Celebrate the Year of the Ox with Grace Young’s delectable—and auspicious—lo mein with pork and vegetables.

February 11, 2021
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Credit: Christine Han

Lunar New Year, also called Chinese New Year, is traditionally celebrated with myriad dishes deemed not just delicious, but auspicious, prepared with ingredients symbolizing luck, longevity, prosperity and more. It is a spring festival, observed on the traditional Chinese calendar, during which ancestors and deities are honored with rituals that include cleaning house, top to bottom, so as to literally to sweep away the old year in a spirit of renewal. Each year is named for an animal on the Chinese zodiac, 2021 being the Year of the Ox—a beast known for strength, intelligence and dependability.

Due to the pandemic, as we continue to quarantine and practice social distancing, this year's celebrations must be considerably downscaled from how people traditionally celebrate. I grew up in San Francisco, and though I have lived in New York for the past 40 years I never missed going home, as a "dutiful daughter," for Chinese New Year. For the holiday, my parents would cook eight special dishes for a sumptuous family feast. On New Year's Eve, the table was set with our Canton rose-patterned porcelain dinnerware reserved for use only during the New Year! A bowl of gleaming citrus, their golden hues symbolizing good luck and the hope for prosperity, was the traditional centerpiece. The main dish had to be a whole poached fish with ginger and scallions. Why? The Chinese word for fish rhymes with "wish," so eating fish guaranteed that your wishes for health, wealth and longevity would come true. For prosperity, my parents stir-fried clams with black bean sauce; for growing fortunes, they made stir-fried lettuce; for a proper beginning and end to the year, there was poached chicken with scallion and ginger sauce; for good fortune, we ate oyster-vegetable lettuce wraps; for bounty, there was roast pork; for abundance, we had stir-fried bok choy; and finally, there was Buddha's Delight, also for prosperity.

With such succulent foods and joyous times in mind, I've developed a quick and easy recipe geared to home cooks: Longevity Noodles with Spicy Pork and Vegetables. It calls for ingredients that honor Chinese tradition with their symbolic meanings: lo mein noodles for longevity; pork for bounty and family unity; cilantro for compassion; scallions for intelligence; bok choy for abundance and prosperity; and mushrooms for quick-growing prosperity. If you can't find fresh lo mein noodles feel free to substitute spaghetti or linguine, and if shiitakes are unavailable use button mushrooms instead.

In addition to making this dish, please join my #SaveChineseRestaurants IG campaign and expand your menu by ordering takeout from favorite Chinese eateries, all in desperate need of our support at this time. Dumplings, pork spareribs, spring rolls, roast duck—so many delicious ways to celebrate the Chinese New Year now, and throughout the year.

Grace Young is an award-winning cookbook author and filmmaker who's been an advocate for New York's Chinatown since the start of the pandemic. A native of San Francisco, she was raised in a traditional Chinese American family where the Chinese New Year was the occasion for elaborate feasts and celebrations. Read her article 9 Things You Can Do Right Now to Save Your Local Chinatown.