During Lunar New Year, food holds special meaning. Try these recipes As millions around the world get ready to welcome the year of the rabbit, we spoke with chefs, cooks and bakers about what dishes they're putting on their tables and what they mean to each of them.

These Lunar New Year dishes remind those who make them of their family and friends

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On Sunday, millions of people all around the world will celebrate Lunar New Year, ushering in the Year of the Rabbit. It's a time to reflect, pay respect to your elders and, if you're lucky, receive some hongbao. That's a red envelope stuffed with cash.


Another staple of the holiday, which will sound familiar to everyone - a bountiful table full of delicious food.

CHANG: Oh, yeah.

MAGGIE ZHU: The food is really the main star because everybody works together. And they share so many things, and during the eating, they talk and connect.

SHAPIRO: That's Maggie Zhu, who writes the blog Omnivore's Cookbook. We talked to her and other Asian American food bloggers and chefs about the food they most associate with Lunar New Year. Like Thanksgiving in the U.S., each family has specific dishes that are always on their table. For Zhu's feast, dumplings are a must.

ZHU: For my family, it's really special because everybody work together. My grandparents, my parents, like, my aunt, uncles, like, my cousin - we wrap, like, hundreds of dumplings. We usually start working from the afternoon. I mean, this process just go on for hours and hours.

CHANG: It really does. You can use a ground meat filling if you like, but Zhu fills hers with a mix of vegetables and tofu seasoned with soy sauce. And some advice - it takes practice to make perfect pleats when folding dumplings. I know I can't. So Zhu says to keep it simple and just have fun.

ZHU: Just don't be too strict about, like, how you fold them. If this is your first time to make it, I'd say you can simply just roll them like a half-moon, kind of a pierogi.

SHAPIRO: For Kevin Tien, the executive chef of the D.C. restaurant Moon Rabbit, the holiday is also associated with one dish.

KEVIN TIEN: It's my favorite thing to eat in the whole world. Every time I smell it, it reminds me of my grandma's house, and that's what I, like, cook now. It's what we call thit kho tau. So it's a caramelized, braised pork belly.

SHAPIRO: Tien is Vietnamese, so he celebrates the Year of the Cat, according to the Vietnamese zodiac. His dish starts by making caramel in a pot, heating sugar until it melts.

TIEN: As soon as you get this, like, beautiful, deep amber-color caramel, I take it off the heat. And then I'll add, like, fresh chopped garlic, a little bit of ginger and chilis. And as soon as those aromatics are done sweating, we'll add coconut soda. The preferred brand is Coco Rico. And then there's the pork belly, which we've marinated in a little bit of soy, a lot of garlic, black pepper. And you, like, braise this pork belly till it gets, like, super-tender. And the best part is we boil eggs. And you put the eggs into, like, this caramelized pork stew, and the egg absorbs all the - like, the liquid. Like, you know, the pork's really good, but the egg is where it's at.

CHANG: Now, no holiday meal is complete without dessert, of course. My favorite Chinese dessert is tang yuan, those sweet glutinous rice balls in soup. But there are so, so many desserts to gorge on during this holiday.

ROSE NGUYEN: Back in the day, when I lived with my parents and we would go out to eat on every Sunday, we would always go to an Asian bakery afterwards, and I would always get three things - sesame ball, pineapple bun and a milk tea. And it always tasted right, so that's why I'm bringing it to Lunar New Year these days - because, you know, it just kind of brings back memories and it means so much to me.

SHAPIRO: Sesame balls are sweet fried dumplings made from a dough of glutinous rice flour, sugar and hot water. The dough is portioned out and wrapped around a filling of your choice. Nguyen prefers red bean. Then each ball is coated in sesame seeds and fried until crispy and golden brown. It may not be an elaborate dessert, but it is a crowd pleaser, and that's what's most important.

NGUYEN: For Lunar New Year specifically, food is a way for family and friends to gather so that they can wish each other good luck, good fortune, prosperity and longevity. And so some of the dishes that we eat and the things that we give to each other all have specific meanings.

CHANG: You can find recipes for each dish mentioned and more at npr.org. From all of us to all of you, xinnian kuaile, gong xi fa cai. Happy Lunar New Year.

SHAPIRO: May the Year of the Rabbit or the Cat bring you good fortune and lots of good food.


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