Welcome to the year of the rat! A few days ago, more than 1.5 billion people around the world began celebrating the Lunar New Year with family and traditional foods and gifts. Just because we live in East Tennessee doesn’t mean we can’t take part in the festivities! Panda Express is bringing the celebration to its restaurants, including the six locations in our area.
So, what exactly is the Lunar New Year? The holiday celebrated in many Asian cultures marks the beginning of a new year on the second new moon after the winter solstice. Each Lunar New Year is assigned an animal from the Chinese zodiac. This year’s animal is the rat. It symbolizes wealth and the beginning of a new day. Families gather for special meals and adults often give children special red envelopes with money inside.
Panda Express invited Knoxville Moms to experience its Lunar New Year celebration firsthand. My husband, five-year-old daughter and three-year-old son came with me to our neighborhood Panda Express which was all decked out for the holiday. As always, Panda Express provides sample dishes to help you select your menu items. A great idea and great service, especially with our sometimes-picky eaters! Like many of you, I’m always looking for healthy options for my children and myself. I loved seeing that Panda Express uses fresh vegetables every single day. The “Panda,” as my children like to call it, also has a “Wok Smart” menu. Those items have eight grams of protein or more, 300 calories or less and, of course, use lots of those fresh veggies that are hand-cut daily.
Once we finished ordering, the Panda Express worker gifted us our own red envelope. This year Panda Express locations will be passing out over one million of those little red envelopes. My kids were so excited to rip them open and see what gift awaited them! We all received a tangram puzzle and had fun creating different animals with the shapes. Each envelope has a QR code that unlocked even more fun: Lunar New Year filters for Facebook and Instagram. They reminded me of Snapchat filters! My kids loved being turned into traditional lion dancers. That wasn’t all. We also received coupons for a free Firecracker Shrimp entrée and a fountain drink.
Firecracker Shrimp is a special dish Panda Express is featuring during the Lunar New Year celebration. I ordered the dish and it’s soooo good! Firecracker Shrimp has red and yellow bell peppers, onions, string beans, whole dried chilis (the perfect amount of spice in my book) and shrimp. It’s all tossed in a savory black bean sauce. Between us, I’ll be confiscating my children’s Firecracker Shrimp coupons for myself! Shhhhh!