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Physical and mental well-being. A healthy bank account. Good fortune. These are all things we could benefit from in 2023—or any time. For those who celebrate the Chinese Lunar New Year, which falls on January 22, eating the right dishes during the holiday just might usher in a year filled with luck, prosperity, and happiness.
For those who aren’t familiar with the event, it celebrates the first new moon of the lunar calendar used in many East Asian countries and also marks the rotation of the Chinese zodiac sign. In many Chinese cultures, the arrival of the new moon kicks off a 15-day affair that traditionally begins with a feast on the eve of the New Year, which is when many in Colorado also celebrate the holiday. In 2023, ring in the dawn of the Year of the Rabbit with dumplings, noodles, and seafood specialties from these local Chinese restaurants—and don’t forget to wish your loved ones “恭喜发财” (pronounced “gong hei fat choy” in Cantonese), a traditional greeting that translates to “Wishing you great wealth and prosperity.”
Editor’s Note: As of January 18, WongWayVeg is sold out of all Lunar New Year offerings. Check out their regular menu and truck schedule instead.
For Lisa Wong—chef-owner of WongWayVeg, a food truck that serves comforting vegan fare—her sixth-annual Chinese New Year dim sum menu is a love letter to her grandmother and father’s cooking. “We started the tradition [six] years ago because my grandma had passed away and I was looking for a way to remember these dishes that she’d make and put [my own] vegan twist on them,” says Wong, who is half Chinese and runs the seven-year-old roving restaurant with the help of business partner Natalie Gilbert. “Of course it’s the new year, and that’s something to be celebrated—but on a personal level for me, it’s a way to keep that connection through food and share it with everyone.”
WongWayVeg’s spread includes 15 dim-sum-style dishes (meaning they’re meant to be eaten in one or two bites, Wong says) for two people. Highlights include tofu glass noodle salad; jackfruit ham sui gok (fried glutinous rice dumplings that remind Wong of her childhood); shiitake longevity noodles; seitan char sui skewers; and bao doughnuts with toasted rice ice cream, five spice caramel, mango, and sesame brittle (a collaboration with Best One Yet ice cream).
Wong hopes the festive menu inspires patrons to learn more about Lunar New Year or dim sum fare: “Maybe they’ll look into what people do eat traditionally or what the significance behind these dishes is,” she says. “And that’s really cool.” Advance purchase is required for the $75-per-person seated pop-up dinner; two-person takeaway meal is $130; order online by January 17 for pickup on January 21; 1480 Leyden St.
Hong Kong BBQ
The Family Reunion Dinner at Hong Kong BBQ in Athmar Park consists of a one-pot wonder—known as poon choi in Cantonese—layered with seafood, meat, and vegetables, including sea cucumbers, Japanese wild abalone, fish maws (fish air bladders, which can be a very pricy import), jumbo dried scallops, steamed chicken, roast duck, crispy roasted pork belly, braised pork feet, dried mushrooms, cauliflower, and more. According to Muyan Li, who owns the 14-year-old restaurant with her husband Ying Guang, the “treasury pot” symbolizes wealth, luxury, unity, and happiness.
“All of the ingredients carry the symbols of auspiciousness,” Li says in Cantonese, with the help of her interpreter. “Pork feet symbolize ‘wishing a great windfall;’ the dried bean curd symbolizes ‘contentment brings happiness;’ and the cauliflower symbolizes being ‘rich and honored.’ The basin pot allows everyone to unveil layers of goodness together. It also implies that people who eat the basin pot will make a lot of money in the coming year. Most importantly, they all will have a fruitful year.”
The basin pot ($268, serves at least six) is only available for the holiday, but the restaurant’s many other dishes—roast duck, steamed chicken, homemade XO sauce, and more—are available any time of year. Takeout only; order as soon as possible by calling 303-937-9088; 1048 S. Federal Blvd. (Note: While the restaurant has been open for over a decade, Li and Guang took over for the previous owners in 2019.)
Meta Asian Kitchen
Kenneth Wan and Doris Yuen are serving modern dishes inspired by their Cantonese heritage at three-year-old Meta Asian Kitchen inside Avanti Food & Beverage in LoHi. Wan and Yuen both grew up amidst big Chinese New Year bashes with their families on the East Coast and in Hong Kong, respectively, and fondly remember receiving an abundance of red envelopes stuffed with cash from their elders, who customarily give them to children and unmarried friends and relatives. “Chinese New Year is a lavish holiday,” Wan says. “Everything is served in abundance, whether it be shrimp, fish, or whole lobster. Those are mainstay foods for celebration banquets.”
To share a taste of their family traditions, Wan and Yuen are giving Denverites the opportunity to cook their dumplings at home. The kits of 20 pre-folded bundles come in three fillings (chicken and chive dumpling, chicken and shrimp wonton, pork and shiitake shumai), with jars of dipping sauce (chile oil, mild chile oil with soy vinegar, or XO) available for an additional $8 to $12 each. For those who prefer to leave the work to someone else, Meta is also debuting a seasonal chicken and shrimp wonton soup just in time for the new year—and the chilly winter days ahead.
“Eating noodles during Lunar New Year in Chinese culture represents longevity,” Yuen says. “Dumplings and fried spring rolls represent gold in ancient China. We eat these items during the new year to bring luck, wealth, health, and prosperity.” Each dumpling kit is $35, with a bundle of all three at $95; order online by January 19, pick up January 20–22; Avanti Food & Beverage; 3200 N. Pecos St.
For Alice Zhou, owner of Shanghai Kitchen in Greenwood Village, the Lunar New Year conjures visions of family members reunited around a bountiful spread. “On the night before [Lunar New Year], everybody gathers around the table,” says Zhou, who hails from Shanghai and owns the 23-year-old restaurant with her husband Harry. “We eat dumplings (steamed, not deep fried) and whole fish.”
Shanghai Kitchen will serve a special six-dish Shanghai-style menu for both dine-in and takeout through February 5. The meal includes a rich soup with minced beef; xiaolongbao (soup dumplings); crispy scallion pancakes; whole red snapper with ginger, scallion, and soy sauce; and giant pork meatballs on a bed of napa cabbage. End on a sweet note with the red-bean-paste-stuffed sesame balls. Menu is $88 (serves 2); call ahead for both dine-in and pickup; 303-290-6666; 4940 S. Yosemite St., Ste. E-8, Greenwood Village
For those wanting to recreate delicious dumplings at home, Penelope Wong and Robert Jenk’s popular Asian food truck will offer frozen dumplings to go at a one-day-only pop-up event on January 20. “Dumplings are such an important representation of wealth and success as well as the importance of family time during the [Lunar New Year] celebrations,” Wong says. Customers will have the choice between chile wontons ($29), Hainanese chicken wontons ($29), pork and chive potstickers ($39), or Sichuan eggplant dumplings ($39). Each pre-packed bag comes with 24 dumplings and includes dipping sauces. Preorders open January 19 and are required to purchase; available for pickup on January 20 at Station 26; 7045 38th Ave.
Ku Cha House of Tea
For many Chinese families, tea is an essential part of life, says Rong Pan, who owns Ku Cha House of Tea with husband Qin Liu—but the drink has more significance during the Lunar New Year. “Two weeks before and after Chinese New Year, we have a huge migration of Chinese people who study or work outside of their hometown to travel back to their homes in China. It’s kind of like Thanksgiving,” says Pan, who is a native of Jiangsu province. “And if I visit a Chinese family or relatives, the first thing they give you is a cup of tea to warm you up. It’s a standard greeting all the time but particularly during Chinese New Year.”
While children and youngsters receive red envelopes as gifts for the holiday, loose leaf teas, including oolong, green, and chrysanthemum varieties, are popular presents among adults. This year, Ku Cha will hold a celebration at their flagship store in Boulder which will include a traditional tasting of single-origin teas, storytelling about Chinese New Year’s history, Chinese calligraphy practice, and more. Teas available for tasting include a strongly roasted rock oolong tea, a compressed cake of white tea, and raw pu-erh tea sourced from a single farmer’s tea garden in the Yunnan mountains.
Ku Cha, which has four locations across the Front Range and an online store, also offers dozens of other loose-leaf Chinese teas. No RSVP required and participation is free; Sunday, January 22 from 10:30 a.m.–12 p.m.; 1211 Pearl St., Boulder
More Delicious Options
Ace Eat Serve
For the holiday, executive chef Thach Tran and his team at Ace Eat Serve will offer a special menu to honor the Year of the Rabbit (or Year of the Cat, in Tran’s native Vietnam). Featured dishes include a whole roasted suckling pig carved tableside, miso butter soup, mu shu crepes, cucumbers, leeks, sesame hoisin, and apricot chile jam. To top off the feast, executive pastry chef Michael Kurowski will bake a mandarin orange pot de crème with Cantonese sweet fried dumplings and Chinese almond cookies. The cocktail special—crafted from vodka, elderflower liqueur, carrot juice, and ginger—also carries an auspicious orange hue. Each order comes with a house-made scratch-off fortune card that gives patrons the chance to win a complimentary ping-pong reservation, merchandise, and more. The suckling pig feast is $560 and serves six to eight people; reserve your table online or call 303-800-7705; 501 E. 17th Ave.
China Cafe II
At China Cafe II in Aurora, tuck in to hand-made dumplings, salt and pepper fish, beef brisket noodles, and braised pork legs—all of which symbolize wealth and abundance. According to Leah Cai, daughter of owner Enyun Cai, eating dumplings on the holiday helps ensure that you will have plenty of money in the new year and that your family will be in good health and can always be together. Prices vary; order online or call 303-369-0330; 16870 W. Iliff Ave., Aurora (not associated with the China Cafe II in Westminster)
Pig and Tiger
Darren Chang and Travis Masar’s Taiwanese food stall inside Avanti Food & Beverage in Boulder has two new year specials on deck: a chilled spicy garlic pork belly with smashed cucumber, chile crisp, cilantro, and sesame seeds ($12); and a ginger-scallion steamed cod with jade rice made with cipollini onions, delicata squash, crispy shallots, and a Taiwanese pesto of Thai basil, cilantro, garlic chives, and scallion ($17). Both pork and fish symbolize wealth, prosperity, and good blessings, according to the duo, and to keep the streak of good luck running, patrons will receive a red envelope that contains prizes like cash, merchandise, or gift cards with the purchase of either dish. Both specials are available starting January 20 through the Lunar New Year weekend; 1401 Pearl St., Boulder
Craving a non-traditional sweet treat to celebrate Lunar New Year? Dochi is offering six Lunar New Year flavors for the holidays. A portmanteau of “doughnut” and “mochi,” the glutinous Japanese rice cake, the bakery uses mochi batter to create crispy-yet-chewy rings of joy. Dochi’s new flavors include honey chrysanthemum, Money Pocky sprinkled with strawberry Pocky sticks, and Fortune Almonds: doughnuts dipped in milk chocolate and topped with almonds and fortune cookies. Price is $3 for a single, $17 for half dozen, and $31 for a dozen doughnuts; available through January 23; 2449 Larimer St.
Bonus: Pick up everything you need to celebrate—red envelopes, Year of the Tiger decor, snacks, and gifts—at Truong An Gifts’ 32th annual Lunar New Year celebration at the Far East Center on South Federal Boulevard. The street market will take place January 14 to 21, while the gift shop will host lion dances, martial arts, and other performances on January 28 and 29, from 11 a.m.–3 p.m.