Rather than any sort of in-depth reflection on the year that was or an overly-ambitious list of resolutions for the coming year, I’ve decided to post today about my favorite New Year’s Day tradition. For many people of certain cultural backgrounds, pork and sauerkraut is the traditional meal on January 1st. My mother always made it, and I don’t remember if I ever liked it; but I don’t want to talk about pork and sauerkraut. Instead, I want to talk about Chinese food.
Yes, I said Chinese food. That’s my traditional New Year’s Day meal. It is, I think, the first holiday tradition I chose to follow as an adult, and one I’ve kept every year since January 2000.
For the infamous Y2K celebration, I was a senior in college. I was of course home for winter break but had decided to spend New Year’s Eve with friends in Columbus (this was a few years before I moved here myself). I have a very clear memory of eating a pre-party dinner at the Blue Danube (a dive bar around North Campus) and joking about how the world wasn’t ending as we watched the tvs above the bar show New Year’s celebrations in Europe where it was already the year 2000. We went to a party, or parties, and the world didn’t end in Ohio either.
The next day, New Year’s Day, my friend Laurynn and I woke up late and decided to go in search of lunch. We walked from her dingy campus area apartment on 11th Avenue—this was before the Gateway cleaned up South Campus—and set off up High Street thinking we’d have lots of options. Unfortunately, nothing was open because of the holiday. It was bitterly cold, or we were underdressed; I don’t remember which, just that we were freezing and hungry and a bit hungover (we were 21, give us a break). We walked all the way up to Woodruff and finally found a restaurant that was open: the decidedly unglamorous No. 1 Chinese. It is exactly what one might imagine from the name, and exactly like many other hole-in-the-wall greasy cheap Chinese joints. However, that day it was delicious! It was warm inside, and the spicy salty greasy stir-fry and the mountains of rice were the perfect antidote to all of the previous night’s beer.
I had Broccoli with Garlic Sauce, I think, or maybe Szechuan Broccoli. I remember the leftovers sitting in my car taunting me as I drove home that afternoon, the burgundy Grand Am I drove in those days smelling of soy sauce and garlic and chili oil. I ate them for dinner that evening, while my parents and siblings ate pork and sauerkraut.
While I probably could, if I tried hard enough, remember where I ate every New Year’s Day Chinese meal since then, I won’t bother. I know that I’ve eaten them with friends, roommates, partners, with my sister I think, and by myself. Some have been delicious (three years ago, my girlfriend at the time and I ate at Yau’s Chinese Bistro, just down the street from Laurynn’s old apartment, and one of my favorite Chinese spots in Columbus), some have been disappointing (a friend and I ended up getting Mark Pi’s one year), but at this point, it’s the tradition that counts.
So today, after a productive day of taking down Christmas decorations, cleaning up, going for a run, and relaxing, I drove up to Fortune Chinese Restaurant and I got Eggplant with Garlic Sauce and some Hot and Sour Soup, and I came home to my windy attic apartment, and I opened up a nice pale ale, and I thoroughly enjoyed my meal. It was spicy and well-cooked and filling, but even more satisfying is the knowledge that I have this tradition that’s all my own, and that I’ve kept it for twelve years now, no matter where I was living, and that I can share it with others without losing it myself.