Lunar New Year offers social media influencers a chance to blend past and present traditions
Around 2 billion people will celebrate the Year of the Dragon.
NEW YORK -- To celebrate Lunar New Year, Eric Wang hosted a 12-course dinner for family and friends on Saturday at his private supper club – 81 Eating Club – to highlight Chinese dishes like Cha Siu Pork and Clay Pot Rice.
Maddy Park celebrated with a bowl of hot tteokguk soup, the traditional Korean rice cake soup dish that people eat during the morning of the New Year. She then hosted a dumpling-making brunch, where she dropped dumplings into the simmering tteokguk while wearing hanbok, traditional Korean attire.
For Jonathan Ye, the Chinese New Year’s Eve dinner is the meal he looks forward to the most every year. Growing up with a big family, Ye returns to Wenzhou each year to celebrate the holiday. With more than 20 family members at the table, Ye can always taste a variety of Chinese cuisines that are both exquisite and delicious. And from there, he gets inspired to recreate the authentic flavors of these cuisines.
Wang, Park and Ye are social media influencers living in New York City who, with collectively more than 1 million TikTok followers, see the New Year as an opportunity to showcase the deep significance of cultural traditions through food, innovation and community.
Across the globe, around 2 billion people celebrate Lunar New Year, the Year of the Dragon for 2024.
“Each dish, usually named with a pun, has its own meaning,” Ye, 24, explained about the dinner he prepared. “They all contained the most sincere wishes people have for the year ahead.”
Recreating ancient Chinese dishes is not easy. Behind the short few minutes on his videos, Ye needs to put hours of effort into researching from ancient books and taking notes from the documentaries for each dish.
His signature plate, Pagoda meat, requires exquisite knife skills and a lot of patience to cut a whole piece of pork belly meat thinly and continuously into one piece. After that, Ye spends hours layering the pork into the model and stuffs the dried vegetables that were soaking for days onto it to steam it, building a "pagoda" shape as a metaphor for the higher aspirations people wish to reach in the new year.
“It’s like coding; you need to define variables first” said Ye, who studied computer science as an undergraduate. “And it’s important to be accurate because many people are watching your videos to replicate the traditions.”
Before Park moved from South Korea to New Jersey with her parents when she was 13, she always went to her grandparents’ house wearing hanbok and gathered with the whole family to celebrate Lunar New Year.
Park’s grandma would always bring Park a bowl of tteokguk, with chewy rice cake and sliced egg with green scallion on the top, to make sure her granddaughter could age safely and healthily every year.
“In Korea, it's kind of a symbol of aging one year,” said Park, who now lives in Brooklyn. “Even if it's January 1, you're not another year older until you eat the soup.”
Park’s latest video will feature how to use her grandma’s recipe to celebrate this special holiday.
Beyond the kitchen Park has initiated a hanbok project promoting wearing traditional attire in the streets of New York City, showing pride in her Korean-American immigrant roots.
Wang, for his part, immerses his unique multicultural experience into his dishes and creates a special fusion-flavored menu that celebrates Lunar New Year with innovations.
Growing up in Shanghai, Wang, 25, witnessed a delicious clash in his kitchen when his mother, from the south, and his father, from the northeast, combined two different systems of making dumplings into one delicious dish.
Wang, who works in finance, hasn’t celebrated Chinese New Year with his entire family together since he left China at the age of 12. Yet his early exposure to culinary diversity and passion inspired him to quit his job after working for an investment bank for two years.
Wang happily worked for a Japanese French fine dining restaurant called House Brooklyn, where he was instilled with meticulous attention to detail and respect for the industry before heading to Paris to attend the École Ducasse culinary school.
For his dinner celebrating Lunar New Year, Wang’s Chinese Sausage Mushroom Pilaf brought new life into traditions while reflecting his culinary journey. He substituted Clay Pot Rice with pilaf, foie gras with scallion oil as a fat element, and added Chinese sausage as the protein.
“Now I think more and more about how I can use food as an avenue to share who I am, and share my culture, and bring more joy to people.” Wang said. “The ability to share such a thing that holds so dearly to my heart with people not from this culture has been such a joy for me.”
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