How to celebrate Chinese New Year, with Lee Ho Fook chef, Victor Liong
As the Chinese New Year begins on the 1st February, for many of us it’s a time to celebrate and start over. Welcome to the year of the tiger. Gong Xi Fa Cai.
Victor Liong of Melbourne’s Lee Ho Fook says that a balanced Chinese New Year banquet menu should include eight dishes, as eight is the lucky number in Chinese cuisine. “Usually we have a gathering, a reunion dinner on New Year’s eve,” says Liong.
As part of this menu, he suggests including at least three traditional festive dishes. “A rare raw fish dish pops up during the new year celebrations,” says Liong. “One that is extremely popular in Southeast Asian cuisine.” This dish, known as Yee sang in Chinese (meaning raw fish), was created in Malaysia and popularised in the 1960s. Yee sang is also known as 'prosperity toss', as the dish symbolises abundance and prosperity. Usually, raw salmon is presented neatly like sashimi, and is served on a platter with very fine julienne of coloured vegetables on top. It is then garnished with a peanut brittle to symbolise sweetness in the new year, topped with fried wonton skins which symbolise pieces of gold, sesame seeds to symbolise fertility, and finally dressed in a sauce that is a made from a sweet plum sauce and includes sesame oil and soy sauce to symbolise balance and harmony. It is then tossed together at the table as an auspicious ceremony.
There are many dishes that can be eaten to celebrate the new year, and noodles and dumplings are another popular item on the menu. Noodles are a symbol of longevity, and dumplings - in particular wontons - are popular as they look like pieces of gold, which symbolises wealth. When it comes to preparing a special banquet, seafood is also key. “There are symbolic dishes we eat around that time – always seafood, and preferably a whole fish,” says Liong, who plans to include a classic Cantonese stir fry of king prawns, pearl meat and scallops at Lee Ho Fook.
“Part of the meal is about decadence and bountiful dishes,” he adds. “It’s about having lots, it’s a symbol of what’s going to happen in the new year.” A braised Jade Tiger abalone with fake shark fin is another dish that Liong is including in his menu at Lee Ho Fook. Real shark fin is, of course, frowned upon because of the cruel nature of the finning, and Liong makes a fake version using a seafood stock which is set with agar and has a very similar texture to authentic shark fin. To balance things out, Liong suggests, make sure to finish with something sweet, as it is a time to indulge after all.
Here’s wishing everyone a great Year of the Tiger.