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Feature Story

Food, Glorious Food! Feasting CNY!

How do people celebrate Chinese New Year, the most important holiday in China and among overseas Chinese communities in Asia? Well, adults and children dress up in bright, red, new clothes; families and friends greet each other, passing out lai see packets; homes are adorned with auspicious decorations, plants and flowers, and posters wishing for luck and prosperity for the year ahead; there’ll be mahjong games and many traditions and customs; and perhaps a lantern festival, a parade, or even a firework show to go to or a CNY gala show to watch on New Year’s Eve. However, for a great part of this lengthy holiday period, Chinese New Year celebrations centre around eating – a cavalcade of meals and snacks and sharing of delicacies and staples. Customs of meals and dining traditions developed in great variety across China over the centuries, and are continued enthusiastically today and in overseas Chinese communities, particularly across Southeast Asia. Here in Hong Kong, the rich food culture ensures that the city offers practically every Chineseregional cuisine. So, why not join us on a satisfying gastronomic adventure and check out some of the more popular CNY dishes and eat to your heart’s content.

Happy CNY feasting!

Important meals: Only a few meals during the CNY period are considered important, so, thankfully, there is no need to gorge yourselves for every meal; leftovers will do for most of them.
 
 
Chinese New Year Eve dinner: Easily the most important meal of CNY where families old and young gather together to welcome in the new year. A sumptuous meal of meats, fish, other seafood items, plus auspiciously names dishes are served and consumed in gusto. Keep an empty stomach for this meal – you are going to need it.
 
 
New Year’s Day: Surprisingly, only a few dishes are prepared for the New Year, mostly noodles, rice cake or turnip cake, as families are occupied with greetings and well wishing (bai nian) from friends and other family members.
 
 
Start of the New Year Meal: Usually a dinner on either the second or third evening of the lunar calendar; the meal is shared to officially celebrate the onset of the new year. Not quite the feast as New Year's Eve, but the dinner still serves plenty of yummy dishes.
 
 
Coming of Spring Dinner (Li Chun): This dinner takes place on the seventh day of the CNY, and is a custom practiced by some regions but not all. The dinner recognises the onset of Spring. Keep in mind, in China, the CNY is commonly referred to as the Spring Festival.
 
 
Lantern Festival Dinner: the last meal of Chinese New Year in which the family gets together takes place on the 15th day of the new year and is known in some regions as the Lantern Festival. Besides the usual meat laden dinner, sweet glutinous rice balls ( tong yuen) are served.
 
Most popular food for the Chinese New Year
 
 
Snacks: Snacks of all different kinds presented in colourful trays are a must. Guests are offered snack plus Chinese tea during CNY visits. The common snacks are roasted seeds (pumpkin, watermelon, sunflower), dried red dates, and nuts (walnut, peanut ). In southern China such as Hong Kong, a variety of cakes, candies, and sweets such as sweetened lotus roots and seeds, sugared winter melon slices, and deep-fried twists are also served. Get all the snacks you want here.
 
 
Dumpling: arguably the most important and most popular food served during CNY, particularly in northern and northeast China such as Hebei, Shandong, Beijing, Liaoning. Dumplings are served at the New Year's Eve Dinner when the family would gather to make dumplings from scratch, including the dough, as a symbol of family unity and togetherness. Dumplings are also served at other important New Year's meals. Eating dumplings is less prevalent in southern China. Still, there are many excellent northern dumpling restaurants that will sell uncooked wrapped dumplings. Check out Ho Hak Shandong in Sheung Wan which makes big, juicy dumplings or Wang Fu in Central, among other places.
 
 
 
Spring Roll: Another popular dish that takes on symbolic importance during CNY, as a way of welcoming spring. Different regions prepare the spring roll differently, with the southern region tending to deep-fry theirs while the northerner tend to prepare wrapped spring rolls or spring cakes.
 
 
 
Whole Steamed Chicken: Another ubiquitous dish that is served on every family's table during CNY. In Central China, which includes Hubei, Hunan, and Henan, the fist dish during the CNY Eve dinner is the chicken soup, followed by steamed chicken. Hong Kong has taken the art of steaming chicken to new heights; the Hakka cuisine offers several mouth-watering dishes such as Salt Baked Chicken or Poached or Deep-fried whole chicken, served at most Cantonese restaurants.
 
 
 
Fish: Phonetically, the sound Yu, for fish, also denoted surplus, and is considered an auspiciously lucky word. As such, fish is also universally served throughout most regions in China and Southeast Asia. A steamed garoupa with garnished ginger and parsley in soya sauce is one of the signature CNY dishes in southern China. In eastern China such as Shanghai, smoked fish is common, as is Shanghai-style braised fish with wine and soya sauce.
 
 
 
Poon Choi: Poon Choi is common in Hong Kong. The dish simply means stacking layers of food, mostly different meats, in a large pot or basin, or a poon.. The dish originated in the clan villages in the New Territories where a whole village would celebrate CNY together for a poon choi dinner gathering, sometimes at outdoors. Most Cantonese restaurants offer poon choi during CNY, its price depending on the ingredients used. Most poon choi would include pork, chicken, large prawn, plus fancier ingredients such as sea cucumber, fish maw, and abalone. The world record for the largest gathering of a poon choi meal was set in 2003, when almost 10,000 people attended a poon choi feast at the old Kai Tak airport. The record was broken a few times since then. Loong Yuen at the Holiday Inn Golden Mile is offering an excellent deal for Poon Choi take out at $1688 for 6 people. Booking hotline: 2315 1006. Website: www.higoldenmile.com
 
Alternatively, authentic Poon Choi To Go for 4 to 6 persons at Hyatt Regency Hong Kong, ShaTin is also a good choice! Both self-pickup and delivery are available at different prices from $1588 up. Online Orders: https://bit.ly/3nD9AYr

 
 
 
Noodles. Another popular dish served during CNY. Many regions prepare noodles as a symbol of longevity (Chang Chun Noodles) to be served on New Year's Day. On a cold winter day, nothing warms the body more than a hot bowl of Taiwanese beef noodles , which is certainly a staple in Taiwan during the new year.
 
 
 
Lo Hei: Or alternatively called Yu Sheng (raw fish). Lo Hei -the prosperity toss to welcome the new year, is a custom that originated in Malaysia which  has gained popularity elsewhere in Asia, including Hong Kong.  A plethora of ingredients such as raw dish slices, golden crisps, carrot, turnip, pomelo, and lime are mixed in a large bowl and every one is invited to mix the ingredients by tossing them in a large bowl - the higher the toss,  the more prosperous. For a genuine fun experience, check out Café Malacca, arguably the city’s best Malaysian restaurant, for a Lo Hei experience during the CNY period.

 

Rice Cake: Glutinous rice cake Or Nian Gao is another longstanding traditional dish served in many parts of China and throughout Asia. Generally, the rice cake is sweet (red or brown colour) and to eat it, slices are deep-fried, sometimes in egg batter, to be served to visiting guests. In eastern China such as Shanghai and Korea, it is popular to eat a plain white sticky rice cake that is used to for preparing savoury dishes, often stir-fried with pork.

Turnip Cake: One particularly snack item that has become a popular gift for CNY is turnip cake, which is a common dim sum item. In the last 20 so years, the practice of giving out a large turnip cake topped or infused with dried shrimp or sausages wrapped in fancy packages as a CNY present has becoming popular – chalk it up to Hong Kong’s commercial acumen to transform a common item into a high margin product.  The cake is pan-fried and served throughout the CNY period. Many Chinese restaurant groups sell gift wrapped turnip cakes including Lei Garden and Maxim, Kee Wah and Wing Wah, among others.

 

 

Tong Yuen or Sweet Glutinous Rice Balls: Arguably the most popular CNY dessert, this delicious treat which is small glutinous rice dumpling filled with sesame, red bean or peanut paste, is eaten all year around. But the food takes on significance during CNY, as a symbol of the moon full,  when it is  consumed on the 15th day of the Chinese New Year. Most dessert shops in Hong Kong served excellent tong yuen of all kinds. Check out Honeymoon Desserts, Yuen Kee in Sai Ying Pun, or Fook Yuen in North Point.

 

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