These days many diners are attracted to food with a story. The Asian Lunar New Year — a holiday that anticipates the coming spring and is celebrated in China, Japan, Korea and Vietnam —is loaded with symbols, celebrated through eating, intended to bring good fortune in the year ahead.
On Jan. 23, the Chinese will usher in the year 4709, which on their 12-year zodiac cycle is a year of the dragon, symbolizing intensity, enthusiasm, vitality, leadership and strength.
Lucky foods eaten during the 15-day festival include noodles for longevity, peanuts for auspicious new beginnings, spring rolls for prosperity, dumplings for wealth, whole fish for abundance, melons for health and family unity, pork for strength, sweets for happiness, and oranges and other citrus for several reasons.
Restaurants across the United States are serving up many such dishes, and a number of them also are handing out hóng bāo, red envelopes traditionally containing money, but in this case containing gift certificates to be redeemed on their next visit.
P. F. Chang’s China Bistro is doing just that during the celebration. From Jan. 23 through Feb. 6, each guest will receive a red envelope to be opened by a manager or server on their next visit. The gift certificates must be redeemed by March 4. P. F. Chang’s is also offering a promotional Dragon Punch cocktail featuring Chinese beer, vodka infused with dragon fruit and Sriracha sauce.
Casual-dining Chi Dynasty in Studio City, Calif., also will hand out red envelopes with $8 in “Chi Bux” to be used at a future visit. Its celebration will feature a lion dancer, Chinese drummers and red paper lanterns in their parking lot.
The eight-unit Big Bowl chain, based in Chicago, is starting its celebration early, on Jan. 19, with specials such as shrimp and chive dumplings in a fiery sauce meant to represent a dragon. They also will serve a Cantonese-style lobster, as the Chinese word for lobster translates as “dragon shrimp,” and because lobster also is eaten for abundance. Almond cookies, representing gold coins and thus good fortune, will be served, along with spicy peanuts.
On Jan. 20, the Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises subsidiary will host a “good luck gamble” for each table to roll a pair of dice. Whatever number comes up, that number of dollars will be deducted from the check.