Gong Xi! Gong Xi!
Kong Hey! Kong Hey!
Keong Hee! Keong Hee!
This year is the Year of Tiger – 14th February 2010 – first day of the first month in Chinese Lunar Calendar. Chinese New Year is celebrated over fifteen days. On the eve of Chinese New Year, it is important and traditional to us that we get together for a family reunion. In the past, when I grew up, we will have a very special feast at home. Mostly cooked by mum. Other such as suckling baby pig was bought, ordered a month in advance. It is a joyous occasion. But today, we mostly reserved a table at one of the Chinese restaurant with an 8 course banquet. Last year, my partner and I made a special trip home to Penang to celebrate the beginning of Chinese New Year with my family. We were eating big banquets almost 4-5 times in the first week.
This year, we were in Hobart. Neither of us has a family here in Tasmania. And, Chinese New Year is not an event here. There is a small Chinese community, very small and clicky I was told. All my relatives live in Sydney, and some in Melbourne. Including my nephew. I wonder what he did last night. Probably went out with friends to celebrate the occasion. Like me. I organised a reunion dinner with a group of foodie friends. Well, almost a reunion as we met earlier in the day for breakfast with 3 friends. One we just met at dinner. But the real meaning of this dinner was getting together with some good friends, sharing the joyous occasion with a special menu selected by me as an 8-course banquet.
Before I begin sharing my night with you, I like to take you back to some meaningful tradition of a Chinese New Year.
Few days leading up to Chinese New Year, it is important that we cleaned our house to sweep away all bad luck from previous year and making new for the coming year with blessings of good luck. We will spend money on fruits, sweets, biscuits and place them nicely on a big round tray with 8 sections to signify good life and luck. This tradition is an offering of good luck and well wishes to every visitor that step into our house. In return, visitors will bring gifts, mostly mandarins. Bringing fortune and prosperity to the household. We will also spend money on new clothes that we wear for at the least the first 3 days. From head to toe! Everything new. Including underwear and socks! We will clean ourself nicely, including getting a new haircut and clip our nails before New Year. The married couple and elders will visit banks. Exchange for fresh new notes. They will spend some time to pack money in the small red packet, “Ang Pow”. Range from the smallest amount of a few dollars to as high as $100. The size of “Ang Pow” is given to the young ones or unmarried ones depending on their relations to the elders. When I was a child and still unmarried, I always looked forward to Chinese New Year. Why? Money. I will go around wishing every elders and married couples that I know to collect “Ang Pow” in exchange for a little child blessing of a happy and prosperous New Year. It was so fun. And, to me as a kid, it was indeed a lot of money which went into my little savings, “piggy bank”.
There are so much more Chinese customs and traditions to share during Chinese New Year. Such as the meaning for celebrating 15 days and the Chinese zodiac signs of 12 animals – starting with the Rat, then Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Chicken, Dog and Pig. I love the sound of the last one, “The Pig”. In Hokkien, we rhyme the animals with the pig as “Chap Jee Tu Boh Tueh Lang Chau”. Meaning number twelve female pig ran away with someone! Not sure why and where the story came from. I have to remember to ask mum when I visit her soon. If you google search, you will find many articles including Wikipedia on the Chinese zodiac.
Back to my dinner last night at The Bund of Shanghai in Hobart. This is an authentic Chinese restaurant in Sandy Bay. It was opened in 2007, almost 3 years. I remember the first time when I ate at this restaurant, it was still very new. I was impressed with the food and service at the time and been back a few times. Not as much as I could because we live in the country side.
The building, which is a free standing Federation house is perfect for a nice and cosy dining experience. There is no “stuck up” feelings. There is a small open seating area, which used to be the front veranda of the house. The inside of the house has a long hallway. To the left is the formal dining room which was previously a 2-separate rooms. The wall was taken down, but the rooms are still quite intimate and private. Separated by a wall structure of the fireplace in the middle. There is a nice big bay window overlooking the small garden at the front. Colour scheme is soft and soothing with a couple of huge rectangle mirrors that makes the rooms look brighter and bigger. Tables are set with nicely pressed white table cloth, with wine glasses and white plates set on the table. The high chairs are comfortable with soft thick cushions. On the other side of the hallway is another dining room, slightly less formal and a bar section with an informal leather chaise lounge, a leather tub chair and a coffee table.
Before the dinner, I was busy preparing a little gift for my guests.
A plum to wish them a long and happy life.
Then slowly added a couple of sweets, Coconut Candies and another candy with white sesame seed for sweetness in life. Then a couple of “Kuih Kapek” which is traditional in Malaysia, wishing them lots of love in life. Known as “love letter” biscuits made from a mixture of flour, eggs, sugar and coconut milk. It is crisp (but by the time my friends take home to eat the next morning, they will probably be off. Sorry.) if kept air tight and tasted like fortune cookies. It is one of the most favourite Chinese New Year biscuits – a tradition of Straits Chinese, or The Peranakan.
The restaurant has a special set menu for Chinese New Year. But, Jane the owner was kind enough to let me create my own special dinner menu for my guests. I carefully chose each dishes and explained to Jane how I would like the dinner to be served for my guests – for an enjoyable total experience of a Chinese dinner banquet. The food, of course, was carefully and well executed by the Chef, Ken.
I developed and printed the menu below for my guests. Rolled each one and tied with a red string.
There was nine of us. Nine is a good number for Chinese. It means longevity. And, Jane has set up the best table for us. A round table which is auspicious for Chinese. Every single details go into the preparation for an auspicious evening with my friends. On each dining table, Jane placed an “Ang Pow” for the customer. Inside is a Chinese symbolic gold coin which really was a sweet chocolate. Wishing the customer a sweet prosperity in life.
Our first course was Peking Duck. Two ducks. Two pancakes each spread with hoisin sauce.
First, Ken wheeled out a two-tier trolley. The bottom shelf had the plates, garnishes and sauce. The duck was sitting on top on a big tray with 2 big serving plates. Ken, the Head Chef, will craftily sliced a thin layer of meat with the skin from the top of the duck and placed on the serving plate. This was the best part of the duck, which was tender, moist and succulent with a beautiful flavour and perfectly roasted skin.
Next, Jane executed her skills professionally by serving the duck slice with a piece of cucumber, some julienne spring onions and a spread of hoisin sauce on a freshly made pancake. Then gently folded the pancake into a half moon shape.
A great start to the 8-course banquet. The pancake was very fresh and soft. It was so flavoursome with the duck slice and skin. Salty and sweet at the same time. A nice crunchiness from the refreshing slice of cucumber and tangy, chewy flavour of a few slices of spring onions. All my guests agree it was a very good dish. This dish is symbolic of fedility. Faithfulness and loyalty to family and friends.
The next four courses were served at the centre of Lazy Susan with steamed jasmine rice.
Szechuan King Prawns. In Chinese, it means lots of laughter, “Ha, Ha, Ha” And, it sure delivered. One of the guests cracked up laughing so loud over a joke by my partner about “desperate house-flies”! Guests at the other tables turned around. It was so loud and funny. The prawns were big, nice and crunchy stir fried with lots of julienne carrots, cucumber, onions, red capsicum and sprinkled with toasty white sesame seeds. The steamed jasmine rice accompanied well with the slightly spicy and sweet Szechuan sauce.
Pan Fried Whole Baby Beans. Another very good dish. Beautifully stir fried with plenty of flavours and “wok hay”. Nice flavour of Chinese beans. I think it was snake bean which was cut into smaller sections. Stir fried with minced pork (or was it minced chicken? Looks like chicken in the photo), dried shrimps, dried chilies and chef Ken cleverly mixed of different sauces. It was sweet, salty and spicy at the same time.
The last course was Golden Pork. There was a mixed feeling about this dish. The flavour was good, sweet and sour. But, there was some bad cuts in the meat. I had one that was so tough and chewy. It was almost impossible to eat. But then some of the other guests had no trouble and found the meat tender and sweet. I gave a second chance. Picked another piece and they were right. It was tender like they said. I asked the others that had similar bad piece as mine to try another piece. They were equally satisfied. The bad cut meat should not have been used in the cooking. I gave an honest feedback to Jane.
We had a good 20 minutes break before the seventh course – a noodle dish stir fried with peking duck meats, from the earlier two ducks in the first course. Noodle is symbolic and eaten during Chinese New Year for a good, long life. I have requested Jane to specially prepare a little takeaway of the noodle for each of my guest. Symbolic of having food for a lifetime.
All the duck pieces like legs were cut into chunky pieces for guests to nibble with their hands. The duck was tender and juicy. Nice dipped with some plum sauce. The noodles was good with a nice duck flavour from lots of shredded duck meats.
The final course is a sweet – glutinous rice balls in ginger soup. Traditional at Chinese New Year, meaning abundance of life and friendship forever. The ginger soup, everyone agreed, was nice and refreshing. The rice balls stuffed with sweetened black sesame seeds gave a nice soft crunched on the outside. When bite in half, the sweet flavour of black sesame seeds burst in the mouth with a sensational and unforgettable taste. Everyone agreed that this was a great dessert and a great way to finish up a fantastic banquet.
My guests and I had the best and most amazing time at The Bund. Everyone agrees the food was fabulous. I invited Jane back to our table before we left and gave her a big round of applause. She has done well for the night. It was a full house in all the rooms and outside. I wish her, Ken and their business continues to prosper in the New Year. Thank you again for a wonderful night and a wonderful experience at The Bund.
Here is me and Jane Chen, owner of The Bund wishing everyone a happy and prosperous Chinese New Year.
Gong Xi Fa Chai
Kong Hey Fatt Choy
Keong Hee Huat Chai