Celebrate the Year of the Goat (or Sheep)

Steamed buns at AYA Cookhouse.

Gung hay fat choy! Tomorrow’s the start of the Chinese New Year, a holiday that traditionally calls for fish, dumplings and turnip cakes. Celebrants who really want to up their good luck potential may also choose to feast on the animal associated with the incoming lunar year, which is a goat. Or maybe it’s a sheep.

Translators are split over the meaning of “yang,” Agence France-Presse reports. That’s because the Chinese character can refer to a variety of different animals, depending on how it’s modified. The expression “mountain yang” refers to goats, while “soft yang” connotes sheep.

“Sheep, goat, Mongolian gazelle -- whatever is fine,” Zhao Shu, a researcher with the Beijing Research Institute of Culture and History, told the wire service. Zhao believes the Zodiac’s yang is a mythological creature, but says the ambiguity is “the fun of Chinese characters.”

If you fall into the goat camp, one of the best local dishes featuring the meat is the curry plate at Reggae Grill, 4226 Rivers Ave. Sheep – at least in its immature form – is far easier to find on local menus. Current lamb choices around town include lamb collar at The Obstinate Daughter; lamb neck at two Boroughs Larder; lamb tongue at Leyla; braised lamb shank at Fat Hen and lamb chops at Halls Chophouse. There are also lamb meatballs on the menu at AYA Cookhouse, which this week unveiled a selection of specials for the holiday.

“Many key ingredients which will be used also carry meaning to help fulfill the “you are what you eat” aspect of the New Year,” explains owner Tony Chu (who translates “yang” as “ram.”) “We will have carrots for good luck, duck for fertility, fish for prosperity, meatballs for reunion, mushrooms for longevity, and corn for growth.”

The a la carte menu includes steamed carrot buns; mushroom fries; baked black bass and eight-treasure duck. For more information, call 352-2153, or visit ayacookhouse.com.

Lee Lee’s Hot Kitchen is also offering a special menu in conjunction with the holiday; look for further details in today’s food section.