3 Hong Kong chefs on their Chinese New Year food memories

To kick off this year’s celebrations, we ask three acclaimed local chefs to share their Chinese New Year food memories and favourite festive recipe.

The Year of the Tiger is ready to rush in on February 1. In the Chinese zodiac, the animal is known as the king of all beasts, and represents bravery and strength. Across East Asia, the beginning of the lunar year marks a change of energy that’s celebrated with parades, ceremonies and, most importantly, family feasts.

Although each family usually follows its own traditions and recipes, many regional and time-honoured delicacies are considered auspicious and symbolise the festivity. This year, we asked chefs at three of Hong Kong’s most popular and established Chinese and Cantonese restaurants to share their favourite recipes and take a walk down memory lane.

Three Acclaimed Hong Kong Chefs on Their Chinese New Year Food Memories

Spring Moon at The Peninsula Hong Kong – Executive Chef Lam Yuk Ming

Chinese New Year Food
Chef Lam Yuk Ming of the Peninsula Hong Kong’s Spring Moon

Which recipes do you associate with Lunar New Year?

Definitely dried oyster, sea cucumber, fish maw, mushrooms and red-date pudding.

Which traditional and nostalgic dishes remind you of family celebrations?

Gold-coin chicken and classic barbecued duck feet roll.

Tell us about one in particular.

Hong Kong’s gold-coin chicken [a medallion of barbecued pork with chicken liver and pork fat] is one of the most traditional and auspicious dishes, and brings back childhood memories. My parents would often take me to a Chinese restaurant when I was little, and this was a must-order dish for us. It was popular and inexpensive in the old days, but many restaurants are no longer making it, because of the complex preparation process.

Today, I still make a simplified version at home, so my family and children can experience the same tradition for Lunar New Year and to pass it down from one generation to another. At Spring Moon, we’ve also created a healthier and more elegant version of the recipe, as guests are becoming more health-conscious. We replaced the pork fat with eryngii mushrooms and the chicken liver with foie gras, thus reducing the cholesterol and fat content, as well as adding texture.

Which Lunar New Year recipes do you like making the most?

Dried oysters are one of the celebratory delicacies I enjoy cooking with. They go well with all kinds of preparations and, being a premium ingredient, no additional flavouring is required. In Cantonese, dried oysters represent all things good, as the Cantonese word for oyster sounds like “good things”. I also love making red-date pudding.

What will you serve this year – and what’s the inspiration behind the menu?

This year, Spring Moon will celebrate the arrival of the Tiger with poon choi [a traditional Cantonese celebratory meal composed of many layers] and lo hei [Cantonese-style raw-fish salad], traditional Chinese culinary delights that are both created for sharing. Symbolising prosperity, abundance, good fortune and family reunions for the year ahead, Spring Moon’s poon choi features a combination of premium ingredients, such as abalone, fish maw, mushrooms and dried scallops, topped off with a unique braised-chicken gravy. I spent four years in Beijing and braised-chicken gravy is one of my favourite recipes I learnt there. At Spring Moon, I’d like to bring back those good old memories and share my knowledge, experience and passion with guests.

The Legacy House – Chinese Executive Chef Li Chi-Wai

Chinese New Year food
A dish of Braised Abalone at Legacy House

Which recipes do you associate with Lunar New Year?

Traditional Chinese foods that have a symbolic meaning. For example, fish in Chinese is called , which represents surplus and it’s traditionally considered a very good sign of what’s to come. Additionally, the golden colour from spring rolls represents wealth, and glutinous rice balls symbolise family, togetherness and completeness.

What are the most traditional and nostalgic recipes that remind you of family celebrations?

Poon choi and tang yuan.

Tell us about one in particular.

Tang yuan [a Chinese dessert consisting of balls of glutinous rice flour boiled or deep-fried and served in syrup] is perfect for ending dinner on a sweet note. Looking at everyone around the table enjoying the homemade dessert means a lot to me, especially during the festive season.

Which Lunar New Year recipes do you like making the most?

I often work during holidays and when I get home it’s already late. I love enjoying some homemade tang yuan made by my family. It’s very sweet and warms my heart. It’s not about how expensive the ingredients are, it’s the togetherness of the family that brings me joy during Lunar New Year.

What will you serve this year — and what’s the inspiration behind the menu?

At Legacy House, we’ll be serving the signature Fu Gui chicken and poon choi, which are both traditional and symbolise family gatherings.

Ho Lee Fook – Head Chef ArChan Chan

Chinese New Year food
A Cantonese feast by new Head Chef Archan Chan at Ho Lee Fook

Which recipes do you associate with Lunar New Year?

Lunar New Year is the time of year when families reunite and spend time together. Many of the foods eaten during this time bring good luck and symbolise family gatherings, but the ones that stand out for me are fat choy ho si [braised oysters and sea moss], poon choi and lo hei.

Which traditional and nostalgic dishes remind you of family celebrations?

In my family, it’s traditional for all 16 of us to gather at my grandparents’ house and have poon choi. It can get a little competitive as we need to “fight” for some of the ingredients if there’s not enough for all of us and, of course, I’m always trying to get the abalone before anyone else!

Tell us about one in particular.

My grandma always cooks braised mushrooms with dried oyster and fat choy during Chinese New Year. The dish is delicious and hearty; its meaning is “good”, which is in line with Ho Lee Fook, literally meaning good fortune for your mouth. In Chinese cuisine, the pronunciation of the ingredients matters and, in this case, fat choy means “get wealthy”. Sometimes my grandma would add abalone too, because it’s a luxury ingredient that we believe will bring good fortune and abundance for the rest of the year.

Which Lunar New Year recipes do you like making the most?

I’d have to say that lo hei is one of my favourites. There are so many ingredients in the dish that there’s a lot of space for creativity. I really enjoy seeing guests mixing it and tossing it as high as possible. It brings a lot of laughter and fun to the table.

What will you serve this year — and what’s the inspiration behind the menu?

I haven’t fully decided yet, but I’m thinking of possibly doing a sashimi lo hei, as a lot of people in Hong Kong enjoy it, and it was a must-have over Lunar New Year when I was in Singapore, or an abalone claypot rice. This would be a little nod to my own family traditions of eating abalone, but also something delicious and luxurious that to share with my new Ho Lee Fook family and guests.

(Hero and featured image: Spring Moon’s ho hai)

This article originally appeared on Prestige Hong Kong.

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