For ethnic Chinese all the over the globe, the Lunar New Year, which begins next Sunday, is the most significant holiday of the year. It’s the equivalent of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year rolled up into one giant celebration.
While there are numerous regional differences in how ethnic Chinese celebrate the new year, the common denominators are gifts of money in red envelopes and traditional foods that are deemed lucky because they sound like words for wealth or good health.
Families will typically enjoy fried chicken, since the dish’s name in Cantonese, “kum gai bo hay,” means “golden rooster reporting good news.” A whole chicken with the head still attached is deep fried until the skin turns golden and crispy, to symbolize wholeness and prosperity.
Another common dish is braised dried oysters with fat choy, a black moss that resembles strands of black hair. The dish, “fat choy ho see,” sounds like “prosperous business” (or bull market in Wall Street terms).
A whole steamed fish is also mandatory, because the word for fish, “yu,” sounds like both “wish” and “abundance,” symbolizing the wish for abundance for the coming year.
In the Boston area, outside of Chinatown, Quincy has the most restaurants catering to those looking for a taste of traditional Chinese food, and the New Year is an opportunity for local restaurants to offer special menus.
Some restaurateurs, however, believe that Westerners would find traditional dishes too foreign, and post special items in Chinese characters only. For those looking to go outside their comfort zone, you need only to ask the host for assistance.
The following is a sampling of Quincy restaurants that are offering special new year dishes.
21A-25 Billings Road
415 Hancock St.
Grand Chinatown and its sister restaurant, East Chinatown, located just around the corner, will offer their special New Year’s dinner menu until Feb. 17. “Every year we try to change the menu a little bit,’’ said owner Cecilia Yu . “Since it’s the Year of the Snake, we try to think of something to go along with that.”
Among the offerings this year are sea conch with fried tofu, to symbolize lots of money in the house; braised sea cucumber and mushroom on mustard greens for good luck; and braised pork hock with fat choy, to usher in a rich and smooth future.
English translations are printed on this year’s menu of special offerings, which can be ordered a la carte or as 10-course prix fixes, ranging from $13 to $29 for individual dishes and $268 to $388 for 10-course dinners.
Daily specials, however, are handwritten in Chinese only and posted on walls. Yu said she doesn’t translate those into English because she doesn’t want customers to mistake them for Americanized food. But Yu said she makes it a point to connect with her non-Chinese customers to explain the dishes and answer questions.
Tung Long Garden
1250 Hancock St.
Tung Long Garden has a bit of a split personality. The English menu is heavy with Chinese-American dishes such as chop suey and egg foo young, while the menu printed in Chinese offers both prix fixe and a la carte courses catering to Chinese tastes.
Its New Year menu will be available throughout February, but will be in Chinese only. Andy Lau, the manager, said, “For this kind of Chinese food, I would say some American people won’t accept it. The menu is written in Chinese, because we target Chinese customers.”
Among the specials Tung Long will offer are a “Family Reunion” appetizer platter consisting of Chinese cold cuts such as sliced pig knuckles and jelly fish; a soup of crabmeat, fish maw (a Chinese delicacy that is gelatinous in texture), and shredded abalone; and a fried tofu with seafood dish called “gold bars with three seafood delights.” Prices range from $15 to $50.
237 Quincy Ave.
China Pearl, with seating for more than 600 people, is popular for dim sum and wedding banquets. It’s also the least intimidating for non-Chinese-speakers because everything it offers is also translated into English.
Owner Brian Moy explains: “We have a lot of non-Asian customers and they like to partake in traditional dinners. And then you have someone like myself who was born in America; I speak Chinese, but I don’t read Chinese, so I take it personally to offer something that I would like to eat.”
Next Sunday, China Pearl will hold its annual Chinese New Year’s party that is open to the public. The ticket price of $40, or $368 for a table for 10, will provide entertainment and an eight-course dinner, which includes seafood soup, Cantonese-style fried chicken, lobsters sauteed with ginger and scallions, braised dried oysters with fat choy, and sweet sesame balls.
Festivities, which start promptly at 7 p.m., include a lion dance, drumming, and a traditional water-sleeve dance. To reserve a seat, call the restaurant at 617-773-9838 or e-mail Moy at email@example.com.
For those who can’t make the New Year’s party, a special menu, printed in both Chinese and English, will be available for three weeks. Additionally, Moy said a number of lion dance troupes will be performing at the restaurant Feb. 16, starting at 12:30 p.m.
“What we’ve found is that there’s a lot of people out there who don’t speak Chinese that are very interested in learning more and trying more authentic Chinese dishes,” said Moy.