“Gong Xi Fa Cai, Nian Nian Gao Sheng!!!”
Well wishes for good health, prosperity and longevity
are heard the world over as the Chinese usher in the Year of the Goat
Is there any other new year celebration in the world where festivities go on for fifteen whole days?
Chinese New Year is celebrated the world over in countries with a significant Chinese population and Sydney is no exception with lion dances gracing the streets in Chinatown and many other parts of the city.
2015 marks the Year of the Goat and those born under this Chinese zodiac are thought to be peace-loving, kind and trustworthy. Famous people born in the year of the goat include Michelangelo, Mark Twain, Rudolph Valentino, Bruce Willis, Nicole Kidman, Keith Urban and Julia Roberts. To find out your Chinese zodiac sign, you can click here.
Each of the fifteen days throughout the new year carry special significance that dates back centuries in Chinese culture. Even some of the preceding days leading up to the first day of the new year are said to hold important meaning such as the eighth day prior to the new year where a traditional porridge is served in remembrance of the ancient festival of La.
Perhaps the most important time for Chinese families throughout the world is the Reunion Dinner that is held on CNY’s eve. Its equivalent could perhaps be compared to Christmas dinner in countries with a predominantly Christian faith or Thanksgiving dinner in the USA.
But in our busy lives today, many families take the opportunity to gather with family and friends at anytime during the CNY period for a feast of good food and company. Mysaucepan and I are fortunate to have wonderful friends who have so generously opened up their homes to family and friends this year.
While the hosts would usher in the new year with special new year dishes, it is also customary in many Chinese households in Sydney where invited guests bring along a dish to be shared with others.
Here is a sample of CNY festivities with some of our friends.
Anna & Arjuna’s Chinese New Year feast
Anna and Arjuna have been long-time friends from Malaysia who have since relocated to Sydney from Hong Kong with their little daughter Priya.
There is no shortage of one of the most delightful CNY dishes throughout the festive season and Anna has painstakingly put together the famous yee sang which features sashimi salmon, shredded carrot, radish, cucumber, pomelo, taro and crisp crackers.
There are quite a few kids this evening who are happily playing in the garden while the adults are prepping up this dish with final touches of crushed peanuts, roasted sesame seeds and sweet plum sauce.
Within minutes, the salad tossing is fast and furious with happy cheers for good health and prosperity.
Is this not one of the most beautiful salads in the world, just like our hostess this evening?
I have never quite taken to yee sang as a kid but this is truly my favourite salad during the CNY festive season.
One of Anna’s guest have brought a traditional CNY prosperity vegetables loaded with Chinese shitake mushrooms, wombok, tofu puffs, wood ear mushrooms, tofu skin, dried oysters and fat choy.
Another has brought a large platter of Chinese roast pork with extra crackling on the side.
Now is there anything better than crispy pork crackling with a cold beer in hand?
Soft and pillowy Chinese steamed baos are on hand to make the traditional Chinese roast pork buns.
Steamed fish is a very important dish during CNY because its phonetics in Cantonese is similar to the meaning of excess which signify having abundance of life’s good things during the year.
And on an occasion as important as CNY, the Chinese will not eat fish any other way but steamed whole with fresh vegetables.
For many Chinese families, poached or roasted chicken is served whole with its head and feet to symbolise prosperity, togetherness of the family and completeness.
I have brought poached chicken Marylands typical of Hainanese style with a ginger and shallots dipping sauce.
Anna has prepared a large pot of tau yew bak, literally soy sauce meat that is perhaps one of the most famous Hokkien style dishes.
Decadent chunks of pork belly have been braised with Chinese shitake mushroom and tofu puffs. The meat is melt-in-the-mouth tender and the gloriously rich sauce redolent of five spice calls for a hearty bowl of steamed rice to do justice.
Jo & John’s Chinese New Year feast
Mysaucepan‘s cousin Jo and her family lives in the beautiful town of Stanwell Tops in the south coast.
Jo’s father is visiting from Singapore to spend time with Jo’s family and to dot on his two grandsons. And Jo and John have invited us for a CNY lunch with their family.
Jo’s son is the most enthusiastic cook in the kitchen at such a young age and I blogged about a cookout with young Jonah when Mysaucepan and I spent a weekend with her family.
Jonah grilled some garlic king prawns for us almost four years ago when he needed to stand on a foot stool to reach the cooktop. He has certainly grown a lot taller since.
“Are you wanting to follow your kung kung’s footsteps to be a chef?” I ask Jonah.
“Maybe” he replies with a smile.
Mysaucepan has prepared her version of yee sang with sashimi salmon, shredded radish, carrots, pomelo shallots and coriander.
After a generous sprinkle of crushed peanuts, roasted sesame seeds, five spice powder, pepper and sweet plum sauce, this big mama is ready to be messed up.
“Kung Hei Fatt Choy!!” someone yells.
And so the tossing of yee sang starts yet again for us.
“Toss it higher!” I shout as I take this photo.
Wok tossed prawns with garlic and chilli sauce is a popular CNY dish in Singapore and Malaysia.
These prawns have a slightly sweet tinge from a tomato and HP sauce.
Being Singaporean, Mysaucepan‘s uncle is passionate about his Singapore style chilli crabs.
The only way to eat this dish is to dive in with hands and fingers. The crabmeat is sweet and the spicy chilli sauce draws its umami complexity with a good dose of fermented bean paste.
Jo dad’s is tossing crabs on the huge balcony and the fragrant aromas are wafting into the house.
John tells me the recipe for Singapore style black pepper mud crabs is relatively simple.
Crushed black peppercorns are dry fried in a hot wok to release its fragrance. Then a little cooking oil and butter is added with some chicken stock to form the base sauce.
Fresh mud crab pieces are then added and tossed, then closed with the wok lid to let simmer for about five minutes.
“This is one of the best black pepper mud crabs ever!” Mysaucepan declares.
Everyone is just nodding in agreement as we are too busy tucking in.
A whole snapper is dressed with ginger and shallots, all ready for the steamer.
This is a beautiful steamed fish though I would have preferred the ginger, shallots and coriander added after the fish has been steamed as this allows the garnishes to remain fresh and sprightly.
Then, the most important part of Cantonese style steamed fish is pouring garlic infused boiling oil with golden and crispy bits of garlic to blister the fish’s skin and singe the fresh ginger and shallots to release their aromatics.
Chineses style pork ribs and stir fried beans complete this scrumptious feast.
Jonah made pancakes with strawberries for breakfast when we stayed for the weekend more than three years ago.
Today, he is preparing dessert with baked marshmellows, nutella, hazelnut on crisp filo pastry.
Molly & KC’s Chinese New Year feast
By far one of the most elaborate CNY feasts each year is held at Molly and KC’s home.
“There will be almost thirty people this year” Molly tells me.
Last year, Molly catered a whole suckling pig from a prominent Chinese roast meat shop in Fleminton and this year is no different.
It is one glorious looking pig that measures more than a metre in length.
The skin is golden brown and answers to a “cok cok” sound when tapped which testifies to how crispy it is.
Lena says it is auspicious to cover the piglet’s eyes and put some decorations on its head. This year, she has covered the eyes with bits of ang pow, pistachio half shells and left a flower and a yellow nectarine as ornaments on its head.
This suckling pig is going to be the highlight of this CNY feast but first things first because there are three delectable platters of yee sang on the dining table.
Three large platters of yee sang are ready to be tossed yet again.
And since there are so many guests tonight, the ladies have been requested to start the honours of this lo hei.
“Kung Hei Fatt Choy everyone!!” as four young ladies happily toss up three platters of yee sang.
Everyone are armed with extra long chopsticks for better tossing action.
Similar to the year before, Paul is summoned to carve and reduce this whole suckling pig into finger food for thirty people.
He starts by slicing the suckling pig into three thirds.
Then he expertly carves away, separating bone and ribs from the meat which will be used as stock bones.
Within minutes, this suckling has been reduced to enticing pieces of crispy skin. Everyone watches on as he continues to carve the remainder of the pig.
The deep, golden brown skin of this suckling pig is delightfully crisp and crunchy with a decadent layer of savoury fat underneath.
Everyone is tucking in with fingers, dipping each piece into sweet hoisin sauce for one of CNY’s most memorable mouthfuls.
Lo mai kai or glutinous rice with chicken and Chinese mushrooms is quintessential comfort food.
Tender pieces of chicken combine so well with the earthy flavours of shitake mushrooms garnished with diced shallots.
“Selamat makan” Mark speaks Indonesian to me in his Dutch accent.
He cooked these eggs ladled with a spicy peanut sauce and they are fast disappearing.
Instead of cooked king prawns from the fish market, Agnes has gone one up this year with her wok tossed prawns with garlic and pepper.
I have brought Hainanese style chicken yet again for its versatility of being able to be served at room temperature.
Molly’s sotong is one of my favourites each year and I am usually accountable for half of this big plate.
Drizzled with sweet hoisin sauce, spicy chilli oil and sprinkled with roasted sesame seeds, I love the rubbery yet crunchy texture of this squid.
Molly requested that I bring beef rendang so here it is.
I am happily devouring tender and succulent chunks of this beef rendang while everyone else is sweating and gasping this dish being too spicy. It’s my chilli fiend at work once again, the spicier the better.
“This is sooo good with some sambal on the side” Mysaucepan says to Molly as Singapore style chee kwei is one of her favourite hawker food.
Rice cake topped with stir fried pickled radish is indeed a perfect palette for some spicy chilly sauce or sambal.
Molly’s chai tow kway or stir fried radish cake with caramel dark sauce and egg is another favourite.
Lena’s Malaysian style curry chicken with chunky bits of potato is a lot more palate-friendly with its spicy sweet tinge compared to the beef rendang.
This is yet another lovely meal and we feel so fortunate to be able to enjoy all this food with good friends.
Kung Hei Fatt Choy to all our Chinese readers and may the year of the goat bring you and your family good health and fortune!
Chopinand & Mysaucepan
So dear readers, what is your favourite dish during Chinese New Year festival?
Suckling pig featured above was ordered from:
KW Barbeque Shop
99 The Crescent, Flemington
New South Wales
Tel: +61 2 9746 2891
Opening hours: Lunch and dinner 7 days