The Real Reason Turnip Cake Is A Popular Lunar New Year Food

All four seasons are roughly equal in terms of duration, but for many, winter can feel exceptionally long, with its welcome beginning to wear thin long before February rolls around. If that pretty much describes how you're feeling right about now, then you might be pleased to learn that February 1 marked the beginning of spring — at least as far as the lunar calendar is concerned. Per Columbia University's Asia for Educators, more than 2,000 years ago, Emperor Wu of China's Han dynasty designated the day of the second new moon after the winter solstice as the first day of the new year — and day one of the spring season. 

Also known as the Lunar New Year, this day is "one of the most important celebrations of the year among East and Southeast Asian cultures, including Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean communities, among others," according to History. It is considered by many to be the year's most important holiday in China, where people celebrate the occasion with parades, fireworks, banquets supplied with traditional foods, such as turnip cake. Here's why the dish is such a popular Lunar New Year dish.

Turnip cake is neither turnip nor cake

Don't picture a turnip-flavored birthday cake when you hear the term "turnip cake." Instead, this savory dish typically contains Chinese turnip, which is really a variety of daikon radish. Genevieve Yam of Epicurious says turnip cake is "filled with different savory elements — fatty pork, briny shellfish, and earthy mushrooms — suspended in a mixture of grated radish and rice flour." This dish is popular all year long, especially in Cantonese eateries. 

With that being said, eating turnip cakes around the Lunar New Year is considered "particularly auspicious" in Chinese culture, Yam says, "as the term for radish in Cantonese, choi tau, is a homophone for good fortune." If you want to cultivate your new year's luck by steaming, slicing, and pan-frying your own homemade turnip cake, you can use Chef Tsang Chiu King's recipe on CNN. However, it's also common to buy them, as Tsang's Ming Court restaurant in Hong Kong produces over 2,000 boxes of fluffy turnip cakes each new year.