Where to find bánh tét, steamed whole fish, and longevity noodles to usher in the new year
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. 2024 ushers in the Year of the Dragon on Saturday, February 10.
One of the Cities’ biggest celebrations will take place at Eden Prairie’s Asia Mall, in partnership with the Chinese Community Center, featuring lion dances, red lucky envelopes, performances, and carnival activities, plus food from the mall’s many vendors. But to track down traditional Lunar New Year dishes at restaurants around Minneapolis and St. Paul, take a peek at the options below.
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 them on the weekend dim sum menus at Mandarin Kitchen in Bloomington, at Yangtze out in St. Louis Park, and Pagoda in Roseville (Pagoda serves dim sum six days a week). Over on Eat Street, chef Tammy Wong’s Rainbow Chinese serves turnip cakes pan-fried with eggs and scallions.
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. Elsewhere around town, Union Hmong Kitchen’s Slurp noodle pop-up features wonton noodle soup and other noodle dishes, and Hong Kong Noodle’s springy rice noodle soup range from roast duck to pickled mustard pork.
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 starting about two weeks before Lunar New Year begins.
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. Tea House’s Anhui braised walleye is another great option.
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 (Tea House has xiao long bao; Yangtze has har gow, or crystal shrimp dumplings) — or order some handmade frozen dumplings from Saturday Dumpling Club, available for pick up on Saturdays. 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, which sells tins of sweet, chewy candy, nuts and seeds, and hefty eight-section trays stuffed with Tết favorites.