Lunar New Year celebrations kicked off last Friday, which was New Year's Eve according to the lunar calendar. But the festivities last for more than two weeks, so if you missed last weekend's celebrations, there's still plenty of time to celebrate the Year of the Rat at local restaurants, bakeries, and cultural centers.
At Top Hatters Kitchen in San Leandro, chef-owner DanVy Vu has created a six-course meal in honor of Tet, the Vietnamese New Year.
"Growing up in Southern California near Little Saigon, Tet was such a big deal," Vu said via email. "You didn't have to know the dates of [Lunar New Year] — you can just feel it everywhere you go. I miss it and hope I can bring some of that energy up here."
The menu, which costs $66 per person, starts off with a warm drink of toasted jasmine rice nog with coconut cream, cardamom, and jasmine tea powder. The menu also includes an awe-inspiring whole fried branzino in tamarind sauce with peanuts and fried shallots, pomelo and tangerine salad with preserved plum dressing, pork dumplings wrapped in cabbage in a gingery bone broth, and grilled gai lan with housemade oyster sauce. For a sweet end to the meal, there'll also be fried sesame mochi in ginger syrup with tapioca and coconut cream. The special Tet dinner is available now through Feb. 9; diners can also order from the regular menu.
Over in West Berkeley, Third Culture Bakery is offering a special black sesame version of its famous mochi muffin that was previously sold only at its pop-up in Japan. It's made using Japanese sesame seeds that are ground for 72 hours for a purer flavor, then decorated with a drizzle of white chocolate and a sprinkle of raspberry so it resembles a cherry blossom branch. The black sesame mochi muffins will be available in limited quantities until Feb. 8.
Noodles are often eaten for Chinese New Year because they symbolize longevity. For Chinese New Year, birthdays, and special occasions alike, my family heads to Bay Fung Tong in Oakland for lobsters plucked live from the tank and served Cantonese-style in ginger and green onion sauce over thick, chewy e-fu noodles. Some parts of China favor dumplings, and New Dumpling in El Cerrito offers a variety you won't find anywhere else, with options like zucchini and shrimp or tomato and egg. Both restaurants offer these dishes year-round, so you don't necessarily need to visit during Lunar New Year — but it sure is a good excuse.
For a broader look at Lunar New Year traditions beyond food, head to one of Oakland's museums and cultural centers. The Oakland Asian Cultural Center will hold a Lunar New Year celebration on Feb. 2, which will include tai chi performances, lion dancing, guzheng music, literature readings, guided meditations, the chance to make your own red envelopes, and more. The Oakland Museum of California is hosting a two-day celebration on Feb. 8 and 9, which includes traditional dance performances, martial arts, crafting opportunities, cooking demonstrations, and a chance to learn about the gongfu cha tea ceremony.