Chinese New Year: The Year of the Tiger

This Saturday, February 13, marks the Chinese New Year's Eve. Valentine's Day will usher in the Year of the Tiger, whose zodiac symbol is marked by a fondness for bread and poultry (turkey sandwiches, anyone?). Although the most traditional way to spend Chinese New Year's Eve is by cleaning your home from top to bottom before indulging in a huge New Year's feast at night, you can also celebrate by heading out to the Chinese Community Center (9800 Town Park) starting at 10 a.m. on Saturday for their annual Lunar New Year Festival.

This enormous event usually attracts at least 10,000 spectators and includes performances by the Houston Grand Opera, acrobatic troupes, origami classes, calligraphy demonstrations and -- most importantly -- food. To celebrate the New Year right, you need to score a dumpling or two while you're out there, which shouldn't be difficult. The event is free, as is parking, and we're even scheduled to have gorgeous, cool weather on Saturday, so you have no excuse not to ring in the Lunar New Year the right way.

Next week, the feasts begin.

The third day of Chinese New Year is traditionally set aside for visiting with friends and family. And what better way to do that than at the large, family-size tables at Fung's Kitchen (7320 Southwest Freeway)? The popular restaurant is hosting a fabulous New Year's dinner on February 16 at 7 p.m., featuring a vast buffet, a traditional lion dance (to chase away bad spirits) and very special guest Martin Yan from one of our favorite cooking shows, Yan Can Cook. (Side note: PBS still has the best cooking programming around.) Dinner is $75 a person and reservations can be made by calling 713-779-2288.

On the fifth and seventh days of Chinese New Year (that's February 18 and 21 this year), even more snacking abounds. Dumplings, once again, are prescribed on the fifth day to encourage wealth and prosperity in the new year. And a raw fish salad -- yuseng -- is traditional on the seventh day. We recommend Fu Fu or QQ for all your dumpling needs and Banana Leaf for your yuseng. All three restaurants are conveniently located in the same shopping center at 9889 Bellaire Boulevard.

By the eighth day of the new year, most celebrations have died down and people have gotten back to work. But this year, the eighth day falls on a Sunday, and Tan Tan (6816 Ranchester Drive) will have yet another festival. You can expect another full lion dance and fireworks -- both of which are fun for the whole family. The celebration starts at 10 a.m. and ends at 4 p.m. We suggest tucking in to a plate full of food at the restaurant while you're there -- try the hot pots while the weather is still cool.

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Katharine Shilcutt