Lunar New Year Celebration: A Guide to the Reunion Dinner in Taiwan

Lunar New Year is one of the most important holidays celebrated in Asia. In recent years, it has also become a more prominent holiday in the United States and Europe. (Overwatch, a popular video game, has run an annual Lunar New Year seasonal event since 2017.) 


Similar to Thanksgiving dinner in North America, the centerpiece of the Lunar New Year is the Reunion Dinner (年夜飯). It is held on Lunar New Year’s Eve and is a family gathering marking the end of the old and the beginning of the new. In Chinese culture, even numbers are regarded as more auspicious than odd ones - with the exception of “four” (四; sì), as the sound of that word is nearly homophonous with the word, “death”(死; sǐ). Therefore, families tend to consume six, eight or ten dishes during the course of the dinner. Furthermore, when children are rewarded with red envelopes after they show respect to the elderly (a huge motivation), the money contained inside is typically in even numbered amounts. 


Due to its historical backgrounds, Taiwanese style Reunion Dinners incorporate influences from the Chinese Major Eight Regional Cuisines (中國八大菜系) (Cantonese, Sichuan, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Hunan, Anhui, Shandong, and Fujian Cuisines), Japanese cuisine and local Taiwanese traditional cuisines. We selected a few traditional dishes often eaten during  Reunion Dinner in Taiwan below. Sit tight and get ready for the delicious dishes! 



  • Mountain and See House Platter (山海拼盤)

  • This classic appetizer typically contains both poultry and seafood, showing the harvest of the year from the land and the sea, and bringing prosperity and wealth to the family in the year to come. It includes a variety of small courses, each of which takes several hours to prepare. Those small courses include jellyfish salad, chicken smoked with sugar cane, handmade sausage made of pork from black pig (which contains a light and sweet flavor and a chewy texture), and squid stuffed in three-colored eggs (consisting of regular eggs (white), century eggs (black) and salted duck eggs (yellow)).  

    Mountain and See House Platter (a dish containing a variety of different poultry and seafood)

    Photo courtesy of Mountain and Sea House


  • Steamed Glutinous (Sticky) Rice with Mud Crab (紅蟳米糕/油飯) 
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    Chinese Sticky Rice (油飯) is a rice dish made of glutinous rice, particularly common in Taiwan, Hong Kong and the Minnan region.  Female mud crabs full of eggs are used, symbolic of a large number of children, which is meant to bring prosperity to the family.  To make this classic Taiwanese delicacy, it takes several layers of preparations - first, cook the sticky rice until it is  70 to 80% done; second, prepare the mixture of sauteed sliced shallots, diced taro, shiitake mushroom, dried shrimp soy sauce and rice wine; third, stir fry to mix all ingredients; and, finally, steam the mud crab with the rice mixture. The floral scent of the sticky rice and the flavorful, meaty mud crab makes it one of the most popular dishes at the dinner table on Lunar New Year’s Eve. 

    Steamed Glutinous (Sticky) Rice with Mud Crab

    Photo courtesy of Mountain and Sea House

     

  • Pig’s Trotters (豬腳)
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    Pig’s Trotters, or pork feet, is regarded as a food that brings good fortune. In Taiwanese culture, if misfortunate happens to someone, family elders typically would prepare a bowl of misua (a type of extremely long, thin, and salted noodles) cooked with stewed Pig’s Trotters (豬腳麵線). The misua represents good fortune and longevity of life. Due to the symbolic meaning associated with it, Pig’s Trotters are a popular dish at Reunion Dinner.  In addition to the Pig’s Trotters with misua, it is also common to cook Pig’s Trotters in a red braised style in order to give them a joyful, reddish-brown color. 

    Pig’s Trotters

    Photo courtesy of Mountain and Sea House

     

  • Buddha Jumps Over the Wall (a.k.a., Buddha’s Temptation, 佛跳牆)
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    The name of this famous dish refers to its ability to entice a vegetarian monk to give up his diet to consume it. Originating from Fujian, China, it is a popular dish in reunion dinners in Taiwan. The base soup in the dish contains a variety of different ingredients, such as quail eggs, bamboo shoots, scallops, sea cucumber, shark fin, ginseng, mushroom and taro. Recently, due to the growing awareness of animal welfare, shark fin has been substituted with sea cucumber.  This dish is typically served in an earthen jar, to keep the temperature of the ingredients warm and the ingredient layers separated. (You can also get this dish in a Mickey Mouse or Hello Kitty-styled earthen jars these days.)

    Buddha Jumps Over the Wall (a Chinese dish that contains various ingredients in a earthen jar)
    Photo courtesy of Mountain and Sea House

     

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    *We want to thank Mountain and Sea House, a Michelin-star fine dining restaurant based in Taipei, for providing the photos and the relevant information used in this article, with special thanks to Ms. Lilian Li. 

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