Lucky foods for the Year of the Ox

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The Lunar New Year is celebrated by many countries in Asia. In Vietnam it is “Tet Nguyen Dan.” In Korea, both Lunar and Solar New Years are celebrated. In China it is with the wish “Jixian Ruyi.” In some countries it is a 15 day event….in others three days to a week. But, every country has its own lucky foods…those delicacies that promise long life, wealth, health, and happiness. It is truly a period of “you are what you eat.”

In China this is the Year of the Ox beginning January 26, and according to Chinese astrology, people born in Ox years are intelligent, quiet, trustworthy and successful. (By the way, there are no bad Chinese astrological signs.) You are an Ox if you were born in 1913, 1925, 1937, 1949, 1961, 1973, 1985, etc. It is said that when Buddha was ready to leave earth, he called all the animals to him to say goodbye. Twelve came, and he named a year for each of them. The rat was first, the ox was second.

In China, lucky foods have as much to do with color and structure as they do with names that sound like other lucky items. For example, whole fish is called yu which sounds like the word meaning surplus or abundance. Therefore, New Year banquets traditionally include a whole fish (including head and tail) to ensure diners a year filled with plenty of good things. In Guangzhou, oysters are served because the Cantonese name houxi sounds similar to the word meaning good business. Shrimp in Cantonese is called ha which sounds happy, so it is often included. In northern China, jiaozi (meat filled dumplings) are served at midnight because the name sounds like a term that means “the meeting of the last hour of the old year with the first hour of the new one.”

Anything red (good luck) or gold (good fortune) is served. That includes lobster whose shell turns red when it is cooked, and oranges that resemble gold balls. Long noodles mean long life and are always included in New Years dining as well as cellophane noodles that resemble silver chains.

Many area Asian organizations offer opportunities to celebrate the Year of the Ox, as do many area restaurants. Here are a few ideas….or visit your favorite restaurant and create your own new year celebration. And, to all of you, our wish for a happy, healthy, successful, and peaceful New Year!

Shuang Cheng
Order from the menu including some of the best lobster and fresh fish in town
For large groups, call ahead.
1320 4th Street SE, Minneapolis
612-378-0208

David Fong’s Restaurant
The Fong family offers a special New Year menu and dragon dancers.
Call for dates and details.
9329 Lyndale Avenue S., Bloomington
952-888-9294

Grand Shanghai
Order from their extensive menu.
1328 Grand (at Hamline Ave.), St. Paul
651-698-1901

Rainbow Chinese Restaurant
Featuring their annual New Year menu, January 16 – February 7
2739 Nicollet Avenue S., Minneapolis
612-870-7084

Phyllis Louise Harris is a cookbook author, food writer and cooking teacher specializing in Asian foods. She is founder of the Asian Culinary Arts Institutes Ltd. dedicated to the preservation, understanding and enjoyment of the culinary arts of the Asia Pacific Rim. For information about ACAI’s programs call 612-813-1757 or visit the website at www.asianculinaryarts.com.

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