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On Chinese New Year, welcome good fortune with food

Chinese chefs capture the spirit of the festival with dishes that symbolise wealth, prosperity and good health

The Chinese New Year menu at Hakkasan.
The Chinese New Year menu at Hakkasan.

The Lunar New Year feast in Chinese homes has foods symbolising wealth, fortune and prosperity. “Traditionally, we have a steamed fish on the family food table. It signifies luck and prosperity,” says Keenan Tham, founder and Managing Director at Pebble Sreet Hospitality Private Limited that owns Koko, Foo and The Good Wife in Mumbai. In the Tham household, it is a time for families to get together and enjoy a large spread of lap cheong (Chinese sausage rice), tiger prawns, duck meat and his father's umami-rich double broiled chicken soup.

Dumplings are not regular fare in home kitchens, as per Tham. "They require great skill. In China, you will find them at street stalls or restaurants because they specialise in dumpling making. They are like the kebabs of India,” he says. At his restaurant, KOKO in Mumbai, they have a Lunar New Year Special Menu with a colourful Shanghai soup dumpling and the customary steamed fish which is believed to welcome abundance. There’s a syrup-soaked rum cake with fruit compote and served with vanilla ice cream. Tham recalls bright red Chinese hawthorn fruit sweets from his childhood known as shānzhā bǐng or haw flakes. They are like candies for children and he would look forward to having them on Chinese New Year.

At the Taj Mahal Palace in Mumbai, dimsum masterchef Maoshang Liang is busy with his Chinese New Year special menu. Liang has been in India for six years with the hotel as his work and residential address. He will be celebrating New Year with his team and guests. On the menu, there is a wide selection of dumplings including a succulent king prawn version. “My family in Singapore makes a special New Year dumpling which we distribute among neighbours and friends. I will be recreating it at the hotel here,” says Liang. There are festive noodles too. Known as longevity noodles, these are long endless noodles that stand for continuity. Liang says citrus fruits like mandarins which are abundantly available during this time of the year are believed to symbolise wealth.

London-based Andrew Yeo is the corporate executive chef of the Hakkasan Group that owns the brands Yauatcha and Hakkasan around the world. He was born and raised in Singapore. New Year celebrations bring to his mind baked pastries from Singapore. This year, he introduced a traditional pineapple tart at Yauatcha’s Chinese New Year menu to celebrate the year of the ox. “Pineapple tart is known as Hokkien and its pronunciation is similar to the phrase ‘prosperity has arrived’. The pineapple has become a Feng Shui symbol of wealth, fortune and prosperity,” he explains. The tart will be available at Yauatcha in Mumbai, Kolkata and Bengaluru. On the bar menu, you can sample cocktails dedicated to the year of the ox. These include Genghis old fashioned, Insane martini, Asian dark and stormy and Cantonese sour.

At Hakkasan, Yeo wanted to capture the spirit of New Year celebrations with dishes like Yu Sheng. “It is a popular salad traditionally served during Chinese New Year. The name originates from the Cantonese phrase Lo Hei meaning 'tossing up good fortune'. Guests are encouraged to toss their salad to bring in good fortune for the new year,” he says. There is a glutinous rice cake, named Nian Gao, with signifies “raising oneself taller or higher every year”.

If you are visiting these restaurants and want to wish the staff a Happy New Year, Tham recommends saying it like the Chinese: “Say Gong Hey Fat Choy which loosely translates as congratulations and prosperity.”

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