A Taste of Asia: Traditional Dishes Served During Festivals

The Spring Festival, Mid-Autumn Festival, and other celebrations in Asia are a time for families to come together and enjoy traditional dishes. From dumplings to niangao, fish to takoyaki, there is something for everyone. Let's take a look at some of the most popular dishes served during festivals in Asia. One of the most iconic dishes served during the Spring Festival is dumplings. The shape of the dumplings resembles ancient Chinese gold ingots (sycee), making them a particularly rich omen.

Some people even hide a jiao and five jiao coins inside the dumplings (just like the British tradition of hiding six pence of silver in Christmas pudding), which are believed to bring good luck to whoever finds them. The popularity of fish on the Spring Festival table is due to the fact that the Chinese word for fish (yú) is a homonym for surplus (余). Fish is usually served whole this time of year, and some families may choose to leave some meat behind, putting language association into practice. Next on our Spring Festival food list, yuanxiao (or tangyuan) are glutinous rice flour balls cooked and served in a light sugar syrup. They can be large or small, filled (with sesame, peanuts, or red bean paste) or unfilled.

Yuanxiao literally means “first afternoon”, in reference to the first full moon after Chinese New Year, when the Lantern Festival is celebrated. Another eponymous food, niangao (also known as Chinese New Year cake) sounds like 年高, meaning “superior year” or, with greater grammatical precision, an increasingly prosperous year. There are many styles of niangao in China, of which our favorites are the Cantonese style, which is sweetened with brown sugar and steamed into a round cake, and the Shanghainese style, which is often cut into slices and sautéed with pork and cabbage. Shaped like gold ingots (more or less, if you squint your eyes). This tradition is more common in southern China and in overseas Chinese communities.

Maybe it's not strictly a Spring Festival dish, but the hot pot embodies the communal aspect of the many reunion dinners held around the Spring Festival. Not to mention that you can dip other Spring Festival foods, such as the aforementioned niangao, into the pot. The poon choi (盆菜), which is often translated as a feast of large bowls, basin cuisine, or Chinese casserole, originated in the New Territories of Hong Kong, where it began as a celebratory dish for guests visiting villages. Composed mainly of select cuts of meat and the best fresh and dried seafood, the story goes that the poon choi omits the cheapest vegetables out of respect for the guests.

Although not specifically related to the Spring Festival, poon choi is a popular choice for New Year's meeting dinners both in Hong Kong and, increasingly, in China.


are probably the most famous Mid-Autumn Festival foods. They symbolize the moon and the family unit. The full moon in mid-autumn is full and families with mooncakes in their hands are harmonious, happy and healthy.


is a sautéed noodle dish often found at festivals in Japan.

Yakisoba is made with sautéed noodles with cabbage, pork, chicken or veal, carrots and a few slices of pickled ginger. Ao nori, or dried green algae, is often sprinkled on top. A touch of yakisoba sauce and Japanese mayonnaise make it juicier.


is an iconic Japanese street food. They are fish-shaped cakes filled with red bean paste, but sometimes they have other fillings such as sweet potato, cream or chocolate.

Taiyaki is cooked in a single pan similar to a waffle maker, but with a detailed fish-shaped mold that gives them their distinctive look. Often called “octopus balls” in the United States, takoyaki is a popular Japanese ball-shaped street food from Osaka. The dough for fried pancakes is filled with diced octopus, pieces of tempura, pickled ginger and green onion. Takoyaki is cooked in special rounded pans and turned over with a pick to create its characteristic ball shape.


is a tasty Japanese pancake served with a special sauce.

Dressings may vary, but the most common include bonito (fish) flakes, shredded cabbage, green onions, and pork. Okonomiyaki proves that there are more ways to enjoy pancakes than with maple syrup.


is a dish consisting of sautéed wheat noodles and a variety of finely chopped vegetables and meat, usually pork. Noodles are a classic comfort and satiating food, and yakisoba is no exception, and it's still a popular choice at Japanese festivals.


is a sweet Japanese dumpling similar to mochi but made from rice flour instead of rice itself.

They're usually served on a skewer and topped with a sweet soy sauce glaze. Because of its simplicity, dango is an excellent Japanese festival food and can be modified to suit different seasons and themes. The dough itself can be colored with food coloring or natural dyes such as matcha, and different frostings can be used to change the flavor. Baby castella is a bite-sized version of the traditional Japanese castella - a sweet and fluffy cake - these castella for babies are small cake balls with varieties including matcha and honey. They can also be filled with red bean paste or cheese but traditionally have no filling. Instead of known suspects of chicken pork or fish dishes most traditional Mid-Autumn festival foods are associated with the local harvest.

Topped with a salty sauce or a sweet and savory sauce yakitori is a classic and filling dish at Japanese festivals. Please note that food selection will vary by festival place and time of year. Preparing okonomiyaki takes time so vendors cook it in batches and serve the pancakes hot once they're cooked through. This seasonal vegetable is usually freshly grilled at the food stand and served with a layer of butter flavor on the cob. On festival days shop owners set up food stalls known as yatai and outdoor stalls on the road in parks or on trails that approach sanctuaries. Festivals in Japan also serve delicious traditional desserts that taste even tastier when served fresh from food stalls. Fireworks aside -the best (or maybe THE BEST) thing about Spring Festival are all the delicious traditional foods that go with it!.

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