Lunar New Year lunch at home: home-style banquet

When I decided to host a Lunar New Year lunch this year, it was the first time I’d done this in years, likely since 2018 or 2019, so pre-pandemic and pre-baby. We hadn’t hosted any meal here in ages, and I thought it would be fun to go all out and re-create a banquet experience of lots of different New Year’s foods for our small crowd of friends. With just 2.5 of us eating most of the time, it’s a bit overkill to make so many dishes for just a small number of people. It’s more fun when you have many, many mouths to feed. So these are my opportunities to really recreate that banquet dining experience. It took weeks of planning, three grocery shopping trips to Chinatowns, and over a week of food preparation, but it all turned out well from a taste perspective. This is what I served:

  1. West Lake beef soup – with minced beef and egg whites 
  2. Thit kho – Vietnamese caramelized braised pork ribs and eggs 
  3. Do chua – Vietnamese pickled julienned carrots and daikon 
  4. Steamed whole black sea bass with ginger and scallion
  5. Luo Han Jai / Buddha’s Delight: Stir-fried glass noodles with various vegetables, mushrooms, and tofu 
  6. Chinese sticky rice with Chinese sausage, cha siu, shiitake mushrooms, and dried scallops 
  7. Longevity noodles / yi mian, made with king oyster mushrooms, chives, and carrots 
  8. Blanched gai lan with oyster sauce 
  9. Dessert: hot taro sago dessert soup; pan fried slices of New Year’s cake (nian gao), homemade peanut sesame candy  

The thit kho and do chua were the two Vietnamese dishes I served and are meant to complement each other. The thit kho was a huge hit; everyone raved about how good it was. No one had eaten it before, which made sense: it’s usually a home-style dish that’s made by families during the Tet Lunar New Year. I’ve actually never seen it on any Vietnamese restaurant menu before. It’s amazing what magic happens when you pair the sweetness of young coconut water with the savories of pork ribs and a little fish sauce.

We had three kids in total: a near-6-year-old Ivy, an 18-month old Seneca, plus Kaia. I met my friend’s boyfriend for the first time. I handed out red Pepa Pig envelopes (hong bao) to the kiddos. Kaia got a new Chinese New Year book to add to her growing book collection. It was a fun afternoon of eating and conversation. But I would say that for me, the biggest highlight was when most people had left, and it was just us plus my friend, his wife, and their 18-month old. I was deboning the remaining fish, and both Kaia and Seneca wanted fish. So I took turns putting boneless fish in both of their mouths. Kaia got competitive and wanted more. Seneca tried to share with Kaia and hand her fish I had given Seneca; Kaia refused, saying, “No! No share!” The whole scene became like a bit of a fish-eating competition to see who could get and eat more fihs than the other. It was cute and sweet to see them not only enjoy my food, but act silly and toddler-like with each other. Kaia also proceeded to have an unprecedented amount of West Lake beef soup; her diaper was extremely, extremely wet after dinner that evening.

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