Taste of Marblehead: A sense of home to start the new year

It came as a surprise to me that Chinese food is a popular holiday-dinner tradition in the United States. I’ve always imagined that  holiday gathering host naturally cook for their Christmas or New Year’s Eve guests, like in the posters and advertisements proclaim.

When my colleague said his family usually orders Chinese food for New Year’s Eve, my voice raised an octave in doubt. All of a sudden, the picture in my mind of an American Christmas morphed into a scene from the television series “The Big Bang Theory,” where the characters regularly eat Chinese takeout.

This prompted me to do some research, and I discovered that Chinese food takeout is a popular holiday tradition in the U.S. —probably because Chinese restaurants are the only ones open. It’s a monopoly that results in people carrying out white boxes of food with “Enjoy” and “Thank you” on them.

There are two Chinese restaurants in town for your holiday dinner: Fen Yang House at 40 Atlantic Ave. and Mai Tai Lounge at 165 Pleasant St.

The Fen Yang House was connected to a bar, allowing it to open until late night with people watching sports. Besides Japanese cuisine it also provides Chinese food, as an asian cushion restaurant.

Chef Joe Chen brought the Hawaii sunset Maki to me. It was not a typical sushi maki I had before, there was no seaweed covering it. Instead, there was rice paper that brought more Vietnam flavor to the table. For rice paper the best sauce would be sweet chili sauce, as I was served. So it was not typical soy sauce as well, for the maki.  Inside the rice paper roll, there were tuna, salmon, and avocado.

There is no doubt that I am proud of the Chinese people who work hard — almost 365 days a year — to give Americans the option to eat Chinese food on the holidays. Because Chinese restaurants are open, people can spend the holidays like they’re meant to be spent: resting, relaxing, and getting a break from cooking.

For travelers like myself, Chinese restaurants offer a sense of home during the holidays.

My opinion is that food is the best way to create connections and exchange cultures. I am thrilled that people can learn about China through its food — its many spices and traditional dishes — and get to know the background behind it.

Take dumplings, for example. They are the most popular dish in the northern area of China, and your northern Chinese friends would likely welcome you to any holiday celebration with dumplings. But then there are some dishes that we eat only once a year, for specific holidays —such as Zongzi for the Dragon Boat Festival and mooncakes for the Mid-Autumn Festival.

Does my article pique your interest in ordering Chinese food for your New Year’s Eve dinner? What would you order for your family?

There is nothing better than cracking a fortune cookie to celebrate the holiday.