February 19, 2015 rings in the Year of the Sheep in the Chinese lunar calendar, launching a 15-day celebration run here in Toronto and around the world. According to Chinese astrology, the sheep is a symbol of the arts, peace and tranquility.
If a Chinese-themed event is in your planning horoscope, check out the following ideas and talent for Chinese New Year’s events and beyond:
Red is considered lucky in China, which is why vibrant pops of scarlet star in celebration décor, especially New Year’s. This includes all shapes and sizes of hanging paper lanterns, Chinese lettered banners, red writing scrolls to hang on wishing trees, and red money envelopes filled with gold coins (chocolate coins are acceptable). Add in fireworks, chopsticks and other Chinese tableware and accents. Chinatown, T & T Supermarket and Pacific Mall are excellent sources for decorations and ideas.
Top chef Susur Lee pays homage to his heritage with authentic Chinese cuisine at Luckee Restaurant and Bar in Toronto’s SoHo Metropolitan Hotel. Lee’s culinary innovation elevates traditional dim sum and dishes from various regions of China to refined “nouvelle Chinoise” status. The setting is superb with red lacquer accents, glowing neon signs showcasing the symbol for double happiness, panels of Chinese calligraphy and stunning wall-size murals. Reserve the dining room’s 14-seat group table. A private dining room, seating 20, is hidden behind a series of moveable screens. Restaurant buy out is available — capacity, 100.
Peking-duck poutine, Singapore tacos, Asian fried rice balls … food truck M.e.n.u. puts a new spin on Chinese take-out, both on the delivery and culinary concepts. Its edgy, street-food savvy fusion cuisine marries dishes from Asian outposts such as China, Vietnam, Thailand and India with inspiration from countries like Italy and Mexico. The results translate into new, delicious tastes and mouthwatering presentations. As winter settles in, the truck is off the road now till March, however, is available for private bookings. M.e.n.u.’s crew also caters sans truck, handily whipping up awesome food stations for big and small events.
Say “Gān bēi” — “Cheers” — with Haywire Winery’s Lunar New Year wines. The special release collection from British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley is crafted from a blend of grapes chosen for their perfect pairing with Asian cuisine. The Chinese symbol for sheep graces the label in elegant gold brushwork. Enjoy the white with steamed seafood, soups, rice and noodles. Red pairs well with stir-fried vegetables, grilled fish and BBQ duck. Order online or call 604-800-0601.
In Chinese culture, tea is thought to bring harmony to mind, body and soul. The preparation and sharing of tea is a sign of respect among generations, warranting a traditional ceremony in unto itself. Tao Wu, founder of Tao Tea Leaf, a Chinese-style tea house and boutique in Toronto’s Yorkville area, is an expert on the art of Chinese tea ceremonies, advising on the ritual’s history, etiquette and teaware requirements. Wu can create and lead ceremonies on-site or off-site. The shop offers over 180 teas and blends, accredited tea sommeliers, tea tastings and workshops. Consider gifting Chinese tea sampler collections.
While fortune cookies are actually a North American invention, the crispy crescent-shaped, message-carrying cookies make excellent dining finales and special event takeaway treats. Using all-natural ingredients, Toronto’s Kismet Cookies bakes up customized orders of gourmet-calibre fortune cookies. With delicious ginger-spice flavouring, Kismet’s hand-folded, over-sized cookies – three to four inches — are stuffed with personalized messaging printed on delicate vellum paper and individually packaged in beribboned cellophane or Chinese take-out boxes. Chocolate drizzle is an option.
Elaborate costumes, singing, music, percussion, martial arts and acrobatics all figure theatrically large in Chinese opera. Starlight Chinese Opera, a Toronto-based non-profit organization dedicated to teaching and performing, celebrates its 15th year sharing Chinese cultural art traditions with the community. The troupe customizes performances for special events, from 10 minutes to full-length productions, with translation guides available. Performers for strolling entertainment, and the group’s costume collections, are for hire.
Lions And Dragons
Dancing lions and dragons with giant heads and intricately embellished costumes are an entertainment must-have in Chinese celebrations, especially New Year’s events and parades. Martial arts school the Sunny Tang Centre coaches award-winning performance teams specializing in the art of lion and dragon dancing which marries rhythmic percussion to high-intensity acrobatic choreography. The troupe, which has performed for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, customizes performances to theme and occasion including galas, parade and film work.
Need Chinese cultural event planning help? Given that the Chinese are among Toronto’s top three visible minorities, there are many resources to turn to. One excellent partner is the Chinese Cultural Centre of Greater Toronto, a community hub that promotes understanding of Chinese traditions and cultures through events, workshops, performances, concerts, workshops and events. The 23,000 sq. ft. Scarborough-based complex houses several event spaces for rent including a beautiful art gallery and multi-purpose theatre and lobby accented with Chinese works of art. Catering is also available.