For dancer, stylist, and creative director Margaret Zhang, Lunar New Year parties are all about spending time with family–and, of course, the food. “My mother is the most exceptional cook, and has the age old Asian Mum trait of force-feeding you more and more and more spring rolls, even when you can’t possible eat any more,” the Australian influencer says. Here, she explains her plans for celebrating the Year of the Dog, what she is going to wear, and more.
What’s the best part of a Lunar New Year celebration?
Obviously the food! My mother is the most exceptional cook, and has the age old Asian Mum trait of force-feeding you more and more and more spring rolls, even when you can’t possible eat any more. I keep trying to diversify my cooking into different cuisines, but honestly, Chinese food is the best.
What do you wear?
I take my head-to-toe red game very seriously. Even when I’m cooking.
What is the first New Year’s celebration that you remember?
I don’t know if I’ve just retroactively attached this memory to a childhood New Year, but I remember Mum waking my brother and I up to watch the Queen of the Night (epiphyllum oxypetalum) in our backyard bloom. I remember thinking it was incredibly sad and romantic that they only bloomed once in a while at night when nobody was looking, and that the flowers wilted by dawn. Is that depressing?
Where is the best place to spend the New Year?
At home, with family, friends and no devices.
Does your family have any specific traditions?
My family loosely follow the customs of doing a huge house clear-out and paying our respects to ancestors at temples if we have access. We always have dinner with family and/or friends on the eve of the Lunar New Year, as well as lunch and dinner the day of. My brother is a dessert master, so he makes a green tea matcha cheesecake every year, which we have as well as Tang Yuan (glutinous rice balls filled with black sesame and sugar filling, served in soup with egg).
Where will you be for the New Year this year?
I’ve just flown back to Sydney this week to be with my family for Chinese New Year. I feel very strongly about spending as much time as possible with my parents and my brother. And honestly, New York is pretty miserable and snowy at the moment, so I don’t really feel like I’m missing anything.
How is celebrating Lunar New Year different in the US, China or Australia?
Australian Lunar New Year is my favorite by far – it’s still summer, but not stiflingly hot, you can spend the morning in the ocean and come home and cook together all afternoon in your swimwear. The produce in Australia is unrivaled, which makes a huge difference to Chinese recipes. Everything is fresher, more flavorful.
Because my family obviously isn’t in the US, New Year in New York is more of a party. The interesting thing about New York is that there isn’t really a whole lot of super authentic, non-greasy, non-floury Chinese food around (there are a few gems – I love Hao Noodle on 6th Ave, and a few hole-in-the-wall spots around LES). As such, a lot of my American friends associate Chinese food with being quite unhealthy and dense, and are pleasantly surprised by the dumplings/spring rolls/noodles etc. that I cook at home.
China is a whole other ballgame to the point of intimidation. So many family members, so much food – and continuously, for the whole week. It’s really heartwarming, to have all generations of your extended family together.
What is the most outrageous Lunar New Year celebration you’ve had?
Last year, in lieu of being in Sydney with my parents, I had about 30 friends in and out of my apartment in New York over the day, and literally just cooked from the night before, then all day and all evening. My downstairs neighbors were not pleased, despite peace offerings of dumplings. Rude.
Are you excited for the year of the Dog? What do you think it will bring?
I am really excited for this year! I rarely feel like I’ve managed to finish with the previous year before I start the next, but this time around, I do really feel like I’ve completely finished with 2017 (aren’t we all, really), and have a blank slate to move forward with new projects, new directions and new lifestyle changes.
What is your Chinese sign?
Year of the Rooster. Apparently the Rooster zodiac indicates independence, quick wit and self-respect (I’d like to think I embody those things) as well as being super critical and impatient (I am also those things). Accuracy 100, sample size 1.