The Essential Guide to Your Chinese New Year Meal

Yesterday I was out in search of chocolate (what I consider the staff of life–my version of communion would be chocolate bars and cocoa, not bread and wine!) when I came across what looked to be an impromptu farmer’s market on Wujiang Lu, which up until 3 years ago was a famous food street in Shanghai.

While attempting to make sure I had my facts straight, I came across these blog posts that show before and after photos of the street: and  I had heard that this street once existed, but I had no idea that it had been torn down so recently.

It now has restaurants like Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbucks as well as other local Chinese restaurants and drug stores like Watson’s. My favorite store is a place called Awfully Chocolate. The name is bad and the service is worse, but they have amazing salted caramel chocolate brownies, so I ‘m willing to put up with the sullen help.

Anyway, I couldn’t figure out why all these vendors were set up until I got to the end of the street and read the sign on the gate they had put up for the event:

Of course, Chinese New Year is coming up!

Of course, Chinese New Year is coming up!

Well, this deserves a second look, I thought. What an opportunity to discover what is specifically eaten at Chinese New Year.


The round wheels were white rice with nuts and seeds. I think the other wheels were similar but with brown or red rice. I have no idea what the long ones were made of it. It didn’t have grains of rice like the other two, but I’m thinking it was made out of rice in a different form.



Maybe air puffed intestines?



looks like cartilage



Anybody’s guess, but maybe pig’s ears on the right? I didn’t try the sample.



These are dried up fish bits that have been processed in different ways to give different flavors. They are used as a seasoning and tend to be quite salty.



These look like dried hawthorns, or maybe they’re just really old hawthorns.



Looking at the scales, this is probably some kind of fish or snake product.





IMG_1101So pretty–dried flowers for potpourri?


IMG_1102More potpourri ingredients?

You can get the hot dog looking item in stores all the time. It’s some kind of pasta-like thing either made from rice or wheat flour. I don’t know what you’re supposed to do with them, so I’ve never bought them. I bet those long rectangles have red bean paste between the layers.



I know these!  Giant beans!



Here they are cooked.



I think those are green mung beans on the right and probably some variation of the same on the left.

Nuts! I recognize these!



This was a popular booth. Unfortunately I can’t say why.



These are crunchy sweet fried snacks, although a lot less sweet than you’d find in the                      West.



Something rubbery from the sea.



I’m sure these are great when they’re disguised under something else.



A soup of 3 different dried mushrooms. I tried a sample and it was delicious.



These go by the names juju berry, jujube (yes the candy is named after them) or red dates.



This booth specialized in white powders that make the viscous slimy liquid this lady was slurping up.



This stuff was really scary looking.



Prepared food for those who don’t want to cook.



Lots of different kinds of tea.



The lady had just poured some of these out so I tried one. It wasn’t as salty or potato-y as a Bugle, but had a similar texture.



I think this guy with the cleaver was trying to show how much fat was under the skin of his ducks.



Sorry for the blurry picture, but these are the rice bundles that have either pork or red beans in them.  Chen shi fu’s mother made a lot of these for us last year. They’re wrapped in bamboo leaves and smell really rank when they’re wet.



I’ve bought something at City Shop that looks like those square things in back, and it was tofu. I’m wondering if the round things are tofu too.



Crab salad, maybe. Looks very spicy, but not particularly appetizing.


Dehydrated beets.IMG_1097

Dehydrated sweet potatoes–at least that’s kind of what they tasted like when I tried one.IMG_1100

This is a popular item you see year round here. I wish I knew what they were used for.


The Chinese love their little individually packaged snacks.



Lots of Juju berries. Nobody was buying them though.



Scary prickly things



Some of the stuff on the left, above, cooked up.



I think this is pig’s skin.



Probably rice noodles



Fish or maybe intestines?



I think this is a fried pastry. Probably filled with red bean paste and very greasy.



Dried fish, like salt cod.



These are light, airy, crisp balls of dough, similar to profiteroles. I don’t know if they are sweet though.



This seemed to be a popular item–like a jujube candy. I’ve never seen them in any store, so maybe this is an item especially for Chinese New Year.

I saved the best for last–pressed ducks.

IMG_1047These are being sold at one of my local grocery stores for Chinese New Year. I think they are rice, molded to look like fish–kind of like our butter molds. Fish are a symbol of prosperity.

For a quick tutorial of other Chinese food symbolism during Chinese New Year, see:

It’s definitely not your turkey and cranberries and pumpkin pie is it!? I think the flavors of some of these things may be quite appealing, but for a Western palate, the texture is often difficult to overcome. We don’t generally like things that are rubbery, gelatinous, slimy or viscous, all of which the Chinese love.

Fortunately there’s so much to eat here, you don’t have to suffer through weird textures unless you want to.

And now for some pictures of beauty to cleanse your ocular palette:

My birthday mail envelope from Kelly.

My birthday mail envelope from Kelly.

Elevator flowers

Elevator flowers


About DECRYPTKNIT: knitter on the loose in Shanghai

Hi, I'm Marisa Newhouse, a former pharmacist (for a brief time during the Reagan administration) who's real calling was probably anything that has to do with cooking, plants, literature and especially knitting; hence my last and favorite job, working at Woolyminded, a wonderful yarn store. But now, I have moved half a world away to Shanghai where my husband will be working. Lots of people are interested in what we will be doing here and I have always kept journals of our travels, so I thought I'd do it the modern way and keep a blog.
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