Foods of the Spring Festival

By: Tony Zheng, Paul Geary, Alexis Kmak, and Betsy Rice

The Spring Festival, also known as the Chinese New Year Festival, is celebrated in the early months of each year. It begins on the first day of the first month in the Chinese lunar calendar (Zhiyuan). The Chinese people have many customs and traditions in their celebration during this time of year. One of the most important aspects of their celebration is the food. Tangyuan, dumplings, Nian Gao, and spring rolls are among the most popular foods eaten during the Chinese Spring Festival each year.

People perform with a dragon during the Chinese New Year. Credit: Hendrik van den Berg, Wikipedia Commons

People perform with a dragon during the Chinese New Year at the Nan Hau Temple . Credit: Hendrik van den Berg, Wikipedia Commons


The Tangyuan, which is a sweet and sticky rice ball with a sweet filling, is a traditional dessert served in the Chinese New Year. The name of what people choose to call the Tangyuan can vary in different regions, but generally people call it Tangyuan. The sound of the Tangyuan in Chinese language is very close to “tuan yuan”, meaning the reunion of the family.

This is a typical tangyuan served in Chinese households. Credit: Huihermit, Wikimedia Commons

Many people in the south eat Tangyuan due to the cultivation practices of southern versus northern China. According to Jonathan D. Spence, a well-known scholar who focuses on Chinese history, southern China had myriad rivers, canals, adequate climate and irrigation streams to support rice cultivation (Xueying). Due to northern China’s harsher climate and environment condition, rice cultivation and sweet rice cultivation was far less popular than the cultivation of wheat and millet (Xueying). Although people in northern China can more easily get an access to rice now due to transportation and technological advancements, their taste has been dramatically influenced by the dominance of wheat and millet in their cuisines since ancient times, and therefore they still prefer foods made with wheat and millet.

When cooked as a dessert, Tangyuan has a very sweet flavor that can vary greatly. Traditionally, the sweet filling inside the Tangyuan is made from sesames, peanuts, and red beans, but nowadays, producers also try to combine chocolate and other western sweets into the tiny rice balls.


Another popular food to eat in China during the Spring Festival is dumplings, especially in the northern provinces (Song). Traditionally, families “spend New Year’s Eve preparing the dumplings and will eat them at midnight” (Wei). However, depending on the area, they may be eaten both as a main dish and as a snack during different parts of the festival (Song). For example, in some areas in the northern mountains, families eat them every morning for breakfast from the first day through the fifth day (Song).

Dumplings may be eaten either as a main dish or as a snack. Credit: Ruocaled, Flickr

Dumplings are made with fairly simple ingredients. The dough for the thin outer shell is made of a mixture of flour and water (Song). The fillings could have a variety of different ingredients including beef, chicken, pork, fish, shrimp, sea cucumber, and vegetables (Song). Additionally, the fillings may be either sweet or salty (Song).

This simple food is not only a delicious treat that Chinese families enjoy during the Spring Festival, but it also represents more to the Chinese than meets the eye. The Chinese name for dumplings, jiaozi, literally means “a transitional period from the old year to the newly-coming year” (Song). Eating dumplings, which look like silver ingots, represents that people will expand their wealth in the coming year (Wei). A common tradition is to place coins in some of the dumplings before they are cooked, and whoever gets a dumpling with a coin in it is said to have good luck and to make a lot of money in the coming year (Song). Eating dumplings also represents the reunion of family and friends (Song).  Though dumplings are made with simple and basic ingredients, they play a huge role in the traditions and culture of the Spring Festival.

Nian Gao

Nian Gao is another popular food that is consumed during the Spring Festival celebration. Nian Gao is essentially a rice cake that can have many different fillings. The history of Nian Gao dates back thousands of years starting in the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.-220 A.D.) (Song). When Nian Gao first became a food of the Spring Festival it was used as a sacrifice. This sacrifice was for the heaven and took place on the Eve of the Spring Festival. According to legend Nian Gao can be used to bribe the Kitchen God. The Kitchen god returns to heaven a week before the Spring Festival begins. If the Kitchen God comes back with a negative report on the families behavior from the prior year, the coming year will bring bad luck. Today Nian Gao is eaten and enjoyed on the Eve of the Spring Festival and comes in an assortment of flavors. Nian Gao, like the dumpling, is often consumed because its name means increases in wealth in the year to come (Wei).

Nian Gao can have beans, seeds, and other foods mixed into it. Credit: wEnDy, Flickr

The main ingredient in Nian Gao is rice, but people will add different ingredients to their liking. In different provinces of China, different ingredients are added to the rice cake. In Beijing and Hebei provinces dates, cooked beans, peanuts, and sunflower seeds will be cooked into Nian Gao (Song). In Shanxi and Inner Mongolia many people add smashed dates and bean fillings. In these two provinces Nian Gao is also fried rather than steamed (Song). In the different provinces the taste of Nian Gao changes; in some areas it may be sweet, while in others it may taste salty (Song).

Fried Nian Gao is typically eaten in the provinces of Shanxi and Inner Mongolia. Credit: Joy, Flickr

Nian Gao is a very easy dish to make during the Spring Festival, because very few ingredients are needed. To make steamed Nian Gao, one only needs five ingredients; water, brown sugar, rice, vegetable oil, and almond extract. The other ingredients used such as dates or seeds are not essential ingredients. Chowhound has a simple recipe of how to make steamed Nian Gao.  

Spring Rolls

Spring rolls are one of the most popular Chinese food dishes and have also universalized to Chinese restaurants around the globe. In China, people in the north part consume more spring rolls than people in the south part. Although the Chinese eat the spring roll all year, the roll is named after the Spring Festival (Wei). A common misperception of the spring roll is that it is only eaten during the Spring Festival, but in actuality the Chinese people eat the Spring roll year-round. The typical spring roll consists of various vegetables that are wrapped up in rice paper.  They are fried to a golden color, which symbolizes wealth (Wei).

Here are directions to make a standard spring roll. 

Spring rolls contain a variety of vegetables that are wrapped in rice paper. Credit: Northamerica1000, Wikimedia Commons

Tangyuan, dumplings, Nian Gao, and spring rolls are some of the most popular foods eaten during the Chinese Spring Festival. These foods have their own roles in the festival’s celebration both within individual families and the culture as a whole. Also, the culture around these different foods and their popularity can vary greatly throughout different regions of China because the difference in the crop-cultivation in the old time does shape the tastes of people in the difference region. The foods of the Spring Festival give a glimpse of just how rich and diverse the culture of a country that can often be overgeneralized by Americans truly is.



Festivals: Spring Festival, China. 2014. Accessed October 12, 2016.

“Nian Gao: A Sticky Cake Recipe for the Kitchen God.” Food. 2014. Accessed November 10, 2016.

Song, Li. Spring Festival. Reading: Paths International Ltd., 2015. (accessed October 12, 2016)

“Steamed Chinese New Year Cake Recipe – Chowhound.” Accessed November 10, 2016.

Wei, Clarissa. “10 Essential Chinese New Year Dishes.” L.A. Weekly. February 08, 2013. Accessed October 12, 2016.

Winsor, Morgan. “Chinese Lunar New Year 2016 Facts: Traditional Food, Snacks And Easy Recipes For Yusheng, Buddha’s Delight, Nian Gao And More.” February 07, 2016. Accessed November 10, 2016.

Xueying, Zhang. “Experience Spring Festival in China.” China Today 49, no. 4 (April 2000): 68. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed October 24, 2016).

Zhiyuan, Z. (1993), A Brief Account of Traditional Chinese Festival Customs. The Journal of Popular Culture, 27: 13–24. doi:10.1111/j.0022-3840.1993.1354684.x.

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16 thoughts on “Foods of the Spring Festival

  1. Brandon Bank says:

    The spring festival is so cool how its all about food. Especially in China because food is such a big part of their culture and bringing people together.

  2. Timothy Coleman says:

    Just looking at this post makes me hungry. Usage of images keeps my attention through the whole blog. The details provided by telling the history of the dishes allows me to know why they are important. Organization is the key to be more successful.

  3. Anna Walter says:

    Overall, your blog is great! I love the paragraph that describes the traditional Chinese dish called Tangyuan and it’s meaning, the reunion of family. I’d never heard of this dish and it sounds like it would be amazing! I agree with everyone’s comments that this could be a little bit better organized. The lack of titles kind of made it confusing which subject you were transitioning to from each topic. However, I liked all the dishes you included and pictures of each one helped me gain an image and taste for how these are. Your blog was a good read though! Here is an article that could potentially help your blog:

  4. Caroline Wolcott says:

    This blog is well written and fun to read. It kept my attention throughout and the amount of words to pictures ratio is well done. All pictures are relevant and great quality. I enjoyed learning about where each dish originated and how the regions affect what is the base of some of the dishes. My favorite part was how you all explained how the names in Chinese can have deeper meaning or relate to the festival itself, or the final color can have a meaning as well. I would go deeper into defining the symbolism of each dish. I also would hyperlink your sources throughout the blog more.

    This is a website that talks about the Spring Festival and the symbolism of its food:

  5. Hattie Grant says:

    I enjoyed reading this blog post but agree with others in that headings could be useful in distinguishing what the upcoming paragraph is about. It was interesting to learn about the Spring Festival, I did not know much about it prior to reading this. I also enjoyed reading about the dumplings because it relates to the cooking session that our classes had. Hyperlinks could help the readers learn more about a specific piece of the Spring Festival or to show more photos of the spring roll making process, for example. Here is the link for a website that gives more background on the Spring Festival:

  6. Lena Dufresne says:

    I enjoyed reading this blog. The topic is interesting and the blog and it is well written. I would suggest that headers be included throughout the blog, as well as adding more hyperlinks so that readers can refer back to your sources.
    Below is a link on how to prepare traditional Chinese dumplings like the ones you talked about above.

  7. The blog posts are extremely interesting to read, are the pictures especially helped to keep my attention while reading the posts. It was a little difficult to follow along with the posts through, and I think that headers and lines to separate the posts would be more helpful for the readers. I also found an interesting article about traditional Chinese foods during the Spring Festival that I thought you might want to check out:

  8. Stephen Reynolds says:

    I think the blog is very well written. It is interesting how food can mean so much more than just something that we eat. The Nian Gao was originally a sacrifice and now it is supposed to bring wealth in the coming year. I knew almost nothing about Chinese food when I started this class and this blog certainly helped me learn more about it. I also realized how significant food can be in Chinese people’s lives. The only thing I don’t like is that there is not a physical separation in between food topics. Here is a link to an article about all kinds of foods eaten during the Chinese New Year and what they mean:

  9. Meredith Butenhoff says:

    This blog was very interesting to read! I would have liked to have had a little bit more information on the Spring Festival. I also agree with Katie Lee that the blog could benefit from titles to help make things more clear for the reader. I felt like everything got smushed together and it was hard to distinguish where new information started. However, the images did help break it up a little bit. I liked that each of your photos gave a short description of what is in the dish. You could consider adding links to the photos from where you got them from. Here is a link that could help you write catchy blog titles!

    • Tami Blumenfield says:

      That’s a neat link Meredith! Thanks for sharing it. Formulas are not the only answer but they can definitely be helpful.

  10. Elizabeth Morris says:

    I think the blog is well-written and I liked how there are multiple pictures to make it more intriguing. I think there should be headers for each section to let the reader know what you’re talking about. Here is an address of an authentic Chinese restaurant to go try.
    Chin Chin
    1099 E Butler Rd #101, Greenville, SC 29607

    • Tami Blumenfield says:

      Right – just be careful ordering at Chin Chin, to order off the Chinese-food menu (not Japanese or Korean food), if your goal is to eat authentic Chinese food.

  11. Mary Ward says:

    In this post I like how there are several foods associated with the festival that are addressed with a picture of each dish discussed. I agree with Katie Lee in that there eoculd be little bit better organization in regards to titles or subtitles to break it up and clarify better what specifically each section discusses instead of having it all flow. I think it also would have been interesting if the group incorporated some pictures of the food after perhaps visiting a restaurant and having a dish similar to those that would be served at the festival. Overall is it very informative and well written, and it was interesting to learn about a new festival as opposed to many of the other posts that relate to things we have already touched on some in class.

    Here are the address to two authentic Chinese Restaurants with affordable prices and close to campus where your group could try one of the popular dishes discussed in the blog, ex. Spring Rolls.

    Wok Inn
    5054 Old Buncombe Rd, Greenville, SC 29613

    TR Chinese
    331 S Main St
    Travelers Rest, SC 29690

  12. Katherine Crockett says:

    I think the information in the blog is well written, but at first I was confused as to what I was reading due to the lack of titles. I think if they included a title for each paragraph, it would enhance the piece and further draw in the reader. I also thing the blog lacks a good amount of commentary. I would’ve liked to see what the writer’s thought about the food/which one they thought they would’ve like the most etc. I feel like if they add their opinions, the piece will read more like a blog than just a list of facts, and it will also keep the reader interested. I would’ve liked to hear a general description of each dish in the introduction, so I know more of what the blog is going to be about since the blog focuses on those dishes and their components. Overall, I think the blog is strong and a good read! Here is a link with good titles for paragraphs that could help give inspiration for your titles:

  13. Hannah Tyson says:

    This blog post is very interesting and keeps my attention throughout. I like how the history of each dish was given because it gives little more background and detail that we would’ve been missing out on. I also liked how this group mentions at what point in the Spring Festival each food is consumed. I also though it was interesting the each dish or the name of the dish means something else. I think the group should add headings in the blog before each new food is introduced to keep things a bit more organized.

    Here is an article about “lucky foods” eaten during the Chinese New Year.

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