Oriental Lion’s Head (meatballs) with sweet and sour sauce. (Contributed)

San Francisco’s Chinatown was my hubby and my destination to celebrate the Chinese New Year the first year we married. 1974 was the Year of the Tiger according to the Chinese Zodiac, and Norm and I, along with our blended family of four children set off early that morning, with visions of dragons dancing in our heads. 

New Year’s is the most celebrated holiday for the Chinese people, so much so, in fact, that for fourteen days the Chinese take off from work and visit their elders, clean their houses sweeping out evil, hanging red colored banners signifying wealth and prosperity to all, and giving out red envelopes filled with money to their children.  Copious amounts of food are prepared and devoured, much likened to our holiday dinners.

We arrived in downtown Chinatown midafternoon, hungry and excited. Driving was slow as the sidewalks were filled with people spilling out onto the streets. 

Firecrackers were popping everywhere…not just one or two, but whole strips from the packages, and the air was filled with smoke from the crackers. Every few minutes a cherry bomb would go off…I couldn’t wait to get inside a restaurant.

We finally made our way into a very large and crowded restaurant.  Our five and six year old’s eyes were huge at the sight of so many people, and then a small  dragon entered the room, dancing and weaving its way through the tables, roaring and with smoke pouring from its nostrils…well, to a small child, need I say more.  

For me it was the chicken’s feet… platter after platter filled with steamed chicken’s feet sticking up in the air on huge platters carried by waiters in red vests that did me in.  These are a delicacy for the Chinese, but not for me.

There is one thing to ‘talk’ about the block long Dragon with a head the size of a small Volkswagen, roaring, spouting fire and smoke and dancing in the street at the end of the parade, but seeing ‘it’ in real time, is another.  The kids were terrified and I? I didn’t feel much better.  

Norm hustled all of us into the car and headed home to San Jose, stopping along the way at our familiar MacDonalds, where we all agreed to leave the dragons to the Chinese in San Francisco.

According to the Chinese Zodiac, this is the year of the Water Rabbit, which promises to be a very gentle, quick moving and smart year, that is if we can trust the Zodiac calendar.

Saturday, February 04, 2023 at 5:15 p.m.is the date set for the Chinese New Year’s parade which begins at the corner of 2nd and Market Streets, weaving its way through Chinatown in San Francisco.  The parade is one of the largest in the world with over 100 floats and lasts for over two hours.  The smoke belching, roaring Dragon is 28 feet long and carried by 100 men.  Over four hundred thousand people are expected to fill the streets for this parade.

As for me, I shall celebrate the coming of my New Year with a glass or two of champagne while watching the ‘Ball Drop’ in New York’s Times Square on TV.

I have a plate of Oriental Lion’s Heads with sweet and sour sauce to go along with my champagne.  I am content.

I wish each of you, dear readers, 

Gong Xi Fa Cai!

Happy New Year!

Oriental Lion’s Head (Meatballs) with Sweet and Sour Sauce

3 slices plain white bread with crusts removed

¼ cup milk

Soak bread in milk for ½ hr.

Add to bread:

1 lb. ground Pork

2 well beaten eggs

½ cup finely diced scallions 

2 cloves diced garlic

¼ cup diced water chestnuts

1 tsp. grated fresh ginger

1 Tbsp. Soy Sauce 

Mix ingredients well and refrigerate 4 hours or overnight.

Roll meat mixture into 1-inch balls and refrigerate 2 hours or until firm.

Heat oven to 400deg.

On a parchment-lined sheet pan bake meatballs for 20 min. or internal temp reaches 160deg.

Sweet and Sour Sauce

1 cup green bell pepper

½ cup sliced carrots ¼ in. thick

½ cup dried onion cut into ½ pieces

½ cup canned/fresh 1 in. pineapple chunks.

1 bottle Kikkoman’s Sweet and Sour Sauce.

Microwave bell pepper, carrots and onion along with 3 Tbsp. water for 1 ½ min. Drain.

Veggies should retain their crunch.

Add pineapple, veggies and sauce to saucepan and heat to high simmer. Pour over meatballs.Serve as Appetizers or along with steamed rice. Yummy!

Colly Gruczelak, a Ben Lomond resident, loves people and loves to cook. Contact her at [email protected].

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Colly Gruczelak, a Ben Lomond resident, loves people and loves to cook. Contact her at [email protected].


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