Celebrating the year of THE OX
Well and truly the Year of the Ox is upon us for those who celebrate Chinese New Year, also known as Spring Festival or Lunar New Year. Each year is associated with one of 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac, 2021 is the Year of the Ox. Hopefully the Ox brings us happiness, good health and prosperity, much needed for the world right now amidst the lingering pandemic.
This most colourful event lasts for 15 days and this year the celebration culminated on on the 21st of February, the last day which is also the Lantern Festival. China, alongside other countries in South East Asia like Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Chinatowns around the world celebrate this festival, a time to honour heavenly deities and time to gather family and friends to feast together.
Part of the celebration that I enjoy most is savouring all the auspicious food served, they are delicious and symbolic. Most restaurants curate a special Lunar New Year menu that includes traditional essential dishes for the New Year. Ho Jiak Town Hall is this year’s venue of the Sydney Malaysian Food Lovers, this is my second year in attendance. A special 10 course banquet menu was offered on the day!
First dish to arrive was the celebratory dish Yee Sang, a colourful platter of shredded salad topped with slices of raw salmon garnished with trout roe. This dish is for good fortune! Using chopsticks, everyone is encouraged to say LO HEI, LO HEI out load at the same time tossing up all the ingredients into the air. It is believed that the higher and more vigorous the toss, the better the new year. This is a fun dish and the special sauce added has those salty, sweet, and tangy flavour notes.
Then the parade of dishes began! Crunchy with a chilli hit, salt and pepper tofu skin is a crowd pleaser. If you’re a fan of tofu, I reckon it should be served this way.
Dumplings symbolises wealth and longevity! Laksa bombs surely hit the spots. Tender and plump dumplings floating in a flavoursome punchy laksa broth is to behold. Its got all the elements that will tantalise the tastebuds.
How do you peel your prawns? with your hands? Drunken prawns were finger lickin’ good! These bad boys were steamed in Chinese rice wine giving them that glossy skin. The soy based dipping sauce adds sweetness to the prawns.
Surprisingly not chewy at all considering the amount of squid deep fried at the same time, it was a full house event. Salted egg squid has a nice texture, buttery and crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. A chilled beer or glass of white wine I’m sure goes well this dish.
Definitely a stellar dish! For me the Steamed Barramundi stands out amongst the dishes. The fish was cooked to perfection, just melts in the mouth. And ohhh, the sour tomato based sauce was packed with umami flavour profile. I was literally looking for a bowl of rice to slurp all the leftover sauce, unfortunately there was none. Steamed fish symbolises a wish for abundance in the new year.
Sam Wong Dan is a dish with three types of steamed eggs consist of chicken, duck and century eggs. It’s my first time to try this dish out, I must say it’s flavoursome, delicate and silky smooth. The shallots gave a slight sharpness to the dish.
Kangkong is one of favourite greens when it comes to Asian cooking. Ho Jiak rendition totally wowed my tastebuds, the kangkong was crunchy, spicy with a smoky note. This is a marriage made in heaven between water spinach and sambal. Again, what a shame that there was no rice served, it was sad to let go a very flavoursome sauce!
Chicken curry is a staple in Malaysian cuisine! The last dish brought back memories of my travels in Langkawi, devouring curry and roti at a night market. In typical style, pieces of chicken with bones in a fragrant thick curry sauce with a mild chilli hit was simply scrumptious. It’s a winner for me!
Banquet finished off with a sweet note of Churrus Youtiao, a take on the popular Chinese doughnut sticks. Smothered with cinnamon sugar, these dough sticks were crunchy and the accompanying ganache dipping sauce has a right balance of sweetness. What a way to end an epic Chinese New Year sumptuous lunch!
Another Chinese feast that we indulged during the festival was at our favourite yum cha at the Crown Dragon Restaurant located inside St George Leagues Club in Kogarah. The restaurant has a spacious dining area, modern and relaxed atmosphere. Food is always fresh!
One thing I’ve learned during the Lunar New Year is the giving of red envelop to family and friends. These red envelops are filled with money and symbolises good wishes and luck for the new year ahead.
Happy Lantern Festival marks the end of the 15-day Chinese New Year festivities. Lanterns are the most notable part of this festival. A symbolic treat is served during this time! Tang Yuan balls are made of glutinous rice filled with red bean paste, black sesame or peanut butter are usually eaten. These balls symbolise harmony, happiness and luck in the new year.
If you missed out on this year’s celebration, 2022 is the Year of the Tiger and Lunar New Year celebration starts on the 1 February.