As the Year of the Snake approaches, families around the world are celebrating over elaborate feasts of seafood, vegetables, and plenty of whisky. But the dishes on the table are more than just tasty. It is believed that the foods one eats around the Lunar New Year can affect his or her luck in the coming year: money, success in business, love—and of course (as always) sexual vigor. So, it is around this time that Lupe Liang of Chinatown’s Hop Woo BBQ & Seafood restaurant becomes more than a chef—he is a purveyor of good fortune. When you order off Liang’s Chinese New Year menu, you can rest assured that your plate will be packed with symbolism up the yin-yang. What to order to ensure you get the most luck exactly where you need it? Here’s a Chinese New Year good grub cheat sheet.
Lobster: In Chinese, the word for lobster means “dragon shrimp,” and the dragon symbolizes power and energy. Forget Red Bull—this crustacean is all the energy boost you need.
Hair Vegetable or Hair Moss: Sure, this odd vegetable resembles a clump of wet black hair that you might discover stuck in a sink trap, but it’s really a terrestrial cyanobacterium—sort of an algae—and is a popular ingredient in Buddhist cuisine. In Chinese, the plant’s name is also homophonic for the Chinese phrase “be prosperous,” which is roughly “fat choy” or “fa cai.” That’s pretty hairy, in a good way.
Oysters: These may be worked in with the hair vegetable dish, and help direct all that prosperity toward good business, which is what the oyster symbolizes. Start shucking and selling, people!
Apples: In Chinese, the words for apple and peace are homophones. If chef Liang brings out his unique lobster and fruit salad, which is brimming with chopped apples, it’s his way of saying, “Peace out.”
Shiitake Mushrooms: These funghi represent longevity. Health benefits attributed to these black, bulbous ‘shrooms include treatment for high cholesterol, hyperacidity, ulcers, and diabetes. Moreover, many studies show this mushroom has antibiotic, antitumor, and antiviral properties.
Venison: The Chinese believe that lean deer meat symbolizes both a high salary and great life. The venison dish at Hop Woo also includes star melon, which is just pretty.
Bamboo Fungus: Digest associate editor Randy Clemens dubbed this bizarre-looking mushroom “vegetarian tripe,” which perfectly describes its spongy, honeycomb texture. Its symbolic meaning is longevity, and it is also said to have aphrodisiacal properties. Long life and love long? I’ll take seconds.
Fish: Fish are usually served whole at New Year feasts, which is supposed to represent a life of bounty, financial surplus, and unlimited wealth. Fish are also likened to a boat, and as such there superstitions relating to how one eats the fish. So, don’t rock it—or more accurately, don’t flip it over. Doing so is akin to capsizing the boat and jeopardizing your abundance. Instead, simply remove the backbone once the top meat is finished and continue eating the bottom half sans bones.
Noodles: It is said that the longer the noodle, the longer the life, which makes lengthy strands of yi mein the ideal New Year dish. The centerpiece for a Chinese New Year banquet is commonly a lobster yi mein platter, symbolizing a powerful and long life.
Oranges: Citrus slices are often served as dessert at the end of your meal, and they represent gold, hardware, bullion, ingot, chunk—know what I’m sayin’?
Happy Year of the Snake, everyone. May you enjoy extra-long noodles, eternal apples, and much hair moss!
Hop Woo BBQ & Seafood Restaurant
845 N. Broadway, Los Angeles, 213-617-3038