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Chinese New Year in Charleston

Chinese New Year is upon us! It’s time to clean out your closet, get some red envelopes and start making some dumplings. Chinese New Year in Charleston doesn’t see the most over-the-top celebrations in the country, but there’s also a tribute to Chinese-American culture here. No matter what your Chinese zodiac symbol, you’ll find a way to ring in the new year (and find a little extra good fortune) in the Holy City.

a palm tree

Post photo from Facebook page of Chinese New Year at Kwei Fei


Understanding Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year (unlike Western New Year) deems that the start of the new year begins on the new year of the Chinese calendar. The date changes annually, but it generally falls in January or February.  This year it is on January 25, 2020.

It’s also often referred to as the Lunar New Year or Spring Festival — depending on what part of China you’re from. 


History of Chinese in Charleston

There isn’t a huge Chinese population living in Charleston — though it is the fastest-growing group in the city. You’ll find more Vietnamese restaurants in the Holy City that you will Chinese food, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a burgeoning Chinese community here.

The Chinese began moving to Charleston (and America in general) in the late 1800s — thanks to economic hardship and instability back in China.

The majority of the Chinese community settled in Charelston between 1870 and the 1940s. Though, many more are immigrating to the city today. 


Chinese New Year in Charleston

Unlike many major cities in the U.S., Charleston doesn’t have a Chinatown neighborhood — or a huge Chinese-American population for that matter. Yet, there are still a few ways you can ring in the Lunar New Year in the Holy City.

You might need to get a little creative if you’re looking for a Chinese New Year’s celebration here. Most locals tend to celebrate this holiday with food. 


Celebrate Chinese New Year With Food

One of the most popular ways of celebrating the Chinese New Year is indulging in lucky foods. In fact, to many Chinese-Americans, it just simply wouldn’t be the new year without a few good eats. 

The best part is that many of the foods eaten on Chinese New Year are considered lucky, and they will bring you good fortune all year long. 

a bowl of soup on a table

Facebook photo Xiao Bao Biscuit

Dumplings at Xiao Bao Biscuit

Dumplings are possibly the most iconic thing to eat on Chinese New Year. These little morsels of meat or veggies wrapped in dough are typically eaten at midnight to ensure good luck for the upcoming year. 

Don’t want to hang around till midnight to eat your dumplings this year? We recommend simply eating your weight in them the day before to ensure your luck runs over.

While most of the Chinese restaurants in Charleston serve up dumplings, we recommend heading to Xiao Bao Biscuit for some of the best in the city. 

Xiao Bao Biscuit isn’t what we would call authentic Chinese food, but it is pretty tasty. This Asian fusion restaurant serves kimchi dumplings on their dinner menu — in addition to their fusion take on mapo tofu and shrimp toast.

They also serve some tasty creative cocktails with names like mapo mule and Borneo sunrise. This restaurant also often offers a special menu for Chinese New Year.


Chinese New Year Dinner at Kwei Fei

a group of people sitting at a table with a bowl of salad

If celebrating Chinese New Year without the actual celebration won’t cut it for you, we recommend making a reservation at Kwei Fei

They always throw a major bash at this James Island hotspot, replete with music, a special menu and entertainment. 

Their menu focuses on Sichuan cuisine and includes dishes such as a variety of dumplings, spareribs, Dan Dan noodles and dry-fried green beans. 


Short Grain/Jackrabbit Filly

a sign on the side of a building

Short Grain food truck is another Chinese-American hotspot that generally throws a Chinese New Year’s celebration. In previous years, they’ve held the festivities at a local brewery and carted in the food. The name Short Grain is a nod to both Chinese-American culture and South Carolina’s rice industry. 

Yet in 2019, they opened their first brick-and-mortar location, Jackrabbit Filly. This highly-anticipated hotspot serves mostly Sichuan cuisine (though, the dishes have been deconstructed and fused with different cuisines). We anticipate they might throw a Lunar New Year party, complete with a special menu. Yet even if they don’t, this is another spot that’ll be worth the wait for a table to celebrate the new year.

Items on the menu include mapo tofu verde (ricotta gnocchi with ground pork and tomatillo), pork and cabbage dumplings and cauliflower salad.

Unfortunately, Charleston doesn’t have a Chinese bakery (yet), but many of the above restaurants offer Chinese baked goods and sweets. 


Visit a Temple

Many Chinese (and Chinese-Americans) make a visit to a temple on Chinese New Year. Buddhism is one of the main religions in China, so we recommend heading to one of Charleston’s Buddhist temples if you want to celebrate like the Chinese do.

The Charleston Tibetan Society, Shiwa Center for Peace and the Hindu Temple of Charleston are three of the biggest temples in the city. 

a group of colorful flowers

Photo: Hindu Temple of Charleston Facebook Page

Not all of the temples may offer celebrations or services for the new year, so always check first to make sure they’ll be open. We also want to mention that if there are services, please be respectful of the temple’s congregants. Temples may be busy on this day, and we don’t want to deny worshippers entrance because the temple is crowded with visitors. 


Chinese Association in Greater Charleston

The Chinese Association in Greater Charleston is a great resource for those interested in the history of Chinese Americans in the Holy City — as well as an important resource for the Chinese community here.

The center regularly hosts guest lecturers and speakers to educate about Chinese culture and history. Each year, they also host a Spring Festival, replete with dancers, musicians and demonstrations.

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