Sacramento’s Chinese Americans descended Friday on the area’s Asian supermarkets in search of live fish, roasted duck and rice cakes to usher in the Chinese New Year.
The Year of the Rooster begins Saturday – part of a rotation of 12 zodiac animals that also includes the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, dog and pig. The timing of the holiday changes annually and is based on the lunar calendar.
The days leading up to Chinese New Year mark the busiest time for the region’s Asian grocers. Tradition dictates a Thanksgiving-style family gathering on New Year’s Eve with a grand feast featuring “lucky” foods that symbolize wealth and good health.
The holiday is observed by ethnic Chinese around the world, including in mainland China, Taiwan, Singapore and the United States.
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Live fish was on the handwritten shopping list from Timmy Leung’s wife. Fish is popular since it sounds like the Mandarin word for abundance. A part of the fish is intentionally left uneaten, so fortune can continue into the New Year, according to superstition.
“This is my assignment,” said Leung, 62, of Elk Grove, before breaking into a Cantonese ballad about the “Chinese god of prosperity coming to your house.”
Leung took a week off to celebrate the Year of the Rooster and completed chores such as sweeping the house clean, which means ridding the family of ill fortune.
Leung, a Chinese medicine doctor, shopped Friday at 99 Ranch Market on Florin Road in south Sacramento, which sees about 30 percent more foot traffic before Chinese New Year, according to store manager Lena Chen.
On a regular day, the store’s deli might sell 60 ducks and 60 chickens, but during this period, demand surges to 250 ducks and 150 chickens, Chen said.
Around lunchtime Friday, more than 40 people lined up at the deli counter. The store was expected to sell 20 whole roasted pigs by the day’s end, according to Jonny Tsang, district manager for 99 Ranch Market. The Asian grocery chain has its headquarters in Buena Park.
“Since we opened in the morning, the long line never stopped,” Tsang said.
Behind the counter, barbecue chef Zhao-Hua Huang quickly carved a serving of juicy duck before putting the meat into a container. Nearby, workers hoisted a fresh whole pig – with its head intact – into the glass display.
The supermarket was decked out with oversized red lanterns and a dizzying array of sweets. Amid the gentle tunes of traditional folk music, crowds of shoppers scooped up fancy gift boxes, bags of oranges and shiny red envelopes that are filled with money and given to children.
Sacramento native Terri Fong-Martinez, a self-described “Americanized” Chinese, said the holiday is especially dear to her, even if she doesn’t speak the language.
“It’s a part of my culture … I can cook. I can celebrate, and I am Chinese,” said Fong-Martinez as she shopped Friday.
For Bowen Huang, a UC Davis international student, the Chinese New Year brings fond memories of family vacations. With his parents back in Shanghai, Huang, a sophomore, has started a new tradition – eating hot pot with other Chinese students. A favorite during cold weather, hot pot is a stew of meats and vegetables simmered in a communal pot.
“That’s how we keep the connection with our culture,” Huang said in Mandarin.
Chinese New Year festivities last roughly a week, with a strict schedule of when certain activities take place – such as when married daughters visit their parents (day two). The holiday is observed by ethnic Chinese around the world, including in mainland China, Taiwan, Singapore and the United States.