Lunar New Year, celebrated by many cultures, holds special significance as a time to reconnect with family and pay homage to ancestors. Across various Asian cultures, including Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, and more, symbolic foods play a central role in ushering in luck and prosperity for the new year. While Chinese traditions are widely recognized in the United States, each culture has its own culinary customs for this festive occasion.
The Lunar New Year commences on February 10 this year, coinciding with the new moon, and spans a period of 15 days until the full moon. Often, celebrations kick off even earlier, marking one of the most significant holidays of the year. In the Washington D.C. area, numerous establishments offer specialty foods and host events to mark the beginning of the Year of the Dragon.
In Korean tradition, Tteokguk, a milky white beef-based soup containing coin-shaped rice cakes, symbolizes the start of the new year with its pristine appearance and the rice cakes’ resemblance to coins, signifying wealth. Similarly, Japchae, stir-fried sweet potato-based glass noodles, and Jeon, egg- and flour-based fritters, are cherished dishes during Seollal, the Korean Lunar New Year.
Vietnamese cuisine features Bánh chưng and bánh tét, traditional rice cakes stuffed with fillings like glutinous rice, mung bean, and pork, symbolizing the earth and sky, respectively. Kho, a variety of caramelized proteins, and Chả lụa, Vietnamese sausage, are also popular offerings during Tết, the Vietnamese Lunar New Year.
Taiwanese, Malaysian, and Singaporean cultures celebrate with Pineapple cakes, highlighting prosperity due to the homophonic connection between pineapple and “prosperity arrives.” Meanwhile, in Chinese traditions, Nian gao, sticky cakes symbolizing advancement and abundance, and Steamed whole fish, representing surplus and prosperity, are favored dishes.
Longevity noodles, essential for their representation of a long life, and Jiaozi, dumplings symbolizing wealth and good fortune, are cherished during Lunar New Year celebrations. Across various restaurants in the D.C. area, these delicacies are readily available, with establishments like Chinese Street Market offering noodle-making classes and restaurants such as Sichuan Pavilion serving whole steamed fish with a variety of sauce options.
Numerous Lunar New Year events and specials are also taking place in the region, including banquets, special menus, and cultural performances. From traditional dinners to modern interpretations, the diverse culinary landscape of the D.C. area reflects the richness and significance of Lunar New Year traditions across Asian cultures.