Lunar New Year, (or Chinese New Year for those of us who identify as Chinese), has long been the most significant holiday for cultures across East Asia and Southeast Asia. Back in the day, it was one of the only times people could go home and see their families (though this remains true in some cases). If you were a married woman? Tough luck. You only got the second day of the new year to go home and see your own family. The rest of the time, and really the rest of the entire year, you were still obligated to be with your “real and official” family (aka your in-laws).
Thankfully, personal travel and options for visiting family are much less bound to tradition and cultural custom these days. And along with the loosening of these rigid values, the way people celebrate Lunar New Year has also evolved. I obviously can’t speak for all families, but at least within my own family, the way we do this holiday has definitely come a long way since ancient times.
This year, like many Lunar New Years past, my family is scattered across four different cities and two countries— my parents in Taiwan and my sisters and I in varying places across California. Although we got lucky and had the new year fall on a weekend, logistically it wasn’t particularly feasible to plan a get-together, especially since we don’t get extra time off for it in the U.S. It’s a shame, as Lunar New Year is not only synonymous with quality family time, but also with quality eating time.
There’s a whole host of foods that people traditionally eat, from steamed fish that’s supposed to bring prosperity, to dumplings that symbolize wealth, to noodles for longevity, to oranges for good fortune. But this usually also means a lot of prep, a lot of cooking, and a mountain of dishes. It’s awesome for the people who are just in charge of eating, but for people who have to put in the work and then clean up after everyone else? Probably less awesome.
Fortunately, we live in an age of modern convenience. If you still want to enjoy the taste of New Year’s dishes without the hassle, you can order them ahead of time at restaurants and pick them up the day of your feast. If you want to feel like you put in a little more effort, there are frozen, heat-and-serve options available in grocery stores. And for those of us who don’t live in a country that officially celebrates Lunar New Year, either of these choices are great if you can’t cook, want to invite people over and not worry about food, or just want to recreate the Lunar New Year food experience without becoming a slave to your kitchen.
For me, I decided to keep things simple. I was craving my mom’s recipe for zhajiangmian, (or fried sauce noodles, which deserves its own post in the future), and thought it would be a nice way to celebrate Lunar New Year. After eating, I video-chatted my family (little sis was missing, ostensibly busy with whatever festivities college kids get up to on a Friday night), exchanged 新年快樂 (“Happy New Year”) greetings, then finished up the evening with a rousing session of Netflix and chill on the couch.