What to Eat for Lunar New Year
We're about to welcome the Year of the Ox, which means there's no better time to sample some of San Francisco's finest Chinese and Vietnamese cuisine. Here are a few traditional treats you shouldn't miss, and where in San Francisco to find them.
Please note: While outdoor dining has returned to San Francisco, it's best to contact the restaurant of your choice directly to confirm their availability and safety protocols.
Banh chung/Banh Tet
- What it is: Banh chung/Banh Tet is a must-have for Tet. 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 St.
- What it is: This deep-fried roll is commonly filled with seasoned ground pork, mushrooms and vegetables.
- Where to find it: Head over to Le Colonial at 20 Cosmo Pl., Tin Vietnamese at 937 Howard St., or My Father’s Kitchen at 1655 Divisadero St., for these flavorful appetizers.
- 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.
- 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 St., 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 Food
- 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 Kearny St., for their crispy silver cod with superior soy sauce, or R&G Lounge, 631 Kearny St., where their specialty is seafood.
- What it is: Dumplings made to look like Chinese silver ingots. Eating dumplings filled with 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 Yank Sing, 49 Stevenson St., or 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 Henry's Hunan Restaurant, 110 Natoma St. for fresh, crunchy, vegetarian spring rolls.
- What it is: Glutinous rice cake. Usually 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: Head over to Chinatown's Good Mong Kok Bakery, 1039 Stockton St, for this Chinese New Year treat, or pick up a box of niangao 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.
- 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.