Food News

Find Lucky Foods at These 3 Lunar New Year Events in Metro Phoenix

Hot Bamboo and 20 other food vendors will sell a variety of Asian food and drinks at the Chinese Culture & Cuisine Festival Saturday and Sunday.
Hot Bamboo and 20 other food vendors will sell a variety of Asian food and drinks at the Chinese Culture & Cuisine Festival Saturday and Sunday. Phoenix Chinese Week
This year, Lunar New Year starts on January 22 and celebrates the year of the water rabbit, 4721. The celebration typically runs for 15 days and foods that signify good fortune and prosperity — such as fish, chicken, shrimp, and oranges — are central to the festivities.

Here are three places around metro Phoenix to celebrate Lunar New Year by trying some lucky dishes.

click to enlarge
Steamed dumplings are on the Lunar New Year menu at both the Chandler and Scottsdale locations of Ling & Louie's.
Ling & Louie's

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.

click to enlarge
9 Dragons Lion Dance will perform at the Scottsdale location of Ling & Louie's on January 21 to kick off the Lunar New Year celebration.
9 Dragons Lion Dance
At the Scottsdale location only, the 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.

click to enlarge
The Chinese Culture & Cuisine Festival will feature 21 food vendors, including Hot Bamboo selling rabbit-shaped bao.
Hot Bamboo

Chinese Culture & Cuisine Festival

300 East Indian School Road
Saturday, January 21 and Sunday, January 22
This 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.

click to enlarge
Shrimp with honey-glazed walnuts will be one of 10 courses served at the Chinese New Year Banquet at Great Wall Restaurant.
Great Wall Restaurant

Great Wall Restaurant

3446 West Camelback Road
Saturday, January 28
Phoenix 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.
KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Geri Koeppel is a professional writer, voracious reader, devoted traveler, and an amateur cook, wine drinker, birder and tennis player. She's lived and worked in Detroit, San Francisco, and Phoenix.
Contact: Geri Koeppel

Latest Stories