The Lunar New Year is fast approaching—this year, it falls on February 1. While big family gatherings and community celebrations might be a little smaller, you can still order all the usual celebratory foods. Whether you’re a seasoned Lunar New Year reveler or new to the tradition, get ready to ring in the Year of the Tiger with these Vietnamese, Chinese, and Korean dishes. Don't see your favorite New Year's dish on this list? Tell us what you eat for the Lunar New Year by leaving a comment or emailing [email protected]
Mama Dút Foods
‘Crab, crab, fish, fish, gourd, chicken, chicken!’
These aren’t foods that Thuy Pham of Mama Dút ate for Tết, the Vietnamese Lunar New Year. It’s how her family would fervently bet on bầu cua cá, a dice game that translates to “gourd-crab-fish,” a favorite during the monthlong parade of family visits for Tết.
“You have a board with pictures of a gourd, a deer, a crab—six different animals,” Pham explains. “And then you have two dice with the animals on them. And then people place their bets on whichever animal comes up on the dice.... It’s a bunch of Asian people holding dollar bills and screaming names of animals like their life depended on it. I miss it.”
One necessary New Year’s dish: bánh tét, glutinous rice dumplings typically stuffed with pork belly and mung bean and wrapped in banana leaves.
“I don't remember ever having a New Year’s without having bánh tét around,” Pham says. “Growing up, we would always order bánh tét or have it made by my aunties [and] my great aunties.... And a few years ago, when I decided to go vegan, I couldn't get bánh tết anymore. And it was something that really made me sad, especially when New Year's came around. You'd be hard pressed to find any Vietnamese family who celebrates New Year's without bánh tét.… It's like a turkey at Thanksgiving—you have to have it.”
“When I became vegan and I couldn't eat it anymore, I actually had asked my auntie, ‘Hey, can we do a family cooking session where we can get together and make bánh tét?' ... Once I learned, I just started making it every year, because my biggest fear is losing my cultural foods. Because if these recipes die with our aunties and grandmas and mothers, where are we going to learn to cook it? How are we going to gain access to this? And I feel like as an immigrant, staying close to my cultural foods feels like the only way that I can stay Vietnamese.”
This year, Pham is serving a vegan bánh tết with bright green pandan rice stuffed with jackfruit and mung bean. 1414 SE Morrison St, preorder online at mamadut.com
Bing Mi Dumpling & Noodle Bar
Food cart owner Jacky Ren just opened his first brick-and-mortar restaurant a few weeks ago, serving handmade dumplings and pork belly zha jiang noodles and fried rice. The restaurant closed for a brief break but is reopening on February 1 for takeout only, just in time for your New Year’s dumpling and noodle needs. Vegans, have no fear: the noodles, dumplings, and fried rice are all available in plant-based versions boasting Impossible meat, shiitake mushrooms, and tofu. Since it’s traditional to eat vegetarian for the first few days of Chinese New Year, and long noodles are considered a sign of good luck, the vegan noodles should bring you especially good fortune.
At Chin’s Kitchen in Hollywood, Wendy Li serves up her Chinese New Year childhood favorite year-round: handmade dumplings stuffed with fillings like pork, shrimp, leek, egg, and Chinese sauerkraut. But Portlanders might not realize how lucky they are to be able to order these dumplings six days a week (currently for takeout only).
When Li was growing up in a family of eight on a farm near Harbin, China, dumplings were reserved for special occasions like Chinese New Year only, since her mother had to make them entirely by hand—no machines or mixers. But they’re a must-have on Chinese New Year’s eve for many Chinese families: the dumplings are said to be lucky since they resemble ancient Chinese gold ingots. As soon as Li and her sisters were old enough, they helped her mother fold the dumplings, stuffing them with fillings like pork with leeks or cabbage.
At Chin’s Kitchen, Li has a machine to help mix the dough, but she still kneads the dough, rolls out each dumpling wrapper by hand, chops the pork butt filling with a cleaver, and folds and boils each dumpling. Guy Fieri even got a hands-on taste of the dumpling-making process himself in an October 2020 episode of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, chopping the pork butt at lightning speed and rolling out a slightly lopsided dumpling skin. “This is how it’s going to end, folks,” Fieri says, popping a juicy, pillowy pork, shrimp, and leek dumpling into his mouth. “Me and an all-you-can eat dumpling bar.” Side them with veggies like garlic A-choy or green beans for a full meal. 4126 NE Broadway, call 503-281-1203 to order, chinskitchenpdx.com
Li Min Bakery
For me, an essential Chinese New Year treat (along with lots of oranges with the leaves still attached) is nian gao, a steamed cake made of glutinous rice flour that’s often adorned with sesame seeds or dried red dates. Eat slices of the chewy, caramel-like golden brown cake as is, or do like my family does: cut into slices and panfry in a little peanut oil until the edges are crisp. Li Min is open daily for your last-minute nian gao needs. 8615 SE Division St, 503-954-2883
Ocean City Seafood
A steamed whole fish with julienned ginger and green onion is a must for many Chinese families, along with plenty of white rice to soak up the gingery, lightly soy-flavored sauce. At Ocean City, take your pick of live fish including rockfish and sea bass. For New Year’s Day, a vegetarian noodle dish called jai (often listed on menus as Buddha’s Delight or Monk's Food) is essential. Everyone seems to make this dish a little bit differently; my grandma’s recipe included black moss, gingko nuts, and tofu puffs. 3016 SE 82nd Ave, call 503-771-2299 to order
Powell’s Seafood Restaurant
While not strictly a New Year’s dish, a whole steamed lobster with ginger and green onion over thick, chewy e-fu noodles is a great celebratory dish for all kinds of occasions. The simple preparation lets the seafood shine. Get it here at market price. 6633 SE Powell Blvd, powellsseafoodtogo.com
This Singaporean sambal maker and supper club is selling Chinese New Year cookies made with the traditional ground cashew, plus an Oregon twist: local hazelnuts. They’re lightly sweet, little, round treats, ideal for afternoon tea. 740 NW 23rd Ave; preorder online for pickup at sibeiho.com.
Sokongdong Tofu & BBQ
Rice cake soup, or dduk guk, is delicious any time of year, but it’s obligatory for many Korean families for the new year. The version at Sokongdong Tofu & BBQ is made with oval-shaped, chewy white rice cakes accompanied by mandu (because adding dumplings is always a good idea), with ribbons of egg floating throughout the broth and a garnish of roasted seaweed on top. 2850 SE 82nd Ave, 503-808-9990, sokongdong.net