9 Things These People Learned About Holiday Hosting from Their Chinese Grandmas

updated Apr 14, 2020
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Credit: Meghan McKee

If you haven’t noticed, we’ve been sharing holiday traditions passed down in families of various cultures from generation to generation. What we’ve learned is that, in most cases, no matter what your heritage is, the person who holds the power when it comes to holiday entertaining is the matriarch. We did some digging and asked food bloggers of Chinese descent to share their best entertaining tips they’ve learned from their grandmothers.

Here’s what they had to say.

1. Plan the menu at least a week in advance.

“Chinese people take hosting seriously, and they want to put their best foot forward. That means they will plan the menu in advance and shop for groceries at least a few days early so they can anticipate any problems. My godmother always makes sure she starts preparing appetizers a few days early and keeps them in the fridge to make sure she doesn’t feel stressed or rushed the day of.” — Anna Rider, recipe developer at GarlicDelight.com

2. Serve a variety of meat.

“At Chinese celebrations, pork, beef, and chicken are the minimum. Often duck is served instead of chicken, as it is a more luxurious option, which makes it appropriate for holiday celebrations. My mum routinely buys roast duck or Chinese barbecue pork (char siu) to serve for holiday parties. There should always be too much food or else it looks like you aren’t generous. ” Anna Rider

3. Don’t forget lighter dishes and veggies.

“A Chinese meal is all about balance. A dish of smashed cucumber or pickled cabbage might not sound as exciting as a plate of dumplings, but they add texture and color to the dinner table. Plus, it’s a way to balance out the heavier food and help your guests feel comfortable after eating the whole meal.” Maggie Zhu, author of Omnivore’s Cookbook

4. Consider the meaning of dishes that you serve.

“Chinese people place a lot of meaning on dishes. Lettuce and other green veggies symbolize wealth because their pronunciation sounds similar to the word for riches. Noodles symbolize longevity due to their length. Dumplings symbolize wealth because they are shaped like sycee. Pick symbolic dishes to impart good fortune to you guests.” Anna Rider

5. Embrace the blending of cultures.

“Don’t feel the need to stick to foods that are strictly Western or strictly Chinese. Many Chinese Americans, whether immigrant or first- or second-generation, have grown up with what San Francisco dining critic Soleil Ho has called “assimilation food,” or improvised dishes based on more traditional cooking or nostalgic flavors, but using ingredients easier to find in their new homes. My family holiday parties can involve noodles using Italian pastas, vegetable stir-fries using broccoli instead of more traditional Chinese greens, or duck flavored with the same ingredients one would use for a holiday ham.” — Diana Kuan, author of Red Hot Kitchen and The Chinese Takeout Cookbook 

6. Don’t be afraid to put guests to work.

Hot pot

7. Serve the meal buffet-style and use every room in the house.

“Chinese holiday gatherings often include a wide array of aunts, uncles, and second and third cousins. Twenty people minimum, and often many more. Obviously not everyone can eat around the dining table, so it becomes a buffet table instead, and seating can range from the couch to foldout chairs in the sunroom. The philosophy is the more the merrier, and nobody cares about unconventional seating as along as the food is great (and it always is).”  — Diana Kuan

8. End the night with fruit.

“Chinese people traditionally are not big on desserts the way Americans or the British are. But there will usually be fresh fruit, especially clementines (which symbolize gold and luck).” Anna Rider

9. If you are a guest at a party, always bring a gift

“It is considered rude to attend a holiday party empty-handed! Always bring a gift, even if it as simple as a bottle of wine or a box of chocolates.” Anna Rider

Got anything else to add this list? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!