I haven't enjoyed Chinese New Year, aka Vietnamese Tet, since I was a child, when there was nothing to worry about except counting the monetary contents of the shiny red envelopes given to kids as part of a good luck ritual by their parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and family friends. Long gone are those innocent days when the younger version of me, with my cherubic face and Solid Gold dance moves, would rake in mafia amounts of money. For an adult, Chinese New Year is actually quite stressful, plagued with rigid superstition and arbitrary routine.
This past Sunday was the start of the new year, kicking off the Year of the Tiger. While the outsider sees only the Martha Stewart's version of Chinese New Year, full of dragon dances, Oriental table settings, and firecrackers, here is an actual preparation checklist for the holiday:
- Clean your home thoroughly, making sure all laundry is completed and dry by the stroke of midnight, and all trash is discarded. This will clear out any bad luck from the previous year
- Check your Chinese horoscope and make sure the luckiest person amongst your family and friends walks into the home first after midnight. So, Year of the Snake and Monkey (including yours truly) take a back seat, and allow Year of the Pig and Horse to enter and I can collect on their impending glorious year.
- Take a shower right before midnight, and make sure your hair is completely dry, eliminating misfortunes from the previous year. Also, no bathing until the day after new year's day so that the new year's good luck is not washed away.
- Have cash in wallet to ensure prosperity for the upcoming year.
- Try not to get sick or be in a bad mood in the middle of all this stressful activity, because it would bring bad luck.
Finally, the one Chinese New Year obligation which compensates for all the insanity and to which I look forward the most: Eat dumplings. But where?
I and most local Asians, not only Chinese, go to Jeng Chi restaurant in Richardson to get our dumpling fix. Chinese New Year is no exception. Situated in a shopping strip that is the closest thing to a Chinatown that Dallas possesses, Jeng Chi is an institution for locals looking for authentic Chinese food. Everything from dumpling skins, pastries, and noodles are made on site. Some, opting to celebrate the new year at home, order Jeng Chi's frozen dumplings to go. And while eating dumplings are a requisite for good luck in the new year, it's only an excuse for me to order what it is I really want: Shanghai Buns.
When winter rears its malevolent head, there are two things I crave the most. One is pho. The other is Shanghai Buns. Steamed buns are stuffed with pork and gelatinous broth inside a slightly thicker skin than dumpling skin. The gelatin melts inside the bun's skin during the steaming process. When one bites into the hot bite-sized buns, the piping hot soup pours out into a spoon, ready to be slurped up conjunctively with eating the bun.
After making sure my apartment was clean, my dog was clean, my boyfriend was clean, and I was clean, we made our way to Jeng Chi. Luckily for my eating habits, gluttony is encouraged on Chinese New Year. I ordered accordingly. For our table of two, I started with the mandatory pork and cabbage dumplings, which are boiled, not fried.
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As we ravenously ate our way through all the contents on the table, I stopped amid our fanatically paced meal, realizing that neither I nor my boyfriend, gasp, had any cash in our wallets. So much for prosperity. More important: How were we going to pay for this meal, seeing as how I recalled past visits to Jeng Chi being cash only? Worried that my new year was destined for doom, I looked across the room at the counter in the front of the establishment. A sticker on an old worn cash register assured me that my Visa or my Mastercard would be accepted. With a sigh of relief, I popped another dumpling in my mouth...for more good luck.