A woman sells fish-flavoured chips at the Dihua Chinese Lunar New Year street market in Taipei January 23, 2009. Reuters/Nicky Loh

Chinese New Year, also called Spring Festival, is one of the most important Chinese events that involves a huge celebration across the country. The festivities of the Chinese New Year that last 15 days are joined by various cities of the world, including Sydney, London as well as San Francisco.

Food plays a very important role in the celebrations of Chinese New Year. Most of the food items served and eaten are auspicious and have drawn their significance from Chinese history and culture. Fish is one among them. Serving and eating fish during the New Year celebrations are associated with good luck. However, eating and serving it in the right manner also play a major role in bringing fortune, wealth and good luck.

Reason to have fish on the New Year party menu

Fish in Chinese sounds like “surplus” and according to Chinese New Year culture, having surplus at the end of the year is considered auspicious. It is believed if the year ends with surplus, the next year will bring more good luck.

Cooking the fish

There is no obligation as to how the fish shall be cooked. It can be boiled, steamed as well as braised. However, the head and tail shall not be chopped off.

The right time to eat the fish

Among the other dishes prepared for the New Year's party, fish shall be the last item to eat along with some leftovers, according to the Chinese New Year tradition in north of the Yangtze River. This symbolises surplus, being there every year.

However, in other parts of China, people eat the other parts of the fish and leave the head an the tail, which is thereafter eaten when the new year begins. This symbolises that the new year has started with surplus.

Eating one fish versus two

According to the Chinese New year customs, eating two fish (one on New Year’s Eve and the other on New Year’s Day) means wishing for surplus year after year. Eating one fish in the manner that the upper part of it is eaten on New Year’s Eve and eating the remainder on New Year’s Day would also mean the same.

Serving the fish in right manner

The head of the fish is placed towards the position of the guest in order to represent respect for him or her. If the fish is kept on the table full of guests, the one on whom the fish’s head is pointing eats it first. The two people, who face the head and the tail of the fish, are supposed to drink together for good luck. It may be noted that the position of the fish cannot be changed.

Popular fish dishes for Chinese New Year celebrations

  • West Lake fish served with chili and pickled cabbage
  • Steamed weever
  • Steamed fish in vinegar sauce
  • boiled fish with spicy broth

Chinese New Year 2017, which is the Year of the Rooster, falls on January 28.