6 Symbolic Chinese Foods That Bring Good Luck

Food is an important part of Chinese culture, and Chinese food holds symbolic meanings.

Some Chinese foods are symbolically auspicious and eaten for good luck.

The meaning of these foods are based on traditional stories behind individual ingredients and also appearances

Instant chicken ramen

Instant chicken ramen

Here are six such lucky foods eaten by many Chinese during celebrations such as the Chinese New Year and Dragon Boat Festival. These foods also tend to be eaten every day.

1. Rice and noodles

While rice symbolises wealth, fertility and abundance, noodles symbolises longevity and long life. A bowl of white rice or noodles is usually served alongside Chinese dining.

Rice has a long history in China. Around 1100BC, aristocrats in the Zhou dynasty were the ones who were able to afford rice. Later everyone relied on rice for food as it’s easy to cook and store.

Today rice is one of China’s top commodities: China relies on rice production to sustain its economy, is responsible for about 30% of global rice production, and eats more than twice as much rice as Japan. Rice is a staple and way of life in Chinese culture.

While rice is mostly cultivated in the south of China, noodles are cultivated more easily in the north as that’s where wheat grains thrive due to climatic differences. Like rice, noodles have fed China for thousands of years and are economical energy, cereal food. Both foods take months to cultivate and rice especially is hard to harvest by hand – all the more valued and auspicious it is considered.

My Chinese Malaysian family always say they feel weird if they don’t eat rice every day. If there isn’t white rice on the table at the restaurant, my folks like ordering yangzhou fried rice (扬州炒饭). Call me a bad Asian but I have gone weeks without eating rice and I’m okay with that.

Marinade chicken

Marinade chicken

2. Chicken

In Chinese culture, a whole chicken complete with head, feet and tail symbolises unity, completeness and togetherness. Chicken also resembles the dragon and phoenix, further symbolising power and strength.

There are endless ways to serve chicken in Chinese cuisine. There’s steamed yellow-skinned chicken which is popular during Chinese New Year Eve. Chicken is also common in Chinese stir-frys with oyster sauce, Malaysian mango chicken and cashew nut chicken.

Many Chinese are fond of eating chicken head and feet for their gritty texture. This is in contrast with chicken breast which some Chinese reckon is ‘the meat of fools’, tasting like wood. Personally chicken breast is my favourite meat.

Aside from chicken, duck is also popular in Chinese cuisine. Peking duck is historically an iconic dish in Chinese culture, prepared for royalty and later served to everyone else like rice. China produces around 83% of duck meat in the Asian region. In general, duck is more expensive than chicken as it’s the rarer of the two birds.

Lycium chinense

Lycium chinense

3. Dates and sesame seeds

The red date, or jujube, is also known as the Chinese date fruit. Dates and goji berries are often used to sweeten Chinese herbal soups, steamed chicken and teas.

Dark red dates are high in vitamin A, B and C. Goji berries have been touted as antioxidant superfoods helping to regulate stress, sleep cycles and suppress cancerous cells.

Sesame seeds are usually found alongside dates – such as crispy sesame jujube ball snacks and sprinkled over meats with jujube-infused sauce. Both dates and sesame seeds bring good luck, wealth and fertility, and bring warmth to the body.

Pan-fried pork dumplings

Pan-fried pork dumplings

4. Dumplings

Dumplings are one of the most important foods in Chinese culture. Dumplings are a staple during Chinese New Year and popular during yum cha. There are many kinds of Chinese dumplings such as:

  • Jiǎozi (饺子)
  • Xiǎo long bāo (小笼包)
  • Shēng jiān bāo (生煎)
  • Xiā jiǎo / hā gáau (虾饺)
  • Shāo mài / sīu máai (烧卖)

As I wrote in Why Many Chinese Like Eating Dumplings, dumplings often resemble traditional gold inglots. They are usually shared at the table, representing togetherness and wealth.

Interestingly enough, many seem content to just eat dumplings and more dumplings, no need for other dishes. Most dumplings really are just that good on their own.

Pork buns

Pork buns

5. Green leafy vegetables

There’s usually a vegetable dish with each Chinese meal. Bok choy/Chinese celery (xiǎo bái cài, 小白菜), gai lan/Chinese broccoli (jiè làn, 芥蘭) and water spinach are some popular greens in Chinese cooking.

The bok choy is probably the most popular and well-known. Native to China and first cultivated along the Yangtze River Delta, it is nicknamed ‘soup spoon’ for its large leaves shaped like a spoon and also money.

Chinese immigrants brought bok choy to Australia during the 1850s Gold Rush. It was brought to North America in the 1880s and its seeds were sold in English-language seed catalogues. Thus, green vegetables in Chinese culture often signify wealth, growth and prosperity.

Raw and uncooked vegetables aren’t eaten too often among the Chinese. Good sanitation has been a problem in China for a long time, and food here is preferably cooked over heat to minimise bacteria. From a traditional Chinese medicine perspective, uncooked and ‘cold’ foods are not best for digestion.

Boy choy

Boy choy

6. Tofu

Tofu traditionally symbolises death in Chinese culture. Most tofu is white (on the inside) and white is synonymous with death – and tofu sometimes isn’t served during festivals. On the other hand, some suggest eating tofu sounds like eating a mouthful of ‘fú’ () or good fortune.

There are many varieties of tofu such as bean curd, silken tofu, and stinky tofu. In everyday Chinese cooking tofu is tossed in stir fries and simmered in hotpots. Sichuan mapo tofu which is bean curd in chilli oil is one of the most popular tofu dishes.

Rumour has it tofu is associated with sexual harassment. There is this story out of Chang’an in China about a husband and wife duo running a tofu restaurant. The husband made tofu at night while the wife ran the shop in the day. The wife was said to have good looks and men patronised the shop to eat tofu and flirt with her.

*  *  *

Chinese cuisine is one of my favourite cuisines. I find it fun making Chinese dishes at home. I enjoy eating out at Chinese restaurants with family and friends. On a side note, I don’t eat spicy Chinese food and yes you can call me a wuss for that.

Notably, Chinese meals are often centred around the notion of balance and the yin and yang philosophy. In a Chinese meal there is usually a balance of flavour (sweet, salty, sour, bitter) and balance of ‘hot and cold’ foods.

It’s also common to have a mix of starch, meat, vegetable and soup dishes, encompassing as many food groups as possible. As such, some might argue Chinese cuisine is healthier than other cuisines.

Wonton noodles

Wonton noodles

On one hand, eating a wide variety of foods is favourable so you get all the nutrients your body needs. On the other hand, eating large portions of Chinese dishes and greasy Chinese dishes leads to calorie consumption overload.

Here in Melbourne it’s not hard to find Chinese restaurants in the city and in suburbs with a large Asian demographic. There’s plenty of Chinese food to go round here in Australia. Plenty of Chinese food with symbolic meanings for celebratory occasions and also for every day meals.

Do you like Chinese cuisine?

221 thoughts on “6 Symbolic Chinese Foods That Bring Good Luck

  1. I think everyone loves Chinese food. One of the biggest strengths of Chinese cooking I think is the variety of vegetables, meat, fish, and seafood that are used. Even though I like noodles and dumplings and dim sum, I try not to eat them too often. They’re delicious, but rich and heavy on carbohydrates. It’s my impression that Chinese cooking does a good job with veggies, fish and seafood because they insist on freshness, they don’t overcook them, and they seldom smother them with heavy sauces.

    Like

    • You are spot on, Nicki. There really is so much variety in Chinese food, but some of the foods aren’t too good for us – and it’s so easy to eat too many dumplings in one sitting. So true Chinese cooking doesn’t usually consist of heavy sauces, or much dairy for that matter. Steamed Chinese vegetables is always a good choice for a meal or to include as part of a meal.

      Like

  2. Hi Mabel, back again. I loved re-reading your piece. I wanted to mention, about chicken and duck: I actually like the dark meat of poultry better than white, I find it more flavorful, but my daughter loves white meat, and there are recipes for which the white meat is just lovely. Like in a soup, it holds its texture better, and tastes good and hearty. And duck! I have such a fondness for duck. If I go into a restaurant and they have duck on the menu (Chinese or otherwise), I’ll usually try it. It’s often sweetly savory, especially if prepared in a French cuisine way also. And you know my feelings about dumplings, yum! I’ve just started to enjoy tofu, when I can I try to order an Asian dish with tofu, easier on the planet and a good way to balance vegetarian and non-vegetarian items in my meals. I’ve made it at home a couple of times, just getting the hang of it, still. 🙂 Thank you, Mabel!

    Like

  3. I love Chinese food, though I didn’t realize it until I moved away from Hong Kong for university. I find myself craving Chinese food (the taste of home!) quite often now. I totally agree with you on chicken breast — I prefer the no-bone experience. Dumplings are also one of my favourite foods!
    It was really interesting to learn about the symbolism behind Chinese food. While I knew about symbolism of food eaten during special occasions or holidays, I had no idea that the food I used to eat daily held so much significance in Chinese culture!

    Like

    • It’s funny how you move away from a place and you start missing the food there. It happens to so many of us who move around. Like you, there are days when I just want to eat Chinese food – and then you get some and realise it doesn’t taste the same like it does back home! Yes, I so agree on the no-bone experience. When it comes to eating chicken and meat, I just want to enjoy the meat and not the bones. I think a lot of every day food we eat, not just Chinese food, is meaningful in some way 🙂

      Like

  4. Now I am hungry. Just look at those dumplings. If I made my own Chinese at home, it would be without salt. Some dishes were too salty for me but others in the family liked them when we ate at a local Chinese restaurant. Lovely post. Thanks for sharing.

    Like

  5. What a brilliant post, filled with wonderful information and delicious looking food.. I enjoy a Chinese meal, and we have often been to a local Chinese restaurant. My daughter who is vegan can also come along and enjoy their wonderful vegetarian dishes .
    I think the saying We are what we eat is true too.. I love preparing food and eating fresh vegetables as you know from our garden, and I think we should never be afraid of trying something new and different..
    It is a good thing I have already had my evening meal lol.. Or I would be hungry looking at these wonderful plates of food..

    Much love to you dear Mabel… I have learnt alot, and your dumplings are very different to the ones I add to my stews.. 🙂 and I agree, they are comfort food and filling and satisfying…
    Take care dear Mabel…
    Enjoy your weekend, and Much love ❤

    Like

    • So lovely to hear your daughter enjoyed vegan Chinese dishes when you ate together. There really is quite a lot of vegan and vegetarian variety in Chinese food.

      Love seeing you grow your fresh veggies and fruits in your allotment. That’s okay if you cook different dumplings along with your stews…we are different and who knows, maybe one day I will have your kind of dumplings.

      Have a good one too, Sue. Take care as we head towards another month, another moon cycle ❤

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes these Months fly by all too quickly Mabel. Sending Huge Hugs your way and enjoy what is left of March, Spring here is arriving at last.. And I hope this weekend to put a gardening post together. I ache from yesterdays efforts LOL.. But well worth it when we gather and eat our own produce.. ❤

        Like

          • I am afraid I did just that Mabel, feeling a little rough for wear today after a good gardening session yesterday.. But it is looking good, and Hubby got the potatoes in.. and I weeded and hoed a good portion of the plot..
            But bones and muscles are protesting today, so I am only moderating comments on my garden post today and replies and then resting for the day..
            MUCH love to you Mabel, and take care too my friend ❤

            Like

  6. I love Chinese food and yes, I couldn’t go without rice for more than a week. My husband is worse, he couldn’t live without rice even for a day. I saw this dependency on rice and wouldn’t want that for my little one so her diet consist of more meat and more veggies and little to no rice / noodles as opposed to rice as the main core of the meal. My Chinese in-law call this the atrocious diet. Haha!

    Like

    • It does sound like you love your Chinese food, Kally. I guess sometimes we just can’t live without the foods we’ve always eaten. Sounds like your little one is having a well-rounded balanced diet 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Now it makes sense why Chinese culture is linked with longevity. These ingredients are so good for the body! I love noodles and often make a stir fry although I”m sure it is not a traditional Chinese recipe, more about mixing up what I have left to cook. It is delicious with a nice sauce. I need to eat more dumplings, I ate these once at itsu chain restaurant and they are wonderful. It just takes a minute to ask them to prepare them and oh so good! I hadn’t thought of food as having a historic story. To know noodles go back to 1100BC will give them added delicacy! Thank you for this appetising, colourful post Mabel. Happy Easter!

    Like

  8. Whenever I go to Hurstville, in Sydney Australia it reminds me of local Hong Kong food. The taste and flavours give a sense of nostalgia. I enjoy the noodle soups the most. Happy Easter!

    Like

  9. Interesting post and now I’m hungry. I like a variety but duck, seafood, dumplings and noodles are favourites of mine and mostly when I go to a Chinese restaurant my order will include at least one of them.

    I do wonder how well the traditions of Chinese food will survive as more and more generations of Chinese origin are born outside of China. It is only natural for Chinese food to fuse with local flavours and tastes in other countries.

    Like

Leave a Reply to Sue Dreamwalker Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.