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Bites Nearby: Lunar New Year 2011 Eats and Festivities

The Year of the Rabbit and Cat begins with days of celebrations, parades, dragons, firecrackers, gift-giving, good-deeds and good-luck foods.

Gong hai fat cho and chuc mung nam moi are greetings exchanged by Chinese and Vietnamese this time of year as they usher in the next 12 months in their New Year.

The festivities, which begin Thursday and continue for several days, involve a host of community-oriented activities and is their largest celebration of the year.

“It is our custom for families to get together, visiting other families from house to house,” says Danny Wong from  on Rengstorff Avenue, a casual Chinese restaurant famous for its Szechuan spicy chicken dish.

The well-known annual Chinese New Year festivities in San Francisco include the biggest parade outside of Asia, showcasing the longest dragon and a major display of fireworks to scare away the evil spirits and welcome the year ahead.

The New Year is rich in traditions, superstitions and symbolisms, and employs certain activities and foods to properly kick off the year.

Thoroughly cleaning the house, getting a haircut and paying off debts are some of the many ways to be prepared and be in "good standing." It is a time to honor the ancestors and the kitchen god, Zao Jun, said to bless the hearth or stove. Gifts of red envelopes to children are filled with lucky money. Red becomes the predominant color in almost everything, including food.

For the Chinese, certain foods represent good things. Citrus, bamboo shoots, black seaweed and egg-rolls mean wealth; noodles, peanuts and chrysanthemums represent longevity; eggs and seeds mean fertility; whole fish is prosperity; and dried bean curds and chicken represent happiness and marriage; sweet cakes, bring a sweet year, abundance, unity and harmony.

Larry Lian, a New York resident who visited friends in Mountain View during the said that when his family gets together, they exchange gifts and have dumplings—rice dough filled with many different fillings.

For the Vietnamese, the best and most attractive foods are brought out as offerings to their ancestors and are enjoyed by family and friends. Some of the foods that symbolize the new year include citrus fruits and sweet sticky rice cakes.

If you’d like to get in on these celebrations, check out these restaurants that will offer special menus and check out the festivities taking place throughout the Bay Area.

, a new Mandarin and Shanghai Chinese restaurant, will serve up two packages: Groups of  six to eight cost $128 and 10-12 is $188. The restaurant is at 108 N. Rengstorff Ave. Telephone: 650-967-7334.

 specializes in cuisine from Northern China and offers a variety of authentic pork, chicken, seafood and vegetarian dishes. The space is small and cozy, and the restaurant will offer some special dishes for the Chinese New Year. The address is 855 W. El Camino Real. Telephone: 650-988-8820. 

will offer four different banquet menus designed for groups of six to eight and 10-12. For example, the smaller party can enjoy a combination BBQ appetizer, fish maw soup with seafood, lettuce cups with chicken, dry oysters and prawns with walnuts, crispy chicken, Peking spareribs, lettuce with assorted mushrooms, crispy flounder and red bean soup, and dessert—all for $168. Fu Lam Mum is at 155 Castro St. Telephone: 650-967-1688.

 offers many traditional Chinese dishes and will serve up some special dishes just for the new year. The restaurant is at 134 Castro St. Telephone: 650-964-8881.

, serves Chinese and Taiwanese food and has 10 special dishes for the new year, such as garlic whole fish, whole smoked chicken, black and white  mushrooms, pork knuckle, pork knee bone, spicy chicken, steamed prawns and a complimentary ginger fresh crab dish. Dessert is a cup cake containing black sugar. It's at 400 Moffett Blvd.  Telephone: 650-625-9388.

LUNAR NEW YEAR EVENTS IN THE BAY AREA

There may not be organized Lunar New Year events in Mountain View, but there will be plenty of festivities in the Bay Area, because of the rich history and contributions of the Chinese and Vietnamese communities. Here are some options:

San Francisco

  • Chinese New Year parade has been named one of the world’s top 10 parades. Chinatown, Feb. 19, 5:30 p.m. Telephone: 415- 986-1370 or 415- 982-3071.
  • Chinatown Community Street FairExperience the sights and sounds of Chinatown before the parade, Feb. 19, 10 a.m. Telephone: 415- 986-1370 or 415- 982-3071.

San Jose

  • Lunar New Year Community Day, sponsored by Xilinx Corporation. Welcome the Year of the Rabbit with a traditional lion dance at 12:30 p.m., performances by the Chinese Youth Symphony at 1:15, 1:45 and 2:15 p.m.; modern and traditional cultural customs, art-making activities-lanterns, yo-yos calligraphy. San Jose Museum of Art, Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Free. For more information: 408- 294-2787.
  • TET Festival—29th Annual Vietnamese New Year. The Year of the Cat Opening Ceremony at the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds begins Saturday at 11:30 a.m. with a fashion show, tournaments, games and rides, food booths, photography and paint exhibits, and more than 100 programs, including entertainment. The fairgrounds is at 344 Tully Rd., San Jose. Festivities are Saturday and Sunday. Admission: Adults $10, children 12 years and younger $7. Parking $8. 

Oakland

  • Oakland Lunar New Year Festival 2011. The Oakland Asian Cultural Center honors the spirit and diversity of these traditions with the communities of Oakland and the San Francisco Bay Area at this annual Lunar New Year Festival. The Oakland Asian Cultural Center, 388 Ninth St, Suite 290, Second Floor, Oakland. Feb. 12, noon-4 p.m. Free. For more information: 510-637-0455.

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