How to celebrate Lunar New Year

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How to celebrate Lunar New Year

In celebration of the Lunar New Year, we chatted to Tina Long and Amy Lehner of Home Bao to find out what she’s cooking and to learn more about the symbolism behind the foods eaten on new year.

As the name suggests, Lunar New Year, is the start of the new year based on the lunar calendar and is celebrated across Asian and Southeast Asian countrie, such as China, Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam and Thailand. As with any celebration, there are some wonderful traditions upheld around the new year to ensure good luck for the coming year. To learn more about these traditions, we chatted to Tina Long, the owner and founder of Home Bao in Cape Town.

Tina was born in Taiwan and moved to South Africa with her family when she was 8. “I grew up in South Africa and feel very proudly South African myself, however, my parents never let me forget  my roots and where I’m from. We still celebrate and practise Taiwanese culture in our home,” she says. She’s married to a South African man and has two kids, to whom she also passes on her Taiwanese culture. Tina studied dietetics at university and says she started Home Bao after an extended visit to Taiwan where she discovered frozen dumplings were busy moms’ secret weapons. “They’re quick to prepare and one bite contains veg, protein and carbs. They tick all the boxes for a dietician mom. It was then I thought that it was a great idea to bring back to South Africa.”

Home Bao specialises in handmade frozen dumplings made from scratch, using farm-fresh vegetables, and free-range chicken and eggs. “All our products are free of MSG, preservatives and colorants. It all takes 10 minutes to prepare from frozen,” she adds. Everything is made following traditional recipes from a well-known dumpling cooking school that Tina attended in Taiwan. Dumplings are a common feature at Lunar New Year meals, so in celebration of the day, we asked Tina and her colleague Amy to share more about the traditions behind the foods eaten.


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 What does a traditional Lunar New Year meal consist of?

Tina: There are so many dishes! One year I counted 18 – my mom spent a whole week before the night  preparing for the festivities.

Amy: Chinese food traditions are full of symbolism. Dumplings are an essential part of the meal on New Year’s Eve because they are specially folded to look like old-fashioned gold ingots (sort of like little boats). This means they represent wealth. For extra luck, a coin is traditionally hidden inside one of the dumplings. Whoever finds it will have particular prosperity in the new year (just like the British tradition of hiding a coin in the Christmas pudding!) For a more modern version, some people hide a nut in the lucky dumpling, or colour it yellow. The very act of gathering together as a family and making dumplings brings good luck to everyone involved. New Year is the most important holiday of the year and often the only time everyone travels home to be together. Making dumplings for a big group is a challenge, but it can be done if everyone works together, dividing up the tasks of making the dough, rolling out the wrappers, preparing the filling, folding the dumplings, and cooking the finished product. This all represents working together and staying together for the family.


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What are some of the symbolic foods?

Amy: There’s no such thing as too many dumplings… But, if you would like to add some variety to your Chinese New Year’s meal, there are plenty of other traditional foods to choose from. Spring rolls symbolise wealth because they look like gold bars. Fish is a pun on “surplus”, so eating fish (preferably whole) means you’ll always have extra. Longevity noodles are special, extra-long noodles that represent long life. Oranges are round and golden, and the Chinese word is a pun on “success”.

Are there any superstitions around the food eaten over new year?

Tina: Fish is a must-have dish but you cannot eat the head or the tail as it symbolises surplus, so you need to leave some behind to respect that surplus. Then, serving noodles is important for signifying a long life, but don’t ever cut the noodles as it can symbolise shortening the life.

Find Tina’s recipe for pork dumplings here.

Jess Spiro Article by: Jess Spiro

Jess Spiro is a freelance food writer, chef and restaurant critic based in Cape Town, who can often be found in search of the next great plate of food. Follow her on Instagram @jess_spiro to see what she's eating.

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