PANAMA CITY — Each new year comes with a fresh start — especially if it’s your year.
Chinese New Year falls on Feb. 10, beginning the Year of the Snake.
“My mom still makes me do it, but I hate to do it, but if it’s your own year, you are supposed to wear red socks and red underwear,” said Paul Chen, who has been at House of Chan since the current location opened.
Chen came to the U.S. from Northern China when he was 9, and though his accent diminished, he is steeped in Chinese tradition. Born in 1978, his sign is the Horse.
“We are supposed to be hard workers,” said Chen, who speaks Mandarin and English. “It’s all labor our whole life. This year is supposed to be good for us, a very smooth year.”
The Snake is the sixth sign of the Chinese Zodiac of 12 animal signs.
“The younger don’t know this,” he said. “It comes in 12-year cycles. My sister is a Chicken.”
The 2013 snake is the Water Snake, which Chinese tradition associates with being lucky with finances. This year’s color is black, taken as a warning to plan ahead and proceed with caution.
“It’s important never to bet against a snake, because they’ll make you pay one day,” Chen said. “A girl snake in the house is a good omen, means your family will not starve. Snakes are materialistic, analytic, very intelligent and graceful. Snakes prefer a life of calmness and quiet.”
The beginning of the Chinese calendar, a lunisolar calendar, also marks beginning of spring season. Fireworks go for “five days straight” from morning to night in China, according to House of Chan owner Fanny Chan, who was born in Shanghai and raised in Hong Kong.
It is traditional for children and teenagers to receive red envelopes filled with money — from $2 to hundreds — from their parents for good luck on Chinese New Year. If there is no money in the envelope, it is believed the receiver will have bad luck for the whole year. Chan gives red envelopes with lucky money to her employees, a customary practice for the boss.
Certain foods, such as oranges and fish, are thought to bring luck year-round, chosen for the way the word sounds in Mandarin. Chinese New Year celebrations usually include family members sitting around one large round table together, as they feast on steamed fish with ginger and hot oil.
“We are supposed to eat the head and tail,” Chen said. “ ‘Fish’ has the same sound as ‘abundance’ in Chinese.”
With a few hours notice, customers can order traditional steamed fish to enjoy at House of Chan. The cuisine at the Chinese restaurant is all prepared fresh by cooks originally from Hong Kong.
“So many do Asian fusion, but we stay only with Chinese cuisine,” Chen said. “We are good at what we do, and that’s the only thing we do.”
House of Chan consistently has won Best of Bay for Chinese, first at the original location overlooking St. Andrew Bay, where the restaurant was for 25 years, to the newest location on 15th Street.
One of the popular and traditional Chinese selections is Chan’s Spring Rolls, a creamy mix of pork, shrimp and vegetables wrapped in a thin, crispy shell.
The restaurant also is known for its Mongolian Barbecue with 15 combinations to choose from. Selections include chicken, beef, pork, shrimp, cabbage, carrots, white onion, snow peas, green peppers, celery, green scallion, bean sprouts, fresh mushrooms and bamboo shoots — or get them all for a refreshingly light combination with something new in every bite.
Another popular, and lucky, entree is the Orange Peel Chicken with strips of fresh zested orange peel and smoked chili peppers. The chicken is fried and rolled in the slightly spicy, sweet citrus sauce.
If you are celebrating at home, House of Chan delivers to Panama City and the beach daily beginning at 4 p.m. with a $20 minimum order.
For more Chinese options, see Asian restaurants on the Dining page.
CHINESE NEW YEAR
When: Sunday, Feb. 10
What: Year of the Snake
Good luck: fish, oranges, red envelopes filled with money
Happy New Year in Mandarin: Gong Xi Fa Chi