Vietnamese Food

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January 29, 2016

What to Eat for Lunar New Year

Feb. 8 is the start of the Lunar New Year, and whether you observe Chinese New Year or Tet, the Vietnamese New Year, here are a few places to grab a traditional bite (or two).


Banh chung/Banh Tet

  • What it is: Banh chung/Banh Tet is a must-have for Tet holiday. Banh chung is a dense square cake made from glutinous rice, mung bean and pork, wrapped in banana leaves.
  • Where to find it: Find these sticky and sweet cakes at Saigon Sandwich, 560 Larkin Street

Cha Gio

  • What it is: This deep-fried roll is commonly filled with seasoned ground pork, mushrooms and vegetables.
  • Where to find it: Head over to Tin Vietnamese, 937 Howard St., or My Father’s Kitchen, 1655 Divisadero St., for these flavorful appetizers.

Gio/Cha lua

  • What it is: A sausage made of lean pork mixed with fish sauce, steamed (Gio) or fried (Cha lua).
  • Where to find it: Order the Cha lua banh mi (also known as fancy pork Vietnamese sandwich) or pick up some to go at Cafe Bunn Mi, 417 Clement St.


  • What it is: Sticky rice. During the Tet holiday, sticky rice can be made into Xoi dau phong or xoi lac (sticky rice with peanuts), Xoi dau xanh (sticky rice with mung bean) and Xoi gac (sticky rice with special “gac” fruit and cinnamon). Xoi is usually served with boiled chicken or gio/Cha in Tet meals.
  • Where to find it: Order Xoi Ga (sticky rice with steamed chicken) at Turtle Tower, 645 Larkin St.

Thit Ga

  • What it is: Boiled chicken. An important part of the Tet tradition, since all of the tribute meals honoring ancestors must contain boiled chicken, whole or chopped.
  • Where to find it: Visit Sai’s Restaurant, 505 Washington Street, for the Gỏi Ga, a boiled chicken salad tossed with shredded cabbage, mint leaves and more.


  • What it is: A variety of candied snacks: Lotus seeds, dried coconut, watermelon seeds, ginger, pineapple, jackfruit, and star fruit. Mut is often kept in beautiful boxes and offered to guests during the Tet holiday.
  • Where to find it: Find these colorful candied snacks at local Vietnamese grocery stores: Hiep-Thanh Market, 724 Larkin St., and Duc Loi Supermarket, 2200 Mission St.

Chinese New Year


  • What it is: Fish. In Chinese, the word “fish” sounds like ‘surplus,’ so eating fish is considered to bring good luck for the upcoming year.
  • Where to find it: Make your way to Hakkasan, One Kearney St., for their crispy silver cod with superior soy sauce.


  • What it is: Dumplings made to look like Chinese silver ingots. Eating dumplings filled of meat and finely chopped vegetables are thought to bring you more wealth in the New Year.
  • Where to find it: Fill up on flavorful dumplings at Shanghai Dumpling King, 3319 Balboa St.


  • What it is: Spring rolls. Fresh vegetables and other ingredients are wrapped in thin dough wrappers and then fried, giving them a golden-yellow color. Spring rolls are eaten to help welcome a new year of wealth and prosperity.
  • Where to find it: Check out Nan King Road Bistro, 1360 9th Ave., for fresh, crunchy, vegetarian spring rolls.


  • What it is: Glutinous rice cake. Made of sticky rice, sugar, chestnuts, Chinese dates and lotus leaves, these cakes were originally used to worship gods and ancestors; today they are eaten during celebrations to bring prosperity, year after year.
  • Where to find it: Pick up a box of nain gao in Chinatown at Golden Gate Bakery, 1029 Grant Ave.


  • What it is: Sweet rice balls. Tangyuan is a main food for Chinese New Year. The round shape of Tangyuan is associated with reunion and being together.
  • Where to find it: Satisfy your sweet tooth with a box of Tangyuan from Good Mong Kok Bakery, 1039 Stockton St.

Longevity Noodle

  • What it is: Longer than average, uncut, noodles served fried on a plate or boiled in a bowl with broth. Longevity noodles symbolize a wish for long life.
  • Where to find it: Try the Fresh Crab meat with Egg Noodle at Hong Kong Lounge, 5322 Geary Blvd.

Good Luck Fruit

  • What it is: Tangerines, oranges and pomelos. Because of their round and "golden" color, these fruits symbolize fullness and wealth.
  • Where to find it: Tangerines, oranges and pomelos are in abundance at Asian markets during the holiday. Peruse the shops along Stockton Street in Chinatown for fresh fruit.

After you have your fill of delicious food, head to the Chinese New Year Parade on Feb. 20 and watch as elaborate floats, lion dancers, folk dancers and acrobats take to the streets of San Francisco.


Photo by Jules / CC BY-NC-ND

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