A Chinese New Year feast amounts to more than the sum of its ingredients.
Traditional foods served during the meal celebrating the start of the Chinese lunar calendar — falling this year on Feb. 16 — won’t weigh you down like Thanksgiving dinner, but they are heavy with symbolic significance.
“Around the New Year everything is about wishing prosperity, good fortune, good luck and long life to your loved ones and the ones around you,” explains Sean Tang, 32, a partner at Pinch Chinese. His Soho soup dumpling and cocktail spot is serving New Year’s specials said to bring diners those blessings during a weeklong celebration later this month.
“You find that a lot of the food that goes into the new year, it’s very subtle,” says chef Dale Talde, 39, whose Chinatown restaurant Rice & Gold is offering a special family-style New Year’s menu for two nights. “It’s not really, really spicy or really, really tart or really, really sweet. It’s almost Zen.”
The reasoning behind these mild flavors, says Talde, who celebrates the annual festival with his wife’s family, is that your mindset on the first day of the new year sets a critical precedent for the next 12 months, and “if you start it out energetic and light and with a sense of calm, the rest of your year is going to be the same way.”
So what exactly should you be eating to guarantee dàjí dàlì (good luck and great prosperity) in the Year of the Dog? Tang and Talde help us break it down below: