It’s that time of year again! Seems like only yesterday.
The local Asian American community here in Orlando will be celebrating the Lunar New Year once again – one of my favorite times of the year, not just for the festivities but also for the great food that goes along with the holiday celebrations.
I remember gathering around at home growing up with my uncles, aunts, cousins, and grandma around the family dinner table having a huge feast, praying to our ancestors and the gods of fortune for a lucky and healthy new year. My favorite dishes were the fried egg rolls and roasted duck, Hakka style, filled with Chinese spices, herbs and wild mushrooms.
This year the Chinese/Vietnamese Lunar New Year’s Official Date (which changes each year because – surprise – it follows the cycles of the moon) is Monday February 8th, 2016 – but the celebrations begin much earlier and last almost all month.
This is the year of the Monkey and those people born in the year of the Monkey are said to be “smart, clever and intelligent, especially in their career and wealth. They are lively, flexible, quick-witted and versatile. In addition, their gentleness and honesty bring them an everlasting love life. Although they were born with enviable skills, they still have several shortcomings, such as an impetuous temper and a tendency to look down upon others.”
Luckily for us here in the Central Florida community, we are home to the largest ethnic enclaves of Asian Americans in the entire state, particularly around the Mills 50 district with shops, restaurants, and markets all getting ready to celebrate the Lunar New Year.
Lunar New Year Traditions
- Eating dinner together as a family – people journey from wherever they are, to come home and have dinner. Every year this time marks the largest mass migration of people when workers in the cities travel home to their home villages to visit their families again.
- Giving/Recieving Red Envelopes – filled with lucky money from elders to the young. Asian culture is big on karma so want to start off the year doing good things for others and hope for good things to happen to you in return later in the year. Universal balance.
- Clean the house before the new year start the year new, and pay off all your debts
- Big parades with lots of firecrackers. The loud noise “scares” away any evil spirits so you can start off the new year fresh.
- On that Monday, February 8th if you have lunch in the Mills 50 area, you will see the Wah Lum Kung Fu Lion Dance team “blessing” each business with their lion dance and fire works. Last year we had lunch at Chuan Lu and they came with fireworks and a dancing Buddha and two lions – quite the festive sight!
What to Order – Traditional Chinese Dishes for New Years
- Noodles – The longer, the better – the noodles represent longevity and long life
- Dumplings – They are shaped like little gold nuggets, symbols for good fortune and wealth
- Fish – The word “yu” sounds like “abundance” in Chinese, so your new year will be abundant with good luck – eat whole fish so that your whole year is full of good luck
- Fried Spring Rolls – The name also sounds like “good fortune” in Chinese, eat it for a lucky new year
- Oranges are also plentiful during new years because the name and look of the orange is similar to gold. So giving oranges as a gift is also quite common, as it the giver is seen as wishing prosperity on the receivers.
- Vietnamese Banh Tet – Bánh tét is a Vietnamese savoury but sometimes sweetened cake made primarily from glutinous rice, which is rolled in a banana leaf into a thick, log-like cylindrical shape, with mung bean or mung bean and pork fillings, then boiled. It is a must have traditional food in Vietnamese Lunar New Year. It demonstrates the importance of rice in the Vietnamese culture as well as historical value. During Vietnamese Tét, family members would gather together and enjoy feasting on bánh tét, the central food of this festive Vietnamese holiday to celebrate the coming of spring.
- Wash it all down with a glass of Baijiu
- Baijiu – traditional clear grain spirit made from sorghum and wheat
- The number one drink in the world at about 40-60% alcohol
- Like Vodka to the Russians, Rum to Puerto Rico, Baijiu is to the Chinese
- It’s drank at almost all meal gatherings in China.
Say Happy New Year!
- Vietnamese – Chuc Mung Nam Moi
- Cantonese – Sun Lien Fai Lok
or Gung Hay Fat Choi (Literally : Congratulations on your Prosperity – have a prosperous new year)
- Mandarin – Xin Nian Kuai Le
Places to Celebrate:
Local Orlando Restaurants:
- Ming Bistro – Chinese Dim Sum – Great for Families/Friends/Groups
1212 Woodward Street #6, Orlando, FL (407) 898-9672
- Chuan Lu Garden – Authentic Sichuan cuisine – for spicy food lovers
1101 East Colonial Drive, Orlando, FL – (407) 896-8966 http://chuanluyuan.com
- Tasty Wok – Chinese street food / barbecue and noodles
1246 East Colonial Drive, Orlando, FL (407) 896-8988
- Chan’s Chinese Cuisine – Dim sum and traditional Chinese cuisine
1901 East Colonial Drive, Orlando, FL (407) 896-0093
- Golden Lotus Chinese – Dim sum and traditional Chinese cuisine
8365 South John Young Parkway, Orlando, FL (407) 352-3832
Local Markets – Pick up New Year goodies
- Saigon Market
1232 East Colonial Drive, Orlando, FL 32803, United States
- Tien Hung Market
1112 East Colonial Drive, Orlando, FL 32803, United States
(407) 849-0205 http://tienhungmarket.com/
- 1st Oriental SuperMarket
5132 West Colonial Drive, Orlando, FL 32808, United States
(407) 292-3668 http://1storiental.com
- Phuoc Loc Tho Super Market
2100 E Colonial Dr, Orlando, FL 32803, United States
Street Food Festivals/Events
Vietnamese New Year Festival by the Vietnamese Catholic Church
Saturday January 30 and Sunday January 31 at the Central Florida Fairgrounds
– Orlando Foodie Forum facebook group meet up on that Sunday January 31 at 10:30AM
– Try the pork meatballs, sugarcane juice, Vietnamese banh mi, other street foods
Vietnamese New Year Festival by the Vietnamese Community of Central Florida
Saturday February 6th – Sunday February 7th at the Central Florida Fairgrounds
– Street food and also Miss Vietnam of Florida Pageant on Sunday
See below for last year’s schedule for an idea of what will go on –
Vietnamese Vegetarian Food Festival at Bao An Temple
Sunday October 31st – 8am – 2pm (local cultural acts, lots of vegetarian Vietnamese food for sale)
and the new years eve celebration is the night of February 7th (they have singers, performers, food for sale)
Bao An Buddhist Temple – 5788 North Apopka Vineland Road, Orlando, FL 32818, United States
Last year’s flyer below for now –
Other temples such as Chua Phap Vu Temple on Dean Road will also have a Vietnamese new year celebration / ceremony on the eve of Lunar New Year – Sunday February 7th, usually around 8pm.
Dragon Parade and Lunar New Year Festival
at the Orlando Fashion Square Mall – Sunday February 14 at 11am