for a family dinner usually a green vegetable (quickly sauteed without a fancy sauce), a main course of meat or fish (usually with head & eyes
) clear homemade broth, and rice of course.
For a celebration all the stops are pulled out and preparation starts a few days ahead...the dishes usually take a few different cooking techniques to complete. Most importantly the dishes in the celebratory dinner must involve all the senses..different tastes, different colors, and different textures. Have you ever tried "eight treasures rice" (Ba Bao fun)? It is my favorite chinese sweet "dessert"..a warm rice pudding filled with sweet red bean paste topped with lotus seed, dates, apricots, etc.. Unfortunately it takes a long time to prepare and cook...I don't get it often because it doesnot agree with my western wife's taste buds so I have to beg my mother for it when I go home
I find that when we go out for dinner as a family we usually head out to a chinese restaurant. I never understood why when I was growing up but I guess it was just easier on my parents' taste buds. The dishes at chinese restaurants are usually richer (fattier cuts of meat, fancy sauces) and of larger serving size but they pale in comparison to the homemade celebratory dishes.
Funny thing is that my grandparents lived through WW2, the cultural revolution and some pretty meager times and eventhough now my family is better off financially the "simple" family dinner has not changed...The best dish is always the family conversation