FOOD

The Georgia Straight - - Contents - > BY TAMMY KWAN

From Shang­hainese pork hock to Szechuan-style char­cu­terie, a mul­ti­tude of Chi­nese dishes ring in the Year of the Rooster.

As we bid farewell to the Year of the Mon­key, we can also get ready to wel­come the Year of the Rooster. There’s no bet­ter way to kick off Lu­nar New Year than in­dulging in a great feast. Chi­nese restau­rants are of­ten cat­e­go­rized as one en­tity, but there are 34 pro­vin­cial-level dis­tricts in China. With each re­gion pos­sess­ing unique flavours and foods, that brings plenty of va­ri­ety to Chi­nese cui­sine.

We spoke with chefs from var­i­ous re­gion-spe­cific Chi­nese restau­rants (not just your av­er­age dim sum joint), and each had his opin­ions on what makes Chi­nese dishes so dis­tinc­tive for Lu­nar New Year.

SZECHUAN CUI­SINE “Not all Szechuan food is spicy,” Guo Min, ex­ec­u­tive chef of Golden Sichuan Restau­rant (3631 No. 3 Road, Rich­mond), said with a laugh.

That is one of the long-stand­ing be­liefs about Szechuan cui­sine—that it’s so spicy that most peo­ple who grew up eat­ing western food won’t be able to take the heat.

“Our restau­rant’s flavours can ac­com­mo­date chil­dren, se­niors, and adults,” ex­plained Guo to the Straight in an in­ter­view at the restau­rant. “Ba­si­cally, ev­ery­one can eat our Szechuanstyle dishes be­cause they are not overtly spicy.”

She is orig­i­nally from China’s Szechuan province and has been cre­at­ing tasty Szechuan-style menu items in the Lower Main­land for many years.

To cel­e­brate Lu­nar New Year, she points out a few tra­di­tional Szechuan items on the menu, one of which is named Seafood As­sorted Fam­ily Por­trait, which sym­bol­izes an aus­pi­cious start to the New Year. Its in­gre­di­ents in­clude sea cu­cum­ber, mush­rooms, pork meat­balls, and as­para­gus let­tuce.

An­other item that Guo rec­om­mends is spicy red-chili steamed bar­ra­mundi, which is es­sen­tially an Asian sea bass. “Fish” in Chi­nese, yu, al­ludes to the favourable phrase “For­tune is upon you”—a rea­son why so many Chi­nese peo­ple like to or­der this type of seafood for Lu­nar New Year din­ners.

There is one spe­cial dish that is only avail­able dur­ing the New Year sea­son—the deluxe Szechuan-style char­cu­terie plat­ter (Chi­nese sausage, pork, and pork tongue). It’s con­sid­ered a del­i­cacy among Chi­nese peo­ple, and the plat­ter sym­bol­izes pros­per­ity and good for­tune for the in­com­ing year.

SHANG­HAI CUI­SINE “Es­sen­tially, there are no spe­cial or ex­tra­or­di­nary dishes that we cre­ate just for Chi­nese New Year,” ex­plained Zhu Xiao Yang, ex­ec­u­tive chef of Yuan’s Shang­hai Serendip­ity Cui­sine (180–4260 No. 3 Road, Rich­mond), in an in­ter­view at the restau­rant. “We like to serve foods that peo­ple may not nec­es­sar­ily eat on reg­u­lar nights but will def­i­nitely or­der them for Chi­nese New Year be­cause it may have pros­per­ous mean­ings or lucky con­no­ta­tions to them.”

Zhu hails from Shang­hai, and al­though he doesn’t have any favourite Lu­nar New Year dishes, he un­der­stands why it’s so im­por­tant to have a large fam­ily gath­er­ing with culi­nary cre­ations for the oc­ca­sion.

“In the past, the ma­jor­ity of peo­ple could not eat these de­li­cious items such as meat and seafood be­cause they couldn’t af­ford it,” said Zhu. “So it would be ex­tra-spe­cial when they con­sume these things for Chi­nese New Year.…it’s about be­ing able to gather with your fam­ily and en­joy a tasty meal.”

One Shang­hai-style dish that he sug­gests for Lu­nar New Year is a seafood pork-and-veg­etable clay pot, which is made with shrimp, ver­mi­celli, and var­i­ous veg­gies. It is known as a “fam­ily por­trait” and sym­bol­izes pros­per­ity and aus­pi­cious­ness.

Slow-braised pork hock is an­other Shang­hai dish con­sumed dur­ing the New Year be­cause its name, yuan ti, sounds sim­i­lar to the Chi­nese for “fam­ily gath­er­ing”—which is im­por­tant be­cause a united fam­ily brings hap­pi­ness and good for­tune.

NORTH­ERN CHI­NESE CUI­SINE

Chang’an Restau­rant (1661 Granville Street) is a fine-din­ing restau­rant pop­u­lar among Main­land Chi­nese guests in Van­cou­ver. It serves dishes in the tra­di­tional style of Xi’an (the cap­i­tal of Shaanxi province in north­ern China) that are in­tri­cately crafted by a skilled ex­ec­u­tive chef, Wang Zong Gui.

Like other high-end Chi­nese restau­rants, Chang’an will be of­fer­ing spe­cial set menus for Lu­nar New Year for those who want to have a large meal out with their fam­i­lies.

“Chi­nese peo­ple like to or­der dishes dur­ing the Chi­nese New Year sea­son that come with a pos­i­tive and favourable mean­ing,” said Wang to the Straight in an in­ter­view at the wa­ter­side eatery.

He ex­plained that dumplings are a must-eat food dur­ing Lu­nar New Year for peo­ple from north­ern China be­cause of their lucky con­no­ta­tions. An­other pop­u­lar item is freshly baked red-bean cake, be­cause its Chi­nese name, nian gao, sounds sim­i­lar to the pos­i­tive phrase “reach­ing higher ev­ery year”.

Be­sides dishes with aus­pi­cious mean­ings, Wang ex­plained that Chang’an’s sig­na­ture dish, roasted duck, will also be in high de­mand. It will be hand-carved next to your ta­ble and is to be eaten two ways: the crispy skin dipped in raw sugar and, with sliced pieces of meat, wrapped in hand­made flour wrap­pers with as­sorted condi­ments; and with noo­dles in duck soup.

CAN­TONESE CUI­SINE For many Can­tonese-speak­ing peo­ple, con­sum­ing a dish with favourable and lucky con­no­ta­tions is the most im­por­tant part of Lu­nar New Year.

Be­sides of­fer­ing spe­cial set menus for par­ties of four or more, Dy­nasty Seafood Restau­rant (108–777 West Broad­way) has or­ga­nized a list of 11 culi­nary cre­ations that come with promis­ing mean­ings.

“We will be of­fer­ing a va­ri­ety of spe­cial dishes with aus­pi­cious names and mean­ings for Lu­nar New Year,” Dy­nasty’s ex­ec­u­tive chef Sam Le­ung ex­plained to the Straight at the restau­rant.

One such dish on its sea­sonal menu is made with dried oys­ters, dried black moss, and vegetables. Its name in Can­tonese, fat choi ho see dai lei, trans­lates as “Have a pros­per­ous year in the mar­ket”— mu­sic to the ears for those who work in the fi­nan­cial realm or run their own busi­ness.

“We have an­other unique dish that is made from shrimp paste and wrapped in ver­mi­celli be­fore be­ing fried, which cre­ates a beau­ti­ful golden sphere-shaped item,” Le­ung said.

The Can­tonese name of this golden dish, wong gum gwun gwun loi, trans­lates as “Wealth will con­stantly be in your path”, and this culi­nary cre­ation looks like lit­tle golden nuggets.

Le­ung ex­plained that while con­sum­ing dishes with con­no­ta­tions of pros­per­ity is im­por­tant for Chi­nese peo­ple dur­ing the New Year, the most im­por­tant as­pect is be­ing able to spend time with your en­tire fam­ily.

Dy­nasty’s mush­room and oys­ter dish has spe­cial mean­ing. Tammy Kwan photo.

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