Thursday, February 14, 2013

A Chinese New Year's Banquet in Richmond BC

Many holidays are about friends, family and eating, but make that eating Chinese food and you're pretty much guaranteed a deliciously good time. The ultimate holiday when it comes to these three activities is Chinese New Year, which is like Christmas, Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July all rolled into one. It's THE big holiday in China and pretty much anywhere there are lots of Chinese people. This year I had the great pleasure of celebrating a bit of the holiday with Stacey Chyau from Taiwan and David Lang from Hong Kong both of whom greatly increased my understanding of the holiday. 

So here's a little bit of what I learned:

The preparation for Chinese New Year is very important, people clean their houses, sweeping away any ill fortune then decorating with plum blossoms and putting red paper decorations on windows and doors depicting themes like wealth, happiness and longevity. Red is a very lucky color! Even wearing it is lucky.

Lots of shopping is important too, because once the holiday starts it's time to eat and drink and not to be cooking (or cleaning). It's a time of year when Chinese people visit with friends and family and take a vacation. So about that food…

A Chinese banquet on New Years's eve or night might include some important symbolic foods such as a whole chicken, a whole fish and barbecued pork. Some people enjoy a banquet at home one night and at a restaurant another night. Because the holiday is celebrated for two weeks, you still have time to squeeze in some celebrating and celebratory eating! 

I enjoyed my Chinese New Year's banquet at Fisherman's Terrace restaurant in the Aberdeen Centre with my hosts from Tourism Richmond. Our dinner began with a big platter of barbecued pork, roast pork, roast duck and other delicacies. Eating barbecued pork is a sign of wealth, since long ago only the wealthy could afford it. 

Next was braised dry oysters with fat choy. Oysters are supposed to open the door to good fortune, in particular a strong stock market! Also the greens are symbolic of long life. 

This was an unusual dish, with melon in mayonnaise and shrimp balls, similar to what I've had as dim sum, only coated in almonds. Shrimp indicate happiness and good fortune. 

We had a whole crispy chicken which is important because a whole chicken symbolizes completion "head to tail" and seeing things through. 

Our meal featured a lot of seafood, which was great because Chinese restaurants tend to do a fantastic job with seafood. Lobster was served with a consomm√© sauce. 

Scallops were served with mushrooms and other vegetables. Both lobster and scallops suggest regeneration and mushrooms, longevity. 

Crab also represents regeneration, and it was served mixed with long noodles, representing long life. You might not see the crab, but the flavor was very strong. 

The most familiar dish for me was the whole rock cod doused in soy, ginger, scallions and garlic. A whole fish is important because the word for fish sounds like the word for "surplus."

Rice is served at the end of the meal at a banquet, and this dish was fried rice in a lotus leaf wrapper. Rice represents fertility, luck and wealth. 

For dessert we had a baked tapioca pudding with a layer of lotus seed paste. It was unusual to me, but very typical at banquets, or so I'm told.

Greens made a second appearance at the lion dance I saw the next day at the Yaohan Center, another mall. Martial arts troupes wear the lion costume and grab a head of lettuce hung high at the entrance to stores. Cai ching or plucking the greens is another way to ensure luck and good fortune. The greens are often paired with a red envelope, filled with money. Red envelopes are given to children or anyone who is unmarried. But anyone and everyone can pose with the God of Fortune, holding a gold bar, even a Canadian mountie!

My only regret is that I do not have a video of the Chinese dragons dancing to Gangnam style...

Gung Hay Fat Choy! 

Disclaimer: My thanks to Tourism Richmond for hosting me on this trip.