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Luckiest food for Chinese New Year

  • dumplings_thesource.jpg

    Dumplings are standard fare during Chinese New Year. Their crescent shape symbolizes an old form of money and it's believed that eating them will bring wealth.The Source

  • lettuce_cups.jpg

    Eating dishes made with lettuce, such as Lamb Lettuce Cups, is seen as good luck.The Source

Everyone needs a little luck these days, and the Year of the Horse offers a perfect opportunity to line up as many charms as possible to ensure a healthy and wealthy year.

Chinese New Year celebrations, which begin on Friday, mark a new beginning. Tradition calls for a clean sweep: Houses are aired out to get rid of last year’s bad luck, and they are decorated in red, which symbolizes good luck and fortune. Family members gather to give children red envelopes full of money for good luck.  

“The whole process is a family-centered dish and is important to kick off the New Year.”

- Scott Drewno, Executive Chef, The Source

And then there’s the food.  Almost everything eaten during the celebration is intended to promote wealth, happiness and longevity.

“It’s based on family togetherness,” said Scott Drewno, executive chef of The Source in Washington, D.C., who hosts a two-week celebration of the holiday at his restaurant.

The Source offers buffet-style courses filled with the luckiest dishes to pay tribute to the cultural and culinary traditions of the Chinese New Year.

One traditional dish is uncut noodles, which “are longer because they are supposed to promote longevity and a happy life,” Drewno said.

Another must-have dish is dumplings, supposed to promote wealth in the upcoming year because their moon shape resembles old forms of Chinese currency. Most are savory, but some have added sugar for a sweet life.  Others are stuffed with coins for extra luck for the ones who discover them.

“Traditionally, the whole family will cook the day before the first day of the New Year and eat them at midnight,” Drewno said. “The whole process is a family-centered dish and is important to kick off the New Year.”

Clams, too, are considered lucky because of their moon-like shape. Also served is a whole quail or chicken, which suggests unity and family togetherness, and whole fish, which in Chinese sounds like the word abundance. It is served with the head and tail still attached to promote a good beginning of the year and a good ending of the year. Pan-fried and served with green onions and soy sauce, it’s a favorite of Chinese and Westerners alike.

And then there’s the five-vegetable stir fry.

“The five blessings [of the New Year] are longevity, riches, peace, wisdom and virtue,” Drewno said.

Mandarin oranges are popular, both as gifts and for display during New Year celebrations, because they are considered symbols of good fortune and abundance. Their golden color symbolizes money and fortune in the coming year.

Lettuce also makes an appearance, as it symbolizes prosperity and a fresh start. The Chinese word for lettuce sounds like wealth, and in a traditional Chinese New Year lion dance, people hold out lettuce leaves tied to red envelopes containing money for a lion to “eat.”  The lion grabs the packets and scatters the lettuce — spreading good luck.

RECIPE: Lamb Lettuce Cups

So even if you’re not celebrating The Year of the Horse, cook up some of the traditional Chinese New Year dishes yourself.  Because everyone can use a bit of good luck.