Chinese New Year Eats

Photograph by Adam Kuban, Serious Eats

20070216yearofpig.jpgChinese New Year and the year of the pig according to the Chinese zodiac, begins this Sunday, February 18. Because Chinese New Year is tied to the lunar calendar, it falls on a different date every year, usually between January 19 and February 23. It begins on the second new moon after the winter solstice and ends 15 days later with the Lantern Festival. According to tradition, the celebration gets under way on New Year's Eve with a family dinner hosted at the eldest family member's home; it is considered the most important annual family tradition. Family members travel from near and far to attend. A family's given menu will vary by region, but here are some of the more popular dishes and their symbolism:

  • A specialty soup like Bird's Nest (youthfulness and long life) or Shark Fin (prosperity)
  • A vegetarian dish, jai choy or Buddha's delight
  • Poultry: whole with feet and head
  • Long leafy greens like Chinese broccoli, gai lon (long life for parents)
  • Whole fish or yu (sounds like abundance)
  • Long-grain rice or noodles for long life

If you'd like to celebrate by dining out, we've asked our expert friends for their picks of some of the best Chinese restaurants around the country. And before you make your banquet reservation, we'd recommend reading San Francisco Chronicle food writer Olivia Wu's excellent guide to banquet dining.

Atlanta Christiane Lauterbach, Atlanta Magazine: "The best place to celebrate the Chinese New Year in Atlanta is Oriental Pearl. This is the anchor restaurant for Chinatown Square and the place where the A-list of the Chinese community goes for all its banquets. I have had many New Years there."
Oriental Pearl Restaurant: 5399 New Peachtree Road, Chamblee GA 30341 [map]. 770-986-9866

Boston Jane Black, food editor of Boston Magazine (and Serious Eats contributor), recommends Peach Farm.
Peach Farm: 4 Tyler Street, Boston MA 02111 [map]. 617-482-1116

Houston In Houston, Robb Walsh of the Houston Press recommends Fung's Kitchen Seafood Restaurant, which won the paper's Houston Press Best Chinese Restaurant Award in 2005.
Fung's Kitchen Seafood Restaurant: 7320 Southwest Fwy, Suite 115, Houston TX 77074 [map]. 713-779-2288.

Miami Herald restaurant critic Victoria Pesce Elliott would send you to Tropical Chinese.
Tropical Chinese: 7991 Bird Road, Miami FL 33155 [map]. 305-262-1552

New York City Serious Eats's own Ed Levine recommends the Chinatown Brasserie, noting that dim sum savant Joe Ng is now in charge of the entire menu—not just the small dishes he earned his fame cooking up. And restaurant consultant Ed Schoenfeld tells us that all the Cantonese chefs are eating at Lucky Eight Restaurant in Brooklyn.
Chinatown Brasserie: 380 Lafayette Street, New York NY 10005 [map]. 212-533-7000.
Lucky Eight: 5204 Eighth Avenue, Brooklyn NY 11220 [map]. 718-851-8885

Asbury Park Press restaurant critic and food editor Andrea Clurfeld, one of Serious Eats's most reliable set of taste buds, recommends Shiao Lan King Restaurant.
Shiao Lan King Restaurant: 930 Race Street, Philadelphia PA 19107 [map]. 215-928-0282

San Francisco Michael Bauer, San Francisco Chronicle restaurant critic, points you toward Koi Palace, just south of the city.
Koi Palace: 365 Gellert Boulevard, Daly City, CA 94015 [map] 650-992-9000.

Seattle Nancy Leson of the Seattle Times puts O'Asian Kitchen at the top of her list.
O'Asian Kitchen: 800 Fifth Avenue, Bank of America Fifth Avenue Plaza, Suite 1, Seattle WA 98104 [map]. 206-264-1789.

Year of the Pig illustration from iStockphoto