The Lunar New Year and Spring festival are upon us, a time to look ahead and the hope of good fortune. Each year has a corresponding animal from the Chinese zodiac, based on ancient Chinese mythology like the dog, rat, ox, snake, rabbit, dragon, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, and pig. This year, 2022 will mark the Year of the Tiger.
Those born in a tiger year are said to possess wild cat qualities like courage and being assertive and natural leaders, as well as having a hunger for excitement and an ability to pounce on any situation.
L.A. food blogger and author of “What’s That,” about a young boy and the traditional Chinese food his grandmother makes for him, Karen Chan shared her favorite local restaurants and dishes with L.A. Weekly to ring in the new year.
“In terms of typical Chinese foods that are eaten during the lunar New Year, Chinese cuisine is so interesting, because a lot of what you eat out at restaurants is not what is cooked at home,” the mother of two under three tells L.A. Weekly. “Dumplings are usually eaten on the new year because they look like old gold currency, like an ingot.
“Everybody knows Din Tai Fung for their dumplings. My favorites are their cod dumplings, made with Alaskan cod and Atlantic cod, Taiwanese cabbage, celery, and water chestnuts. They’re not the soup dumplings; they translate to water dumplings. Another really great one is Lunasia for dim sum dumplings which is more Cantonese. Its shrimp har gow and shu mai are massive and amazing.
“Tasty Noodle House has sheng jian bao dumplings made with yeast buns that are pan seared on the bottom. They’re crispy and oily on the bottom, and fluffy and steamed on the top. You have to eat those right away; you don’t want those sitting around, or you’ll lose that wonderful crispiness.
“The other traditional thing you eat for the lunar new year is a whole fish. All these foods that you are supposed to eat have symbolism and are meant to bring luck and often based on the words of the dish. Fish in Chinese is Yú, which has the same sound as the word meaning surplus. So you eat fish because you want to have surplus in the new year, but you don’t eat all of the whole fish. You leave a little to save for the rest of the year.
“Typically on New Year’s eve, everyone gets dressed up and has haircuts, and if you want to go out for a really nice high-end sit-down new year dinner, Michelin-starred Bistro Na’s in Temple City has all kinds of seafood and their whole fish is great. I’ve been going there with my family for years.
“Noodles are often eaten for New Year, and two of my favorite places in L.A. are the Taiwanese Pine and Crane in Silver Lake, where I live, and the same owners own Joy in Highland Park. Their beef noodle soup is some of the best I’ve ever had. Their Dan Dan noodles are really good there, too.
“As far as staying home, every family has their own dishes from their own family traditions, just like a Thanksgiving tradition. There are always some core ones like dumplings or nian gao, which is a sticky rice cake which comes in both sweet and savory versions. The reason you eat these is because gow means high, and in eating these, it means high hopes of getting promoted during the year in your job. I love the sweet version my mom makes that comes in a round cake form and you cut it up into little wedges and you pan fry it, so it’s kind of crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside. It’s almost like a pan-fried mochi in texture.
“One tradition that is unique to my family is a dish called shi yang cai, which means lucky ten types of vegetables. Ten means full number or perfection, which is a lucky thing, and you want your life to be full and perfect. My mom prepares this by julienning every single ingredient with the knife, so it takes some time. She uses bamboo, wood ear mushroom, bean sprouts, celery, carrot, baked tofu, dried lily flower, pickled cabbage, preserved mustard greens and shitake mushrooms. It’s a vegetarian dish and she is meticulously thin. I’ve bought her mandolines and other tools over the years to make it easier. They’re still in the drawer, she’s never touched them.”