10 Things Chef Mei Lin Always Puts On Her Lunar New Year Table
Ring in the Year of the Tiger with chef-approved spices, sweets, tableware and more.
Mei Lin is the host of Food Network Digital Original series, The Lunar New Year Menu. Watch episodes here.
Lunar New Year is a holiday that I have cherished since I was a child. It was always about family get-togethers, exchanging red envelopes and eating lots of delicious food. As I got older, I became much more appreciative of the traditions and superstitions that were instilled in me. From the antics of sweeping and cleaning days before the New Year to rid of any bad luck accumulated over the past 365 days, to gathering around a beautifully prepared steamed whole fish, Lunar New Year was always a time for reflection, indulgence, celebration and family.
Now, I look forward to ringing in the holiday every year – and making it as festive as I remember it. I’ve put together a list of Lunar New Year must-haves, from some of my favorite makers, most of whom are of Asian American descent, that will bring a special touch to your very own celebration.
Tina Huang, the founder behind Ren Vois Ceramic Studio, makes beautiful, marbled ceramics for some of the most prominent restaurants in Los Angeles, including Kato Restaurant by Jon Yao. You can opt to get something custom-made or choose from readymade selections online or at one of Ren Vois’ pop-ups. Whenever I have family and friends over, especially for Lunar New Year, I always try to make sure my plating and presentation are as pronounced as my flavors and dishes. This is especially the time of year when I bust out my blush platter to bring the lucky color red to the forefront of my dinner table.
Naoko Takei Moore (a.k.a. Mrs. Donabe)’s shop is one of my favorite stores in LA. Whenever I step in, I’m fascinated by all the cooking ware in it – from donabes (clay pots) with all kinds of uses to rice cookers, smokers and more. It’s a one-stop shop for must-have Lunar New Year kitchen and tablewares, and curated ingredients. In my own kitchen, I use the Double-Lid Donabe Rice Cooker to cook rice, and sometimes I even use it for nabes when I’m feeling under the weather. One thing I dislike most during the holidays is having to spend time cleaning a myriad of dishes, and having a single, versatile apparatus, like the donabe, is essential.
Chef Susanna Yoon opened Stick with Me Sweets back in 2014, making some of the most flavorful and beautiful bonbons I’ve ever seen and tasted. While these sweet treats aren’t traditional per se, they’ll add some indulgence while doubling as a beautiful piece of décor. I highly recommend the 24-piece bonbon box so you can enjoy the full, colorful assortment of artfully decorated chocolates – plus have plenty to share with friends and family.
Chef Dyan Ng has worked in multiple Michelin-starred kitchens and when the pandemic hit, she decided to start making her delicious viennoiserie, baked goods made from yeast-leavened dough, for the masses. Her burnt cinnamon croissant is among my favorites. Her classic croissant is anything but plain, as it’s made with koji amazake, which adds a nice sweetness to the croissant. You can order them online and have them shipped! While each family has their own traditions around the Lunar New Year, mine would always consume some assortment of pastries in the morning before heading out for the day. Once I stumbled upon Sui Los Angeles, these croissants became my contribution to every Lunar New Year morning.
Sana Javeri Kadri started this small batch spice company sourcing fresh spices like ground ginger, white peppercorns, turmeric, saffron, cinnamon, cumin and Kashmiri Chili. Once I tried the turmeric I was immediately hooked. I perused the site looking at all the different spices I could purchase and immediately made the plunge. I bought all of the above including a brass masala dabba with all the katoris (smaller bowls that hold each spice, each equipped with tiny spoons) to hold the spices I used most frequently. Some of the most abundant spice blends in my Lunar New Year dishes often involve ground ginger and white peppercorns. The quality of these spices alone can truly make a dish pop.
Bakers Bench Cookies
Chef Jen Yee has pushed the boundaries of traditional viennoiserie by creating a truly delicious vegan croissant – something I previously thought unattainable. You’d never know that these pastries are vegan! My go-to pastries for Lunar New Year are her amazing cookies as they symbolize happiness. While the store is currently closed until January 29, they are still worth trying after the holiday celebration if you can’t get your hands on them in time. I’d be lying if I said I only ate them on Lunar New Year.
No holiday of mine is quite complete without at least two delicious panettone from Roy Shvartzapel; one to share, and one for myself. Most recently he has launched his hazelnut crema, an absolute must-have to pair with the sweet bread. Since moving to the West Coast, this has been a more of a modern staple to my Lunar New Year spread. Though non-traditional, my favorite panettone contains candied orange, which is actually perfect for celebrating the new year. Oranges symbolize good luck and fortune — and are a mainstay on new year tables.
Zen Ong has reached the pinnacle of vegan ice creams with his ice cream shop, Awan. He has worked in notable kitchens in Australia and the U.S. and with his training, has created something vegans and non-vegans alike can enjoy. With flavors ranging from Dayglow Matcha, Harry’s Berries to collaborations with chefs like Malcolm Livingston II’s Coquito and my own Hong Kong Milk Tea Stracciatella, Awan offers inventive dairy-free flavors. Fruit is always a staple at any Lunar New Year table. Why not make the deal sweeter and pair with Ong’s ice cream?
Listen, I know what you’re going to say — can you really have a favorite caviar? But stay with me here. I was captivated by the remarkable flavor complexity and rich textures of Astrea Caviar, a boutique producer established in 2019 by two Asian American female entrepreneurs, Eve Lin and Reisa Jiang. The Kaluga Hybrid is my choice of caviar to serve at the table for loved ones on the holiday because of its remarkable flavor and texture. It’s definitely a bit of an indulgence, but that’s what celebrating Lunar New Year is all about. While caviar is not at most traditional Lunar New Year tables, it’s how I add something fun and unexpected to my meal.
If you’re local to Los Angeles, shopping at Jered Standings’ butchery for your meat and poultry needs is a must. The butchery carries only sustainably raised offerings and there’s nothing in the shop that won’t make your mouth water, like its daily selection of in-house made sausages. My go-to is the heritage bred chicken, perfect for poaching for my Lunar New Year feast. I love celebrating smaller butcheries and getting to know where my food comes from because I feel like that enriches the flavors and meaning behind each of my dishes. When possible, shop locally and support farmers. I promise you’ll taste the difference.