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Celebrate the Year of the Dragon by enjoying tasty food with symbolic meanings

I am a Romanian who currently resides in Macau. I am fascinated by local traditions and celebrations, and I particularly enjoy Chinese cuisine. Initially, I was not fond of Chinese food when I first moved here, as I found the flavors to be strong and very different from the Chinese food I was used to in Europe. However, as time went on, I started to appreciate the complexity of the recipe, the combination of ingredients, the freshness of the food, and the cooking culture.

Food holds great importance in Chinese culture, particularly during New Year's celebrations. We only have two more days until the start of the New Year, which is the Year of the Dragon. Let's celebrate together and learn a bit about the old traditions surrounding the food.

What is the significance of food during the Chinese New Year?

The day before the start of the New Year is marked by a family gathering called the Reunion Dinner. However, the main event is usually the Lunar New Year's Eve meal shared with family members. Traditionally, Chinese families celebrate the eve of the new lunar year with a big feast. They choose particular auspicious dishes, each with symbolic meanings, to bring prosperity and good fortune for the coming year.

Many of the dishes served during Chinese New Year are vegetarian or vegan as they are considered purifying and cleansing. This is because they help to get rid of the old year's energy. It is also a Buddhist tradition that no animal should be killed on New Year's Day. Since many Buddhists are vegetarian, this practice is followed during New Year's celebrations.

Many of the foods eaten during the festivities are believed to bring good fortune or have symbolic significance.

  • Oranges and tangerines are often served as desserts or used in sauces because the word for orange sounds similar to the word for gold or money.

  • Eating long, stretchy noodles is believed to bring longevity to diners. When eating noodles for longevity, it is important not to cut them, as the length of the noodles directly correlates with longevity.

  • Tofu is said to symbolize happiness and fortune for the family.

  • Dumplings are traditionally seen as a symbol of wealth and good fortune. Eating more dumplings on the first day of the new year is believed to bring greater prosperity in the months ahead.

  • Spring rolls are another popular Chinese New Year dish believed to bring good luck.

  • If you're looking for a food item to include in your Chinese New Year food list for the Year of the Dragon, consider adding tang yuan to the list. These sweet rice balls are filled with black sesame and are typically served in a sweet soup. They symbolize the joy of a happy family reunion as their name sounds like a Chinese phrase for "reunion" and "togetherness". Additionally, their circular shape represents harmony.

Here's a delicious and healthy recipe to make your Chinese New Year Celebration even more special.

Black Pepper Tofu Recipe

The authentic black pepper sauce originates from Cantonese cuisine. Traditional Chinese black pepper sauce recipes have some specialty items that maybe can be harder to find outside of Asian markets: different types of soy sauces, Chinese cooking wine, and oyster sauce. But the recipe today is entirely plant-based, easy to make for everyone and the flavor is right there.

Crispy from the outside and soft on the inside, these tofu cubes are tossed in a delicious and flavorful black pepper sauce. Served as an appetizer or side, this tofu dish is perfect if you like Chinese food. This recipe can be made in 30 minutes and you can simply serve over boiled noodles or your favorite grain for a quick and easy weeknight dinner.

You don’t need to be vegetarian or vegan to enjoy the intense flavor and perfect texture of Black Pepper Tofu! Crispy tofu smothered in a thick savory sauce with crushed black pepper, garlic, ginger, and more. What’s not to like?

Prep Time: 30 min Cook Time: 0min Serves: 10 Serving



  • 1 tofu

  • 2tbsp cornstarch

  • ½ tsp salt

  • ¼ tsp black pepper

  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil


  • 1 tbsp minced garlic

  • 1 tbsp grain ginger

  • ½ tsp chili pepper

  • 2 tbsp soy sauce

  • 4 tbsp vegetable oil

  • 1 tsp sesame oil

  • 1 tsp black pepper

  • ½ tsp brown sugar

  • 1 tbsp green onion

  • ½ bunch cilantro


  • First, you must drain and press the tofu to remove excess water. Press the tofu with a tofu press or paper towel.

  • In a small bowl, add the oil and the tofu. Sprinkle the cornstarch, salt and black pepper.

  • Cook the tofu in the oven for about 15 min at 180 degrees or until golden on all sides. It doesn't have to be perfect.


  • Mix a bowl of soy sauce, sesame sauce, black pepper, and brown sugar.

  • In a pan add the oil and hit it.

  • When it is hot, add the ginger, garlic and chili.

  • Saute them for 30 seconds and add your sauce mix, green onion and half of the cilantro.

  • Cook it for 1 minute to make a glossy sauce mix.

  • Coat crispy tofu with the sauce and garnish with chopped cilantro.

  • Serve with noodles

  • Enjoy!

If you make this recipe please snap a photo and tag @andreea.plantbasedchef on Instagram! I would love it if you would leave a comment below.
Thanks so much!

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