TRA­DI­TIONAL FOOD FOR THOUGHT FOR LU­NAR NEW YEAR’S EVE DIN­NER

Cater­ing com­pa­nies are of­fer­ing new stress-free ways of en­joy­ing the most im­por­tant meal of the year, as Wang Keju re­ports.

China Daily - - FRONT PAGE -

Su Qin was on the edge of los­ing her com­po­sure be­cause her mother-in-law was com­ing from Hangzhou, Zhe­jiang prov­ince, to spend Spring Fes­ti­val with Su and her hus­band for the first time.

The 29-year-old Bei­jing res­i­dent had called six restau­rants to book a ta­ble for din­ner on Lu­nar New Year’s Eve, but with no luck.

While that would not have been a prob­lem last year, be­fore Su got mar­ried, it is un­ac­cept­able now.

“I can­not af­ford to mess up the first fam­ily re­union din­ner with my mother-in-law af­ter my wed­ding. I want her to feel at home and have a per­fect fes­ti­val af­ter trav­el­ing so far,” she said.

The Lu­nar New Year’s Eve din­ner, also known as the Fam­ily Re­union Din­ner, is the most im­por­tant an­nual tra­di­tion in China. Ir­re­spec­tive of dis­tance, fam­ily mem­bers travel home to be to­gether for the event, whose sig­nif­i­cance is sim­i­lar to Christ­mas Day in the West.

There is no way that Su — “a kitchen dis­as­ter”, as she calls her­self — could mag­i­cally turn an empty ta­ble into a feast. That is de­spite the fact that she en­joys a side­line as an am­a­teur ma­gi­cian.

Her sev­enth call was to a res-

tau­rant called The Jade Gar­den, a pop­u­lar eatery for Huaiyang cui­sine — one of the four clas­sic styles of Chi­nese cook­ery — but un­sur­pris­ingly it was fully booked months ago.

A sil­ver lin­ing

How­ever, the sil­ver lin­ing for Su is that she can or­der a par­tially pre­pared fes­ti­val din­ner of restau­rant qual­ity, most of which only needs to be cooked in the mi­crowave for a few min­utes.

She said the par­tially pre­pared din­ner is an in­ge­nious in­ven­tion for a poor cook such as her­self. The meat dishes are al­ready fully cooked, while the veg­etable dishes are all sliced and neatly pack­aged with the ap­pro­pri­ate condi­ments. They only need to be fried quickly in a wok.

“This way, we can sat­isfy our ap­petites while en­joy­ing the warmth and co­zi­ness of our own home at the same time, which will add a more tra­di­tional at­mos­phere to the din­ner,” she added.

The New Year’s Eve din­ner is at the heart of a proper Chi­nese New Year cel­e­bra­tion, and like Su, many peo­ple are look­ing for new ways of pre­par­ing the fam­ily re­union din­ner ahead of the spe­cial day.

For ex­am­ple, par­tially pre­pared din­ners, like the one Su has cho­sen, have be­come in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar.

More than 300 stores, in­clud­ing chain restau­rants such as Shang­hai Min and Meizhou Dongpo, are sell­ing semi-fin­ished prod­ucts on Taobao, an e-com­merce plat­form owned by Alibaba, rang­ing in price from less than 100 yuan to more than 3,000 yuan ($15.80 to $477).

Ac­cord­ing to taosj.com, a Taobao-tar­geted data plat­form, be­tween Jan 1 and 15, the vol­ume of trade for par­tially pre­pared meals on Taobao reached 1.46 mil­lion yuan, a rise of 230.55 per­cent on a quar­ter-on-quar­ter ba­sis.

Liu Guil­iang, man­ager of a branch of the Xinghua­cun restau­rant in Shang­hai, said the out­let of­fers four dif­fer­ent par­tially pre­pared fes­ti­val din­ner sets for vary­ing num­bers of din­ers, the cheap­est of which con­sists of six dishes plus rice, and costs 598 yuan.

“More cus­tomers are choos­ing to have the New Year’s Eve din­ner at restau­rants, and some booked more than six months ago. With a lim­ited num­ber of ta­bles, more peo­ple — es­pe­cially those from the post-80s and post-90s gen­er­a­tions — have turned to our par­tially pre­pared fes­ti­val din­ners this year. We have sold 130 sets in the past month,” he said.

Cul­tural con­tent

Qin Yu, pro­fes­sor of hos­pi­tal­ity man­age­ment at Bei­jing In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies Univer­sity, said the New Year’s Eve din­ner is con­sid­ered one of the most im­por­tant fam­ily ban­quets, and eat­ing it any­where out­side of the fam­ily home means los­ing the in­her­ent cul­tural con­tent and val­ues.

“How­ever, frankly speak­ing, restau­rants do pro­vide bet­terqual­ity cui­sine and save peo­ple a lot of trou­ble. So par­tially pre­pared prod­ucts com­bine many ad­van­tages and en­able cus­tomers to en­joy the tra­di­tional fes­ti­val in a tasty way,” he said.

The high de­mand in the cater­ing mar­ket also spurs many restau­rants to sign up for on­line food or­der­ing plat­forms, such as Ele.me and Meituan-Dian­ping, to pro­vide de­liv­ery and take­out ser­vices for par­tially pre­pared din­ners for New Year’s Eve.

Song Yi, man­ager in the South Mem­ory restau­rant in Bei­jing, said the fes­ti­val din­ner de­liv­ery mar­ket is see­ing more op­por­tu­ni­ties as take­out food grad­u­ally be­comes a main­stream way of din­ing in large cities such as Bei­jing and Shang­hai, and as many fam­i­lies re­tain the tra­di­tion of eat­ing at home.

“We have to con­sider the lack of staff mem­bers be­cause many de­liv­ery driv­ers have also headed home, but we prom­ise that our par­tially pre­pared fes­ti­val din­ners will be de­liv­ered one day ahead of New Year’s Eve to en­sure that cus­tomers will en­joy them on time,” he said.

For those who do not want to dine out and have no faith in ei­ther par­tially pre­pared fes­ti­val din­ners or their own cook­ing abil­i­ties, many chefs are of­fer­ing their ser­vices on­line, of­fer­ing to cook in per­son at a cus­tomer’s home on New Year’s Eve. The low­est price on­line is about 2,888 yuan, ris­ing to 5,888 yuan for the most ex­pen­sive.

“With the big­gest prob­lem of the New Year’s Eve din­ner hav­ing been solved, I now have noth­ing to worry about but worry it­self,” Su said.

Con­tact the writer at wangkeju@chi­nadaily.com.cn

With the big­gest prob­lem of the New Year’s Eve din­ner hav­ing been solved, I now have noth­ing to worry about but worry it­self.”

Su Qin, Bei­jing res­i­dent

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