Food Feature: Happy Chinese New Year 2015!

Celebrate With Food and Merriment at Local Vegetarian Eateries in February

According to Chinese astrologers, the 2015 Chinese New Year will herald a new era of heightened public awareness about protecting our fragile environment and embracing a cleaner and greener lifestyle. Commencing on February 19 this year, the Year of the Goat will also bring a renewed personal commitment to healthy living and optimal nutrition, in turn also influencing significant growth in the organic and natural foods industry.

In his latest book, Your Chinese Horoscope 2015 (Harper Collins Publishers), author Neil Somerville explains that the Goat year also favours relationships and family and he predicts that many will find love or friendship, improve relationships, marry, or start a family. Overall, Goat years offer hope, and the underlying trend will be one of growth and a sense of moving forward with agreements of  historic proportion being reached, and solutions found to some of the world’s greatest concerns. Individually, we can all look forward to greater balance in our lives and realization of our inner potential.

Lucky Foods and Symbolism

Chinese culture is rich with symbolism. The name of a dish being served and/or its ingredients will sound similar to words or phrases that refer to wishes expressed during Chinese New Year. Certain dishes are eaten for their symbolic meaning and ‘lucky’ food, served during the 16-day festival season – especially on New Year’s Eve – is believed to bring good luck for the coming year.

Not only do the dishes themselves matter, but the preparation, ways of serving, and eating them also mean a lot. The most common Chinese New Year foods include dumplings, fish, spring rolls, and niangao (glutinous rice cake). Here’s a small sampling of other dishes served.

 Foods and Their Symbolic Meaning:

  • Bamboo shoots – wealth, new start; bean sprouts – positive start to the new year
  • Chinese cabbage (bok choy) – prosperity, luck
  • duck – fertility
  • egg rolls – wealth, gold
  • fish (whole) – an increase in prosperity
  • glass noodles (Chinese vermicelli) – long life
  • jujube dates – prosperity, fertility
  • oranges – good fortune, gold
  • oysters – good fortune in business
  • sticky rice – family coherence
  • seaweed – good luck, exceeding wealth
  • rice – symbolizes a link between heaven and earth.

Auspicious Dishes

Chinese New Year (CNY) is the most important festival in the Chinese calendar and comes with traditions originally initiated as harvest celebrations to give gratitude for the year’s crops. Food is the focus and the main preoccupation of CNY. Below are some of the symbolic and auspicious dishes and foods that are served in the hope of starting the new year out right:

Nian gao (year cake): This glutinous rice-based cake is eaten for good luck. Nian gao is also a homonym for ‘higher year’ – meaning to rise in status in the coming year.
Yu (fish): Yu, the Chinese word for ‘abundance’ makes fish the inevitable star of any CNY meal. A whole freshwater fish with the head and tail on symbolizes the year from beginning to end. However, tradition also recommends deliberately leaving some of the fish uneaten to represent the ‘surpluses’ sure to appear in the coming year.
Iao zi (Dumplings): Representing ingots, or money, dumplings eaten at midnight will usher in wealth, it is believed. In Northern China they are made with a soy-ginger cabbage and either a pork or a root vegetable filling. A gold coin may be hidden in one of the dumplings to bring extra luck to the eater.
Fatt choy ho see (black moss with dried oysters): This vegetable dish is studded with black moss (fatt choy – which means ‘strike it rich’) and braised dried oysters (ho see – signifying ‘good things’). The full name of this dish sounds like ‘prosperous in business’, and is served casserole-style with lettuce (sang choy – ‘rising fortune’).
Chang shou mian (longevity noodles): The longer the noodles (‘silvery threads of longevity’), the stronger the wish for a long, healthy  life. Adding mustard greens to the noodles invites a long life for parents.

Local Traditions

In Toronto, we found numerous examples of healthy and vegetarian celebrations planned for Chinese New Year, and offer them here to inspire you to join in the celebration.


Vegetarian Haven is a popular bistro on Baldwin Street in Toronto, founded in 2003 by Buddhist vegan restauranteur Shing Tong. The Haven’s impressive array of dishes, prepared by 16-year veteran chef Jack Li, range from Vegan Shanghai Noodles to Seared Cabbage Dumplings to Organic Kale and Quinoa Salad, and more. On a recent visit to taste the food and find out what’s being planned for their Chinese New Year menu, we feasted on flavourful meals and then begged the proprietor for recipes. Here are three of the most popular dishes to be served at this bistro over the festive season:

Vegetarian Haven’s Buddha’s DelightThis stir-fry dish is served every New Year, and will be on the menu again this year at Vegetarian Haven. Owner Shing Tong describes Buddha’s Delight as “probably one of their most popular dishes because New Year’s Day is usually observed as a vegetarian day, the wish being to start the year with compassion for all beings.”

Legend has it that the 18 disciples of Buddha, unable to decide on a gift to present, chose to each bring an ingredient to create a dish that would celebrate him. He was delighted with the result. So were we!

Chef’s Special: The special on offer the day we visited Vegetarian Haven was a spectacular dish made with marinated golden organic firm tofu cooked in gluten-free chick pea flour. It was served with purple rice and a medley of fresh locally sourced vegetables.


King’s Cafe opened in 2003 in Toronto’s Kensington Market, serving vegetarian food made from fresh, chemical-free ingredients. It has since grown to include seven additional locations across Canada – from the Food Factory outlet in Mississauga to the Zen Gardens restaurant locations in Moncton, NB and in Waterloo, London, Cambridge, and Guelph in Ontario. We stopped by to chat with manager, Elsa Law, and were amazed at the variety of teas and frozen prepared vegan, non-GMO foods available at this lovely eatery.

Elsa described a couple of the dishes most favoured by diners, including Kung Po Soy-Chicken, a vegetarian version of Kung Po Chicken that combines soy protein with mushrooms, celery, bell peppers, vegetables, and chilies. Also popular is a dish called Enoki Mushroom Balls, which are wrapped in seaweed sheets, stir-fried in a savoury sauce, and served on a bed of vegetables. King’s vast selection of teas, many boasting medicinal benefits, range from organic green tea to lychee black tea to Siberian ginseng and Astragalus tea.


Awarded the ‘Yelp Best Restaurant 2014’ in the vegetarian category, and serving the Markham area since 1995, Paul Kamerenma of Graceful Vegetarian Restaurant is proud to serve purely vegetarian food, Hong Kong style. Executive chef Sam Ma, who also received the ‘Best Chef’ award in 2014 from the Toronto Chinese Culinary Association, was one of the first chefs to convert original Cantonese dishes into vegetarian cuisine using vegetables, gluten, soya, and tofu.

To celebrate the happiness and prosperity that the Goat represents in 2015, two of the dishes the chefs will prepare at Graceful Vegetarian Restaurant include Vegetarian Lamb Rolls in Swiss Sauce, and Braised Vegetarian Lamb Chop in Hot Pot served with Chinese Lettuce (the lettuce representing fatt choy or wealth).

Beyond these traditional dishes, a selection of pastries (taro, turnip, sticky rice cake, sesame pastry, honey-roasted walnuts, and sugar peanut samosas) will also be prepared. Customers can buy these offerings to give as gifts inviting luck, respect, wealth, and love to friends and family in 2015.

Article by Bonnie Black with files from Suzanne Hartmann



The water chestnuts, ginkgo nuts, and bamboo shoots in this recipe are specific to Vegetarian Haven, and give the recipe its unique flavour, according to owner Shing Tong.

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This simple salad dressing can be whipped up easily with a few ingredients and can be kept refrigerated for a week or two – a refreshing and aromatic dressing for any salad.

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This vegetarian version of Lamb Chops uses a combination of soy protein with mushrooms, celery, bell peppers, vegetables, and chilies in place of meat.

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This vegetarian version of Lamb Rolls replaces lamb with a combination of soy protein with mushrooms, celery, bell peppers, vegetables, and chilies.

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King’s Cafe’s Kung Po Soy Chicken, a vegetarian version of Kung Po Chicken that combines soy protein with mushrooms, celery, bell peppers, vegetables, and chilies, is a favoured dish of diners.

View the full printable recipe


Change of Season Soup

CHANGE OF SEASON DIET – Part 1 (Soup of Astragalus and Black Gram)

Yuxiang Wang, an experienced Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner and teacher at the Canadian Gynecology Institute of Chinese Medicine (see page 83 in February 2015 issue of Vitality magazine), recommends adopting a ‘medicinal diet’ during the transition from winter to spring, the seasonal change that is ushered in at Chinese New Year. In preparation for this change, Yuxiang suggests the following herbal soup, which is good for replenishing Qi, for treating perspiration or night sweats, fatigue, and frequent colds.

Note that, for best results, it’s best to take this tea for 3 to 7 days for maximum results. (Makes 1 serving)

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In preparation for the change of seasons, TCM practitioner Yuxiang Wang suggests this herbal tea for those who are prone to catching colds and chills, sneezing, and stuffy nose. For best results, take this tea for 3 to 7 days. (Makes 1 serving)

View the full printable recipe



Bonnie Black is a former editor, and current contributor, to Vitality magazine.

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