An auspicious occasion for many, the Lunar New Year is a time for celebrating the possibilities of good fortune and good health for the coming year. Food plays a large role in these celebrations as it represents health, abundance, and prosperity. As such, banquets with an array of delicacies that represent various means of good fortune are a frequent occurrence in the days leading up to and following New Year’s day. Some dishes are particularly favourable for celebrating either because they hold an existing symbolic meaning or because they are a homonym to another word that represents something lucky.
With food, there must obviously be drink, and tea is always an important accompaniment when feasting and practicing ceremonies for the New Year. Just like we demonstrated in our blog, Tea Pairings for Christmas Entertaining, certain teas tend to complement different foods. So we have recommended a selection of our Chinese teas (as well as some Vietnamese and Taiwanese options) that would pair nicely with some of the more popular dishes that are generally served during Lunar New Year celebrations. While not all of us will be preparing Chinese feasts, these are great suggestions to keep in mind when entertaining with Asian cuisine. Just remember because of the delicate and fragrant nature of Chinese tea most of them are best enjoyed as they are without the addition of milk, sugar, lemon, or honey — but of course this is entirely up to the individual.
Steamed fish is perhaps one of the most significant dishes of a New Year’s feast, taking pride of place at the table. A whole fish is generally prepared and is considered lucky because of the way the word for fish, 魚 (yú), sounds like the word ‘surplus’ in Chinese. White fish like sea bass and snapper are generally used. Because this is a fresh-tasting dish that uses light sauces and fresh herbs, a soft Chinese green tea would best complement this delicate combination of tastes.
Try Chun Mee Moon Palace or Organic Gunpowder; these are both quite light and fresh and won’t detract from the simple flavours of the dish. For something a bit different, a flavoured white tea like Pai Mu Tan Stockholm Blend would even make a delectable accompaniment. The subtle citrus notes and the softness of the white tea are ideal for pairing with herbal and seafood flavours.
Dumplings, particularly jiaozi dumplings, are a propitious dish because of the way they resemble yuanbao ingots — a boat-shaped currency made from gold or silver, used in ancient China. Consuming jiaozi dumplings is therefore associated with encouraging ongoing income and wealth. Lucky dumplings will generally contain minced meats like pork, beef, chicken, or shrimp, as well as vegetables. Depending on whether they’re fried, steamed, boiled, or baked, dumplings can be a little oily, so a fragrant jasmine tea or an earthy oolong are ideal for cutting through that excess oil and refreshing the palate. Try Jasmine Monkey King, an even balance of jasmine and green tea, or Ti Kuan Yin, a greener and mellow oolong. Unable to decide between the two? Try High Mountain Oolong, an exceptionally fragrant, vibrant green oolong.
Spring rolls are a favoured new year’s dish because of the way they look like gold bars and thus correspond with wishes for prosperity and wealth. Fried and deliciously crispy with vegetable and meat fillings, this is another yum cha/dim sum treat that tends to be a bit oily, so jasmine and oolong teas would again be an ideal accompaniment. Considering the lavish theme of eating foods that resemble valuable items, a more decadent tea might be on the cards. Try Jasmine Downy Pearls, otherwise known as Buddha’s Tears, a beautifully fragrant jasmine tea with green and white tips that are hand rolled into small pearls. Or try Fancy Oolong, a richer and aromatic oolong . For the 'experienced' palate, a white tea like like the fine, more delicate characteristics of Silver Needles (Yin Zhen) could be just the thing to refresh and engage the taste buds.
Noodles, especially long, uncut noodles represent longevity. These can be served in a number of ways including wok-tossed, or boiled and served in a light broth. The variances in these flavours will influence the tea selection. If serving fried noodles, then a fragrant black tea like Yunnan FOP or Keemun OP will support the aromatic and salty flavours of dark soya and fish sauces. If trying a noodle soup, then soft green teas as well as jasmine teas are ideal for highlighting the light and fresh flavours of the broth. Try a Lung Ching Grade 1 — refreshing, less astringent and slightly sweeter on the palate than some of the other more vegetal green teas. Or for another jasmine option, Jasmine Chung Feng is an exquisite jasmine green tea that is highly fragrant both in aroma and on the palate.
In the Year of the Goat, rich stews made with goat meat will also be popular. As a red meat, there are varying opinions over what goat meat tastes like with many comparing it to lamb/mutton, veal/beef, or venison. With this in mind, it would be worth pairing such a meat with a black tea that contains a hint of smokiness to complement those robust flavours of the goat and the spices that are generally used when preparing such a meat. A full-bodied tea will best support these stronger flavours, like a traditional Lapsang Souchong, which is a heavily smoked Chinese black tea. Alternatively, Russian Caravan is a less intense option in terms of smoked teas. However, if smoked teas are a bit too overpowering, try a Yunnan tea instead. Rich and dark with a floral aroma and a just slight smokiness, Yunnan teas can complement a goat dish just as well as their smokier counterparts, and with its premium grade gold tips, the Yunnan Finest FOP will offer a particularly exceptional and smooth brew.
Tea also makes an ideal gift at this time of year. Consider a unique tea like Pu-erh, a fermented, aged, black tea (sometimes considered a red tea) known for its multitude of health-giving effects. Pu-erh has a fairly pungent aroma and is an acquired taste but is highly favoured amongst connoisseurs. In terms of New Year’s gift-giving, Pu-erh can be considered quite lucky because of its symbolic link to longevity.
There is an old Chinese saying that goes, “Firewood, rice, oil, salt, sauce, vinegar, and tea are the seven necessities to begin a day.” This proverb embodies the significance of cooking and staple ingredients in Chinese cuisine and we couldn’t agree more that tea is a necessity to beginning one’s day. Hence it is only fitting that the Lunar New Year should also begin with good food and numerous cups of tea. Gong Xi Fa Cai 恭禧發財!