Chinese New Year Dishes & Wine

By Jeannie Cho Lee MW

Chinese are very superstitious and believe in eating special dishes that can symbolise good luck in the coming new year. Large family gatherings are a boisterous affair with often too much food and lots of relatives. This year, we suggest adding wine to the dinner table, to enlive the mood, slow things down and appreciate our classic New Year dishes anew. Below are some traditional New Year dishes paired with wines. Gōng Xǐ Fā Cái!


1) Round dumplings (饺子/ Jiǎozi) - These are one of my favourite dishes, not just during Chinese New Year but also throughout the year. Dumplings vary depending on region - varying in the thickness of the skins to the contents. Northern Chinese families (and Korean) love Jiǎozi and it is traditional in many families to prepare them on New Year’s eve and eat them at midnight to symbobilse family reunion. The crescent shape symbolises wealth because of their resemblance to ancient Chinese coins. The dumplings are usually filled with minced pork and chopped vegetables and consumed with a soy sauce-based dip.
WINE PAIRING: Try them with Guigal’s Saint-Joseph – Well made Saint-Joseph with spicy flavours and blackberry fruit. 


2) Red crispy fried chicken (当红炸子鸡/Dāng Hóng Zhà Zǐ Jī) – Chinese often serve whole chicken in their banquets as it symbolizes wholeness and prosperity in the family. There are various ways to serve the whole chicken, crispy and fried or steamed. One special New Year dish is the red crispy fried chicken (当红炸子鸡/Dāng Hóng Zhà Zǐ Jī). In this dish, the chicken is marinated and seasoned with a variety of spices, then deep-fried until only half-cooked. Then it is left to dry overnight. The skin is marinated with a mixture of red fermented bean curd, red vinegar and sugar before being deep-fried for the second time. The red colour “hóng” also means prosperous.
WINE PAIRING: Try it with an elegant, savoury, Martinborough Pinot Noir from Ata Rangi.


3) Braised black moss pig’s trotter (横财就手/ Hèng Cái Jiù Shǒu) - This is a stew of pig’s trotter and black sea moss slow cooked with Shaoxing wine, soy sauce and red fermented bean curd. This winter stew, perfect for this time of year, has an auspicious name: 横财就手 ‘Hèng Cái Jiù Shǒu’ which roughly translates into “extra income comes to your hand”. No wonder this is such a popular dish!
WINE PAIRING: Try this rich stew with a fruity Chianti Classico such as the 2007 Fonterutoli. The firm tannins and intense fruit nicely balances the generous flavours in this dish.


4) Dried oysters with black moss (发财好市/ Fā Cái Hǎo Shì) - This is a very popular dish during Chinese New Year; in fact, black sea moss is one of the most popular ingredients during this time. The pronunciation of black moss (发菜 Fà Cài) sounds like fortune(发财 Fā Cái) and the yellow-brown dried scallops in this dish, looks like gold coins. There are several positive meanings in this dish because of the ingredients. Dried oyster (蚝豉 Háo Shì) also has an auspicious sound and is a homophone for “growing market” (好市 Hǎo Shì). In sum, this dish symbolizes the wish for gaining a fortune in the coming year.
WINE PAIRING: Try this umami-filled dried oyster dish with a mature Chardonnay or Chardonnay blend like this unique, vibrant 2006 Bastianich - Vespa, a blend of 45% Chardonnay, 45% Sauvignon Blanc and 10% Picolit.


5) Steamed whole fish (年年有馀 Nián Nián Yǒu Yú) – I love steamed whole fish year round but during Chinese New Year, it takes on a special meaning. The pronunciation of fish (鱼 Yú) sounds like “surplus”(馀 Yú), and serving a fish at the end of the meal symbolizes the wish for abundance in the coming year.
WINE PAIRING: I always enjoy steamed fish with subtle white wines such as Pinot Blanc. I highly recommend the 2009 Henri Gouges Bourgogne made from Pinot Blanc. The flavours are delicate and layered.