Chinese New Year is a very important holiday for me. Although I was born and raised in Southeast Asia, my father was three-quarters Chinese and my mother was half Chinese. We always celebrated the lunar new year by making special meals full of symbolism. For instance, we made a sweet sticky rice cake called tikoy because it symbolizes unity and togetherness and good luck that is supposed to stick to you all year long.
We also cleaned the house and bought new clothes to wear on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. And my parents gave us children red envelopes stuffed with a little bit of money. The money symbolized prosperity, health, and good luck for the year. We put the red envelopes under our pillows and slept on them for 3 days. Then, to follow tradition, the envelopes are folded into a triangle shape with the money still inside and kept safe for the rest of the year to ensure prosperity.
This year February 12 ushered in the year of the ox, which means it could be a year of movement, healing, and discipline for many. The Chinese New Year, or Lunar New Year, is traditionally wrapped up in many cities on February 26 with fairs, fireworks, and lantern festivals.
But this Chinese New Year, because of the pandemic, required honoring the occasion differently from other years. Usually, I book 10 tables at Capital Seafood in Arcadia for an extravagant dim sum meal with my family, friends, and colleagues. Capital Seafood is one of the dim sum staples in Southern California, and it’s one of my favorite venues for an Asian-style banquet. However, I knew that wouldn’t work this year because Capital Seafood was only allowed to set up tables outside on their patio, and there wouldn’t be enough room to feed everyone I love. I had to come up with a new idea.
I asked the owner of Capital Seafood, Stephanie Lee, to pack dim sum meals that my friends, family, colleagues, and prayer group members could pick up and take home. Stephanie agreed immediately. Together, she and I came up with a perfect menu that she would pack to go in bundles that could serve 2-6 people.
Our menu included fish filets with vegetables because fish is associated with luck. In Chinese, it sounds like “surplus” or “plentiful.” Capital Seafood also made dumplings because they resemble gold ingots. The menu included seven kinds of dim sum including hargow with shrimp, shumai with pork and shrimp, bright green spinach dumplings stuffed with vegetables, din tai fun filled with ground pork and its juices, chicken buns, yellow crab rice, baked seafood rice with cheese, and sesame balls stuffed with sweet red beans.
Capital Seafood also made tikoy, those wonderful sticky glutinous rice cakes along with daikon radish cakes. I requested long life noodles with chicken, too. It’s a dish eaten more often on birthdays than the New Year, but I like the symbolism of long life and health. Stephanie agreed to make the noodles for me with lobster sauce instead of the brown sauce they normally come tossed in. I like it better that way.
Capital Seafood packed up 140 meals for over 400 of my loved ones and we handed them out on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. I also gave out red envelopes filled with a little bit of money. It made my heart full to provide everyone with a celebratory meal for the new year especially during these difficult times. Hopefully, it will bring them health and happiness all year long.