Say hello to the Year of the Rabbit.
Sunday is the start of the new year under the Lunar calendar, marking the most important holiday of the year in many Asian countries and Asian American communities.
Traditions on how to celebrate vary by culture. In China, many deep clean their homes and wear new clothes. Some light fireworks. In Vietnam, it’s actually the Year of the Cat.
But one common theme transcends national borders: Eating lots of delicious food surrounded by friends and family.
“So much food,” Ekiben co-owner Steve Chu said, recalling the Lunar New Year celebrations he grew up with in his Taiwanese American community. “Imagine Thanksgiving dinner on steroids. Thanksgiving dinner times 100.”
Want to take part in a celebration? Head to one of the following Baltimore-area restaurants or events this weekend to bring in a lucky Year of the Rabbit — or Year of the Cat.
Whether at her previous location in Rosedale or at her new restaurant near Patterson Park, Pho Bac owner Trang Nguyen goes all out for the Lunar New Year, bringing celebrations from her homeland of Vietnam to Baltimore. This weekend, come try Nguyen’s handmade bánh chưng, a traditional new year cake filled with meat and rice and wrapped in banana leaves. In addition to other Tết (new year) specialties, Nguyen will bring in Vietnamese candies, and dresses for people to try on. Each customer will receive a red envelope — representing good luck for the year ahead — that is filled with coupons for the restaurant.
700 South Potomac St., Canton. 667-205-1589. phobacbmore.com
For a Lunar New Year celebration on Jan. 25 at 4:30 p.m. at Ekiben’s Hampden location, the Baltimore restaurant is teaming up with Korean gastropub Nowon; their owner is coming down from New York City for the occasion. (You may remember Jae Lee, from his stint as a judge on ”Beat Bobby Flay.”) Look for a crispy menchi-katsu burger, a riff on one of Nowon’s signature items that Ekiben co-founder Chu promises will be “the bomb dot com.” Also on the menu: wonton noodle soup with supreme broth that Chu says is both flavorful and healthy.
911 West 36th St., Hampden. ekibenbaltimore.com
Lunar Night Cultural Festival
Hosted by the same team that put on the Asia Collective Night Market this summer, the Lunar Night Cultural Festival hopes to remedy the errors of that earlier event with a weekendlong festival on Baltimore’s waterfront filled with Asian food from vendors such as Ekiben, Cafe Dear Leon and Street Food by Water Song, as well as Lunar New Year decor available for purchase. You can also check out various performances, which include Chinese opera and a traditional sword dance. Tickets to the food vendors area are free, but entry to the “cultural zone” runs $10 to $30.
401 Light St., Inner Harbor. lunar-night.com
This Lunar New Year has extra significance at Canton’s NiHao this year; it’s the last day of operations before the restaurant — which was named a semifinalist in last year’s James Beard Awards for best new restaurant — shuts down and prepares to reopen in February with a new concept. On the menu at the Peter Chang concept: baked whole fish as well as longevity noodles, which represent long life and are a must at any Lunar New Year celebration in China.
2322 Boston St., Canton. 443-835-2036. nihaobaltimore.com
While NiHao is undergoing changes (and customers await Chang’s new dim sum spot planned for East Baltimore), Chang’s Columbia location finally opened Jan. 18 — just in time for customers who want to dine on specialties such as pan fried pork belly, which is always a good choice during Lunar New Year.
6000 Merriweather Drive, Columbia. 410-413-5888. peterchangcolumbia.com
What better way to celebrate any event than dim sum? The Ellicott City restaurant serves up Cantonese food and Hong Kong-style dim sum for lunch with a rolling cart dim sum experience on weekends and holidays, according to The Baltimore Banner’s Simone Phillips. Her top picks: shumai and barbecue pork buns. Don’t forget to order plenty of jiaozi, dumplings with a crescent shape that are supposed to resemble the gold ingots used as money in ancient China. For that reason, they’re considered auspicious foods to eat during the holiday.
11105 Resort Road, Ellicott City. 410-461-8388. asiancourtmd.com