Right in the middle of TradeViet Specialty Foods, the mammoth Asian food market on Overland Road, is a group of red-draped tables stacked with baskets, jars and trays. Every vessel is stuffed with foods traditionally eaten to ring in the Lunar New Year: from dried squid and salted duck eggs to soursop (a sweet, white-fleshed tropical fruit). On Saturday, Feb. 9, just four days after the Year of the Pig debuts, this is where Boise's Asian community will gather to ring in the new year, turning the 23,000-square-foot grocery store and cafe into one giant party, complete with live music and dancing.
"This is basically to just, you know, make some noise," said Jasmine Le, TradeViet's communications director. The store was down a cashier when Le stopped to chat with BW at one of the cafe's white-topped tables, but even when she leapt to her feet to run a checkout or hurtle back and forth across the store tending customers, Le never stopped smiling. The giant New Year's celebration, she said, was her idea.
- Lex Nelson
"People here are so great. They love to learn about Asian [traditions]. They love to embrace the new cultures. This is basically just that. To let them embrace the culture of firecrackers, the culture of Lion Dance, the culture of giving the kids red envelopes," she said.
It's also about bringing all of Boise's disperate Asian communities together. Le, like TradeViet's owner Joey Do, is Vietnamese. But she said that China and Vietnam share the same lunar calendar and many overlapping traditions, including the ritual of elders passing out red envelopes filled with money or trinkets to children on New Year's in exchange for good luck wishes. Their New Year's menus are similar, too, and TradeViet has all of the classics in stock. During the party, the cafe will be open to serve dim sum and slices of what the store calls "Vietnam Lunar Cakes"—confections which, uncut, look a bit like giant sushi rolls trussed up with green string.
- Lex Nelson
"Basically, this is like a very traditional food," said Le, hefting one of the forearm-sized rolls. "And there's nothing crazy in here. It's basically just sticky rice and mung beans—you know mung beans?—and pork belly, which is what you use for baking. Then they wrap it [in banana leaves] and they put it in the boiling water for more than six hours."
Once sliced, the cakes can be eaten hot or cold, and are often served with sweet pickles, pickled daikon and Vietnamese-style charcuterie.
Singers Nina Ngoc Dang and Tiffany Nha Tuyen, who will fly in from the West Coast for the party, will serenade diners at TradeViet, and May Trang will also perform live. A traditional dragon dance, firecrackers, confetti, a raffle drawing (with a chunk of 24-karat gold as the top prize), kids' activities and more will round out the festivities. Le said she hopes the party will have the same festive atmosphere as a Superbowl celebration. And for homebodies, she pointed out that TradeViet has supplies for anyone who wants to do their own cooking.
- Lex Nelson
"To celebrate the New Year you can come to us, whether you're Vietnamese, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Thai—you can find stuff here," she said. "Even the Asian restaurants, like Thai and Indonesian [places] around here, we supply them. They're stocking up for the New Year as well!"
Many of those restaurants will offer special dishes to celebrate the Lunar New Year, including Yen Ching, which recently applied for permits to build a new, upgraded bar. Manager Satoshi Narita said the Chinese restaurant will definitely have specials on the menu, though they'll be determined closer to the day of.
The Idaho Chinese Organization has plans to celebrate, too, with a bash at the Northwest Nazarene University Brandt Center in Nampa on Saturday, Feb. 2. The event will include performances from Miss Idaho, the Boise Chinese Traditional Dance Group and more.
At every point on the map, the aim is preserving and celebrating the heritage of Idaho's Asian populations. At TradeViet, Le said that for her a big part of planning the Lunar New Year party was passing down traditions to young children.
"I have a [2-year-old and a 5-year-old], they don't know what's going on back home. So this is the best way for them to at least know," she said.
If the presence of over-the-top holiday parties, not to mention a mammoth grocery store selling pho, pigs' feet, sugar cane and Indian bitter melon year-round, encourages more Asian immigrants to move to Boise, Le said, so much the better.
"The more [stores] we open, maybe people will start coming to Boise and relocate, you know what I mean?" said Le. That, she added, is owner Do's vision—one big, happy family.
- Lex Nelson