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A whole fish dish that is cooked in sauce on a plate.
A whole fish dish from Wu Chow.
Wu Chow/Facebook

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Where to Find Specific Lunar New Year Dishes in Austin

Welcome the new year with lucky foods from longevity noodles to bánh chưng

Lunar New Year is celebrated all over East and Southeast Asia beginning with the second new moon after the winter solstice. It stems from China’s ancient agricultural roots as a time to praise the old harvest and welcome the new harvest by bringing luck into the new year.

In China and parts of Southeast Asia, it’s called Chūn Jié — Spring Festival — and spans the first 15 days of the first month of the lunar calendar. Korea’s Seollal and Vietnam’s Tết are three-day holidays starting on Lunar New Year’s Eve.

Cultural traditions vary from region to region or even village to village, but within each country, there are certain traditional foods with deep symbolic meanings. This year, the first day of the Lunar New Year falls on Monday, January 23, with Lunar New Year’s Eve beginning on Sunday, January 22.

What follows are some traditional Lunar New Year dishes, categorized by regional celebration, and where to find them to celebrate the holiday in Austin. Keep in mind that, while tangerines, oranges, and certain types of vegetables and candies have their own traditional significance during Lunar New Year, this article is focused on foods that require preparation and can be found in local restaurants and markets.

For a comprehensive look at Lunar New Year dessert specials, tea ceremonies, celebrations, and more in Austin, check out Eater’s separate guide.

For Chūn Jìe (China/Hong Kong/Taiwan/Singapore):

Whole fish

“Yu,” the Chinese word for “fish,” is also a homonym for “surplus,” making it a must-have for any Lunar New Year dinner. Having a fish signifies being prosperous enough to have a surplus at the end of the year. The saying “niánnián yǒu yú” — which translates to: “May you always have more than you need every year” — is not complete without an actual “yu” at the dinner table. The type of fish varies depending on region, but catfish and crucian carp are popular for their homophonic names.

Where to find

  • Wu Chow is running Chinese New Year specials from Sunday, January 22 to Saturday, January 28 that includes braised whole fish prepared in three ways, all representing prosperity: yu xiang sauce, sweet and sour sauce, and fermented chile sauce. (500 West Fifth Street, Downtown)
  • Lin Asian Bar (1203 West Sixth Street, Clarksville)
  • 1618 Asian Fusion (1620 East Riverside Drive, Riverside)
  • House of Three Gorges (8557 Research Boulevard, North Austin)

Longevity noodles

The noodles known as “chang shou mian” literally translate as “longevity noodles.” People all over China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Singapore enjoy a bowl of these noodles during the Lunar New Year. Each serving is supposed to be a single, uncut strand, which symbolizes an unbroken life, and is served stir-fried on a plate or in a bowl with broth.

Where to find

  • Wu Chow’s Chinese New Year specials include longevity noodles (see above).
  • Xian Sushi & Noodles (multiple locations)
  • Noodle Alley (1201 North Bell Boulevard, Cedar Park)
  • At any hand-pulled noodle restaurant; just ask the chef who is physically making the dish to turn it into longevity noodles.
A bunch of dumplings in a steamer.
Dumplings from Fat Dragon.
Fat Dragon/Facebook

Dumplings

Fried, boiled, or steamed dumplings made to look like gold bullions (think plump potstickers; oval, boat-shaped, turned up like two ends) are popular in Northern China. Fillings can be anything from minced pork and chives to shrimp and egg. The idea is that the more dumplings you eat during the Lunar New Year, the more money you’ll make in the new year. Some regions also play a game by hiding peanuts or coins in a single dumpling of a batch, and whoever eats the special dumpling will have extra fortune coming their way.

Where to find

Nian gao (rice cakes)

The glutinous rice cake “nian gao,” which is homophonic to the phrase “ending your year on a high,” is prevalent in Southern China and other parts of Southeast Asia. While the sticky rice cakes can be sweet or savory, sugary dessert versions with lotus seeds, sweet bean paste, peanuts, and/or Chinese chestnuts dominate the Lunar New Year season, often found in bright red wrapping.

Where to find

  • MT Supermarket’s bakery (10901 North Lamar Boulevard, North Lamar)
  • 99 Ranch’s bakery (6929 Airport Boulevard, Highland)

Lion’s head meatballs

Lion’s head meatballs are another holiday dish popular in Southern China and the surrounding areas, particularly in Shanghai. The fist-sized pork meatballs are tender and juicy, either steamed or braised in a sweet-and-savory sauce, typically served with vegetables. The roundness of the meatballs signal unity and lions are a symbol of strength in Chinese culture.

Where to find

Someone picking up a large meatball from a dish of meatballs.
Lion’s head meatballs at Wu Chow.
Wu Chow/Facebook

Tangyuan (rice ball soup)

Tangyuan is usually eaten during the Lantern Festival, which is the final day of the fifteen-day-long Chinese New Year due to its round shape (representing unity). In Southern China and surrounding countries, people also eat the item throughout the Spring Festival. The sweet glutinous rice balls filled with sweet bean paste or peanuts are boiled and eaten with soup spoons.

Where to find

Whole chicken

Chicken, or “ji,” is a homophone for “good luck” and “prosperity. This means that the whole chicken — including the head and feet — symbolizes unity and wholeness, making it a popular dish for wishing for a good beginning and end to the year. A whole braised or roasted chicken may be first offered to the ancestors and gods for protection and blessings. The chicken feet are sometimes eaten by the breadwinner of the family to help them “grab” onto wealth because chicken talons are a homophone of “grab.”

Where to find whole braised and roasted chickens


Seollal (South Korea)

Tteokguk (rice cake soup)

In South Korea, your age is measured in how many bowls of soup you finished in your lifetime. Koreans mark the passing of another year of life by eating a bowl of tteokguk at the beginning of the year. People may ask, “How many bowls of tteokguk have you eaten?” to inquire about someone’s age. The rice cakes are simmered in a clear beef broth and garnished with vegetables. The whiteness of the rice cakes symbolizes purity, and the round, flat, shape resembles old Korean coins and brings prosperity.

Where to find

A bowl of soup behind two figurines.
The rice cake soup at Korea House.
Korea House/Facebook

Jeon (Korean pancakes)

Jeon are savory fried pancakes with spring onions and a variety of fillings. Kimchi jeon, buchujeon (garlic), saenbgseon jeon (fish), and saewoo jeon (shrimp) are most popular for Seollal feasts.

Where to find

Japchae (stir-fried glass noodles)

These Korean glass noodles made from sweet potato starch and stir-fried with sesame oil, beef, and vegetables are present on most special occasions, but especially on Lunar New Year’s Day. Japchae was first recorded in its modern form in the early 17th century during the Joseon Dynasty when a liege came up with it and King Gwanghaegun liked it so much that he decreed it a royal dish and promoted the liege to Secretary of the Treasure. Japchae’s popularity as a royal feast dish, as well as the way the five vegetable colors mirror the five elements of East Asian cosmology, make it a must-have for celebrations.

Where to find

  • Oseyo (1628 East Cesar Chavez Street, East Austin)
  • Soha (911 West Anderson Lane, Suite. 114, Crestview)
  • Koriente (621 East Seventh Street, Downtown)

Galbijjim (braised short ribs)

Galbijjim, or braised short ribs, dates back to the mid-1700s when only the upper classes could afford prime cuts of beef (cows were essential to farm work and rarely slaughtered). “Galbi” is beef short ribs, and “jjim” refers to the braising method of cooking. Due to the precious nature of beef (beef short ribs remain pricey in South Korea to this day), it became a Seollal dish. The short ribs are braised for many hours in a rich, savory sauce until they are fall-off-the-bone tender and served on rice.

Where to find

A dish of meats and peppers.
Galbijjim from Jjim Korean Braised BBQ.
Jjim Korean Braised BBQ

Yakgwa (honey cookies)

Yakgwa, a deep-fried wheat-flour cake coated in rich honey syrup, is a traditional offering to appease the ancestors. It comes in many shapes and is commonly eaten or brought as a gift during Seollal.

Where to find

  • Han Yang Market (6808 North Lamar Boulevard, Suite A110, Brentwood)
  • H Mart (11301 Lakeline Boulevard, Lakeline)

Tết (Vietnam)

Bánh chưng (square-shaped glutinous rice cake)

Bánh chưng, or bánh tét (a cylindrical form eaten during Tết that is popular in Southern Vietnam), started appearing during the Hung Dynasty, which began around 2879 BC. The savory sticky rice cake consists of glutinous rice wrapped around a mung bean and pork filling and boiled in banana leaves for hours. Ancient Vietnamese legend sources the dish to when the sixth Hung emperor held a cooking contest among his 21 sons to choose his successor. The 18th son, Lang Lieu, was too poor to seek fancy recipes or expensive ingredients. A fairy came to him in a dream with two kinds of cakes; square “bánh chưng,” symbolizing the earth, and round “bánh day,” representing the sky. He won the contest, and bánh chưng has been a traditional Tet food ever since.

Where to find

Charm Korean Bbq

1200 West Howard Lane, , TX 78753 (512) 505-8513 Visit Website

SOHA 소하

911 West Anderson Lane, , TX 78757 (512) 302-5433 Visit Website

Noodle Alley

1201 North Bell Boulevard, , TX 78613 (512) 528-5127 Visit Website

First Chinese BBQ

10901 North Lamar Boulevard, , TX 78753 (512) 835-8889 Visit Website

1618 Asian Fusion

1618 East Riverside Drive, , TX 78741 (512) 462-9999 Visit Website

Jjim BBQ

1100 South Lamar Boulevard, Suite 2140, Austin, Texas 78704 Visit Website

Koriente

621 East 7th Street, , TX 78701 (512) 275-0852 Visit Website

Wu Chow

500 West 5th Street, , TX 78701 (512) 476-2469 Visit Website

MT Supermarket

10901 N Lamar Blvd, Austin, TX 78753 (512) 453-7091

99 Ranch Market [Austin]

6929 Airport Boulevard, Austin, Texas 78752 Visit Website

Korean Grill

10901 North Lamar Boulevard, , TX 78753 (512) 339-0234 Visit Website

Din Ho Chinese BBQ

8557 Research Boulevard, , TX 78758 (512) 832-8788 Visit Website

Fat Dragon

8650 Spicewood Springs Road, , TX 78759 (512) 258-7587 Visit Website

Hunan Bistro [Austin]

10700 Anderson Mill Road, Suite105, Austin, Texas 78750 Visit Website

Korea House

2700 W Anderson Ln, Austin, TX 78757 (512) 458-2477

Oseyo

1628 East Cesar Chavez Street, , TX 78702 (512) 368-5700 Visit Website

H Mart

9896 Bellaire Boulevard, , TX 77036 (713) 468-0606 Visit Website

Xian Sushi and Noodle

1801 East 51st Street, , TX 78723 (512) 469-7878 Visit Website

Julie's Noodles

8557 Research Boulevard, , TX 78758 (512) 394-6967 Visit Website

Seoulju

9515 North Lamar Boulevard, , TX 78753 (512) 382-1858 Visit Website

Lin Asian Bar + Dim Sum

1203 West 6th Street, , TX 78703 (512) 474-5107 Visit Website

House of Three Gorges

8557 Research Boulevard, , TX 78758 (512) 953-8666 Visit Website

Chosun Galbi

713 East Huntland Drive, , TX 78752 (512) 419-1400 Visit Website

Taste Of Home Handmade Dumplings

10901 North Lamar Boulevard, , TX 78753 (512) 956-7777 Visit Website

Fresh Tofu Food To Go

10901 North Lamar Boulevard, , TX 78753 (512) 491-9757

888 Pan Asian Restaurant

2400 East Oltorf Street, , TX 78741 (512) 448-4722 Visit Website
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