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Chinese New Year 2007--El Paso, Texas
Aug. 20, 2013: Note: Those who are in El Paso and wish to order special Chinese dinners for Chinese New Year or other occasions should be able to get items similar to the ones shown in the photos. Oriental Cafe tends to have their special items all the time, but customers need to call the restaurant in advance if they want to order them. The co-owner of Sam's who prepared the second dish for me is now the owner of Red Lantern, and along with another co-owner who is now at Moon Star, should be able to prepare this type of food. The type of chicken shown in the photo is only available at Chinese New Year and some other special occasions, since it is special-ordered from California. These two restaurants have a wide variety of other items, though, which are not so hard to order.

Feb. 18, 2007:  El Paso, TX. Chinese New Year. I am still trying to learn the food and customs of Chinese New Year, and fortunately it is getting easier to do so in the United States. The Chinese community in El Paso has a celebration every year, this year being at the Hong Kong Buffet. I was told they had a whole pig to celebrate the Year of the Pig, whole chickens, fish, and other types of traditional food. I was also told that the room was just about filled to capacity, so it is doubtful that they are anxious to have a large number of additional people join the party next year.

I was also told that the Taiwanese community had a separate celebration at a different restaurant. The New Year is all about celebrating and getting together with family, so both of these gatherings were much more than just a place to eat good food.

Silken Tofu and Lilly Flowers with Beef on the side served at Oriental Cafe in El Paso

For those of us who either were not invited or chose not to go to these celebrations (they actually had a cover charge and I suspect were open to anybody) it took a little creativity to find traditional New Year's food. I had my first success on New Year's eve (Saturday) at Oriental Cafe at 931 N. Resler Drive across from Franklin High School. This small restaurant has new owners and I have been enjoying traditional Chinese meals on a regular basis. For the New Year they had prepared a traditional vegetarian dish Silken Tofu and Lilly Flowers that was served with snow peas, fungus, and a specially cooked tofu. The lilly flowers were mixed into clear noodles so that it almost seemed like a "clear" or transparent food, fitting in with the theme of eating vegetables for the purpose of cleansing the body. I thought it was a taste sensation that I hope to be able to enjoy in the future.

Whole Steamed Chicken from Sam's Restaurant in El Paso

For the Sunday dinner on New Year's day my party went to Sam's Chinese Restaurant at 1501 E. Yandell Drive near downtown El Paso. Let me warn people that if you plan to go on a Sunday or on special occasions, it may be quite difficult to get a table, and the individual orders that are cooked may take a while to prepare. The special at Sam's was a whole Steamed Chicken with ginger, representing prosperity and good fortune for the new year.

I will have to say that even in all my west coast dining I have rarely encountered anything as delicious as this dish. This was a special chicken shipped in from California (I have been told that the ones sold in the local markets are too large and do not taste right for a steamed dish). The cooking methold was slow, but made the chicken fall off the bones. The ginger and other flavors permeated everything, and this food was truly worthy of a special celebration. Bob, one of the owners of Sam's Restaurant, had ordered a limited number of chickens. I suspect that he can order more next year if people let him know ahead of time that they will come in for it.

I want to give my thanks to both restaurants for not only providing excellent meals, but also sharing some of the traditions that are celebrated in a large part of the world.


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