Here are three places around metro Phoenix to celebrate Lunar New Year by trying some lucky dishes.
Ling & Louie’s Asian Bar & Grill
5040 Wild Horse Pass Boulevard, Chandler
9397 East Shea Boulevard, No. 125
Saturday, January 21 through Thursday, February 2
Locally based chain Ling & Louie’s is offering an approachable and entertaining take on Lunar New Year foods at its locations in Scottsdale and at Wild Horse Pass Casino on the Gila River Indian Community. The special menu includes wonton soup ($6), Szechuan sea bass ($23), longevity noodles ($19), and a dim sum bar, including a tower of three dishes for $24.
Ling & Louie’s Greg Smith learned to make Chinese cuisine from another chef who “engulfed” him in Asian cooking, he says. They’d go to San Francisco’s Chinatown and Chinese restaurants in various cities, where “he’d order the whole menu and we’d sit there and talk food for hours.”
Smith notes the new year menu at Ling & Louie’s nods to traditional items like vegetable spring rolls stacked to augur good fortune, but it features more modern and accessible flavors.
9 Dragons Lion Dance Athletic Association which operates out of the 9 Dragons Kung Fu Academy will perform a lion dance at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, January 21. Be prepared for drummers, cymbalists, and a gong player along with dancers in a lion costume.
“The music’s going to be really loud and exciting,” says Janeen Lantry, head coach of 9 Dragons Lion Dance, “and that’s meant to chase away bad luck, evil spirits, and bring in a new year with prosperity and longevity and health.”
The lion, which is a symbol of longevity, will bless the restaurant and guests at their tables, Lantry says. There’s meaning behind the dance, too, which involves the lion plucking the “cheng,” or lettuce, pretending to chew it, and dispersing it back to the business and guests for good luck — in essence, sharing the wealth.
“A lot of restaurants or businesses will hang the cheng in a high place for the lion,” Lantry says. “The more difficult the cheng is to get, the more good luck the lion will spread.”
Also in Scottsdale only, lucky red envelopes known as hongbao will be given to guests with a special deal for a future visit to Ling & Louie’s or its sister restaurant Ling’s Wok Shop. Red envelopes traditionally packed with cash — symbolizing good luck in the year ahead — are another staple of Lunar New Year.
Chinese Culture & Cuisine Festival
300 East Indian School Road
Saturday, January 21 and Sunday, January 22This January, Phoenix Chinese Week's annual Chinese Culture & Cuisine festival will celebrate its 33rd year with a weekend full of fun. On Saturday, the festival runs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and on Sunday, enjoy the festivities from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Admission is free, and the festival will feature 21 food vendors as well as over 30 merchandise vendors, performances, children’s activities, a Chinese culture and history booth, a beer garden, a koi exhibit, a mahjong booth, and a costume photo booth.
“We try to focus more on Chinese food, but we have Japanese food, Thai food,” and other Asian dishes and drinks, says Eva Li, president of Phoenix Chinese Week.
Some of the vendors include Hot Bamboo, which will make rabbit-shaped bao; Kwan Express, serving Chinese favorites; and Mochinut, which serves donuts made of a circle of eight mochi balls in a variety of flavors.
Phoenix Chinese Week secretary Meng Ansley adds that boba tea is popular, too, as is the chopsticks contest.
“Everybody says, ‘I’m really good at chopsticks,’ until they try it,” she laughs. Li notes that two of the challenges, picking up an uncooked grain of rice and a slippery red bean, tend to trip people up.
Great Wall Restaurant
3446 West Camelback Road
Saturday, January 28Phoenix Chinese Week’s New Year’s Banquet takes place at Great Wall Restaurant on Camelback Road with a 10-course family-style meal served at tables for 10. A bar where attendees can purchase drinks will open at 6:30 p.m., with dinner at 7 p.m. Tickets are $72.80 per person and pre-paid reservations are required on the Phoenix Chinese Week website.
Tickets for the 300 seats always sell out and people call months in advance asking about the event, PCW president Li says. The group holds the dinner at Great Wall because of its large dining space and because it’s an integral part of the Valley’s Chinese community, she says.
“They offer the best and most authentic Chinese food, and their prices are very reasonable as well,” Li says.
This dinner at Great Wall is an homage to the traditional “reunion” dinner, when families gather on Lunar New Year’s Eve to eat traditional foods, Li explains.
“We have certain dishes that are a must for Chinese New Year, like turkey for Thanksgiving,” Li says, explaining that fish is paramount. “The pronunciation of the word for ‘fish’ is similar to the word for ‘leftover,’ which indicates abundance."
And don’t ever slice a whole fish in half and flip the top over, Li warns, because it signifies a boat capsizing.
“You eat the top, pull the bones out, and then eat the bottom,” she says.
Also, the pronunciation of the word for shrimp resembles “ha,” the sound of laughter, Li says, so it symbolizes happiness, liveliness, and good fortune. Lettuce, meanwhile, sounds like the word for “wealth,” so that signifies prosperity, as does the sesame roll, which is the shape and color of a gold nugget.
“Usually we always have chicken whole, with the head and feet, to symbolize completeness from beginning to end," Li says. And the word for black seaweed strands sounds like “making money,” so that’s a common item on the table as well.
The new year menu at Great Wall doesn’t include a whole chicken or black seaweed, but it will have deep-fried crispy chicken, a fish filet in XO sauce, shrimp with honey-glazed walnuts, and other specialties. The event will kick off with a lion dance for good luck and prosperity.