The Lunar New Year festival, which starts Monday, is always a major holiday on the Chinese calendar. But the celebration is even more exuberant when the coming year is symbolized by a dragon, as is the case this year, says Amy Chinn of the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience.
"It seems to be bigger," Chinn says. "It's a different kind of feeling when it's a big dragon instead of a little rabbit."
In addition to the traditional lion dance and firecrackers, Wing Luke this month is hosting a series of culinary events in conjunction with Chinese New Year and analogous observances in other Asian cultures.There's a Japanese tea ceremony scheduled for Saturday, and a food walk featuring $2 bites from 20 International District restaurants is planned for Jan. 28.
But for celebrants who can't participate in the formal festivities, there are plenty of edible DIY ways to mark the year's arrival. Here, a few suggestions from Chinn:
Tet (Vietnam): According to Vietnamese tradition, it's critical to begin the new year with a clean house, balanced bank account and a full stomach. Among the more elaborate foods associated with the holiday are banh chung (a banana leaf-wrapped mound of sticky rice, mung bean puree and seasoned pork) and kho, a simmered meat stew. But the most indispensable snack may be mut tet, the candied fruits typically served with nuts and seeds. "Mut is always kept in beautiful boxes and placed at the table in the living room," Chinn says. "It's the main food for the owners and guests to taste when they are talking, enjoyed over a cup of tea." Where to buy: Viet Wah Supermarket
Korean New Year: Sticky foods aren't unique to Korean celebrations: Sticky rice cakes are ubiquitous in China, where it's believed the snack's sweetness will ensure a happy year ahead and its tackiness symbolizes family togetherness. But the most popular explanation for the treat in Korea is "the food makes the good luck stick," Chinn says. Dduk gook, a soup of sliced rice cakes, is so strongly associated with New Year's that some children are told they won't get any older unless they've eaten it. "Some describe it as pure comfort food," Chinn says. Where to buy: Shilla
Chinese New Year: Puns are the basis for many of the foods on the traditional Lunar New Year table, including fish, the Chinese name of which is a homonym for "plenty"; turnips, a Chinese sound-alike for "good luck"; algae, which shares a name with "prosperity"; and mandarin oranges, called "fortune" in certain dialects. Other popular foods include jiao zi, (dumplings sometimes stuffed with coins) and nian gao, which Chinn describes as "a sticky rice pudding cake which is said to make people advance toward higher positions and prosperity step-by-step." Where to buy: Mon Hei
Filipino New Year: The biggest feast in the Philippines falls on Christmas Day, and few families can afford to replay its sumptuousness a few weeks later. But even if there isn't roast pig on the menu, many Filipinos try to serve round fruits and milky nian gao - known as sticky tikoy in Tagalog - for the holiday. "(It's) thought to seal the kitchen gods' mouths, so they can't report the family's misdeeds to higher deities," Chinn explains. Where to buy: Delite Bakery