Vegan Chinese New Year Linguine

Vegan Chinese New Year Linguine

Weird fact: I was baptized at The Empress of China Restaurant a fabuluously over the top Chinese restaurant. In it’s day it was quite a spectacle- frequented by the likes of the rat pack and Ms. Jayne Mansfield. It was pure Hollywood glamour. Today it is still a major tourist destination. The restaurant is a gilded fairytale of a place -trimmed in kingfisher feathers, filled with dazzling jade pieces, Han Dynasty antiques, and sitting high atop San Francisco’s China Town.  I was only months old for my first trip there, and I believe this is when my obsession with all things Asian may have started.

The Empress of China Restaurant San Francisco

Seriously, I was the world’s youngest and strangest Asiaphile. I sat for hours in front of the mirror trying to coax my eyes into an almond shape. I even went through a phase where I would only sleep in Mandarin silk pajamas and little cheongsoms. We spent lots of time in China Town when I was a kid, and at the Asian Art Museum. My parents were very encouraging of my passions.

My favorite restaurant in the world, though, was Key Joon’s owned the dandy proprietor of The Empress of China, Mr. Key Joon. Key Joon’s was located in Burlingame, California on the San Francisco Bay.  Also swankly decorated, Key Joon’s featured a fabulous aviary with live peacocks and other exotic birds. It must have been 30 feet tall and spanned the entire length of the restaurant. The waitresses were even more glamorous than the elegantly plumed peacocks and everyone knew my family here- a little girl’s dream.

Today, I’ve given up on almond-shaped eyes, but I am still admiring of Asian art, food, and culture. I am a practicing Buddhist, and I even have a cheongsam (va va va voom). Tomorrow is Lunar New Year, and I’ve been getting into the spirit of things by eating a lot of citrus and wishing a “gung hay fat choy” to the lovely ladies to sell me my kumquats on branches and my giant pomellos at the market. Also, I made this really yummy vegan pasta that I think is pretty perfect for a gwai lo (it means “nice girl” in Cantonese, look it up) like me.

Cherry Blossoms in San Francisco

Do you have Lunar New Year Traditions? Tonight, I am making orange flavored tofu. Tomorrow, I will light incense and have a little reflection and give some coins to Buddha. Pomellos and kumquats fill my house right now. I love this time of year.

  • 1 package linguini
  • 1 cup of reserved pasta water
  • 1 lb shitake mushrooms* roughly chopped
  • 3 stalks green garlic (white parts only)
  • 6 scallions
  • 1 3 inch knob of ginger) microplane grated
  • 2 tbsp sesame oil
  • large handful of cilantro roughly chopped
  • 1 teaspoon black sesame seeds- (white color=death and is bad luck at New Year)
  • 1 package baked tofu (I used Hodo Soy’s tea-infused tofu- TO DIE FOR)
  • ½ teaspoon habañero powder to taste
  • 1 tbsp grapeseed oil
  • salt and pepper to taste


  • Boil water for linguine & cook according to package instructions
  • Sautee green garlic for about 1 minute in grapeseed oil over medium heat
  • Add the mushrooms and a little bit of salt and pepper and sautee for about 5 minutes until mushrooms begin to shrink
  • Add the ginger, scallions, & tofu and cook until just heated stirring often to make sure nothing sticks,
  • As soon as pasta is done, add the sesame oil, sesame seeds, and habenero powder to the tofu and mushroom mix
  • Add pasta when in is done along with 1 cup of reserved pasta water. Raise heat to medium high, toss in cilantro, finish with salt and pepper, and cook until all water is absorbed and pasta is well-coated


*If you have a mushroom vendor at your farmers market, ask if they have “ugly” shitakes. They would never pass muster at a restaurant or in a super market, but I get these from my mushroom guy for a RIDICULOUSLY cheap price, so I eat amazing mushrooms on a budget. This week, I got an entire sandwich bag full of mushrooms for $3!

Vegan Chinese New Year Linguine


  1. Diethood -noun- The state of being on a diet... always! says

    hehehe @ the almond-shaped eyes :). I used to suck my cheeks in and tape them in hopes of waking up with dimples :)

    Lovely meal – it looks fantastic in that bowl!

    • says

      My mom’s best friend gave herself dimples by sticking a pencil eraser in her cheek every day in school. True story, so I guess you just didn’t try the right method ;)

  2. says

    wow, this looks like a really cool fusion dish. you know, i love making baked tofu at home. it's so easy and i find that the seasonings i add really get infused during the baking process vs the store bought baked stuff that just tastes bland to me. i am addicted to the homemade baked tofu. i had some for breakfast today. i have a short tutorial on my site here in case you're interested:
    i'm also hosting a giveaway today you might be interested in. cheers .

    • says

      I will definitely check yours out; I also love making baked tofu at home! I agree with you about most store bought baked tofu, but Hodo Soy is an amazing artisan product. Their plain tofu is even a revelation. It has a total cult following.
      Check them out here.

  3. says

    Great story, GREAT recipe! I love the Lunar New Year too! (As long as it's not an upcoming Tiger year!) You have no idea how happy I was for the year of the Rabbit to begin! I cleaned the house from top to bottom, wore red, and burned white sage throughout the house!

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