Your Guide to New Year Dining in 2020 on O‘ahu
Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean: Here are the best places to start your Lunar New Year feast.
In 2020, the zodiac cycle is starting over with the winner of the race: the rat. The legend goes that an emperor decided the order of each of the 12 zodiac animals based on when each one arrived to his party. These animals play an important role in Chinese culture—much like the astrology signs in the Western world. However, the Chinese are not the only ones who will be celebrating the Lunar New Year on Saturday, Jan. 25 with food and traditions to bring in good fortune. Sorry, we won’t help you clean your home or give you money, but we did turn to our dining writers for tasty tips on where to find those new year treats.
“Kung Hei Fat Choy! (Lai See Dou Loi)”*
Once the firecrackers are popped to scare away bad spirits and lai see (lucky red envelopes filled with money) given out, Chinese eat several dishes with significance for the new year.
Chinese New Year Prix Fixe
Where: Pai Honolulu, 55 Merchant St., Suite 110, (808) 744-2531, paihonolulu.com
What: Hale ‘Aina award-winning chef Kevin Lee offers his spin on traditional Chinese foods for five nights only. The set menu starts with agedashi XO turnip cake with miso-cured Ali‘i mushrooms and smoked akule, followed by boneless pork spareribs with black bean noodles, steamed ginger fish and finished with an almond pudding fruit tart.
When: Available for dinner, Tuesday, Jan. 21 through Saturday, Jan. 25.
How much: $65 with an additional $25 for pairings. You can also add seared foie gras with basmati rice congee for $28.
Simply called gau in the Islands, this cake made from rice flour is one of the most well-known new year sweets. You can find the brown mochi-looking dessert wrapped in red paper and topped with a red date everywhere from Longs to Chinese restaurants. The name sounds like the words for “year high,” so it is for success.
Where: Sing Cheong Yuan Bakery, 1027 Maunakea St., (808) 531-6688.
How much: $3.15 for a mini portion, $5.95 for small (roughly one pound) and $4.95 per pound for larger portions.
While you’re there: Browse rows of bins filled with candied dried fruit and vegetables including carrot, lotus root, gingko nuts, papaya and coconut brought in for the new year. Drop it in your tea or just snack on them.
The dumplings are supposed to resemble gold ingots for good fortune.
Where: Joy Cup Noodle Mean’s chefs make their own wrappers for their tasty dumplings. 1608 Kalākaua Ave., (808) 725-2898.
How much: $10.99
A baked sponge cake made with red bean.
Where: California-based Taiwanese JJ2 Bakery makes what it calls “prosperity cake” for the new year. 1440 Kapiʻolani Blvd., (808) 942-0888, jjsquaredbakery.com.
How much: $9.99 (This special product will only be available for a limited time starting a week or two before the new year so we recommend calling ahead of time if you need a specific amount.)
While you’re there: Expect to walk out with impulse buys. Savory baked goods, sandwiches and a tempting selection of other treats will beckon.
A hot sesame soup with sweet mochi balls that’s also popular during winter solstice in Taiwan and the first full moon after the new year. It’s a symbol of family coming together.
Where: Frostcity, 2570 Beretania St., Suite 105, (808) 947-3328, facebook.com/frostcity
How much: $5.25
A comforting soup with rice cake that’s been boiled in the broth. According to The Korea Herald, the rice cake symbolizes good health and is sliced into coin-shaped circles for fortune. Finish the bowl to ensure you grow one year older.
Vietnam/Tet Nguyen Dan
Banh chung or banh tet
In Hawaiʻi, you’re likely to find people making or buying banh chung or banh tet, mochi rice cakes stuffed with pork and wrapped in banana leaves, which are supposed to bring luck. Eat them with pickled shallots.
Where: Find the cakes in various places in Chinatown.
How much: Prices should be no more than a few dollars.
Thit kho nuoc dua
Families also make this tender pork belly that’s simmered in coconut juice with hard-boiled eggs. Check back soon for details on where to get this and other Vietnamese new year dishes.
*Editor’s note: We used the Cantonese Pinyin spelling for the new year greeting because Katie is from Hong Kong (and keeps saying it this way in the office).