How and Where to Celebrate the Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean New Year in Denver

The Year of the Rooster is upon us.
The Year of the Rooster is upon us.
Miles Chrisinger
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Need a little more renewal than the January 1 ushering in of 2017 could provide? You’re in luck; on January 28, Denver's Asian community will observe the Lunar New Year, an important celebration in many Asian countries that is attended by a number of different traditions representing a fresh start. Here’s a primer on the festival as observed in China, Vietnam and Korea — and how to celebrate those versions of the new year here in Denver, including the requisite feasting.

Tang yuan, a traditional Chinese New Year's treat.
Tang yuan, a traditional Chinese New Year's treat.
Rob Christensen

The Lunar New Year always kicks off on the first new moon between January 21 and February 20. In China, it launches Chunjie (choon jee-ya), or the Spring Festival, which lasts for fifteen days, until Yuanxiao {yew-wen see-ow), or the Lantern Festival, the first full moon of the new year. During this two-week period, China witnesses one of the largest internal migrations in the world, as revelers head home to visit their families for part or all of the holiday. This year, 2017, is the Year of the Rooster.

Chinese families observe several rituals aimed at assuring prosperity and good fortune in the new year: They clean their homes before the new year starts, make offerings to the Buddhist god of harmony and refrain from cutting their hair for the duration of the festival, because the word for hair sounds similar to the word for prosperity. They also eat fish on New Year’s Eve (the word for fish is a homonym for “surplus”); dumplings for wealth; long, un-cut noodles for longevity; and, on the day of the Lantern Festival, tang yuan (tong yew-wen), which are small chewy dumplings served in sweet broth that symbolize reunion and the full moon.

In Denver, get your dumpling fix at one of the dim sum palaces near Federal Boulevard and West Alameda Avenue; we’re fans of Star Kitchen, Super Star, King's Land and Empress Seafood Restaurant. You can slurp noodles at Zoe Ma Ma (at Union Station or in Boulder), or find tang yuan at any Asian grocery store. We’ve picked it up at Pacific Ocean International Supermarket in years past; prepare the dumplings by boiling them in water with a little ginger, then add sugar to the dumpling water to taste.

Eat ddukguk on Korean New Year and you're another year older.EXPAND
Eat ddukguk on Korean New Year and you're another year older.
Xiaolongimnida Blog, via Flickr

Korean New Year is called Seollal, and the three-day holiday also witnesses a major migration of Koreans going home to their families to celebrate. On the first day of the year, families pay respect to their ancestors, and children dressed in traditional clothing bow to their elders, who give them money. After that, families feast.

Perhaps the most essential food during Seollal is ddukguk, a rice-cake soup. Koreans eat this in the morning and believe that once you’ve consumed it, you turn a year older (age is counted by how many new years you’ve witnessed rather than by your actual birth date). In the past, the porridge was probably a way to use up old rice; these days, it’s made with the best rice. Jeon (battered and fried vegetables) are popular for ancestral offerings, and many people eat sweet rice cakes and lots of vegetables to usher in a healthy new year.

Head to Seoul BBQ to sample some of those classic foods; the restaurant offers both ddukguk and jeon.

Banh chung represents the earth in Vietnamese New Year celebrations.
Banh chung represents the earth in Vietnamese New Year celebrations.
Cathy Danh, via Flickr

Vietnamese New Year is called Tet, and, as in China and Korea, it’s one of the most important holidays of the year. Tet is celebrated for at least three days; Vietnamese people clean their houses for the occasion, pay respect to their ancestors and give money to children. It’s bad luck to sweep during Tet, because it symbolizes sweeping away good luck. The Vietnamese also take to the streets to make noise and ward off evil spirits, which is why fireworks are popular during the celebration.

Traditional foods include pickled leeks, roasted watermelon seeds and candied fruits, plus banh chung and banh Tet: sticky rice formed around pork and mung bean, wrapped in leaves, and formed into squares (banh chung) to represent the earth, or cylinders (banh Tet) to symbolize the moon.

New Saigon Bakery & Deli was rolling out a number of Tet treats when we stopped by last week; you can also get banh chung at Gio Cha Cali and at a handful of Vietnamese markets around southwest Denver.

Hop Alley rings in the new year with Black Shirt Brewing's beer and a pig roast.
Hop Alley rings in the new year with Black Shirt Brewing's beer and a pig roast.
Hop Alley via Facebook

You can also ring in the Year of the Rooster at one of these events:

This Saturday, January 28, from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., the Denver Chinese School, the Confucius Institute at Community College of Denver, and the Chinese American Foundation of Colorado will host a Chinese New Year celebration at Citypoint Church (200 South University Boulevard). Wander the fair for free and take in traditional Chinese food, calligraphy and crafts. Or spring for a $25 ticket to the celebration show, which promises acrobats, Beijing opera and a lion dance.

The Nathan Yip Foundation descends on the McNichols Civic Center Building on January 28 at 6 p.m., promising food from restaurants including Fish N Beer, Pinche Tacos, Work & Class, and Lucky Cat. Entertainment includes stilt walkers, karaoke and Chinese calligraphy. Proceeds help provide educational support to kids in rural communities in China, Colorado and other areas worldwide. Tickets range from $100 to $225.

Also on January 28, Hop Alley is hosting a party in collaboration with Black Shirt Brewing, promising a buffet that includes a whole roasted pig, the restaurant’s menu hits and free-flowing beer. Tickets are $65, and there are two seatings: one at 6 p.m. and one at 8:30 p.m. Email ashley@hopalleydenver.com to reserve a spot.

The Colorado Asian Cultural Heritage Center’s Dragon and Lion Dance Troupe will make its way through a number of Chinese and Vietnamese establishments this weekend, ringing in the New Year with the traditional lion dance. Look for it on Saturday, January 28, at Star Kitchen (10:30 a.m.), Super Star (noon), Pacific Ocean Market (12:45 p.m.), King’s Land (1:30 p.m.), Truong An Gift Shop (2:30 p.m.) and Zengo (8 p.m.), and on Sunday, January 29, at King’s Land (1:30 p.m.) and Viet’s Restaurant (3 p.m.). Check out the full schedule for all appearances.

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