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Hosting a Chinese New Year dinner, Part 1

February 26, 2016

Last weekend, I hosted a Chinese new year dinner at my house, for 8 people (including me). It’s a little late, but I wanted to show my friends some authentic, traditional Cantonese dishes that are part of the spread during the numerous gatherings during the new year period, and of course, I missed the taste of these dishes from home. I put together a little guide, mainly for myself, should I decide to host another one of these dinners the next year. To make things easier on myself, the menu consisted of a selection of cold starters, braised dishes, dishes that could be made well in advance and reheated, and only a few things that needed to be cooked at the last minute.

Cold dishes

  • Blanched edamame (whole soybeans in their pod)
  • Smacked cucumber in sesame and garlic sauce
  • White-cut chicken with spring onion and ginger dipping sauce

Braised/make-ahead dishes

  • Buddha’s delight, or luo hon zhai
  • Turnip cake, or lo bak go
  • Pork and cabbage dumplings
  • Red-braised pork belly

Last minute dishes

  • Mustard greens with tofu and mushrooms
  • Pak choi with braised shiitake mushrooms
  • Steamed whole fish, Cantonese-style


  • Fried sweet glutinous rice cake (store-bought)
  • Fried water chestnut cake
  • Clementines

It’s a LOT of food to prepare, so I tried to be organised and wrote a schedule for myself, which I managed to stick to:

A week before

Prepare lo bak go. Cut in sections and freeze, well-wrapped.

Prepare dumplings. Freeze, uncooked.

4 days before

Make water chestnut cake.

2 days before

Prepare Buddha’s delight.

Prepare red braised pork belly.

1 day before

Soak dried mushrooms.

On the day

1:30pm Make ginger & spring onion dip

2pm Wash all vegetables and start chopping cucumbers, mushrooms, tofu, and mustard greens

3:30pm Poach chicken. Slice & plate.

4pm Blanch edamame, sprinkle with sea salt

4:30pm Braise mushrooms. Prepare sauces for vegetable dishes. Smack cucumbers and dress

6:20pm Reheat pork belly and Buddha’s delight, keep warm in low oven

6:30pm Cook white rice

6:45pm Blanch mustard greens/pak choi. Reheat braised shiitake mushrooms. Fry tofu/mushrooms with mustard greens. Keep warm in low oven

6:45pm Pan fry turnip cake, keep warm in low oven

7pm Boil dumplings

7:15pm Steam fish


For dessert: Fry new year cake and water chestnut cake.

I managed to (mostly) stick to my schedule. I had a slight mishap with the poached chicken, which delayed me a little, and I did have to ask Toby to vacuum the house for me while I was busy with the vegetables, but everyone appeared to enjoy trying a lot of these dishes. I also really enjoyed the challenge! (I accidentally forgot to serve the pork belly, though.) Surprisingly, the Buddha’s delight was a lot of people’s favourite dish of the night – it contains red fermented beancurd, which is an unfamiliar taste to many people who haven’t grown up with it. It also contains a hodgepodge of assorted fungus and alien-looking lotus roots, among many other vegetables you would never find in your average Tesco. I was happiest with the whole steamed fish and the poached chicken, as it’s quite difficult to get the texture spot-on, but I thought they were well-cooked and the sauces didn’t overwhelm the delicate tastes of either.

Somewhat unsurprisingly, I’d also cooked way too much food and no one could fit in dessert. This meant leftovers for me all week, which was great. And more dessert for me! I was a bit disappointed that my friends couldn’t try the new year cake and water chestnut cake, which don’t tend to make an appearance outside of Chinese new year. Despite the lack of dessert, however, it was a fun meal surrounded with good friends and laughter.

I’ll post recipes shortly in a separate post!

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