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Tea-smoked duck at Ms Chi Cafe in Culver City.
Tea-smoked duck at Ms Chi Cafe in Culver City.
Ms Chi Cafe

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The Ultimate LA Guide For What to Eat on Lunar New Year

Ring in the new year with foods that bring luck and prosperity

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The Lunar New Year — also known as Chinese New Year, Spring Festival, Tet Nguyen Dan, and Seollal — falls on January 22 this year and is celebrated by millions of people around the world, including those in China, Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Mongolia, Singapore, Vietnam, Malaysia, and here in Los Angeles.

Traditionally, celebrants return to their hometowns for 15 days to spend time with family, receive red envelopes full of money, and feast together. The celebration usually begins on New Year’s Eve, when many families come together for a reunion dinner to eat lucky foods in the hope of bringing prosperity and good fortune into the New Year. In many instances, what the dish’s name sounds like, how it’s prepared, or the way it’s served brings additional layers of auspiciousness.

Since food is the cornerstone of Lunar New Year celebrations, we’ve rounded up some of the holiday’s most essential dishes, shared a bit about the dish’s cultural significance, and provided details on where to find each dish in Los Angeles. Here’s to a lucky and prosperous Year of the Rabbit on the Chinese zodiac calendar and Year of the Cat on the Vietnamese zodiac calendar.

Niángāo (glutinous rice cake)

Niángāo (glutinous rice cake) sits in a large black bowl filled with red fabric and ribbon, oranges, red envelopes, and bright pink flowers. The bowl sits on a red tablecloth.
Niángāo (glutinous rice cake).

Glutinous rice cake, or niángāo, is one of the most symbolic Lunar New Year dishes. Also translated as a “New Year cake,” niángāo is made of glutinous rice flour. The sweet variety, which hails from southern China, is the more popular version, and is made with sugar, sticky rice, chestnuts, Chinese dates, and lotus leaves. The savory version is typically stir-fried in dishes in Shanghainese and northern Chinese cuisine.

Glutinous rice cake symbolizes progress, advancement, and growth because the sound for niángāo in Chinese sounds similar to “getting higher year after year.” This can refer to children growing taller and stronger, students getting better grades, or achieving general success in the New Year. New Year cake is cut into small pieces, steamed, or battered in egg and panfried. The texture is similar to that of mochi. Here’s where to find it:

  • Atlantic Times Seafood. 500 N. Atlantic Boulevard, Ste. 200, Monterey Park, (626) 872-0388.
  • Phoenix Food Boutique (multiple locations).
  • Domies Bakery. 7609 Garvey Avenue, Rosemead, (626) 280-3085.
  • Kee Wah Bakery (multiple locations).
  • Huge Tree Pastry. 423 N. Atlantic Boulevard, Monterey Park, (626) 458-8689.
  • Happy Bakery. 846 E. Valley Boulevard, Ste. B, San Gabriel, (626) 308-3532.
  • Also available in Asian supermarkets like 99 Ranch, 168 Market, GW-Supermarket, TS Emporium, and Thuan Phat.

Fó tiào qiáng (Buddha jumps over the wall)

A variety of ingredients in the dish Buddha Jumps Over the Wall sit piled into a large black pot.
Buddha jumps over the wall.

Fó tiào qiáng, which literally translates to “Buddha jumps over the wall,” is a traditional and expensive stew. The thick soup from Fujian, China, dates back to the Qing Dynasty and is thought to have many health properties. The name derives from the legend that the dish was so good that even a vegetarian monk would jump over a temple’s walls just to taste it.

The dish is a delicacy made up of luxury ingredients and is high in nutrients and collagen. It takes up to two days to make it, with many additional hours in preparation time. Typically, the soup has dried abalone, dried scallop, dried shiitake mushrooms, scallops, fish maw, pork tendon, taro, quail eggs, bamboo shoots, ginseng, sea cucumber, red dates, Chinese wolfberry, Jinhua ham, and beef shank, to name a few. Ingredients can be interchanged depending on the season and what is available.

Buddha jumps over the wall is most often served at banquets and important holidays like Lunar New Year. Preparing the dish is difficult and time-consuming since certain recipes use up to 30 main ingredients and more than 10 condiments. Jiang Nan Spring is offering its version of the dish in two sizes ($168 for the small size) and requires diners to bring in their own vessel for the soup. Here’s where to find it:

  • Jiang Nan Spring. 910 E. Main Street, Alhambra, (626) 766-1688.
  • Also available in Asian supermarkets like 99 Ranch, TS Emporium, and 168 Market in the frozen food section.

Chinese togetherness tray and Vietnamese mứt tết

A round Chinese Togetherness Tray or Vietnamese Mut Tet Tray holds a variety of ingredients in each of its compartments and sits against a bright yellow background.
Chinese togetherness tray and Vietnamese mứt tết.

Both Chinese and Vietnamese cultures consider togetherness trays quintessential to the Lunar New Year holiday. They believe that since many of the items in the trays are sweet, eating sweet foods will bring them good luck and success in the new year. The Tray of Togetherness is a red Chinese candy box with usually six or eight compartments (since six symbolizes luck and eight symbolizes wealth) filled with different candied fruits, vegetables, snacks, and candies that all have symbolically auspicious meanings. The snacks featured are extra special since they are only sold this time of the year.

Dried candied lotus root signifies abundance year after year. Dried candied coconut signifies togetherness. Dried red watermelon seeds signify happiness for their red color and fertility, or an abundance of offspring, as the word for “seeds” is a homophone for the word for “children.” Candied winter melon and ginger symbolize growth and good health. Dried pineapple signifies good luck or prosperity. Apples mean peace and harmony. Citrus fruits symbolize prosperity and wealth, and peanuts symbolize longevity. Pistachios bring happiness since the Chinese translation literally means “happy nuts.”

Unlike Chinese togetherness trays, Vietnamese mứt tết are typically divided into five compartments. Many of the meanings of the snacks are similar to the Chinese ones, but the Vietnamese trays feature different sweets. Vietnamese trays also have fried seeds like watermelon, lotus, sunlight flower seeds, and pumpkin, but they include candied fruits like soursop, preserved tamarind, candied wax gourd, banana candy with sesame and peanut, candied tomato, candied starfruit, candied ginger, and colorful candied coconut ribbons. Mứt tết typically includes a sugar-preserved jam — in most cases kumquat, as it symbolizes good fortune. Here’s where to find it:

  • Vua Kho Bo (multiple locations) sells a large selection of goods for DIY togetherness trays.
  • Nature Land (multiple locations in the San Gabriel Valley and Orange County) is offering build-your-own togetherness trays or mứt tết.
  • Also available in Asian supermarkets like 99 Ranch, 168 Market, GW-Supermarket, and Thuan Phat.

Tāngtuán (glutinous rice balls) or chè trôi nước

Some tāngtuán (glutinous rice balls) or Chè Trôi Nước in a blue and white bowl that sits atop a gold and red decorated table setting.
Tāngtuán (glutinous rice balls) or chè trôi nước.

Usually eaten on the last day of the Lunar New Year celebrations, known as the Lantern Festival, tāngtuán are sweet mochi rice balls that symbolize togetherness. Tāngtuán can have black sesame, red bean, and ground peanuts. There’s even an option that’s a bit boozy with fermented glutinous rice and dried osmanthus flower. The pronunciation of tāngtuán is very similar to a Chinese phrase meaning “being together and gathering with your family.”

Chè trôi nước is the Vietnamese version of the glutinous rice balls. It is made with a creamy mung bean paste and topped with sweet ginger syrup and drizzled with coconut cream and lightly toasted sesame seeds for a dessert.

Here’s where to find tāngtuán:

  • Southern Mini Town. 833 W. Las Tunas Drive, San Gabriel, (626) 289-6578.
  • Jiang Nan Spring. 910 E. Main Street, Alhambra, (626) 766-1688.
  • Dun Huang. 1370 Fullerton Road, Ste 105, Rowland Heights, (626) 820-9079.
  • Thach Che Hien Khanh. 8150 Garvey Avenue, Ste. 117i, Rosemead, (626) 288-8128.

Here’s where to find chè trôi nước:

  • Thach Che Hien Khanh. 8150 Garvey Avenue, Ste. 117i, Rosemead, (626) 288-8128.
  • VK Tofu. 9210 Valley Boulevard, Rosemead, (626) 288-1001.
  • Also available at Vietnamese sandwich shops like Banh Mi Che Cali.

Luóbo gāo (turnip cake)

Several pieces of luóbo gāo (turnip cake) have been arranged on a square white dish that sits atop a red tablecloth.
Luóbo gāo (turnip cake).

Turnip cakes are a staple in dim sum, but they are also a lucky Lunar New Year food. During the celebration, bakeries and restaurants make a larger version for sale than what’s available at dim sum parlors. Although it is a Cantonese food, the Taiwanese and Fujianese also eat this during the New Year since the pronunciation for turnip cake, cai tao gui, is a homonym for good fortune. The cakes can be eaten steamed or fried. Here’s where to find it:

  • Domies Bakery. 7609 Garvey Avenue, Rosemead, (626) 280-3085.
  • Atlantic Seafood: 500 N. Atlantic Boulevard, Ste. 200, Monterey Park, (626) 872-0388.
  • Phoenix Food Boutique (multiple locations).

Banh tet (cylindrical glutinous rice cake)

A few pieces of banh tet (cylindrical glutinous rice cake) have been wrapped in green banana leaves and sit on a woven mat.
Banh Tet (cylindrical glutinous rice cake)

Vietnamese banh tet is offered to the ancestral altar and then eaten by revelers afterward during the Lunar New Year celebration. It is typically in the shape of a cylinder and stuffed with glutinous rice, pork fat, mung bean seasoned with shallots and black pepper, and rolled into banana leaves, then boiled for many hours. After cooking, the leaves are removed and the cake is sliced into wheel shapes.

The rice cakes are served with pickled scallions, pickled vegetables, and fish sauce. Some people eat it steamed and others like to fry the cake so the result is chewy and crispy. You can also sprinkle sugar on top, or dip with chile and soy sauce for more umami taste. The cylindrical form of banh tet is popular in southern Vietnam, whereas the squared shapes are prepared in the central and northern parts of Vietnam.

Although you can buy banh tet at markets and Vietnamese sandwich shops, some restaurants like Sau Can Tho ($25 for a four pound banh tet) make ones from scratch . However, the true meaning behind this dish is to promote family bonding, since making it is time-consuming. Here’s where to find it:

  • Sau Can Tho. 8450 Garvey Avenue, #103, Rosemead, (626) 307-8868.
  • Trai Cay Mien Tay. 9324 E. Garvey Avenue, #D, South El Monte, (626) 452-8984.
  • Also available at Vietnamese markets and Vietnamese sandwich shops.

Lo hei

Lo hei is a Cantonese tradition that has become popularized in Singapore and Malaysia. 
Lo Hei is a Cantonese tradition that has become popularized in Singapore and Malaysia.

Lo hei is a Cantonese tradition that has become popularized in Singapore and Malaysia. The name, which literally translates to “tossing up good fortune,” refers to the ritual where families gather around a plate during the Lunar New Year, and then mix and toss the ingredients while wishing each other lucky phrases before eating it. The tradition dictates that the higher the toss, the luckier the year ahead will be.

Typically, raw fish like salmon is the centerpiece of the dish. Other auspicious ingredients like carrots, pomelo, peanuts, sesame seeds, green and white radish, and crackers are drizzled with plum sauce.

  • Malaysian home cook Wendy (last name withheld) is selling lo hei through her Instagram account: Malaysian Food Lovers LA. The “Prosperity Toss Salad’’ comes with salmon sashimi topped with a choice of fried shrimp, cocktail shrimp, or surf clam, along with white radish, carrots, red peppers, red pickled ginger, seaweed, pickled leeks, green onions, cilantro, jellyfish, pomelo, peanuts, sesame seeds, candied winter melon, five spice, lime, and other lucky ingredients. The $60 lo hei salad feeds six and is available for preordering now for pickup on January 21. Send a direct message through Instagram to order.
  • Malaysian restaurant Ipoh Kopitiam in Alhambra is also selling its version of the prosperity salad. Contact the restaurant directly for prices.

Good luck cookies

A white dish holds puffy good luck cookies on one side and smiling sesame cookie balls on the other. Tea and other snacks are also on the table.
Good luck cookies

Brittle horn cookie is a crispy peanut puff cookie. It is considered good luck because it is made in the shape of gold ingots that the ancient Chinese used for centuries as money. The cookies are topped with some dried coconut and sesame seeds. Chinese believe that eating these cookies bring good fortune.

Chinese smiling sesame cookie balls are a popular Lunar New Year snack. They are small crispy sesame-infused cookies with moist interiors that are supposed to bring a happy and prosperous new year. The cookie gets its name from the way the dough ball cracks open when deep-fried, which many think resembles someone laughing. Here’s where to find it:

Since cookies and pastries in the shape of gold ingots bring good fortune, Bistro Na’s is making fresh yuan bao crisp cookies. Made with black sesame, peanuts, walnut, and tangerine skin, which are auspicious ingredients, the cookies are meant to bring money in for the new year.

  • Bistro Na’s. 9055 Las Tunas Drive, #105, Temple City, (626) 286-1999.

Tteokguk (rice cake soup)

A bowl of tteokguk (rice cake soup) sits on a white-and-blue striped cloth atop a wooden table. It is surrounded by other smaller dishes and wooden utensils.
Tteokguk (rice cake soup).

Lunar New Year in South Korea, known as Seollal, runs for three days. The Korean New Year is similar to a birthday, and eating tteokguk is part of the celebration. Koreans believe that once you are finished eating your soup, you are one year older.

Eating a bowl of tteokguk is said to bring a person a long life. It is a savory soup made with a meat stock, vegetables, and rice cakes. The rice cake soup is very symbolic during the Lunar New Year as it represents long life and a bright new year. The shape of the cakes resemble Korea’s old coin currency, yeopjeon, which is believed to symbolize prosperity. Here’s where to find it:

  • Yongsusan Restaurant. 950 S. Vermont Avenue, Los Angeles, (213) 388-3042.
  • Seong Buk Dong. 3303 W. 6th Street, Los Angeles, (213) 738-8977.
  • Hodori Korean Cuisine. 7315 N. Figueroa Street, Ste. 102, Los Angeles, (323) 274-4855.

Poon choi

A variety of ingredients for poon choi have been carefully arranged in a large black pot.
Poon choi.

Poon choi, which literally translates to “basin vegetables” in Cantonese, is a shared delicacy that is from Hong Kong and dates back seven centuries. Legend has it that when Emperor Bing of the Song Dynasty found himself near modern day Hong Kong/Guangdong area, the villagers wanted to pay their respects and feed the Emperor and his army by throwing in the most luxurious ingredients they could offer from their homes. However, due to the lack of containers, the villagers had to instead lay the prized ingredients layer by layer in a large bowl.

Poon choi is a dish that is only seen during big celebrations and during the Lunar New Year holiday. The dish symbolizes abundance in the coming year. The dish requires lots of preparation and is very time-consuming to make. The basin is assembled into a casserole where each item must be prepared separately and then layered into place. Although there are no set ingredients, there can be upwards of 15 ingredients depending on how lavish the poon choi is, including barbecue pork, abalone, sea cucumber, lamb, beef, pigskin, bean curd, taro, turnip, and napa cabbage. Prices range from $199 to $299 depending on the size and ingredients. Here’s where to find it:

  • Hop Woo BBQ & Seafood Restaurant. 845 North Broadway, Los Angeles, (213) 617-3038.
  • Sham Tseng BBQ. 634 Garvey Avenue, Monterey Park, (626) 289-4858.
  • U2 Cafe & BBQ. 1200 E. Valley Boulevard, Alhambra, (626) 282-1800.
  • Atlantic Seafood & Dim Sum Restaurant. 500 N. Atlantic Boulevard, Monterey Park, (626) 872-0388.
  • Happy Harbor Cuisine. 736 E Valley Boulevard, Alhambra, (626) 282-3838.
  • Sea Harbour. 3939 N. Rosemead Boulevard, Rosemead, (626) 288-3939.
  • Ho Kee Cafe. 533 S. Del Mar Avenue, San Gabriel, (626) 766-1076 and 558 Las Tunas Drive, Arcadia, (626) 766-1076.
  • Capital Seafood. 333 E. Huntington Drive, Arcadia, (626) 574-8889 and 755 W. Garvey Ave., Monterey Park, (626) 282-3318.
  • 888 Seafood. 8450 E. Valley Boulevard, Rosemead, (626) 573-1888.
  • NBC Seafood. 404 S. Atlantic Boulevard, Monterey Park, (626) 282-2323.
  • New Fusion. 1227 S. Baldwin Avenue, Arcadia, (626) 821-0899.
  • J. Zhou. 2601 Park Avenue, Tustin, (714) 258-8833.

Fa gao (fortune cake)

Four pieces of fa gao (fortune cake) sitting atop a woven tabletop decorated with red ribbon, red envelopes with golden Chinese calligraphy, and bright pink flowers.
Fa gao (fortune cake).

Fortune cake is a Chinese cupcake-like pastry that is eaten for Lunar New Year. The top of the cake is split into multiple segments. The cakes are dense and gummy, as they are made mainly of rice flour. The name of the pastry, “fa,” means both “raised” and “prosperity (leavened),” so “fa gao” means both “fortune cake” and “raised (leavened) cake.” These cakes are steamed and eaten to signify wealth in the new year.

  • Domies Bakery. 7609 Garvey Avenue, Rosemead, (626) 280-3085.
  • Huge Tree Pastry. 423 N. Atlantic Boulevard, Ste. 106, Monterey Park, (626) 458-8689.
  • Tanbii Bakery, 8150 Garvey Avenue, Ste. 104, Rosemead, (626) 280-2151.

Lunar New Year Specials

Rice Box’s signature baked chicken.
Rice Box’s signature baked chicken.
Rice Box
  • Downtown Cantonese spot Rice Box is preparing its signature baked chicken ($128). A modern take on the more traditional Beggar’s Chicken, the dish stuffs a whole bird with abalone, shiitake mushrooms, gingko nuts, marinated eggs, and more. Preorders are available now for pick-up on January 20. Rice Box is also offering dry-aged roasted ducks with ($268) and without Astrea caviar ($60) for pick-up on January 20 and 21.
  • Bistro Na’s is offering five Lunar New Year set menus for groups of two, four, six, or 10 people. Menus start at $336 for parties of two. Special dishes include imperial soup, braised abalone with rice, braised sea cucumber, and beef tendons.
  • Blossom Market Hall in San Gabriel plays host to an AAPI makers mart on January 21. Vendors include Tea Drops, Omsom, and Loaf Language.
  • Sprinkles and nonprofit Gold House are collaborating on an almond red velvet cupcake and a gift box set that includes the limited-edition cupcakes, red envelopes, and red velvet, dark chocolate, and strawberry cupcakes. Available at Sprinkles bakeries nationwide from January 16 to 29.
  • The special Lunar New Year duck dinner at Open Market features a dry-aged duck breast and a five-spice-cured confit duck leg served with duck fat fried rice, a scallion salad, Mejorado flour tortillas, and a five-spice tres leches cake. A half duck goes for $90 and a whole duck is $130. Preorders start January 12. Limited dine-in and pickup will be available on January 26.
  • Steep LA is teaming up with Tiger and the Horse from January 19 to 21. Chef Jonathan Liu is preparing an auspicious multicourse Taiwanese menu accompanied by special cocktails and mocktails from Steep.
  • Go Cakes is baking a mandarin puff tree comprised of 20 mini-cream puffs with chocolate decorations for $88 and a set of four Lunar New Year-themed pastries ($68) including a mandarin orange-shaped tart, a strawberry rabbit, a blackberry ginger balsamic vinegar good fortune box, and a lantern-shaped Sichuan peppercorn raspberry chocolate pastry. Preorders start on January 9 on the Go Cakes website and pickup is from January 20 to 24.
  • Wanderlust is serving up limited-edition ice cream flavors like oolong pineapple cake, lychee almond cookie, apricot almond osmanthus, and White Rabbit.
  • Seoul Sausage Company is selling a Seollal kit in collaboration with Loaf Language, MDK Noodles, and Lucky Rice Cakes. The kit includes two servings of tteokguk, bulgogi udon, four jeon skewers, six MDK dumplings, banchan, and a lucky “bok” macaron.
  • Chef Shirley Chung is serving a special Lunar New Year’s menu at Ms Chi Cafe from January 18 to 22. The $128 family-style menu feeds two and includes tea-smoked duck, Singapore chile crab noodles, and more.
  • Yangban Society is offering Korean latkes with caviar over the weekend from January 20 to 22. The latkes are prepared with squashini, Yukon potato, onion, and matzoh meal griddled in clarified butter and topped with creme fraiche and trout roe or caviar.
  • Paradise Dynasty in Orange County is serving a variety of a la carte specials in addition to its regular menu from January 16 to February 12. The specials include steamed fresh abalone with minced garlic and glass noodle, stir-fried lobster with garlic and dried chiles, and black truffle-marinated chicken, among a long list of others. Additionally, diners will receive red envelopes with $10 restaurant vouchers for Paradise Dynasty and $5 vouchers for sister restaurant Le Shrimp Noodle Bar.

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