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How Humberto Leon and Carol Lim’s Closest Friends Are Celebrating Lunar New Year Through Food

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What are some of the Lunar New Year traditions that you always stick to, and why?
I always do a whole fish. I like lion’s head meatballs or dumplings to symbolize wealth, as well as a roasted chicken or duck. You gotta have soup, but more than the food it’s about friends and family. I haven’t lived with my family since I was about 20, so the last 19 years I’ve celebrated with my friends and it’s a tradition for us as much as it is my biological family at this point.

Tell me a little more about the dish you’ve chosen—are there any quirks or tips to preparing it you want to share?
I think it’s just time, patience, and consistency. People are always kind and want to help, but I usually tell them to pick the most expensive wine they can find in my Eurocave, smoke my weed, eat my mushrooms, but under no circumstances should they come help me in the kitchen [laughs]. I don’t like rushing when I cook for the holidays, I don’t like nervous energy, and I rarely like anyone else in the kitchen with me besides my mom or my good friend, Taylor Takahashi, because they are really detailed and pay attention to the nuance of dishes. If I show them my process for washing, drying, and picking cilantro leaf by leaf they don’t think I’m an insane person and they will do it the same way every time. Cooking and dating really go hand in hand. It’s not about finding the newest, shiniest, most expensive, ingredient, but choosing what you are genuinely curious about, learning it inside out, and being consistent in your relationship to it. Am I right or am I right? I’d cook with my homie Omid’s dad too, he is really detailed, works clean, kind of kitchen crazy, and has two nice dogs.

Does the act of cooking a whole fish hold any sentimental value for you, or are there any interesting backstories to why it’s become a tradition?
Whole fish is lucky so I make that every year. I used to think I had to have certain dishes, but it’s honestly about the energy and feeling of the day. You want to reflect on the last year, let out the things that were rough, and welcome the new. It’s a very spiritual holiday that is more about my connection to the universe, myself, and my community than any particular dish.

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