On January 29, Chinese New Year celebrants usher in the Year of the Dog -- which doesn't refer to the flavor of the year, but the characteristic nature of people born during it. About a quarter of the world's population follows this calendar, and New Year's, a 15-day event, is their largest celebration. Those people will be bringing in the year 4704, and the different cultures -- Chinese, Vietnamese and other Asian countries -- will celebrate by eating special foods signifying prosperity and luck.
For Americans, eating green symbolizes wealth, but for Asians, good-luck dishes are based more on the sound of the words for individual foods. For example, the Mandarin word for "fish" sounds like the word for "wealth," so fish is consumed for wealth. Other lucky foods include ginkgo nut, black moss seaweed, prawns and bamboo shoots. New Year's Day dishes typically eschew tofu, since it is white and unlucky due to the color signifying death and misfortune.
By the way, you should say "Gung hay fat choy" if you're celebrating among Cantonese speakers. However China's majority language is Mandarin and they say, "Xin nian yu kuai."
Here are some celebrations around town:
Every year Dim Sum Chinese Restaurant conducts an authentic dragon dance in front of their restaurant. This year, rather than having it on New Year's Day, they are hosting the celebration on the Eve, Saturday, January 28th at 1pm. In addition to the Dragon dance, special dinners will be prepared for groups of four or six utilizing all the ingredients necessary to insure good fortune during the New Year. For more information and reservations call 704-569-1128.
Dim Sum Chinese Restaurant, 2920-B Central Avenue.
At Dragonfly, which excels at modern twists on an ancient cuisine, owner Helen Poon said her chef is looking forward to preparing some special dishes to celebrate New Year's. "Of course, one will be seafood, but we will have other lucky combinations, too." These special entrees will run for a week beginning January 28th.
DragonFly, 5110 Park Road, 704-527-3868.
Owner Tony Koos of Dragon Court said his restaurant will host a Lion Dance inside the restaurant at 1pm on Sunday, New Year's Day. He said that although the kitchen may prepare a few special dishes, most of his customers will eat fish, fried oysters and sea cucumber -- all of which symbolize prosperity for the coming year.
Dragon Court Chinese Restaurant, 4520-40 North Tryon Street, 704-596-0228.
Ken Oh, the manager at Baoding, has not committed to a special menu, but in the past the restaurant has prepared a menu featuring the lucky foods to eat during the New Year celebration. He said the "number one foods" are fish and prawns since they mean wealth and good luck in Mandarin. Oh added that most Chinese will not eat "lucky" lotus seeds since they are "very bitter and you need to add a lot of sugar to make it [palatable]." Baoding will be decorated with red lanterns, red being the color of celebration and new life.
Baoding, 4722 Sharon Road, 704-552-8899.