Year’s celebration is not just one night; however, because we are not in Taiwan, it’s harder to keep all of this tradition. The most important one for our family is the New Year’s Eve dinner. It’s a chance for us to get together and start the New Year with dear family and friends. To read more about “Chinese New Year” visit this Wikipedia page.

I hope that you all have a prosperous Dragon year! Also wishing you and your family good health and fortune!

* I refer to this as Lunar New Year because my family and I refer to it as 農曆新年 (nong2 li4 xin1 nian2), which means farmer’s calendar New Year (aka Lunar Calendar). Chinese people are not the only ones celebrating New Year on this day.


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