Chinese New Year: Great excuse to feast with family
Eating out with kids can actually be fun.
My family is way into holidays. Luke, my oldest, makes us drag down Christmas decorations the day after Thanksgiving. From an attic specially built just for storing all the boxes.
We even decorated for Groundhog Day.
So, with the Chinese New Year starting this week, it was a golden opportunity to combine my kids’ incessant need to celebrate anything with my incessant need to have an excuse not to cook.
The family feast is, after all, a major part of any Chinese New Year Celebration. Since we’re Italian, our feast took place Sunday at Ruby Palace in Holmdel.
My husband is not a fan of eating out with our kids. He seems to think others would prefer to enjoy their meal without our brood clanking spoons and talking in screams. But their Aunt Carrie has agreed to come, which means man-to-man coverage. As we attempt to wrangle three hot-cocoa hyped kids into the car, Den turns to her and says, “Are you ready for this?”
It is our first time at Ruby Palace, and as the twins shove each other on the way in, I’m relieved to find it’s casual and not crowded. Den is relieved to find out they have a bar. The waitress brings us to a huge booth in the far corner, saying it will be nice and quiet for us. Translation: it will be nice and quiet for everyone else, since they‘re not sitting near us.
Always looking for teachable moments, I give the kids a quick synopsis of the Chinese New Year. 2011, I tell them, is the Year of the Rabbit. Nina, the animal lover in the family, wants to know if that means this is the year she can finally get one?
I explain that this holiday, marking the beginning of Spring–and rebirth of Earth–is the biggest one in the Far East, akin to our Christmas, and the celebration lasts for 2 weeks. Luke’s eyes light up, and I just know when we get home he’s going to ask me to hang lanterns and help him make red paper dragons.
Traditionally, families feast on foods like duck, oyster, and whole fish, which symbolize fidelity, good fortune and abundance. Jack informs me that he won’t be eating any of that stuff. Instead, I order more kid-friendly fare like pineapple fried rice, knowing it will bring my own family much better luck.
I’m secretly jealous of my friend Rory because her girls love Chinese food. They woof down lo mein and egg rolls like they’re chicken nuggets and fries. My guys do scarf down the crunchy wonton noodles the waitress brings us to start. Wontons symbolize wealth, so I’m okay with that. Aunt Carrie and I share a yummy order of dumplings, which I force the kids to try. To my surprise, they like them. To my horror, they eat them all, leaving me only scraps. That’s the last time I beg them to taste anything that’s mine.
We end up enjoying dinner, thanks to the training chopsticks I have the foresight to ask for. Turns out, chopsticks are better than crayons for occupying the antsy. Its hard to scream or clang spoons when you’re focused on picking up a grain of rice with two wooden sticks. The kids also attempt to grab their straws, drink umbrellas and napkins, allowing us adults to finish whole sentences. I’m bringing chopsticks whenever we eat out, even when it’s Italian or Mexican.
Back home, we wrap up our newly adopted holiday by lighting up sparklers, a nod to the fireworks the Chinese shoot off to scare away evil spirits. Luke wants to know when they’ll be receiving their red envelopes of money for good luck, per Chinese New Year tradition. I tell him, after the whole family spring-cleans our house, sweeping away bad luck, perhaps my favorite of all the holiday’s traditions.
Ruby Palace: 2174 State Route 35, Holmdel, NJ 07733 | 732-264-2002
Lunch: Mon - Sat, 11:30am - 3pm; Dinner: Sun - Thu, 3pm - 10pm; Fri, Sat, 3pm - 11pm
12th Annual Chinatown Lunar New Year Parade & Festival
Sunday, February 6, 11:30 a.m. – 4 pm
Parade runs through Chinatown along Mott, Canal and Bayard Streets and East Broadway