How to Host a Chinese Food Dinner Party

Tourists eating authentic Tibetan lunch

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Want to share your love of Chinese food and culture with your friends and family? The Chinese New Year is the perfect opportunity to host a dinner party. Today, China uses the Gregorian calendar to celebrate the new year on January 1 along with most of the world, but when it comes to setting the date of important cultural events such as festivals and weddings, the traditional Chinese lunisolar calendar still holds an important place in Chinese society.

Chinese New Year—rebranded by the Chinese government as Spring Festival in 1949—typically falls between January 21 and February 20. But don't feel limited to the holiday date; crowd-pleasing Chinese food works as a festive theme year-round. Traditionally served family-style, Chinese meals include a variety of dishes accommodating a range of flavors, from sweet to sour to savory. This allows your guests to sample freely and double up on items they particularly enjoy.

Setting the Scene

You don't need Chinese heritage to appreciate this vibrant culture, and you can use readily accessible items to set a proper scene. Here are some ways to easily include authentic elements in your party setup:

  • Paper Lanterns: Hang Chinese paper lanterns and decorate the table with paper Chinese folding fans, which you can purchase online or at import stores. Red lanterns are aesthetically pleasing and are believed to keep bad luck at bay!
  • The Color Red: In Chinese culture, red symbolizes good fortune and happiness. It's featured prominently in Chinese New Year celebrations. Decorate the table with a red tablecloth and suggest that guests wear the color.
  • Place Settings: Fold napkins in the shape of fans and provide chopsticks as well as flatware for each guest. Include a card at each place setting with a different Chinese proverb, preferably written in Chinese script with the English translation on the back.
  • Party Favors: Package fortune cookies or almond cookies in a Chinese food takeout box, available from craft and party retailers. They make for delicious party favors.

The Menu

Food takes on symbolic meaning in China, and traditional New Year's dishes promote health, wealth, and family unity for the coming year. The menu usually includes a whole fish, turnip cakes, spring rolls, noodles, dumplings, and sweet rice balls, among other favorites. You could certainly put together a traditional meal yourself or make it easy and order takeout from your local Chinese restaurant. While American Chinese cuisine differs from that in China, it still provides a fun way to explore the culture.

Classic American Chinese Dishes

This selection of American Chinese dishes may not represent a traditional New Year's feast, but it provides a good starting place for a menu plan. A meal composed entirely from this list will leave your guests well-fed and happy—the ultimate goal of any party host.