The Georgia Straight - - Front Page - Tammy Kwan

What bet­ter way to wel­come the Year of the Dog than with de­li­cious food? With Lu­nar New Year quickly ap­proach­ing (it takes place on Fe­bru­ary 16 this year), many Asian fam­i­lies will be pre­par­ing large feasts at home or mak­ing reser­va­tions at their favourite restau­rants.

Whether you eat in or out, it is essen­tial to en­joy a meal with loved ones dur­ing this im­por­tant hol­i­day. Be­sides the Chi­nese pop­u­la­tion, Lu­nar New Year is also cel­e­brated by many other Asian cul­tures, in­clud­ing the Korean and Viet­namese com­mu­ni­ties. From tteokguk (Korean rice cake soup) to bánh tét (Viet­namese sticky-rice cake) to tong yoon (Chi­nese sticky gluti­nous-rice dumplings), here are some tra­di­tional foods that dif­fer­ent Asian cul­tures in­dulge in dur­ing Lu­nar New Year.

KOREAN CUI­SINE There are many Korean ea­ter­ies around Metro Van­cou­ver, and plenty of menu items are known and loved for their strong and spicy flavours. How­ever, these dishes are tra­di­tion­ally for­bid­den dur­ing Lu­nar New Year (known as Se­ol­lal in Korean). “Dur­ing this time, the food is also kind of meant for our de­ceased an­ces­tors,” ex­plained Paul Lim, owner of Dol­pan Seoul BBQ (1123–3779 Sex­smith Road, Rich­mond).

“We are tra­di­tion­ally not sup­posed to have any chili pep­pers or spici­ness in our dishes be­cause we are cook­ing for our an­ces­tors,” Lim told the Straight in a phone in­ter­view. One of the most im­por­tant dishes that Kore­ans eat dur­ing this hol­i­day is tteokguk, which is a beef-broth soup filled with rice cake. This food item rep­re­sents the old year pass­ing and wel­comes a new year of good health and longevity.

An­other pop­u­lar item that is con­sumed dur­ing Lu­nar New Year is jeon (fried and flour-based mini pan­cakes). There are many dif­fer­ent va­ri­eties of jeon, in­clud­ing mush­room, fish, and zuc­chini. “Be­cause you aren’t sup­posed to eat any­thing spicy, this food would be a good and tasty al­ter­na­tive,” said Lim. Kore­ans also like to drink sikhye (Korean sweet-rice bev­er­age) dur­ing this ma­jor hol­i­day be­cause it can aid in di­ges­tion (af­ter overindulging) and tastes great.

VIET­NAMESE CUI­SINE “Our fam­ily will tra­di­tion­ally get to­gether and eat be­fore mid­night,” said Amelie Nguyen, co-owner of Anh and Chi (3388 Main Street), to the Straight in a phone in­ter­view. “It’s a blend of an­ces­tral wor­ship and Bud­dhism, and it’s im­por­tant that all the par­ents and chil­dren gather at home to en­joy dif­fer­ent foods.”

Nguyen went on to ex­plain that she and her fam­ily en­joy dishes like khoˆ qua (stuffed-bit­ter-melon soup), be­cause eat­ing this al­lows all the hard­ships you en­coun­tered the past year to go away in the new year.

Dur­ing Lu­nar New Year (known as T t in Viet­namese), one of the most im­por­tant and sym­bolic foods is a sticky-rice cake made with gluti­nous rice, mung beans, and pork, all wrapped in a ba­nana leaf. In south­ern Viet­nam, it is known as bánh tét and is cylin­der-shaped, while in north­ern Viet­nam it’s called bánh chung ’ and is square.

“All Viet­namese peo­ple, whether they are rich or poor, will have bánh tét or bánh chung,” ex­plained Chi Le, chef and owner of Chi Mod­ern Viet­namese Kitchen (1935 West 4th Av­enue), to the Straight in a phone in­ter­view. “It is cooked in water for many hours, de­pend­ing on how big you wrap it.”

Le em­pha­sized that in Asia sticky rice has many good con­no­ta­tions, be­cause it can mean fam­ily mem­bers stick­ing to­gether and hav­ing a strong bond. An­other pop­u­lar dish con­sumed dur­ing this an­nual hol­i­day is thi.t kho trú’ng (Viet­namese braised pork and eggs) made with ev­ery­thing from pork belly to caramelized egg to fish sauce. All the in­gre­di­ents are added into one pot to cook.

“This dish will last a few days, be­cause ev­ery­one is busy and don’t have time to cook due to cel­e­bra­tions,” said Le. “It is avail­able all year long but is an im­por­tant item to eat dur­ing Lu­nar New Year be­cause of aus­pi­cious mean­ings.”

Bánh tét and bánh chu’ng will be avail­able at Le’s Kit­si­lano restau­rant for those who don’t have time to make them, or are in­ter­ested in try­ing them for the first time.

“Peo­ple in Viet­nam don’t usu­ally make it any­more be­cause it is a lot cheaper to buy than to make,” said Le. “But the point of all of this is that fam­ily will get to­gether to cook and wrap and do things to­gether.”


Yiu Tong Le­ung, ex­ec­u­tive chef and owner of Hoi Tong Chi­nese Seafood Restau­rant (8191 West­min­ster High­way, Rich­mond), is well aware that the younger gen­er­a­tion doesn’t re­ally cel­e­brate Lu­nar New Year the way that their par­ents did.

But the highly re­spected chef un­der­stands the im­por­tance of Lu­nar New Year to cer­tain in­di­vid­u­als and why con­sum­ing Chi­nese dishes with favourable mean­ings is essen­tial to help kick off the year.

“Tra­di­tion­ally, busi­ness­men and mer­chants hold Chi­nese New Year dishes with pros­per­ous names and lucky con­no­ta­tions in high re­gard be­cause they be­lieve it would pave the way to suc­cess in the com­ing year,” Le­ung said by phone.

One of the most pop­u­lar dishes is fat choi ho see dai lei, which trans­lates to “Have a pros­per­ous year in the mar­ket,” and is made up of dried black moss, dried oys­ters, and beef tongue. An­other item is fat choi jau sau, mean­ing “Wealth will come easy”—made with braised pork feet and dried black moss.

“Over the years, I feel like the en­thu­si­asm and Lu­nar New Year spirit has dwin­dled,” Le­ung said. “We used to have Lu­nar New Year menus, but it wasn’t pop­u­lar with our cus­tomers, so we stopped of­fer­ing them.”

Le­ung’s restau­rant may not of­fer a spe­cial menu for Lu­nar New Year, but that doesn’t mean guests are pre­vented from or­der­ing dishes with aus­pi­cious as­so­ci­a­tions. Items like abalone, fish, chicken, and tong yoon (sticky gluti­nous-rice dumplings) are usu­ally or­dered be­cause they sym­bol­ize ev­ery­thing from hav­ing a sur­plus of wealth to en­joy­ing good for­tune to re­unit­ing with fam­ily.

“Peo­ple these days are very ca­sual about cel­e­brat­ing Lu­nar New Year. It’s not the same as in the past, where it was a big deal,” said Le­ung. “Nev­er­the­less, the most im­por­tant thing is to be able to have a nice meal with your fam­ily.”

Dif­fer­ent Asian cul­tures have their own tra­di­tional dishes for Lu­nar New Year cel­e­bra­tions, in­clud­ing (clock­wise from top) south­ern Viet­nam’s bánh chung; China’s fat choi jau sau (Tammy Kwan photo); and Korea’s tteokguk.

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