Anita Lo Discusses Chinese New Year, a Holiday She Never Celebrated Growing Up


American New Year has come and gone, but Chinese New Year, which follows the lunar calendar, is just around the corner, beginning on February 3. Drooling over the special menu to be served at Annisa, we decided to call up chef Anita Lo to learn more about this auspicious holiday.

So it’s the Year of the Rabbit. What year were you born?

I was born in the Year of the Snake.

What does that represent?

I don’t really know, actually.

No worries. Tell me about Chinese New Year and what you’ll be doing at Annisa.

We’re running a lucky six-course dinner for two nights on February 2 and 3. Traditionally you celebrate on the eve of the day, and each course will have special meaning. We change it every year but we use some lucky ingredients. You need to have a fish because “fish” is a homonym for luck, and you usually have a whole fish because you need the head and tail intact to represent the start and end of a year. And longevity noodles which symbolize long life. And we’ll have our take on yu sheng, which is a Singaporean Chinese New Year dish which is sort of a tossed salad with shaved root vegetables with plum sauce and some sort of fish. Again, the name sounds like “rising fortune,” and in Singapore you toss it as high as you can. [Ed. note: The full menu at Annisa runs for $105 per person and includes the following six dishes: Yu Sheng: Sweet Shrimp Sashimi Salad, Seared Foie Gras with Soup Dumplings and Jicama (resembling purses for a prosperous new year), Sautéed Sea Scallops with Rice Cakes and Chinese Sausage (coin shaped foods for prosperity and wealth), Steamed Whole Rouget with Sea Vegetables, Roasted Duck in Lettuce Cups (a symbol of fidelity), and a Tower of Lotus Root and Lotus Seed with Black Sesame (to ensure that new ventures will take root and prosper).]

Did you celebrate Chinese New Year growing up?

No, not at all. I guess a lot of journalists assumed I knew a lot about the holiday because I was Chinese. But I’ve adapted over the years and I’ve learned some stuff. Any holiday that makes food a priority is pretty good.


Are there any other holiday-related traditions that you’ll be doing?

My manager is now in Chinatown getting items but I don’t know exactly what we’ll do. I like the red envelope tradition, though.

You mean where you put money into small red envelopes?

Yes, but it would obviously be tacky to put money in envelopes at Annisa, but we could put chocolate coins in or something like that.

What are the go-to items you order at a Chinese restaurant?

It’s hard to say. I go out to a lot of different restaurants. Hopefully I’d go with someone Chinese and they could do all the ordering. We went to Oriental Garden last year for Chinese New Year and that was delicious. Someone else had arranged a menu. We had a couple of dim sum items which were interesting. And we had a whole fish and a Peking duck and some green vegetables.

Sounds great. What was the last thing you ate?

Well, I just had some tamales. I love tamales. I eat everything. I’m an omnivore.

Check back tomorrow for when Anita reveals what it was like to be feng shui’d.

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This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on January 26, 2011

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