Monkey Business

Now that all of the traditional New Year’s Eve hoopla is out of the way for another 357 days, it’s time to focus on the Chinese New Year, which rings in the Year of the Monkey on January 22. Restaurateur Richard Ng, of the Bo Ling’s empire, always celebrates the holiday at his four establishments. But, he notes, the festivities have special significance for him this year. He was born during a Monkey year, the lunar sign for the years 1920, 1932, 1944, 1956, 1968, 1980 and 1992.

If you were born in one of those years, many Chinese astrology books predict you’ll have a lively 2004, with money, recognition and material rewards just waiting for you like ripe bananas. Alas, however, there will be a downside, too. Astrologer Chris Critchlow‘s Web site warns that Monkeys born in the years 1956 and 1968 will have career problems. And this year will be trying for the non-Monkeys — the Rabbits, Roosters, Dragons, Snakes, Rats, Horses, Dogs, Oxen, Pigs, Sheep and Tigers. In The Complete Book of Chinese Horoscopes, Lori Reid warns that we should “expect the unexpected” in the coming year because “gremlins abound.” Uh oh.

With jarring news like that, there’s only one thing to do for comfort: Eat yourself silly. Ng is offering his seven-course Chinese New Year dinner from January 23 through February 6. Although each of the seven dishes was reportedly chosen because it brings good fortune, the luckiest thing about the meal may be the price: $18 a person.

I got an early start on the festivities last week and tasted a few of the dishes, including a soothing cabbage soup in a gingery broth loaded with feather-light pork meatballs, an appetizer of fried wontons stuffed with shrimp and pork, a bowl of succulent poached beef drenched in a sizzling Szechwan chili sauce, and a slab of steamed pink salmon covered with ribbons of scallion and ginger.

Ng has been celebrating Chinese New Year since he was a boy in Hong Kong. His parents would start preparing for the holiday a full month ahead — it requires a lot of prefestivity coordination. “Before the last days of the last moon, the house has to be clean, all debts must be paid, hair must be cut and new clothes must be purchased,” Ng says.

When New Year’s Eve arrives on January 22, complaining and criticism are forbidden. Like I said, uh oh.

Categories: News