Dining specials help ring in Chinese New Year

Posted at 11:00 AM, Feb 03, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-03 15:43:09-05

Welcome to the year 4014.

That's the year the Chinese will ring in when the Chinese New Year comes around on Feb. 8, according to the 4,000-year-old Chinese lunar calendar.

This is a particularly momentous time for Chinese people as they believe their actions could set their luck for the following year. It's also the time for one long-running celebration -- 15 days long to be exact.

Here’s a look at Chinese New Year dining traditions, specials and events to know in Greater Cincinnati.

Lucky Foods

Prevailing traditions this time of year come with a healthy dose of symbolism and superstition. Foods that imply or sound like “gold” and “abundance” in Chinese are overwhelmingly favored.

  • Fish symbolize abundance because the homophone for fish in Chinese sounds like "more." Expect a lot of fish on menus, especially whole fish.
  • Dumplings are also a favorite, because of their shape. They resemble ingots, hence good luck and fortune.
  • Noodles are a harbinger of longevity. The noodles are carefully prepared to maintain their long strands, which symbolize the diner's long life.
  • Oranges symbolize wealth and success, thanks to their "gold" color and Chinese homophone, which sounds like "success."

Dining specials and events

The Greater Cincinnati Chinese Chamber of Commerce will throw a dinner gala on Feb. 12 to celebrate both the lunar new year and the chamber’s 10-year anniversary.

Kingsgate Marriott will cater the dinner buffet while other area restaurants like Tea ‘n’ Bowl will provide appetizers and desserts. Performers such as renowned pipa (lute) virtuoso Ming Ke, Bing Yang Chinese Performing Arts Center and soprano Ruixin Deng will showcase traditional Chinese music and dance.

The proceeds will help support the non-profit Chinese Chamber.

"The gala is a great opportunity to celebrate Chinese culture and network with local and global leaders from major corporations and universities," said Tessa Xuan, the Chamber's executive director.

Tickets range from $100-$200. Visit the Chamber website for more information.

Oriental Wok returns with a full round of food and festivities. For the two weeks of the Chinese New Year, you can dig into "lucky dishes" such as whole crispy fish (abundance), oysters (good luck) and stuffed crab claws (ambition/attaining wealth).

"The many dishes we serve represent wishes for the new year of health, happiness, luck, riches and long life," said owner Susanna Wong.

The big celebration is 6-9 p.m. Feb. 21 at Oriental Wok’s Northern Kentucky location (317 Buttermilk Pike). There will be a lion dance, firecrackers and a nine-course dinner. It’s $75 per person and $25 for children age 12 and under. Reservations are required.

Lunar New Year Celebration: If a sit-down dinner is not your style, try this party 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. Feb. 13 at the Transept in Over-the-Rhine. This soiree is the brainchild of Daspo, a local group that specializes in organizing Asian events. It will feature food by Funky's Catering and the Lang Thang Group (the folks behind Pho Lang Thang and Quan Hapa), DJs, high-tech visuals and swanky cocktails. Expect dim sum-style hors d'oeuvres such as sugar cane shrimp, siu mai (dumplings) and turnip cakes.

"It'd be more similar to an American New Year's Eve party but inspired by the lunar new year traditions," said Lam Dang of Daspo.

The proceeds will go toward the Asian Food Fest, a food festival that promotes diversity through Asian food and culture. Tickets are $30 and can be purchased online. Call 859-468-5858 for more information. 

Grand Oriental Chinese Restaurant will offer a 10-course dinner for a party of eight to 10 people Feb. 1-22. Savor prime dishes such as steamed whole fish, mussels with black bean sauce and beef short ribs for $16 per person, plus tax and tips. Reservations are required. 4800 Fields Ertel Road. 513-677-3388.

Huit Craft BBQ will feature its BBQ Pork Noodles to play up the longevity theme. Dig into seared yellow noodles with barbecue pork, vegetables, green onions and a poached egg. 29 E. Court St., Downtown. 513-381-4848.

Great Tang Chinese Restaurant will offer 10-course dinners Feb. 7-9 and Feb. 22, suitable for a party of six to 10 diners. Choose from four different menus ranging from $128-$188 and score complimentary dumplings. Reservations are required. 7340 Kingsgate Way, West Chester. 513-847-6097.

Sichuan Chili will feature "fishes" for the Chinese New Year. The fish-themed dishes can be prepared with whole fish or fillets, steamed, baked or fried and finished with a spicy or sweet-and-sour sauce. Call for more information. 10400 Reading Road, #205b, Evendale. 513-376-7223.

Findlay Market joins in the celebration with a couple of vendor specials. Saigon Market is offering a 10 percent discount on groceries through Feb. 7. Colonel De Gourmet Herbs & Spices will run a special on its Chinese five-spice powder. Call vendors for more information. 1801 Race St., Over-the-Rhine. Colonel De: 513-421-4800; Saigon Market: 513-721-8053.

Taro pastry at Bread House Bakery.

Bread House Bakery: This new bakery in Sharonville specializes in Asian baked goods such as jujube pastry, baked buns with sweet red bean filling, and even celebration cakes. You also can find an assortment of smoothies and boba tea. Joe Chen, the head baker and owner, bakes the goodies fresh every day, and he also owns E-Star, an Asian market around the corner from the bakery. 11974 Lebanon Road, Sharonville.

The Lunar Calendar

Although China has adopted the Gregorian calendar for ease of international communication, the lunar calendar still codifies time for many Chinese. This calendar is largely based on the movement of the moon. The Chinese also believe every year is uniquely characterized by a zodiac animal, and on Feb. 8, the monkey will take over.

A tip: If you attend a Chinese New Year dinner or celebration, do not wear white. In Chinese tradition, white is reserved for a funeral, which effectively makes you the Grim Reaper. Do wear bright colors, ideally red, and you'll score big on popularity.

Grace Yek writes about food for WCPO Digital. She is a certified chef-de-cuisine with the American Culinary Federation, and a former chemical engineer. Questions or comments? Connect with her on Twitter: @Grace_Yek.