5 lucky Lunar New Year dishes and where to try them across Australia

Japchae, a sweet and savoury Korean noodle stir fry, a symbol of long-life. Credit: Bonchon.
Sauteed chicken and bulgogi beef japchae dish at Bonchon, a restaurant in Melbourne.

The Lunar New Year is prime time for celebrations centred around sharing food with family and friends. Come January, streets worldwide are alive with vibrant red lanterns, lion dancers, zodiac posters, and fireworks. Festivities for the Year of the Rabbit begin on January 22, 2023. People roast duck, steam whole fish, and slurp noodles throughout the festival period, which ranges from three to sixteen days.

Unbeknownst to many Australians, the Lunar New Year is not an exclusively Chinese holiday and countries across Asia celebrate, such as Sŏllal in Korea, Tết in Vietnam, and Losar in Tibet. Customs and traditions vary between cultures, but food remains a vital component, bringing families together and promising peace, harmony, and good fortune for the year to come.

Start the New Year on the right foot with these prosperous Asian specialties, along with recommendations for where you can try them across Australia.

Jiǎozi (dumplings) from mainland China

Symbolises: Wealth

Sauteed chicken and bulgogi beef japchae dish at Bonchon, a restaurant in Melbourne.
Chinese dumplings, a symbol of prosperity, well-being, and auspiciousness. Credit: Getty Images.

Dumplings are traditionally eaten on the eve of Chinese New Year across Asia, especially in North China. The classic crescent shape resembles gold and silver ingots, historically used for currency, and legend has it that the more dumplings a person eats, the more money they will make.

Indeed, Chinese New Year is the biggest celebration in the Chinese calendar filled with hometown reunions, “lucky money” in red packets, and food. Families gather and prepare traditional dishes to bless the New Year with good fortune. Both the names and appearance of these dishes are symbolic of prosperity, well-being, and auspiciousness, and preparation methods, ways of serving, and eating rituals are equally important.

Reunite with the family for a dumplings feast at the Blue Rose in Adelaide, Southside in Brisbane, Mr Hizola’s in the Gold Coast, or MuMian in Sydney. The more, the merrier, for both family members and food.

Cantonese roast duck from Hong Kong or Peking duck from Beijing

Symbolises: Fidelity

Cantonese roast duck at Embassy XO, a restaurant in the Sunshine Coast.
The Cantonese roast duck symbolises fidelity. Credit: Embassy XO.

Whether celebrating at home or a restaurant, duck is a staple at many Lunar New Year feasts. Cantonese roast duck originates from Hong Kong and South China’s Guangdong province, whereas Peking duck comes from Beijing where it was exclusively served in the imperial palace.

The two types of roast duck differ in their ways of preparation and consumption. Cantonese ducks are stuffed with Chinese spices and herbs, then simply sliced and eaten. Peking duck takes up to three days to prepare, during which the bird is wing-dried, roasted with stuffing until crisp, and elaborately carved for different uses, such as served rolled in Mandarin crepes with hoisin sauce and scallions. Roast duck symbolises fidelity in China and the reddish hue of its skin promises good fortune, as this is China’s lucky colour.

Invite your friends for a Lunar New Year banquet with roast duck at Embassy XO on the Sunshine Coast, Star House Chinese in Adelaide, Holy Duck and Tao in Sydney, or Secret Kitchen in Melbourne. Whether Cantonese style or Peking, the duck is guaranteed to impress!

Bò kho from Vietnam

Symbolises: Abundance and longevity

Beef stew
The braising beef stew symbolises abundance for the year to come. Credit: Embassy XO.

Tết Nguyên Đán, translating to the “Festival of the First Day of the Year”, is Vietnam’s most elaborate cultural event. Shortened to Tết, the festival is an opportunity for Vietnamese people to pay respect to ancestors, exchange gifts, give children money in red envelopes, and reunite with families.

Traditional foods like bò kho play a vital role in the celebrations. Originating from Northern Vietnam, this hearty stew is typically made by braising beef with carrot, ginger, and lemongrass until tender. In Southern Vietnam, they serve it with crusty baguettes (bánh mì bò kho), whereas in Central Vietnam, they eat it with thick rice noodles (phở bò kho). The stew’s rich flavours symbolise abundance for the year to come, while the noodles represent longevity.

Increase your chances of having an abundant year by enjoying a warm bowl of bò kho from Nguyen Brothers and District 1 in Adelaide.

Japchae (glass noodle stir fry) from Korea

Symbolises: Long-life

Sauteed chicken and bulgogi beef japchae dish at Bonchon, a restaurant in Melbourne.
Sauteed chicken and bulgogi beef japchae at Bonchon, Melbourne. Credit: Bonchon.

Korea’s three-day Lunar New Year, Sŏllal, commences at the house of the family’s oldest male relative where they perform ancestor worship (charye), dress in traditional costumes (hanbok), and children pay respect to elders with deep bows (seh bae).

After these formalities, the table is set with popular dishes like japchae, a sweet and savoury Korean noodle stir fry containing vegetables, meat, and clear glass noodles made from potato starch, tossed in a soy-based sauce. Koreans don’t hesitate to eat platefuls of japchae during Seollal, as they symbolise long life and long happiness.

Usher in the New Year with family and friends over japchae at Queen’s Kitchen in NSW, K-Town BBQ House in Sydney, or Bonchon in Melbourne.

Nian gao (sticky rice cake) and tang yuan (sticky rice balls) from China

Symbolises: Growth and togetherness

Sweet glutinous rice balls. Credit: Unsplash.

Sticky rice, also called glutinous rice, is a staple in Asian cuisines and has served as a base for sweet and savoury recipes for millennia. To welcome the New Year, people across China make and gift a sweet sticky rice cake called nian gao. The pronunciation of nian gao sounds like ‘higher year’, symbolising progress, advancement and growth.

Another popular sticky rice dessert in China is tang yuan (Southern China) or yuan xi (Northern China), which consists of sticky rice shaped into a ball, stuffed, and served in a warm broth or sweet liquid. The shape and homophone of the balls symbolise togetherness and completeness.

Inject some festive prosperity into the New Year with sticky rice from Cinnabar in Canberra, Miss Song’s in Townsville, Jishan Garden and Colonel Tan’s in Melbourne, Melba’s in the Gold Coast, or Ong Vietnamese Kitchen in Adelaide.

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