Lunar New Year Traditions and Treats from L.A.’s Sesame and Dear Bella Creamery
We’ve got tips, recipes, and kits to help you celebrate at home.
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While Lunar New Year traditions may vary in different regions, one thing stays the same throughout the celebrations—it’s a time to eat. The holiday represents the start of the new year according to the lunar calendar and is celebrated with different dishes and festivities across Asia and beyond.
Family and friends get together for celebrations that range from a day to a month, many filled with feasts and symbolic dishes. The date for Lunar New Year changes each year. This year, it lands on Feb. 1 as we bring in the Year of the Tiger.
There are an array of new sauces, spices, and other ingredients you might want to start stocking up on to truly get in the spirit. To help you narrow in on the essentials, we pulled five pantry items from the shelf at Sesame LA, a superette in Los Angeles’ Chinatown, for every home cook to keep handy. And we chatted with owner Linda Sivrican about how she and her mother celebrate the new year. To add some sweets to your celebrations, we also got the inside scoop on Dear Bella Creamery‘s unique, plant-based ice cream flavors inspired by Taiwanese co-founders Alice Cherng’s and Belinda Wei’s favorite dishes.
Whether you’re planning to pick up snacks and treats for a celebration at home, heading to your favorite spot for hand-pulled noodles, or will be getting together with family and friends, we’ve got the kits and recipes to make it all the more memorable.
Dive into Traditional Dishes Like Dua Mon or Banh Chu’ng
Linda Sivrican, owner of Sesame LA and Sesame Dinette in nearby Long Beach, is planning to make traditional Lunar New Year dishes with her mother, Judy Mai Nguyen, to serve out of the cold case at her Chinatown location. “We’ll be offering what I grew up on and ate with my family in our Vietnamese household,” she tells us.
Sivrican describes dishes like dưa món, pickles made from dehydrated vegetables like carrots and radishes, as well as bánh chưng, which are rice cakes filled with mung bean and ground pork. Her mother
These dishes are usually only made to celebrate the new year, Sivrican tells us. The shape of the cakes changes across Vietnam. “My mom grew up in the south and they would eat the northern style cakes so they’re all regionally combined,” Sivrican shares.
If you can’t make it into Sesame, Sivrican shared the recipe for her dưa món with us so you can whip some up at home.
The mother-daughter duo has recently expanded from Chinatown to Long Beach to open a dinette that will feature generationally inspired dishes such as the dried pickles and rice cakes as well as Vietnamese meatballs and porridge.
A handful of dishes from the soon-to-open dinette’s menu will be available at Sesame for the new year as well. Sivrican recently collaborated with local food delivery service, In Good Company to ship Vietnamese meatballs and porridge nationwide; keep an eye on Sesame’s Instagram as we near Feb. 1 for upcoming delivery opportunities.
While dishes and dining are a big part of the Lunar New Year celebration, decor and gifts play a large role as well. The street-facing window that regularly rotates displays of floral arrangements, fresh produce, and herbs at Sesame will showcase a traditional flower used to celebrate the holiday called hoa mai, or peach blossoms.
“Lunar New Year is considered the rival of spring, and Mai is my mother’s name, so we’re going to decorate the store with the blossoms to symbolize the new start,” Sivrican says.
Sivrican is teaming up with her florist friend, Brandon Nguyen, to offer preorders on special floral bouquets and arrangements that incorporate quince and peach blossoms for pick up in Chinatown.
Make Some Dan Dan Noodles—into Ice Cream
At Dear Bella Creamery in Los Angeles, co-owners Alice Cherng and Belinda Wei are turning traditional dishes they grew up eating at new year celebrations—like dan dan noodles and sweets filled with red bean—into unique ice cream flavors for the holiday.
“Every food has a symbol and meaning that’s intentional, and the whole celebration is just feast after feast after feast,” Cherng tells us.
Born in Taiwan, Cherng grew up celebrating the new year with her family and says one of the largest celebrations of Lunar New Year outside of Asia takes place in L.A.’s San Gabriel Valley.
Now both living in Los Angeles, the pair of vegan friends and business partners celebrate together and at their shop with an ice cream flavor that perfectly balances sweet and savory—dan dan. The plant-based ice cream swirls a base of peanut butter ice cream with ingredients like soy sauce and crispy noodles to resemble the flavors of the traditional dish.
“Having noodles symbolizes longevity and good fortune in the new year,” Wei says.
The savory flavors don’t stop with soy and sesame; it’s finished with a swirl of Fly by Jing Sichuan chili crisp.
“Fly by Jing is such a special brand to collaborate with when it comes to ice cream,” Wei shares. “We went straight to dan dan as a flavor idea because the traditional topping is a chili oil and it just worked together well.”
The pair’s Chinese New Year Celebration kit features three unique flavors of ice cream as well as toppings inspired by their familial celebrations and will be available for pickup at Dear Bella’s Los Angeles location. A red bean sauce is included to drizzle over ice cream or just eat by the spoonful.
“The red bean sauce is a really common Chinese and Taiwanese flavor that you see in almost any dessert in Asia,” Cherng shares.
Dear Bella Creamery’s Chinese New Year Celebration Kit will be available starting Jan. 22 online for in-store pickup.
For a traditional take on the saucy noodle dish (that isn’t mixed into delicious ice cream) to make for an at-home celebration, check out our recipe for chicken dan dan noodles. We’ve also got a list of our favorite Asian dumpling recipes.
Gift a Li Xi Red Envelope for Luck
Sivrican has a spread of gifts and cards available in store for any occasion, though for the new year it’s traditional to hand out Li Xi, small red envelopes that are usually filled with money or gifts.
“For those who stop into Sesame, I will be giving out red envelopes with a super crisp new dollar bill in them, this is considered lucky,” Sivrican tells us, adding there will also be lots of lucky sesame candies to celebrate.
There will also be Li Xi at Dear Bella, though instead of being filled with a lucky dollar, they will be filled with $1 scoop coupons to ring in the year with more ice cream.
Stock up on Essential Ingredients
To make more Lunar New Year-inspired dishes at home, stock up on some of Sivrican’s favorite sauces and special ingredients straight from the shelves at Sesame. If you can’t make it into the store, we’ve got a few of her favorites with links so you can order them online.
These essentials can be kept on hand for recipes like dan dan noodles, shu mai, lemongrass beef, and scallion pancakes, to name a few. Happy celebrating!
- Angelo Pietro Sesame and Miso dressing
- Omsom Lemongrass BBQ Starter Kit
- TPF Hot Dry Shrimp Chili Sauce
- Secret Aardvark Drunken Garlic Black Bean Sauce
- Lee Kum Kee Hoisin Sauce
- Huy Fong Siracha