The best holidays all have one thing in common: food. And Chinese New Year definitely has plenty of it. The 15-day festival, which starts Saturday, is a time to see family, honor ancestors and celebrate the coming of spring — and eat. A lot.
Lucky for New York, the city has a roster of restaurants to ring in the Year of the Rooster with traditional dishes. Chinatown insiders share their favorite spots for iconic — and auspicious — cuisine with The Post.Bowl o’ noodles
Long noodles mean a long life. That’s the rationale behind devouring any kind of noodle dish during a major Chinese celebration.
Wellington Chen, executive director of the Chinatown Partnership, a nonprofit that promotes economic development, is a fan of the hand-pulled varieties ($6 to $9) at Noodle Q, one of chef John Zhang’s restaurants.
“It’s a very al dente type of pasta, and the fact that they are hand-pulled means they are very long,” Zhang says. “They are not prepackaged, and they are handmade right then and there for you.”
The noodles come dry or in soup (above), with meat, fish balls, seafood or vegetables. They are never cut before serving, so be ready to slurp. 2 East Broadway; 212-219-8223For the birds!
Joanna Lee and Ken Smith are experts in luck. The couple, who split their time between the Upper West Side and Hong Kong, write the annual Pocket Chinese Almanac, a pint-size English-language book that lists specific activities, from hairstyling to weddings, one should or should not perform on each day — according to a Chinese geomancer. When it comes to eating for good fortune, their advice is to head to the Imperial Palace in Flushing and order the whole crispy chicken ($25 to $30). “Because this year is the Fire Rooster, [this dish] is far and away our first choice,” Smith says.
And squeamish eaters, beware — the presentation of the entire animal, including the head, is key.
“We suggest bringing a big group of friends,” says Lee. “The head and tail signify good luck from beginning of the year to the end! While there, also have the famous crab with steamed sticky rice.” 136-13 37th Ave., Flushing; 718-939-3501Going green
When she was growing up in Flushing, Nancy Yao Maasbach, president of the Museum of Chinese in America on Centre Street, recalls the local Buddhist temple serving a coveted 10-vegetable dish known as Buddha’s delight, now a staple on her family’s holiday table.
The preparation, especially for a home cook, is intense because it requires cutting up so many types of produce. “If you go to a dinner and someone makes it, you say, ‘They must really love me. They went to the trouble of making an insanely laborious dish,’ ” Maasbach says.
Buddha Bodai One, a kosher vegetarian restaurant on Mott Street, serves a solid version ($12.95) made with mushrooms, celery, tofu, bamboo shoots and more. 5 Mott St.; 212-566-8388, ChinatownVegetarian.comLet them eat cake
It took Lorna Lai 36 years of living in New York City to find the Chinese New Year treat that reminds her of her youth in Hong Kong. The owner of Chinatown tea shop Sun’s Organic Garden, Lai visits a Southeast Asian restaurant called Wok Wok for round glutinous cakes wrapped in plastic called “nian gao” ($9.50 each; not listed on the menu).
The first part of the name of the dish, “nian,” is the word for “year,” while “gao” sounds like “to rise” in Chinese.
“For the children, you want them to be taller and taller each year. You want their school marks to be higher and higher every year. Also, people who work want a promotion every year,” Lai says of the significance of the name.
Made with rice flour and brown sugar, the cakes are steamed in banana leaves. Buyers bring the sweet home, put it on their altar as an offering to ancestors, and then, later, cut it up, coat it in raw egg and fry it in a saucepan.
“It reminds me of my childhood. It makes me think of the old days,” Lai says. “This is the real authentic one. This is what it looks like in Hong Kong!” 11 Mott St.; 917-388-3627, WokWokNY.comWhat’s in a name?
In Chinese culture, it’s common to eat dishes on holidays whose ingredients’ names resemble positive words. Take “fa cai hao shi” — a dish made of dried oysters (the Chinese words for the shellfish, “hao shi,” sounds similar to the words for “good things”) and noodlelike black moss seaweed (“fa cai,” in which “fa” sounds like the word for prosperity and “cai” means vegetable). Said aloud, according to Chinatown Partnership’s Chen, the name of the dish invokes the words and phrases for good business, wealth and happiness, and success.
He recommends ordering it at Amazing 66 on Mott Street ($48). “This particular dish is very popular with many as it symbolizes prosperity and good fortune — at least phonetically,” says Chen, who is participating in a Chinese New Year celebration along Madison Avenue, from Midtown to the Upper East Side, on Sunday. 66 Mott St.; 212-334-0099, Amazing66.comThat’s so rice
Choreographer and dancer Nai-Ni Chen has run her own Jersey City, NJ-based theater company, Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company, since 1988.
The troupe regularly celebrates after performances, and their go-to spot is Congee Village on Allen Street. There, Chen recommends the congee with pork and thousand-year-old egg. If that special type of egg isn’t available, the preserved egg option listed on the menu is a fine substitute ($5.50). The simple dish, while not unique to Chinese New Year, reminds her of her late father’s home cooking. It is a quintessential wintertime meal in Taiwan, where she was born.
“The custom is to make a special porridge with a variety of ingredients. It is kind of a food of the people,” Chen says. “This congee comes close to that, and it is something we always order.” 100 Allen St.; 212-941-1818, CongeeVillageRestaurants.comWhere to get your Year of the Rooster on
There’s no better way to kick off the Year of the Rooster than with a bang — literally. The volunteers of Better Chinatown USA are doing just that, with a firecracker ceremony starting at noon, surrounded by a half day’s worth of performances, vendors and giveaways. Bring your earplugs. Saturday, 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., free. Sara D. Roosevelt Park, Grand and Chrystie streets; betterchinatown.com
The Asia Society’s ringing in the New Year with a family day it calls “Moon Over Manhattan!” There will be stories, arts and crafts and two things no Chinese New Year starts without: a Lion Dance and kung fu demonstration, performed by New York’s Bo Law Kung-Fu martial arts school. Saturday, 1 to 5 p.m., $5 children and $12 adults. 725 Park Ave.; asiasociety.org
With jugglers and marionettes, Chinese fusion music and the New York Eastern Chamber Orchestra, the East Midtown Partnership’s Madison Street to Madison Avenue fest (inset) promises to be one of the more diverse cultural events of the year — especially with promotions from stores such as Kate Spade New York, Michael Kors and David Yurman. Sunday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., free. Madison Avenue, from 42nd to 86th streets; eastmidtown.org
The style of theater known as Peking opera has been a cherished art form in Chinese culture since the 18th century, fusing song, dialogue, dance and martial arts into one mesmerizing performance. The Chinese American Arts Council presents three short operatic programs in one event, comprising “The West Lake,” “Picking Up the Jade Bracelet” and “The Sword Dance.” Sunday, 3 to 5 p.m., free. New York Chinese Community Center Theater, 62 Mott St.; caacarts.org
— Hannah Sparks