Chinese New Year Banquet

We headed out in the cold last night to attend an 8-course Chinese New Year Banquet at a local seafood restaurant. Hosted by local foodie walking tour guide, Shirley Lum, the evening was both delicious and informative, as Lum explained Lunar New Year traditions and discussed various aspects of the Chinese zodiac as we ate.

Seated at a table of nine people, I must say, the evening, while festive, wasn’t especially banquet-like. Dishes didn’t come out in order, and for the $50 per person charge, we certainly didn’t leave as full as we normally might have if we had gone on our own. it was an opportunity to try many new dishes, however, and Greg even made a new friend.

Because we were at a large round table with a lazy susan in the centre, I wasn’t able to get shots of all the dishes as they arrived, but I did my best.

Each place setting had two kumquats and two candies. The candies represented the red and gold packets of money traditionally handed out at Chinese New Year, while the kumquats also represented wealth and life.

The first course was a crab and fish maw soup. Fish maw is the air bladder or stomach lining. No photo of this as it was just a big bowl of white soup.

Next up was a dish of sauteed vegetables and scallops with cashews. Following this was another veg and scallop dish, this time with snow peas. I missed a photo opportunity when the shrimps were placed on the other side of the table, but the huge golden shrimps, battered and fried in the shell are meant to symbolize money because of their shape and colour.

The lobster was next, and made us wish we had cried “Uncle!” like the chopstick virgins at our table because man, lobster is hard to eat with chopsticks.

It’s hard to believe I was ever a vegetarian when I admit the ribs were my favourite dish of the night, but these were really tasty. I’d go back for some of these.

The roast chicken dish is a traditional one at Chinese New Year feasts, and supposedly, whoever has the chicken head pointing at them when the platter is placed on the table gets great luck for the coming year. As you can see, Greg was the lucky chicken head winner, and promptly named the chicken “Chuffy” after the chicken that was raised on the council estate in the Chicken Out series. Unfortunately, the waitress disposed of Chuffy along with the lobster shells that were on Greg’s plate and Chuffy didn’t actually get to come home with us at the end of the night.

The final savoury dish was the whole fish, served in a soy-based sauce. We think this was a tilapia. It was very light and sweet.

Most folks seemed disappointed with the final dessert course which was a sweet soup made from red beans, lotus seeds and tapioca, although Greg and I thought it was great. I like red bean a lot though. Again, no shots of this, as it got served too fast. Shirley told us that most Chinese New Year meals don’t have a lot of sweet stuff at the end, as the holiday is pretty candy-centric, so most folks would rather eat the foil-covered chocolate coins or candies and dried fruit traditional to the holiday.

I had the foresight to stop into Oriental Harvest on my way to the restaurant, so had my own selection of sweets for when we got home. This includes (clockwise from top left) coconut, carrots, kumquats and pineapple, winter melon, lotus root and larger chunks of coconut, with lotus seeds in the centre. It’s all way sweet and totally addictive, particularly the winter melon. Shirley said that these trays tended to be the realm of older folks; that kids preferred the chocolate or regular candies. I dunno – I’m all about the winter melon.

So that was Chinese New Year – one week early. The big festival that usually takes place at the Ex doesn’t appear to be happening this year, so I’m not sure what I’m going to do to get my fix of Dragon’s Beard candy.