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Locals Have Traditional Stomachs for 'Nianyefan'
More and more local families will be heading out to restaurants to enjoy "nianyefan" - the traditional New Year's Eve dinner, but Shanghai's Western restaurants aren't expecting much business that evening.

Just five or six years ago, the idea of eating the traditional meal at a restaurant instead of at home was almost unheard of in Shanghai. But as the economy has grown, more families are giving Mom the night off and letting restaurant staff take care of the cooking and wash the dishes.

Popular Chinese restaurants like Xing Hua Lou, Mei Long Zhen and Shanghai Ren Jia were completely booked months ago for New Year's Eve - which falls on February 11 this year - despite prices ranging from 1,000 yuan (US$120) to 2,000 yuan per table.

Mei Long Zhen Restaurant, on Nanjing Road W., reports that all 79 of its tables were reserved as early as last October.

"Dining out has become trendy in recent years, because local residents enjoy the convenience of eating 'nianyefan' at a restaurant rather than cooking by themselves," said Tang Wenming, of Mei Long Zhen.

Many Western restaurants, particularly those in four- and five-star hotels, don't expect to benefit from the nutritious night.

Some hotel restaurants say they will close for the evening to reduce costs on a day when business is expected to be very light. Managers at the Pudong Shangri-La, for example, say they are focusing on promoting company year-end dinners, a period for bosses to thank their employees before the Lunar New Year begins.

The Blue Sky restaurant on the 41st floor of the Jin Jiang Tower says almost no one has booked a table for its 260- yuan-per-person dinner, even though it has added Chinese food to the menu.

Even the eateries at Xintiandi, the city's trendiest hangout, say they aren't expecting a full house for New Year's Eve.

While Western food and restaurants have rapidly grown in popularity over the last few years, they still aren't an ac-ceptable choice for most locals to enjoy the most important meal of the year.

Traditionally, Chinese will travel from all over the country to be with their families for the meal, which always includes a fish dish - considered a symbol of prosperity - and plenty of toasting with rice wine.

The large gathering of family is the main reason most locals will avoid Western restaurants for the meal.

"The problem is the eating style," said He Yizhao, president of the Shanghai Catering Trade Association. "'Nianyefan' requires a great amount of toasting and cheering among family members and relatives."

That sort of toasting is easier done at the large, round table found in Chinese restaurants, he said.

While most of the city's big-name Chinese restaurants are already booked for New Year's Eve, those looking to enjoy a traditional meal should still be able to book tables at many of Shanghai's smaller eateries.

(eastday.com January 30, 2002)

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