Restaurant Le Bambou in Paris
Making a Home

New Year

Words by Lucy Siddall.

At the dining table with Peony Lim and Toni Din.
A look at the traditional, considered and elevated
Lunar New Year celebrations of two families.

Virgin Hotel, New Orleans by Jacqueline Marque

Virgin Hotel, New Orleans. Photography by Jacqueline Marque.

The Lunar New Year is an ancient celebration honouring prosperity, good fortune and community. Rich with customs and laced with delicious flavours, recipes, and tastes, families and communities crowd around the dining table, ready to welcome in the new year. This year, on the 10th of February, we will enter the Year of the Dragon, symbolising intelligence, strength and innovation.

In honour of the Lunar New Year, the Condo spoke to the platform’s own Creative & Brand Director, Toni Din and Creative Digital Consultant, Peony Lim, about the celebration, family traditions and the dishes they adorn their tables with yearly.

“Family and food are at the heart of the holiday, with the New Year’s Day meal playing a pivotal role in how each family celebrates. Both recall vivid childhood memories centred around family reunions and the dining table.”

For Lim and Din, family and food are at the heart of the holiday, with the New Year’s Day meal playing a pivotal role in how each family celebrates. Both recall vivid childhood memories centred around family reunions and the dining table. Lim remembers “piles of shoes” mounting near her grandmother’s front door, symbolising the wider family she was about to see or the view from under the table in the enormous banqueting rooms commonly seen in China. “I specifically remember asking my mum if I could go to sleep. I was so small and jetlagged”, the excitement of the trip and day exhausting. Din describes the “enormous table” her and her family would eat around, the “beautiful platters”, and the traditional “steamed cakes” and “sweetened red mung bean” puddings her father and aunt would enjoy. Each memory rooted in the sharing of a meal, laughter and conversation. “It was very food-centric”, notes Din.

Blue and White Ceramics
Colours of Meaning

Crockery and tablescapes are kept in blues, whites and reds.

Lim recalls her grandmother’s house, embellished with blossom and bright citrus fruits, her senses alert to all the seasonal decorations and markers of celebration. Ceremonial outfits in the extremes. She describes being “shoehorned” into attire far too small or drowning in clothes far bigger than she on the promise that she would “grow into it.” Din recalls an “abundance of food” and the joy of widening the celebrations: “I loved inviting everyone over and introducing my friends to Chinese food.”

Each dish on the New Year table plays a meaningful and symbolic role in the meal. Steamed fish cooked with ginger, garlic, and spring onion appears yearly. Additionally, pork belly signifies a “rich, prosperous life” and dumplings “wealth.” Every bowl, choice and taste is an opportunity to fill life with strength, prosperity and luck. “It’s always about food”, adds Lim. Traditionally, it’s common to enjoy noodle soup for breakfast on New Year’s Day. The ingredients represent longevity, meaning the longer the noodles are, the longer the life of the person eating the dish.

Montana Labelle Home in Toronto featuring lights by Taiwan Lanterns

Montana Labelle's home in Toronto, featuring lights by Taiwan Lantern.

Tang Hotpot in New York. Design by New Practice Studio. Photoraphy Montse Zamorano

Tang Hotpot in New York. Design by New Practice Studio. Photography Montse Zamorano.

Superstition is prevalent in Chinese culture. Din explains you should “do all the washing before the new year out of respect for the Water God whose birthday is on New Year’s Day” and “never sweep on New Year’s Day” to ensure good fortune for the coming year. Also, according to Din, you should not eat “white food” during the new year because, in China, white “is the colour of death.” On the other hand, red signifies fortune and luck, with people of all ages gifted envelopes filled with money in this colour. Monetary gifts must, however, be even numbers. Odd denominations foster misfortune and bad luck.

Din’s family meal centres around the traditional hotpot (or steamboat), representing “laughter, longevity and unity.” This tradition dates back to her childhood and involved her joining her family and friends in the restaurant they owned, Blossom House, in an act of community and sharing. All would gather around the giant steaming pot and relish in the act of simultaneously cooking and dining at the table. Bowls of raw ingredients surrounded the massive pan, which took centre stage. The nourishing and delicious accoutrements to add to the dish included prawns, fish balls, thinly sliced meats, vegetables (like pak choi, Chinese cabbage, lotus root and bamboo shoots), dumplings and glass or rice noodles. The liquid at the heart of the stew a rich chicken stock.

Each person then savoured their turn to add ingredients into “little metal baskets” that would cook in the steaming broth—the experience of communal preparation and dining as memorable as the food itself. This experience continues in her family today; Din now assisting her young sons in the decades-old tradition instead of her elders doing it for her.

The Fire Dragon Dance in Tai Hang
Magical Traditions

The Fire Dragon Dance in Tai Hang, Hong Kong

Oriental Red by Vinh
Six Project II by Quincoces-Dragò at The Sister Hotel in Milan

Six Project II by Quincoces-Dragò at The Sister Hotel in Milan.

Lim savours the experience of decorating her home and table before the Lunar New Year, allowing the ornaments to foster excitement in her young daughters. “We will put up decorations relevant to the year”, she explains, “so this year it will be dragon-themed.” Echoing her childhood celebrations, Lim brings oranges and blossoms into her home, “both of which are traditional and good luck”, she adds. To preserve the longevity of the blossom she brings home, Lim buys “them with the buds shut”. The trick is “to keep them in a semi-warm part of the house to encourage them to come into bloom”. Lim themes her tablescape in white, blue, red and orange. Powder blue linen embroidered with bouquets of florals, deep cerulean speckled glasses and fresh, pale aqua hydrangeas. “All my crockery, from Vietnam, is also blue and white and hand-painted” with delicate and intricate floral patterns.

Din decorates her table with elegant chopstick stands, red envelopes her children are eager to open, and ornate crockery painted with delicate blue designs. She incorporates “fancy chopsticks” and ceremonial porcelain into her New Year table, elevating it from the everyday.

The celebration is also an opportunity for Lim and her husband to teach their children about their Chinese heritage and the history of the Zodiac. For many families, existing knowledge of the history of the Lunar New Year is a given. Yet Lim’s children have grown up in the UK, where the holiday’s origin is lesser known. “We talk a lot about the history, stories and myths behind the holiday to try and educate us all”. Din agrees: “It’s really nice for me and important for us to carry on the cultural tradition for my children”. Undoubtedly, the Lunar New Year is about “being together as a family”, says Din, but also “creating an awareness of our customs for the children”, explains Lim.

Both women speak fondly about the holiday and its memories but actively and conscientiously work hard to keep the Lunar New Year tradition alive with the younger generation. To instil a sense of joy, magic, and excitement around the holiday so they may continue it long into the future.

Paper Lanterns