February has many themes around which you can throw a dinner party. Besides the obvious —Mardi Gras and Valentine’s Day — there is Eat Ice Cream for Breakfast Day (2/7), Cherry Pie Day (2/20) and National Tortilla Chip Day (2/24). But what about Chinese New Year? This year, the date falls on Thursday, February 19, perfect timing after Valentine’s Day and Mardi Gras. The occasion is a fun way to throw a festive dinner party and maybe even redo those January 1 New Year’s resolutions that have likely already flown out the window.
Today, we are going to show you some fairly easy ideas for hosting a Chinese New Year dinner party, so that you can spend more time enjoying your guests and less time stressing over pulling it all together.
Part of the fun is exposing yourself and your guests to a different culture, so first things first: some facts about Chinese New Year.
- 2015 is the year of the goat. Twelve animals rotate through every 12 years. Last year was the year of the horse and next year is the year of the monkey. Think of the animal signs as akin to being born under a certain astrological sign with perceived traits, lucky numbers and horoscopes. So you may be a Scorpio, but you are also a rat, if born Oct 30, 1972.
- Chinese New Year is also known as the Spring Festival.
- This is the longest festival on the Chinese calendar and runs through the Lantern Festival (15 days).
- If possible, everyone gathers with family for this holiday, leading to a massive amount of travel in China. Each year, this is the largest human migration on earth.
- Red is considered one of the luckiest colors and is used in abundance for decor.
- Traditionally, this is the time when Chinese families spring clean, thus sweeping away bad luck.
- Long noodles, dumplings and fish are traditional Chinese New Year foods. However, there are different regional influences that appear on the dinner table throughout China.
DECORATE FOR YOUR DINNER PARTY
The biggest impact items to consider purchasing include:
- Red cloth napkins
- Red lanterns
Beyond this, improvise with what you have!
FOOD FOR YOUR DINNER PARTY
Okay, here’s the thing, I highly doubt many of us can actually make better Chinese food than what you can pick up at your favorite Chinese restaurant. So take a break from the cooking, order out and pick it up! You’ve hung lanterns … you’ve done enough!
Traditions on the festival dinner menu change depending on the region in China. Simply having a few items honoring the various traditions is fine. This does not need to be absolutely authentic and have every traditional item. If you strive for that, you won’t enjoy the occasion. Pick a few items as a nod to the Chinese New Year, and otherwise, have fun! Suggestions to order:
- Dumplings: They are a symbol of wealth and are an important part of a Chinese New Year’s menu. The shape is similar to that of the ancient gold and silver ingots. Like hiding a baby in a king cake, some families will hide a coin in one dumpling.
- Noodles: Long noodles symbolize a long life, so don’t cut them up!
- Fish: Traditionally, it’s best to serve a whole fish, head to tail. But for the practical and easy menu that we are putting together here, order a dish with fish and just talk about the tradition. According to Chow.com, “The Chinese word for fish sounds like the word for abundance … It’s important that the fish is served with the head and tail intact … to ensure a good start and finish and to avoid bad luck throughout the year.”
- Veggies: Vegetables, especially the widely known Buddha’s Delight, including Napa cabbage, water chestnuts, mushrooms, bean curd, carrots and bamboo shoots, among others, represent prosperity.
- Fruit: Mandarin oranges are the most popular fruit in the new year celebrations. They bring luck, so eat up!
A COCKTAIL TO SERVE
Since you are likely picking up your food, have a festive cocktail on hand for your guests. This recipe was shared with us compliments of Heaven Hill Distilleries.
Asian Pear Martini
- 1 ½ parts Domaine de Canton
- 2 parts Burnett’s Pear Vodka
- 1 part fresh pear juice
- Splash fresh lime juice
Build ingredients in a mixing glass. Shake and strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with a slice of lime or pear.
MUSIC FOR YOUR DINNER PARTY
We had the lovely staff at Mariée Ami, in Birmingham, AL, known for organizing beautiful weddings and events, put together a great playlist for this dinner party. Your music does not need to be on-theme. Just put on some great tunes that you enjoy listening to that don’t distract from the conversation among your guests.
- Pick up your food, including appetizers.
- Make a creative, Asian-inspired cocktail.
- For decor, concentrate on red napkins, red lanterns and chopsticks. Consider using oranges and white candles for your tablescape.
- Perhaps add some fun Chinese New Year facts to each place setting, as learning about another culture makes for a livelier and more interesting gathering.
- Have a playlist handy.
- Remember to have enough ice on hand.
- Most importantly, enjoy yourself and embrace the joy of friendship.
Special thanks for the beautiful photos to Ashley Hylbert.
Want to consider a completely different dinner party? Read about the Raw Dinner Party that our Louisville editor, Heidi Potter, attended: styleblueprint.com/louisville/everyday/raw-dinner-party/