Food for Thought: What to Eat for Lunar New Year 2023 & Why

Every aspect of Lunar New Year is imbued with auspicious meanings. The food is especially so: dishes, down to the very ingredients, serve as the symbolic representations of the values and wishes desired in the coming year.  

To celebrate the Year of the Rabbit, we’re excited to share a menu created for us by Jenny Dorsey: professional chef and the founder of Studio ATAO, a nonprofit organization dedicated to community-informed research and education to create more equitable standards for the food, beverage, and hospitality industry. The menu is designed to honor tradition, of course, but you’ll see that some dishes feature Jenny’s unique twist—like savory rice cakes that are inspired by the nian gao her Shanghainese mother would make with pork and pickled mustard greens.

Keep reading to discover seven Lunar New Year foods and their significance, curated by Jenny.

Dumplings = Wealth
The more the merrier! Serve a few varieties, both steamed and pan-fried. (Dumplings are Jenny’s favorite to make: try three of her recipes for the table.)

Savory Nian Gao (Rice Cakes) = Higher Income or Position
Nian gao is a popular Lunar New Year item because it's a homophone for ‘higher year’ in Mandarin, so it symbolically wishes you a great start to the year!” Jenny notes. She loves this stir-fried version with baby bok choy, which is a vegetable that represents good fortune.


Steamed Whole Fish with Ginger & Scallion = Abundance
For success, always prepare your fish steamed and whole. Keep it simple and let the dish speak for itself: Jenny loves this traditional Cantonese recipe.


Noodles = Longevity
Noodles of any variety are a must for any new year dinner but if you must know: Xian Famous Foods’ cumin lamb noodles are her favorite.


Savory Mooncakes = Prosperity & Family Reunion
Mooncakes aren’t typically eaten during Lunar New Year, but this family recipe will always make an appearance. It’s Jenny’s favorite thing to eat—and her mom’s specialty.)


Tang Yuan (Sweet Rice Balls) filled with Black Sesame Paste or Taro = Harmony & Family Togetherness
The round shape of these stuffed sticky rice balls represents unity. They’re typically served in a hot broth or syrup as dessert.


Red Bean Nian Gao Sweet Glutinous Rice Cake = Higher Income or Position
This gooey baked recipe features nian gao in dessert form. Serve this mochi-like cake in batches of eight! on a round tray to symbolize togetherness, luck, fortune.

To learn more about Jenny Dorsey and her work, follow her at @chefjennydorsey.