Wine Talk with Alice Swift
Chinese New Year Food Traditions with Beverages Pairings
Xīn Nián Kuài Lè! Or, as you may be more familiar with, Happy (Chinese, or Lunar) New Year! This year the Lunar New Year lands on February 5. It is the Year of the Pig, the animal that represents good fortune (in wealth as well as overall good luck), honesty, and symbolizes a sincere, hardworking and truthful person with a love for life.
With the Lunar New Year right around the corner, I thought this would be a great month to share on a couple Chinese New Year eating traditions my family partakes in, along with wine recommendations to go with them. Being Chinese (from Taiwan) myself, there are a few traditions that I try to follow on the eve of Chinese New Year to bring about good luck for the coming year. Did you know there is a LONG list of traditions that people follow for the Lunar New Year starting from the week prior up till 15 days after? Everything from house cleaning and signage, to the food eaten, there are customs galore. Don’t forget many children’s favorite too, the giving and receiving of hóng bāo (red envelopes) filled with money from the elders.
One of the most important traditions that many families in Asia will maintain is the annual family gathering on New Year’s Eve. Near or far, family members will come together to have a home cooked meal, with strategically selected dishes with auspicious meanings behind each one. Below are two of my staple Chinese New Year foods (that I also eat year-round because I love them so much!):
Chinese Dumplings (Jiǎo Zi)
One of my all-time favorite foods to eat is jiǎo zi, or dumpling. There are many variations around the world that you might be familiar with–Gyoza in Japan, Mandoo in Korea, and Potstickers (directly translated from the Chinese term guō tiē) in the United States. Dumplings are one of the regular food items in my refrigerator, and probably one of the only foods I could eat meal after meal without ever getting tired of them!
Dumplings have been around for thousands of years (as early as the Ming and Qing Dynasties). They typically consist of a flour-based wrapper filled with ingredients like pork, cabbage, garlic and Chinese chives, folded up with a pleated patter, and cooked in in a variety of ways such as boiling, steaming and pan/deep frying.
As part of ringing in the Lunar New Year, Chinese traditions include the family getting together to prepare, make and eat of dumplings on New Year’s Eve. Dumplings represent wealth, and are similar in shape to the traditional gold/silver ingot currency used in ancient times. One tradition that goes along with the eating of dumplings (and one that I try to do every year) is to place a coin in one of the dumplings that is being prepared for the meal. Whoever finds that special dumpling will have good fortune and prosperity in the new year.
Beverage Pairing: Because of the strong aromas and flavors of garlic and Chinese chives in the dumplings, one option to complement them is a light to medium bodied beer. My fridge staple beer is Stella Artois from Belgium, but I enjoy the occasional Sapporo or Kirin Ichiban Japanese beers as well. This pairing works well, especially if the dumplings are prepared in the pan-fried style (my favorite!).
Fish is another must-have for a proper Chinese New Year’s Eve dinner. Similar to the dumplings, the homophone of the Chinese word for fish also means surplus, or fortune. There is even a saying to pair with the dish, (nián nián yǒu yú), which means “may you have good fortune and surplus year over year.” Typically in restaurants you will see the typical whole fish dishes, and one of my favorites to prepare is steamed whole fish with ginger and green onion (Cantonese style).
Beverage Pairing: The flavor of this dish is quite aromatic and pungent because of the green onions (scallion) and ginger, therefore, an equally powerful beverage is needed for a good pairing. The first thing that comes to mind is an aromatic, high acid white wine, perhaps from France’s Loire Valley. You can’t go wrong with a crisp, aromatic Sauvignon Blanc, such as the de Ladoucette from the Pouilly Fumé appellation.
I hope everyone has a wonderful Lunar New Year, and best wishes to everyone for a year of good fortune, prosperity, health and happiness.
Until next month, Cheers~!
* All beverage recommendations are available either in-store or online at Total Wine & More, and all beverage images are sourced from