Chinese New Year is just wrapping up here in China. This is our 3rd year to spend Chinese New Year in Shanghai. We’ve had the privilege to join in with our local friends and learn about this celebration. Today’s post talks specifically about some of the special foods eaten during the Spring Festival and their meaning.

Every Chinese New Year is very highly decorated all throughout town. People clean their houses, tidy up neighborhoods, and go all out in decor. This is an example from Shanghai for the year of the goat. (Photo Credit: Road Ninjas)

Chinese Dumplings

Dumplings are a classic Chinese food and can be found all over town. In Shanghai’s Yu Garden there are several spots to get really great dumplings. They are made from a thin dough that is stretchy in nature. They can be filled with fish, ground pork, beef, ground chicken, and vegetables. Dumplings can be fried, boiled, baked or steamed. Many that you see in the little shops are steamed.

Chinese Dumplings are eaten as a sign of wealth. They are made fat and with pleats to show prosperity in the new year. They are arranged on a serving dish in lines, not circles. Circles indicate that your life is going in circles and not accomplishing anything.

(Photo Credit: Oriental Wellness Academy)

Sweet Rice Balls 

Sweet Rice Balls are eaten in parts of China for Spring Festival, even though they are the traditional food for Lantern Festival. This dish is a symbol of family togetherness. Spring Festival is like Christmas in the western world, where all family travels to visit each other and spend the holiday together. In fact, in a many ways it is an even bigger celebration. It lasts for days and businesses close down.

(Photo Credit: KCET)


Fish is a sign of increase in prosperity. In various parts of China the rules on how the fish is eaten or when it is eaten differs. The head should be facing important guests or elders of the family. The person facing the head of the fish should eat first and the other family members or guest can follow.

(Photo Credit: Easy Tour China)

Spring Rolls

Spring Rolls are probably my favorite of all Chinese dishes I have ever tasted. Our best friend’s dad made us some wonderful sweet ones the first year we were here and I have loved them ever since.

Spring Rolls can be sweet or savory. Of course, I like the sweet ones best! Savory spring rolls can be filled with meat or vegetables. Sweet rolls are often filled with red bean paste. They are wrapped and fried. The spring roll symbolizes wealth for the new year.

(Photo Credit: Road Ninjas)

Glutinous Rice Cake 

Glutinous rice cake doesn’t sound very delicious in English, but in Chinese it means getting a higher position, or a higher income. For kids this can also mean growing taller or getting better grades in school.

This rice cake is made from sticky rice, dates, sugar, lotus leaves, and chestnuts.

(Photo Credit: The Woks of Life)


Special fruit is eaten and given during the Spring Festival (Chinese New Year) period that symbolizes fullness and wealth. Tangerines, oranges, and pomeloes are the most common for the Good Fortune Fruit. These fruits are chosen because they are round and golden in color.

As a teacher in China, many students have brought me these fruits as gifts right before the Chinese New Year holiday.

(Photo Credit:


Of course no list of Chinese foods would be complete without noodles. Longevity noodles symbolize happiness and – you guessed it – longevity. These noodles will be cooked and served uncut. They can be cooked by boiling and serving in a soup or fried and served on a plate.

(Photo Credit: The Hungry Muse)

Our Family on our first Chinese New Year

Our family with our Chinese family our very first Chinese New Year. The woman standing behind me is my best friend here in China. Without her, navigating this new culture and language would have been so much harder. This picture was taken at her parents home, and they are the couple you see picture next to us. (Photo Credit: Road Ninjas)


Decorations come in a variety of ways and they are everywhere you go. These sheep where part of the year of the goat decorations. They were right outside our local subway. (Photo Credit: Road Ninjas)

Here Josiah is working hard to use chop sticks. Our Chinese family made the boys special meatballs to enjoy, along with the tradiational foods they made for us. (Photo Credit: Road Ninjas)

Spending Chinese New Year (Spring Festival) in China is a special event. One that I am very thankful we have had the privilege of doing.

Have you ever celebrated Chinese New Year? What special foods did you try?

~ Sarah