Pick of the Week—Saturday, March 3: They say those born in the Year of the Dog possess the best traits of human nature—kindness, honesty, loyalty, etc. Celebrate all that goodness at the Nebraska Chinese Association’s Lunar New Year Gala this weekend. One of the largest annual celebrations of Asian culture in the Midwest, you do not want to miss out on this year’s celebration. Omaha Magazine will be there with our latest issue, marking our 35th year and featuring several stories on the history (and future) of Chinese people in Omaha. The gala showcases Chinese culture and heritage using cuisine, traditional performances, and of course, the lion dance. Let’s hope this new year brings out those good traits in all of us. Purchase your tickets to this festive yet educational event here, or you can pick them up at Asian Market on 76th Street in the Heritage Plaza.
Thursday, March 1: Start talking, and listening, tonight at Me Too: A Community Dialogue about Coercion and Consent at Urban Abbey. This is a community conversation regarding sexual violence and how we can do better. The #MeToo movement serves as a catalyst to discussion regarding coercion, consent, and change. Hosted by the Women’s Center for Advancement, The Women’s Fund of Greater Omaha, and Urban Abbey, this event is open to everyone. Find out more here.
Friday, March 2: Kick off this beautiful weekend with some sweet live music at Slowdown at 8 p.m. Kait Berreckman is leaving her new home in Denver and bringing it back to Omaha, She’ll be killing it Friday night with Edge of Arbor and Miwi La Lupa. Support your favorite local (and formerly local) acts now. Tickets are only $7, so this is a don’t-miss-it show. Better get your tickets here.
Friday, March 2 and Saturday, March 3: Get out and enjoy the promised (fingers crossed) good weather this weekend during the Historic Preservation Conference and Exhibition, courtesy of Restoration Exchange Omaha. There will be speakers, building tours, walking tours, and even some free food and drinks. See the up-and-coming areas around Omaha and talk to the people making it all happen. For the complete schedule of events, go here.
Sunday, March 4: Have you been thinking about sprucing up your yard, but aren’t sure where to start? Worried that you have more of a black thumb than a green one? Then get to Starting Seeds: An Informative Discussion and Hands-on Workshop at Lanoha Nurseries. The informative discussion starts at 1 p.m. and will cover everything from picking the perfect seed to transplanting that grownup seed. There’s also a hands-on workshop you can sign up for, though that part isn’t free. Learn more here.
Sunday, March 4: There are only two shows remaining in the Omaha Symphony’s Family Series, and this next one promises a little mystery for your Sunday afternoon. Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Missing Music is playing out at the Holland Performing Arts Center at 2 p.m. Everyone is a suspect in the case of the orchestra’s missing melody, so you’d better have a solid alibi. Watch Holmes investigate to Gershwin, Shostakovich, and, fittingly, Mancini’s “The Pink Panther Theme.” Get your tickets to this mystery adventure here.
Or, take your chances and visit Omaha Magazine’s Facebook page (@omahamagazine) to learn more out more about winning free tickets to Omaha Symphony performances of Sherlock Holmes: Case of the Missing Music and Symphony in Space.
Lion dancers leap into the air. Traditional Chinese instruments evoke tunes of a distant land. Dancing troupes perform in multi-colored costumes. There are even contemporary Chinese pop songs and, of course, plenty of Chinese food for guests.
It’s the Omaha’s Chinese Lunar New Year Gala. The festivities—March 3 at Burke High School—bring together the diverse segments of Omaha’s Chinese community: recent immigrants to the United States, overseas students, American-born Chinese, mixed-race families, along with friends and families who don’t have any personal claim to being Chinese (other than their possible interest in Chinese culture). Everyone is welcome.
The 2018 gala welcomes the Year of the Dog (the latest zodiac animal represented in the Chinese lunar calendar’s 12-year cycle). It’s also the 10th anniversary of consecutive festivities hosted by the Nebraska Chinese Association (formerly known as the Omaha Chinese Community Association).
But the history of Chinese Lunar New Year celebrations goes back much further than 10 years in Omaha. In fact, back when Qing Dynasty emperors still ruled “the Middle Kingdom,” Omaha had its very own (albeit small) Chinatown.
Although Omaha’s Chinese population is thriving in the early 21st century, the city’s historic Chinatown has been largely forgotten. This edition of Omaha Magazine tells the story of Omaha’s Chinatown leading up to the city’s current Chinese community.
Visit omahachinese.net to learn more or to purchase tickets for the Lunar New Year Gala. Tickets can also be purchased at the Asian Market (321 N. 76th St.). Advanced ticket purchase is required.
Catch glimpses of past NCA/OCCA Lunar New Year Galas:
This article was printed in the March/April 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine.
See other Omaha-Chinese content from the March/April 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine:
Publisher Todd Lemke started in local magazine publishing with City Slicker in March 1983. After City Slicker, he merged with Our City Magazine. When he realized the copyright for Omaha Magazine had become available, he snapped up the brand. Omaha Magazine has been his flagship publication ever since. However, that doesn’t mean it’s his only title. Omaha Magazine staff (and the website
omahamagazine.com) produce a host of titles that include Encounter, B2B Magazine, Family Guide, OmahaHome, and many more that have come and gone over the years.
2018 is also Year of the Dog in the Chinese zodiac. The lunar zodiac features a 12-year cycle with 12 corresponding animals. Legend has it that the animals are ordered according to their finish in a mythological race across a river. Rat finished first because he rode on top of Ox’s head and jumped onto the opposite shore (followed by Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig).
The Lunar New year officially began on Friday, Feb. 16. Traditionally, the holiday is the year’s most important occasion for Chinese families all over the world. It’s like Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Easter all rolled together. After celebrating the occasion with loved ones, many Chinese families residing in the Omaha metro will celebrate again on March 3 with the Nebraska Chinese Association’s Lunar New Year Gala at Burke High School. More than 30 percent of the attendance, organizers say, comes from local folks who are not Chinese.
Everyone is welcome. But tickets must be purchased in advance. Find out more details in this issue’s Calendar of Events. The occasion is the 10th consecutive Lunar New Year gala hosted by the Nebraska Chinese Association (formerly the Omaha Chinese Culture Association).
Of course, the local Chinese community dates back much longer than 10 years. There has been a Chinese demographic segment of Omaha’s population since the mid-1800s. The March/April issue of Omaha Magazine explores that history with a series of connected stories that probe the forgotten history of Omaha’s Chinatown, a Chinese community timeline leading up to today, and the story of two buildings that provide a tangible link to the past: King Fong Cafe (currently under renovation) and the last site of the local branch of the On Leong Tong (recognized in late 2017 on the National Register of Historic Places).
This in-depth package of stories on Omaha’s Chinese community is also special for me on a personal level. I lived in the Chinese territory of Hong Kong for five years, and my wife is Chinese from the former British colony. Our daughter was born in Omaha in 2017 (the Year of the Chicken), and her biracial heritage means that the ongoing story of Omaha’s Chinese-American narrative is our story, too.
I was born in Omaha (in the Year of the Ox) and I can trace my American lineage back through generations of immigrants to North America since before the American Revolutionary War. Although my wife is a more recent immigrant, our daughter is nothing but American. She has the exact same birthright that I enjoy, as outlined in the U.S. Constitution.
It is my hope that she—and anyone else with ties to Omaha’s Chinese community, or anyone simply interested in the history of our city—finds this issue to be a keepsake addition to the family library.
As usual, this edition also offers all the great arts and culture stories, dining features, profiles, and so much more that our readers have come to expect. Every issue of Omaha Magazine is a unique record of a point in time for our shared city. In recent years, the company has embraced the motto, “It’s about all of us.” This is truly our mission. Follow us on social media (@omahamagazine on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram) for updates, and subscribe to the magazine at omahamagazine.com/subscribe.
Thanks for reading!
See more Omaha-Chinese content from the March/April 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine:
Chinese Lunar New Year falls on January 28 this year. The holiday is like Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s all rolled into a week of celebrations. This year will be my third Lunar New Year in Omaha. Since relocating to the Midwest, I have developed a small go-to list for dishes that taste like home (or at least satiate my appetite until my next return visit to Hong Kong).
When coworkers ask me to recommend “real” Chinese food, I often probe how adventurous they are with eating. Authentic Chinese cuisines do not usually come with a thick brown or red sauce. Sometimes, signature dishes also feature uncommon ingredients. Although I never fancied chicken feet, I know several European Americans who will gobble down the dish (which translates to “phoenix talons” in my native Cantonese language) at any opportunity.
Chinese cuisines vary depending on region. Sichuanese (from western China) is known for its “mala” numbing spice. Cantonese (from Hong Kong and Guangdong) is famous for fresh seafood and dim sum. Dumplings, maybe even more than rice, are beloved in northern Chinese cuisines. You might even say Americanized Chinese food is authentic in its own way, with its distinct flavors and history woven into the story of Chinese migration.
1. Fresh housemade dim sum
I was excited to see barbecue pork and duck hanging on display upon entering Canton House Restaurant during my first visit; the Cantonese diner reminds me of the typical Hong Kong-style café (also known as a “cha chaan teng”). The chef started his career in Hong Kong decades ago and has brought a long list of authentic Hong Kong dishes to his restaurant in northwestern Omaha. Dim sum—bite-size breakfast hors d’oeuvres—are freshly made to order; I highly recommend ordering a variety and enjoying them with a group of friends. Stuffed eggplant, fish slices in congee (rice porridge), and sliced beef with pan-fried rice noodles are among my top three choices.
Tucked in the corner of a strip mall on 72nd Street, Blue and Fly Asian Kitchen is a homey eatery that is crowded with Chinese students every night. The traditional Chinese menu features a range of quick-fried and fish dishes that are iconic of Shandong cuisine. A bilingual handwritten menu beside the kitchen offers a further selection of seasonal delicacies. The owners are generous in sharing their cultural heritage with patrons; for example, in the last Mid-Autumn Festival, they gave out handmade “mooncakes” to diners to share celebration of the Chinese holiday. I have yet to order anything I do not enjoy at Blue and Fly (and I am definitely a frequent patron). My personal favorites include spicy shredded potato (a cold appetizer), spicy pig intestine (an entrée), and a specialty dessert—caramelized sweet potato.
3. Cantonese-style barbecue duck and barbecue pork buns
Order a Cantonese-style duck (half) to go with a bowl of rice, and you will get an authentic Hong Kong lunch experience. Grand Fortune Chinese Restaurant also has an extensive dim sum menu—the baked barbecue pork pastry and baked barbecue pork bun are must-tries as you may only find the steamed version in other dim sum shops in town. Steamed barbecue pork buns are known as “cha siu bao” in Cantonese. Cha siu bao, pork and shrimp dumplings (“siu mai”), and shrimp dumplings (“har gow”) are regular fixtures of dim sum brunch anywhere in the world.
New Gold Mountain is crowded with families after church on Sundays. The restaurant has an intimate atmosphere. Its fried items—such as salt and pepper shrimp, deep-fried minced pork shrimp dumplings, and crispy fried tofu are all finger-licking good. Meat lovers can try barbecue pork with five spiced beef. The meat platter is a common dinner staple in Hong Kong, and is best enjoyed with a bowl of rice and some stir-fried vegetables.
People may not associate Three Happiness Express with authentic Chinese food. But its kung pao tofu is a good representation of Chinese cooking. The tofu is perfectly fried to form a crispy crust; the dish is not drowned, rather it is drizzled with a light brown sauce. The restaurant’s steamed dumplings are also authentic, as long as you skip the sweet and spicy sauce and dip it in soy sauce. Friends from the neighborhood have professed a deep love for the crab rangoons, Princess Chicken, and Loc’s Chicken Wings (and these dishes are definitely American Chinese inventions).
Golden Palace has an old-school menu and an Oriental interior design that suggest the restaurant has been passed down through generations. The restaurant serves polished classic American Chinese food. The barbecue back ribs are the absolute bomb.
The “secret menu” of Jade Palace offers authentic Chinese cuisines. Even if you don’t read Chinese, pick a protein and ask the server what he/she recommends. The owner suggested we try “water boiled fish”—beware though, the Sichuanese dish is cooked with a lot of red hot chili peppers. The heat index of the fish is a challenge (southerners, like me, are not known for eating spicy). Be sure to discuss the level of spiciness before ordering.
China Garden Restaurant has a winter hot pot special. The communal dish is popular in colder months. Select meats and vegetables from a list, and the server will bring a pot of broth and a portable stove for you to cook the food in. The restaurant offers most of the favorites of Sichuanese cuisine. To drink, ask the server if sweet-sour plum juice is available. Other thirst-quenching options include Tsingtao beer and canned Chinese herbal tea, “Wong Lo Kat.”
The interior design of King Fong Cafe resembles that of Chinese courtyard houses. The wood carvings and chandeliers (imported from Canton, the old name of Guangzhou) are well-preserved—the visual enjoyment is a feast in itself. The restaurant is not only the oldest Chinese restaurant in town, it is the longest-running restaurant in the city.
* Note: King Fong Cafe announced its temporary closure in 2016 and had not announced a reopening date at the time of Omaha Magazine‘s publication deadline.
Another great way to discover new dishes is to ask the server what Chinese customers have ordered. If something looks delicious at another table, ask your server what it is. For anyone looking to celebrate the Lunar New Year with a Chinese feast, please note that restaurants may close during the festival, so check ahead to confirm if they are open.
Authenticity aside, I absolutely love when fortune cookies arrive with the bill. The American Chinese invention (or American Japanese, depending on the origin story) coincides with Chinese affinity for auspicious signs. Happy Lunar New Year! May your fortune cookie bring good luck!
How do you say “Happy New Year” in Chinese?
“Gong hei fat choi!” That’s Cantonese (the language of Hong Kong and Guangdong).
“Xin nian kuai le!” That’s Mandarin (the official language of mainland China and Taiwan)
…and for a preview of the 2017 Nebraska Chinese Association Lunar New Year Celebration: