The Lunar New Year marks the beginning of the Chinese lunisolar calendar. Celebrated across China, South Korea, Tibet, Vietnam, Singapore, Indonesia, Taiwan, Malaysia, and other countries and communities, including many cities in the United States, it’s traditionally a time for family gatherings, gifts, and feasts based around auspicious dishes — like turnip cakes, steamed whole fish, and dumplings — that symbolize prosperity and good luck for the new year. 2023 ushers in the Year of the Rabbit on January 22. Here are six restaurants and markets serving traditional Lunar New Year dishes around Minneapolis and St. Paul.
Luóbo gāo (turnip cake) and niángāo (sticky rice cake)
These dim sum staples are also auspicious Lunar New Year dishes. Savory turnip cakes are, in fact, made with white radishes — typically steamed and then fried, creating a crusty shell around a soft, dense interior, they’re especially popular with Cantonese Lunar New Year revelers. Niángāo, usually served sweet, is a homonym for “higher year” or “grow every year,” symbolizing growth and success in the new year. Find both on the dim sum menu at Mandarin Kitchen in Bloomington, which is bustling with families most weekend mornings.
Traditionally, longevity noodles symbolize a long life, prosperity, and good luck — they inspire a range of auspicious Lunar New Year dishes. For the longest, chewiest noodles in town, stop by hand-pulled noodle shop Master Noodle on University Avenue in St. Paul, or at the restaurant’s second location in Edina. There are few better places for tender, springy dan dan noodles and warming Tawainese beef brisket noodle soup.
Bánh tét and bánh chung
Bánh tét and bánh chung are staple dishes of Vietnamese Lunar New Year celebrations, also known as Tết. Bánh tét are glutinous rice cakes stuffed with mung bean and pork filling, shaped into a cylinder, wrapped in a banana leaf, and then boiled. Bánh chung is prepared in a similar way, but is shaped into squares. Both are often placed on ancestral altars before Tết revelers dig in. Vietnamese restaurant Quang, a 33-year Eat Street icon, will be taking orders for both dishes starting Friday, January 13.
Steamed whole fish
Steamed whole fish is a traditional Lunar New Year dish signifying abundance — the Mandarin word for fish, yú, is a homophone of the Mandarin word for “surplus.” The head of the fish is typically placed facing the elders at the table as a sign of respect. Some revelers save a little bit for the next day, symbolizing good fortune in the new year. Shuang Cheng serves some of the best steamed whole fish in the Twin Cities: Try yellow fish in a rich black bean sauce, or sole steamed with ginger and scallions.
A quintessential Lunar New Year dish, dumplings symbolize wealth: They’re shaped roughly like Chinese gold ingots, an ancient form of currency. Find excellent dumplings at Chinese restaurants around the Twin Cities — or order some handmade frozen dumplings from Saturday Dumpling Club, available for pick up on Saturdays near I-94 and Lowry Avenue. Flavors range from pork and crab to golden curry.
Mut Tết — an arrangement of dried fruits, nuts, and candies, often served with tea — is a staple of many Vietnamese Lunar New Year celebrations. Find all your wildest Mut Tết dreams at TT Market, formerly Truong Thanh Grocery, on Nicollet Avenue: tins of sweet, chewy candy, nuts and seeds, and hefty eight-section trays stuffed with Tết favorites.