BLOG: Lunar New Year food surprises Americans

By Assunta Ng

Pork tongue with fungus and dried oyster (Photo by Assunta Ng/NWAW)

When non-Asians learn that Asian folks love chicken feet, their eyes roll. But we Asian immigrants actually eat more than the feet during Lunar New Year.  

“What is that?” my non-Asian friend asked.

“It is a must-eat item during Lunar New Year for us immigrants,” I replied. “It gives us prosperity.”

My friend said she didn’t mind trying it if it brought her fortune.

“It’s the tongue,” I said, “which rhymes with profits in Cantonese.”

But the chicken has no tongue, she reasoned.

Well, chicken and duck tongues are too small. It’s pig’s tongue, I explained. You can order it in many Chinatown restaurants during the New Year. Just go to any Chinatown organization’s Lunar New Year banquet and the tongue dish is frequently served.

“I’ll pass,” she said after she heard that it’s pork tongue.

Chinese are not the only ones who love the tongue dish. Europeans, Mexicans, and other Asian people, including Thai, Japanese, Korean, and Filipinos, all have their famous tongue cuisine.

“Have you ever tried tongue tacos and burritos?” I challenged her. Just because Americans have not eaten tongue doesn’t mean tongue is not a good source of nutrition.

For example, ox tongue is part of many other countries’ gourmet dishes. Even French, Russian, and English cuisines have a beef tongue recipe in their kitchens. I don’t know why it bothers Americans so much to bite a tongue.

Some choose to eat pork tongue, rather than beef tongue, because it has slightly fewer calories and takes less time to cook until it’s tender. However, that’s not the reason Chinese have chosen pork over beef tongue. In the old days, the majority of the Chinese were peasants, who used their cows on the farm, rather than killing them for food.

Pumpkin rice from Ginza Restaurant (Photo by Assunta Ng/NWAW)

Pumpkin rice

One of my favorite Lunar New Year foods is the pumpkin rice at Ginza Restaurant in Bellevue, where I was invited for a birthday party.

What is pumpkin rice?

The rice is first cooked with meats and other kinds of goodies, before it’s filled inside a pumpkin. The pumpkin absorbs the aroma and flavor of the rice. It’s delicious!

The birthday party host had ordered pumpkin rice for me to take home.  How thoughtful!

The Seattle Lee Family Association Lunar New Year dinner with leaders from Chicago, Portland, San Francisco, Philadelphia, and Boston. (Photo by Assunta Ng/NWAW)

Turning a New Year dinner into gold

Most Chinese organizations’ Lunar New Year dinners were mainly about eating, speeches, and bringing together friends and family. But Seattle’s Lee Family Association’s dinner had an agenda: To secure a permanent home.

Without the support of all the other Lee associations nationwide, it would be a tough goal to achieve. The Lee Family Association President Faye Hong and others planned a dinner, which would bring all the national leaders together in one room.

For the first time in many years, all the big shots from other chapters of the Lee Family Association showed up. They came from as far as Chicago, Portland, San Francisco, Philadelphia, and Boston.

The reason for their visit? To look at a site on Beacon Hill, which the local chapter plans to buy as its headquarters.

If they liked the site, they would have to donate to set an example, and raise money for the Seattle chapter.

It would begin a national fundraising campaign for the Lees here. Simultaneously, it would signal to local members that it’s time to open your pockets, too.

China Consul General Gao Jinsheng (right) receiving an honor from the state of Washington presented by Ron Chow (left). (Photo by Assunta Ng/NWAW)

How can diplomats make a mark

Three is the magic number for diplomats. After serving for three years, they have to be transferred to another post or go back to their native land to work.

China’s Consul General Gao Jinsheng will be heading home to China at the end of March after his three-year term.

Over the years, I have seen dozens of consul generals from China, Japan, Taiwan, and Korea come and go. Some are good and some, no comment.

One time, I asked a Chinatown leader who had been lured by both China and Taiwan’s side, “So which side do you want to support?”

Without thinking, he said, “Whoever benefits the Seattle Chinese community, I will support.”

Benefiting the community doesn’t mean that the diplomats just visit organizations, show up at events, and give a couple of public relations speeches. Whatever they do needs to have far-reaching results and impact.

Gao was instrumental in getting the Seattle Chinese Garden’s courtyard built. His leadership was important to the garden at a critical point. In 2010, he told the community to raise seed money, so he could bring a group of artisans from China to build a courtyard, an important part of the garden. Consul General Gao helped to launch the brick campaign, along with the Chinese community. They raised over $45,000 to help pay for housing and food costs for the 21 artisans from the Changshu Classical Garden Construction Company. Consul General Gao has visited Seattle several times, including the formal dedication of the Knowing the Spring Courtyard in the spring of 2011. He found and arranged the artisans to provide the free labor and the project was done ahead of schedule.

Yun Wan Song, consul general of South Korea, was credited in uniting all the Korean language schools in the Greater Seattle area, of which there were many. At the time, every Korean church ran a school with 10 to 20 students. They were inefficient and competed for resources. Consul General Song visited each school and persuaded them to merge together to form the United Korean Language program, which is hosted at Newport High School.

Without the support of the Japan consul general office, the annual Cherry Blossom Festival held at the Seattle Center would not have survived. Each year, the office gives support in funding a kickoff reception and, sometimes, providing exhibit materials and personnel from Japan to perform in Seattle. (end)

To read the publisher’s blog in Chinese, visit

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