Food Symbolism

Food Symbolism during


Chinese New Year Celebrations




Chinese like playing with words and symbols. Often homonyms (words that share the same pronunciation but have different meanings) are gladly used. Names of dishes and/or their ingredients which will be served sound similar to words and phrases referring to wishes expressed during the Chinese New Year, while other foods hold a symbolic meaning.


Food offerings are a prayer or a wish and can be addressed to ancestors and other beings such as the Jade Emperor and The Kitchen God. The offering of food serves to bring ancestors and other beings in the other world closer to oneself. The food offerings serve as a bonding tool to bring both worlds together.


The Symbols of Food and its Representation for the Lunar New Year


Chinese often like to play around with homonyms – words that share the same pronunciation but diverse in meanings. Whether it’s the shape, colour or symbolic representations, these are prominently used in the auspicious & grand festivals like the Chinese New Year, weddings, birthdays and etc.






Below a brief list of the food’s symbolic meaning:




Abalone (鲍鱼) – definite good fortune


Apple (苹果) – wisdom, peace


Apricot, dried (杏脯) – gold, wealth


Arrowhead (慈菇) – benevolence


Arrowroot (竹芋) – good life


Bamboo fungus or bamboo pith (竹笙) – long life


Bamboo shoots (竹笋尖) – wealth, a new start


Banana (香蕉) – wish for education, brilliance at work/ school


Bean curd/tofu (豆腐)- fulfilment of wealth and happiness


Bean curd sticks (腐竹) – blessing the house


Bean sprouts (豆芽/芽菜) – to your heart’s content, positive start into the new year


Black moss (髮菜) – wealth


Cabbage, Chinese (白菜) – 100 types of prosperity luck


Calms (扇贝) – opening of new horizons


Calm roll (干贝) – gold, wealth


Carrots (紅蘿蔔) – good luck


Cashew nut (腰果)- gold, money (the shape symbolises the ingot of ancient times)


Chicken (whole) (鸡肉) – prosperity, togetherness of the family, joy (note: chicken with its head, tail and feet symbolises completeness)


Chinese garlic chives (韭菜) – everlasting, eternity, long life


Coconut (椰子) – promoting togetherness


Duck (鸭肉) – fertility


Egg (蛋) – fertility


egg roll (蛋皮春卷) – money, wealth, gold


Fa Gao/steamed Prosperity cake (发糕) – to raise, be prosperous


Fish, whole (魚)-remain or surplus, having leftovers


Fish ball (鱼蛋) – reunion


Golden lily buds, Daylily (金针) – wealth


Gingko nuts ( 銀杏/白果)- hope for silver, wealth (the shape represents a silver ingot)


Glass noodles, Chinese vermic (粉絲) – silver chain


Grapes (葡萄) – wealth, abundance, fertility, many descendants, family harmony


Dumplings (饺子) – wealth, togetherness (the shape is that of a ingot)


Jujube, dates (蜜枣) – wealth, prosperity, fertility


Kumquat (金橘) – gold, fortune, wealth


Lettuce (生菜) – prosperity


Longan (龙眼) – many good son


Lotus seeds (蓮子) – a full wallet, many male offspring


Lychee (荔枝) – close family ties


Maize (玉米) – growth


Mandarin oranges (瓯柑) – gold, wealth


Meat ball (肉丸) – reunion, togetherness


Mixed vegetable (什锦蔬菜) – family harmony


Black fungus, Wood ear (木耳) – longevity


Noodles, uncut (面条) – long life


Onion (洋葱) – cleverness


Orange (柑橘;) – wealth, good fortune, gold


Oyster (牡蠣) – receptivity to good fortune, good business


Oyster, dried – all good things, good luck


Peach – immortality


Peach, pair of (桃) – wealth, abundance, long healthy life, great fortune for many generations


Peanuts (花生) – health, long life, birth of prosperity, continuous growth, multiplication in wealth and good fortune, stability


Pineapple (凤梨) – wealth, luck, excellent fortune, gambling luck


Pomegranate (石榴) – many offsprings


Pomelo (柚子) – abundance, prosperity, having children, good health, family unity


Pork (猪肉) – strength, wealth, abundant blessing


Prawn (大虾) – liveliness


Pumpkin (南瓜) – prosperity, abundance, descendant’s luck, illustrious children, enchantment,


Rice (米饭) – fertility, luck, wealth


Sticky rice cake (年糕) – increasing prosperity every year.


Roseapple (蒲桃) – calmness, peace of mind, no fighting


Shitake, Black mushroom (冬菇) – longevity, sizing opportunities


Shrimp (小虾) – happiness and good fortune


Snow peas (荷蘭豆) – unity


Spring roll (春卷) – wealth (the shape of a gold bar)


Sweet corn (甜玉米) – growth, increase


Sweets, (糖果) – safety, good fortune and ‘sweeten’ the new year


Tangerine (橘) – luck


Turnip cake (萝卜糕) – good omen


Vegetable, green (绿叶菜) – close family ties


Walnut (核桃仁) – happiness of the entire family


Water chestnut (荸薺) – unity


Winter noodle (冬粉, dōng) -ee glass noodle




Presenting a “whole” chicken with its head, tail and feet symbolism completeness.


Fresh bean curd / tofu is not included as it is white and unlucky for New Year as the colour signifies death and misfortune.


Fresh fruits symbolise life and new beginnings.


Sugared fruits are supposed to sweeten one’s upcoming year.


Sweets and fruits are served on a round tray, the form resembling togetherness, hence the tray is called the “Tray of Togetherness”. Sweets offered on the tray add up to the number 8, because eight is a lucky number and symbolises fortune.


A coin might be hidden in one dumpling, and the person who will find it is supposed to be showered with good fortune and wealth.