The stinky tofu, served in a savory broth with pickled vegetables and red peppers, was one of the best dishes at the event. Valerie Fu / Daily Nexus

With the Year of the Dragon on the horizon, Lunar New Year festivals are being held all across the country in celebration of the luckiest year in the Chinese zodiac. The Lunar New Year falls on Feb. 10 in 2024, but the extravagant celebrations can begin as early as the middle January. 

One of the most popular festivals in Los Angeles is the Lunar New Year Festival, held in Monterey Park from Jan. 28 to Jan. 29, an event that boasts thousands in attendance over the weekend. I had the opportunity to attend this festival last year and I was even more hyped to experience the foodie paradise of Monterey Park again in 2024. 

On a blazing Sunday morning, I made the trek from Isla Vista down to Monterey Park, a neighborhood in Los Angeles with a large Chinese-American population. As I drove through the residential streets, I could see vertical red banners flanking doorways and paper dragons gracing porches, both traditional decorations to welcome the new year. After a tumultuous adventure (finding street parking), my partner and I walked into the middle of the bustling festival. Delicious smells of the street stalls filled my nose and I was suddenly reminded that I had skipped breakfast for the occasion. 

The first stall that caught my eye was one advertising their black stinky tofu. Stinky tofu, despite its unappetizing name, is a common delicacy originating from Taiwan. The black variant is commonly sold in mainland China in a spicy and flavorful broth. I love stinky tofu so I bought a large bowl, amounting to about $15. The spongy tofu soaked up the savory broth, which also included pickled vegetables and red peppers to cut through the heaviness of the dish. The spice was actually quite mild and the tofu was less pungent than I thought it would be. Nevertheless, it was one of the most filling dishes of the day and helped slake my appetite for the meantime.

The next food stall we went to was one selling lamb and beef skewers. Many stalls were selling skewers but we chose one with an open grill so we could observe the process of cooking. The stall we visited sold six skewers for $10, a deal that seemed too good to be true until I noticed that the meat only went halfway up the skewer. We walked away with six lamb skewers, which were seasoned with salt, cumin and a dash of red pepper powder. The lamb was cooked to perfection with juicy, fatty parts sandwiched between lean meat. My main qualm was the minuscule portion size, though it made sense due to the popularity of lamb over beef. 

We wandered around until we met up with a mutual friend who was really craving a Taiwanese-style, fried chicken cutlet. My mouth watered at the suggestion of a juicy chicken cutlet fried to perfection and seasoned with salt and pepper, a fan-favorite street food option in Taiwan. I remembered seeing a food stall advertising just that, so I led my foodie compatriots through the crowd to claim our bucket of chicken. We ordered the classic salt-and-pepper seasoning option with some spice on the top, which came with a sweet-and-spicy sauce and ranch to pair with the fried chicken. The white meat was coated and fried with tapioca flour, giving the crisp breading a slightly mochi-like texture on the inside. The dish was a crunchy delight that I could see becoming dangerously addictive. 

After the deluge of meats, I was craving a refreshing drink. Another classic street food option is fresh sugarcane juice, which was thankfully being served at a multitude of stalls. The drink that we ordered came out to a whopping $10, a highway robbery. It was tinged brown, a departure from the usual green, leading us to think that honey or other syrups were added to it. It was sweeter than other sugarcane juices that I’ve had in the past. Regardless, it was still an invigorating refreshment that served as a great palate cleanser. 

Tanghulu, a fruit skewer encased in a sugar shell, is traditionally made with hawthorn berry. Valerie Fu / Daily Nexus

The last order of the day was a dessert that has made its fame on TikTok: the tanghulu. Tanghulu, a dessert originating from China, is a fruit skewer encased in a sugar shell. The most traditional fruit is the tart hawthorn berry, but modern variations include strawberries, mandarin oranges, grapes and blueberries. The crunch of the sugar gives way to a fresh juicy fruit that delights the senses. We searched high and low for a hawthorn skewer priced under $10, but we settled eventually for the $6 strawberry and grape skewers. They were beautifully sweet and satisfying, crunchy and juicy: the perfect end to a perfect day. 

The food options at the Monterey Park Lunar New Year Festival were delicious, yet understandably pricey. The classic Taiwanese and Chinese street food options among modern Asian food variants in sunny Los Angeles made for a wonderful foodie adventure that I would be excited to experience year after year. Happy Year of the Dragon, and good luck and prosperity to you all!

A version of this article appeared on p. 12 of the February 8, 2023 version of the Daily Nexus.