Ring in the Lunar New Year with One of These Lucky Dishes
New Year's festivities for the Gregorian calendar (the one charting time in the U.S.) may have heard their last hurrah a few weeks back, but there's another new beginning on the horizon: The Lunar New Year, marked by 12 full cycles of the moon. In the 2021 calendar, it begins on Friday, February 12, and is traditionally celebrated throughout Asia and beyond with up to 15 days of family feasts and colorful parades headlined by spectacular dragon dances and punctuated by firecrackers.
Like most holidays, however, it'll take on new shape this year due to COVID-related restrictions on gatherings. But happily, one of its most prominent traditions—the fortuitous foods eaten in its honor—can live on. "My grandfather always impressed upon me to eat lucky foods to start off the year right," says David Lee, executive chef and co-founder of PLANTA Restaurants. "These include fish for prosperity, dumplings and spring rolls for wealth, and longevity noodles for happiness, to name a few." Below, you'll find restaurant recommendations from Lee, as well as founder and CEO of event company Luckyrice Danielle Chang, and James Beard award-winning cookbook author Grace Young, plus the dishes they'll order to mark the occasion. Follow their lead, and usher in the year of the ox with a hefty serving of good fortune.
To channel wealth, chow on dumplings, which look like ancient Chinese ingots once used as currency, says Chang. For the holiday, this Washington, D.C., locale—beloved for chef Erik Bruner-Yang's unconventional Taiwanese-meets-Cambodian menu—is serving up crystal lobster ones brimming with richness.
Gourmet Dumpling House
The name truly delivers: This Boston spot is best known for its dumplings, which you can never have too much of come Lunar New Year. After all, they're signifiers of financial success. Young loves to order the juicy pork-and-cabbage ones either jiaozi (boiled) or guotie (fried), or better yet, one serving of both.
Grab fate by the chopsticks at this Malaysian street-food joint in Katy, Texas. Part of its weekend-long lunar celebration includes Yu Sheng, or Prosperity Toss, for which you're encouraged to vigorously mix the components of a raw-fish salad—like house-pickled vegetables, salmon, and crispy wontons—while shouting wishes for good luck and success. As the tradition goes: The higher you toss, the better your fortune.
On any occasion, Lee is a fan of dim-sum for a family feast. He recommends the snow-pea shoot dumplings, filled with snow-pea tendrils and roasted pine nuts, at this San Francisco hotspot, and sates a sweet tooth with sesame balls for dessert. "They're one of my favorite treats," he says. "The sticky rice is filled with a yellow-bean puree, rolled in sesame seeds, and deep-fried." A bonus: Their circular shape symbolizes family unity and togetherness, summoning more of both in the new year.
A whole roasted Peking duck portends a proper start and end to the year, says Young. Not to mention, it's one of the most decadent, mouthwatering dishes you can find on classic Lunar New Year menus. At this NYC institution, succulent slivers of duck meat and crisp skin are wrapped in a delicate crêpe along with finely shredded scallions and hoisin sauce, adds Young.
Din Tai Fung
An outpost of the wildly popular soup-dumpling spot in Taipei, Taiwan, the stateside restaurant, with locations in California, Washington, Oregon, and Nevada, never fails to delight Chang. And it's a solid choice for dumplings of all kinds come the holiday. Its specialty, though, is xiao long bao or "little dumpling in a basket." These broth-filled morsels are designed to be split open on a spoon with chopsticks in order to release all of their deliciousness for slurping.
South Florida's answer to a classic Asian marketplace is this divine 10,000-square-foot food hall in Miami—a mecca for everything from bubble tea to pad see ew to poke, served up from seven distinct restaurants. Chang's go-to lunar order is at the Gold Marquess station, where you'll find Peking duck in its entirety (remember, whole poultry brings prosperity year-round), as well as tucked into irresistibly fluffy bao buns.