The Custom of Eating Dumplings for the Chinese New Year

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about symbolic foods that are eaten around the world for the New Year.

There are symbolic foods that are eaten for the Chinese New Year too. This year, the Chinese New Year celebrations start on February 7th. (It will be the year of the Rat!)

Dumplings are one customary food that’s eaten for the New Year. One reason is that they resemble the old gold money used in China. Thus, dumplings symbolize the hope for prosperity in the coming year. Usually the dumplings are filled with meat.

In parts of Northern China, they even insert a coin into a couple of dumplings. It you’re lucky enough to be served one of those, it’s thought you’ll acquire even more wealth!

Lin wrote to me about the custom in Tianjin, a city that’s southeast of the capital of Beijing, China:

As the Chinese New Year is coming up, there’s something interesting to note here about New Year’s food. In Tianjin, China, people will make vegetarian dumplings, apart from the meat ones for the New Year’s Eve. They eat the vegetarian ones especially at midnight, usually with the fireworks going outside the windows. The vegetarian dumplings signify a coming year which is very clean, with no accidents, no serious affairs, etc.

“Su”, as vegetarian, implies something simple, calm.
The contrary is “Se” as in colour/lust, or “Rou” as in meat/flesh/therefore lust.

Interestingly, in other parts of China this habit is not often observed. Not even in Beijing, as far as I can determine, though it’s just 120 kilometers away.

I mentioned this custom to Ray Lee, who was born in Hong Kong. Ray said:

Yeah, that’s interesting. I’ve never heard of it. But then, China is a big country with a lot of different local customs. I am sure there are a lot I haven’t heard of. I remember we would eat a certain kind of vegetable around the New Year simply because its name sounded like “getting rich”. The name of the vegetable is “Fat Choy” (it’s a long black sea moss), which as you may recall sounds just like the “fat choy” in “kung hey fat choy”!

“Kung Hey Fat Choy”, means “Congratulations and Be Prosperous”. It’s something that people say to each other in Cantonese during the Chinese New Year.

To all of you celebrating the Chinese New Year, “Kung Hey Fat Choy”!


Here’s a post I wrote last year about how Yuan Xiao is eaten for the Chinese New Year.

Feel free to comment below about foods you eat for the Chinese New Year!

This article was posted on Tuesday, February 5th, 2008 at 5:47 pm and is filed under Cantonese, China, Chinese New Year, Countries & Cultures, Customs and Traditions, Holidays Around the World, Hong Kong, Languages, Mama Lisa, New Years. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

6 Responses to “The Custom of Eating Dumplings for the Chinese New Year”

  1. slamaina Says:

    My family was invited to dinner for Chinese New Year. Not being Chinese I am unsure of the traditions that my family should observe to show our respect. I have been told to wear red and to avoid black and white. I know that the red money packets that contain money, the amount should not have a 4 in it, but that 8 is lucky.

    The people having the dinner don’t speak English but our children are friends, so all my info is coming from a 9 year old…



  2. Lisa Says:

    I asked Ray Lee from Hong Kong about your question. Here’s what he replied:

    How about saying “kung hey fat choy” (and doing that hand gesture thing while saying it) when they arrive? I am sure it will be appreciated.

    As far as the red pocket money goes, it’s a good idea to show up with a few in the pocket. So if the Chinese family gives one to their kids, they can return the favor. The bigger question is: how much? That really depends on how well they know the Chinese family they are visiting.

    Ray had sent me a photo of the correct hand gesture to make when you say “kung hey fat choy” – I wrote about this in a post a while back. You can read about it and also about other Chinese New Year’s Greetings in that article.

    There’s another post I wrote in the past about who to give red packet money to and how much to give. Several people commented in on that one – you may find it helpful.

    If anyone else has other ideas, please feel free to comment too!

    -Mama Lisa

  3. slamaina Says:

    Thanks for the info.


  4. Lisa Says:

    Ray Lee wrote in an interesting fact about “fat choy”:

    I see that you did the research to find out that the vegetable I was referring to is a “long black sea moss”. That is indeed correct! It is called “fat choy” because it looks like hair. The character for hair is pronounced “fat” and the character for vegetable is pronounced “choy”.

  5. Kent Ninomiya Says:

    The holiday usually begins on the first day of the first lunar month. This makes the lunar calendar much more accurate than the Julian calendar. Jokes are often made about the Chinese being backward for celebrating the new year late. In reality the west celebrates the new year early.

  6. lin Says:

    Hi Slamaina and others interested in Chinese languages:
    I haven’t been able to answer Slamaina’s question as I myself have been celebrating this weekend. I agree with the red purse. I am not sure if the meaning of “kung hei fat choy” has been explained so will just add this: it’s more or less ” Wish you good fortune/the luck on money be opened and developped.” Note that this is Cantonese, spoken mainly by the people in Guangdong ( Canton) province and in Hong Kong.
    However, a lot of Chinese overseas are from that area and speak Cantonese, but there are more and more Chinese overseas who speak Mandarin , which is the exact term when we say ” Do you speak Chinese?” in most cases. It’s an official language based on different dialects of the north, especially of Beijing. It sounds very different to Cantonese. Everyone in China is supposed to speak and understand Mandarin, but not Cantonese.
    So what I suggest is “Guo Nian Hao”, Happy new year. That’s what we say in the north, no mentioning of fortune though! If your Chinese friends speak Mandarin, it’ll be better to use that.
    There is no “Chinese” language. There are many Chinese languages, or rather, dialects. What unites us is not the pronunciation but the written language. We don’t understand each other when speaking, perhaps, but we do if we write characters down. A way to unite a big country, isn’t it?

    Smiling and being humble is always welcomed everywhere, I’d say.
    Hope this can be useful to others too. Depending on where you live and what the local Chinese community is, you might even meet people who speak neither Cantonese nor Mandarin. Tey Chiu (Chao Zhou in Mandarin) and Min Nan ( used in Fu Jian and Taiwan) are widely used. In Europe, people from Wen Zhou (next to Shanghai) do a lot of business in restaurant, shoes and clothes domains, for example They speak a special dialect that someone from the North will absolutely feel dizzy with.

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