While many Canadians rang in 2021 with their preferred foods and drinks, those who celebrate the Lunar New Year (coming up on February 12th) have centuries-old food traditions and superstitions that are specific, remaining relatively unchanged over thousands of years. We chatted with Chinese-Canadian Irene Fong, a meal planner at Chefs Plate and former senior food editor at Canadian Living, about the foods and superstitions she just can’t—and won’t—budge on! —Vita Daily
Hi Irene! Please tell us a bit about yourself to start.
First and foremost, I love to cook and eat. I’m also a busy mom, and full-time menu planner for Chefs Plate. Prior to that, I ran my own food consultancy and worked in the Canadian Living Test Kitchen.
Happy Lunar New Year! What does this special occasion mean to you?
Lunar New Year is a holiday rooted in cultural and family traditions that promote and celebrate luck, health and prosperity. In my family, it was always a time of togetherness and fun—especially revolving around food and around the dinner table.
What are some of the traditional foods and food-related customs associated with LNY? How do superstitions come into play when it comes to food for LNY?
I don’t consider myself a superstitious person, but when it comes to Lunar New Year, I like to follow the traditions I always have growing up. For example, I don’t wash my hair on New Year’s day because it is said to wash away good luck. I also make sure to clean the house before the big day arrives because sweeping is believed to sweep away wealth. I also try to do all of the laundry in advance because washing clothes is also a superstition of washing away good luck.
What is the right way and WRONG way to eat your noodles on Lunar New Year?
Long noodles symbolize longevity. It’s bad luck to cut the noodles before eating them! Traditionally, the longevity noodle dish is also served on birthdays and consists of just one long noodle. Today, most people celebrate with any type of long noodle.
What are your top tips for saving time on LNY food prep?
In my family, we didn’t cut corners on food prep but we didn’t make everything ourselves either. We bought some of the desserts versus preparing them ourselves. Some of my favourites for the holiday are steamed sponge cake which signifies prosperity, sesame seed balls that signify fullness, and sugar rings which mean togetherness and sweetness.
What’s your fave lucky food or dish to prepare (or just eat!) for LNY?
I grew up preparing dumplings and spring rolls (which represent prosperity) with my mom and grandmother every Lunar New Year. Dumplings and spring rolls are a bit labour-intensive, but since it’s a special occasion, I always carve out the time to prepare these two items from scratch. I’m hoping to teach my four-year-old how to carry on this tradition so she can keep our family recipes alive.