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Sodexo rings in the Lunar New Year with traditional Chinese foods

Brandeis University dining services celebrated Lunar New Year this Thursday, Jan. 26 by offering Asian barbecue, soups and entrees in Lower Usdan and Sherman dining halls during dinner. Under Sodexo, this is the first time the dining halls put together an event for the Lunar New Year.

Even though the new year will not begin until Jan. 28, university dining services wanted to give the staff a chance to celebrate the new year with Brandeis students considering that a significant number of the staff take the holiday off, said Lisa Marie, marketing coordinator for dining services.

Both the dining staff and students from the Brandeis Chinese Cultural Connection club (BC3) worked together to prepare the food and decorations and provide a more traditional aesthetic for the event. Two staff members from Sherman, Yen Yu and Charlie Yu, made a dish they eat at home, crab rangoon. Only available in Sherman, crab rangoon are fried wontons filled with cream cheese and bits of crab, according to Yen.

The dining halls were decorated by members of BC3. Hanging from the ceilings of Sherman were round red lanterns. Yen made origami fish designed with Chinese characters and symbols that mean luck and calmness, she explained. The fish represents fortune and happiness.

A tradition during the celebration of the Lunar New Year is for the older generation to hand out red envelopes to the younger generation. Usually these contain money, but “that is too much money to give to the students,” Yen joked. Instead the students found two chocolate Hershey kisses inside the envelopes they received.

The colors most commonly seen on the decorations are red and gold, symbolizing wealth, health and happiness. That is why all the decorations are red with gold symbols and characters, Venus Sun, the co-director of public relations for BC3, explained.

Dishes provided in the menu Thursday night included Chinese lion head soup, grilled chicken satay, crab rangoon, spicy bok choy, white scallion pizza and a coconut mandarin cake. The bok choy was sauteed in garlic sauce with red pepper flakes to make it spicy. Chinese lion head soup is a stew with white or red meatballs and vegetables. The dining halls also offered the usual dining options such as pasta and burgers. Most of the food, with the blessing of Rabbi Elyse Winick, was easily transferred and prepared in the kosher side of Sherman. The crab rangoon was the only exception, Elaine Lunardi, Sherman’s food service manager, explained. Both Sherman and Lower Usdan served the same food.

In a Lunar New Year feast, dumplings are usually eaten, Sun said. The dumpling is a tradition from northern China and is now common in southern China and all over the world. In southern China, she explained, families usually make food that is sweet.

On Jan. 27, according to the Lunar New Year calendar, the year of the monkey will end and the year of the rooster will begin the following day, Jan. 28. There are 12 animals in the Lunar New Year calendar, each representing a year. Every 12 years, an animal will repeat itself symbolizing the end of a cycle in one’s lifetime, Sun explained. For example, the first twelve years is the cycle of childhood.

Long lines trailed through the dining halls, reflecting the exceptional nature of the festive evening. The extra care taken to create these meals brought Brandeis students and staff alike much happiness as we all celebrated together.

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