8 foods served during the Lunar New Year

Author: Linda D; Illustration: Amy Ge

Lunar New Year is a celebration held mostly throughout Southeast and East Asia, and their diasporas globally. There are a variety of foods that are a must during the LNY celebrations. Each culture and family has their own way of celebrating the occasion, so you may or may not be familiar with what’s on this list. Even then, variations of some of these foods are dependent on regional and country differences.

Some of these goodies are on sale at market stalls and Asian grocery stores, or you can even try making them at home!

Banh tet
Bánh tét

Bánh tét: Glutinous rice and mung bean cake

This Southern Vietnamese delight is usually filled with either something sweet (mung bean, banana) or savoury (pork, mung bean). The filling is surrounded by glutinous/sticky rice and tightly rolled with banana leaf into a cylindrical shape and boiled for several hours. Making this at home is definitely a labour of love but it is an opportunity to catch up with family during the team effort. You can also pan-fry any leftovers for an extra crunch!


Tteokguk: Rice cake soup

A simple yet nourishing Korean dish which consists of a clear savoury soup (guk), typically a simmered beef broth, with sliced rice cake (tteok). Garnishes include dried seaweed paper, thinly sliced pan-fried egg and spring onion. Traditionally it was customary to have a bowl on New Year’s Day in order for the process of aging up a year to be complete.

Pineapple tart
Pineapple Tart

Taiwanese Pineapple Tart

Pineapple, in cake or fresh form, symbolises wealth, prosperity, and good fortune. This sweet treat has a crumbly exterior surrounding a pineapple-flavoured filling with a chewy jam-like consistency. The only problem is that it’s really hard to stop at just one!

Rou Gan
Rou Gan

Rou Gan: Chinese pork jerky

This is a Singaporean Chinese favourite during the LNY season and honestly, the choice of flavours are endless!  Locals will queue up to an hour for this tender, sweet pork jerky that has been marinated in seasonings and spices, flattened and charcoal-grilled. Rou Gan also makes a popular souvenir, so make sure to stock up if you go there!

Nian Gao basket cake
Basket Cakes

Nian Gao/ Kue Bakul/Tikoy: Basket Cakes

This cake is round and brown in appearance as it is made with a basket-shaped mould. Glutinous rice flour and brown sugar are the core ingredients here. Once combined, it is typically wrapped in banana leaf and steamed. Nian Gao symbolises a more prosperous new year and is a common gift.

Suutei tsai
Suutei tsai

Suutei tsai: Mongolian salty tea
Traditional dairy products are a big part of the Mongolian diet as well as the New Year or ‘Tsagaan Sar’ feast. As such, you’ll typically find this hot tea being served at every household. Usually cow’s milk is used, but depending on the recipe it can be made with goats, sheep, or camel’s milk. This tea is traditionally served in small bowls and other ingredients can also be added, such as millet.

Yee Sang
Yee Sang

Yee Sang: Prosperity Toss Salad

A beautifully plated Malaysian favourite, this is a colourful assortment of vegetables and condiments sliced or cut into strips. Typically this includes carrots, radish, peanuts, mushrooms, seaweed, coriander and many more. The fun part, of course, is when you get to mix everything together and eat it!

Jiaozi dumplings

Jiaozi: Dumplings

Dumplings can come in so many shapes and combinations of filling and cooked using many methods- there is probably something for everyone. They can be shaped into an ingot, which resembles the currency used in ancient times and is symbolic for increasing prosperity if you eat many of them during the festive period. There’s a dumpling for every occasion, but during the New Year you may find folks opting for those with a cabbage and radish filling and a ‘lucky number’ of pleats.

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