Food & Culture

Four Asian Australian artists on their favourite Lunar New Year snacks

Auspicious and delicious, these are the celebratory dishes that usher in the Lunar New Year for four Asian Australian illustrators - from prawn-filled dumplings to Chinese candy boxes.

Dumplings, illustration by Joanna Hu
Today, Lunar New Year is observed by more than a quarter of the world's population. In 2023, we're celebrating the Year of the Rabbit or Cat - it's the one year that the Chinese zodiac and Vietnamese zodiac differ, with most of Asia celebrating the Year of the Rabbit while Vietnam celebrates the Year of the Cat.
Celebrations, customs and even the duration of the Lunar New Year festivities vary between East and Southeast Asian communities – Vietnam's Têt goes for seven or nine days, chunjie in Chinese communities kicks on for 15, while Korea's Seollal holiday lasts for three. But food - and plenty of it - is a common thread.
There are many celebratory Lunar New Year dishes that are eaten for auspicious (and delicious) reasons. Here, we ask four leading Asian Australian artists to draw on the culturally significant foods they enjoy feasting on during Lunar New Year – from fortune-promising dumplings to desserts that ensure a sweet future.

Gold rush: dumplings

'Dumplings', Joanna Hu
All the food eaten around Chinese New Year has various symbolic meanings and my personal favourite is dumplings, eaten for their resemblance to plump money pouches or gold ingots (see: Ronny Chieng's stand-up routine on how much Chinese people love money). There's a communal aspect as well to making them on Chinese New Year, with everyone gathered around a giant bowl of mince and assembling the dumplings together. In the last few years, I've come to start taking the days either side of Chinese New Year off from work to give the holiday its due. What I love especially about dumplings is how they can be tailored to personal preferences, and there's something about the generosity of my mum's home-made dumplings in their abundance of prawns and ginger that encapsulates the family, love and celebration of Chinese New Year.

Not-so-forbidden fruit: fruit platter

'Fruit from the heart', Steffie Yee
There's nothing like the pleasant surprise of your parents serving up a platter of peeled, cored and sliced fruit after a big Lunar New Year feast. My father welcomes the new year by cooking rich and decadent meals like pork belly, eight treasure duck, steamed fish and abalone soup. Topping off the savoury feast are refreshing mango slices and plump lychees – the perfect way to freshen up the palate and welcome the new year on a sweet note.
Steffie Yee, animator, director and illustrator

Out of the box: Chuen hup

'Chuen Hup', Shirley Zhuo
Every year when Lunar New Year rolls around, the chuen hup or confectionery box comes out on the dining table, ready to greet our family and friends who visit. As a kid, I remember we'd fill it with a mix of traditional Asian sweets, Australian lollies and Ferrero Rochers. The box is a little reminder to myself to celebrate the sweet parts of my Chinese Australian heritage.
Shirley Zhuo, illustrator
Jelly, Yeli Chuan

Cold comfort: konnyaku jelly

Konnyaku (yam) jelly has been a constant treat that brings me familiar comfort – my mum has been whipping these up for every family gathering since I was a teenager, no matter how much our lives have changed. When the konnyaku jelly trend hit Singapore many years ago, my mum enthusiastically made them with different fillings, flavours, colours, and shapes. Since moving to Melbourne about a decade ago, I came to realise that my family is getting smaller and smaller each year, but my mum's jelly is a security blanket that calms me in these increasingly uncertain times, and it's also a sweet reminder of how fortunate we are to celebrate a new year.
Yeli Chuan, illustrator and graphic designer