Chinese New Year | A meal worthy of the tiger
The Chinese (or Lunar) New Year is celebrated on the second new moon since the winter solstice. The date therefore changes from year to year, but is always between January 21 and February 19. The festivities last for 15 days.
When we arrived at the Kim Fung restaurant in the small mall at 1111 Saint-Urbain Street, there was already a display of traditional “rice cakes” on a table topped with red. There were savory and sweet, taro, red bean, water chestnut, coconut, etc.
The best known, which can be found all year round at dim sum, is undoubtedly the radish cake. Strangely, English speakers call it “turnip cake”, even if there is not the shadow of a turnip in the recipe. Translation error that remained, says the caption. Rather, it is daikon, a little Chinese sausage and sometimes shrimp, mushrooms and/or dried scallops that go into the composition of this popular preparation made from rice flour.
You should know that almost everything that is eaten during Chinese New Year celebrations is on the table not for seasonal reasons, but for phonetic and symbolic reasons. The practice is to get rid of bad influences from the previous year — and God knows there were! – For a fresh start. Objects and foods presenting a homophony with a word of auspicious meaning are therefore privileged.
“The Chinese are very superstitious,” says our guide, Winston Chan. It was he, a chiropractor involved in the dissemination of Sino-Montreal culture and heritage, who invited us to learn more about the transition to the next luni-solar calendar.
“There is a lot of symbolism during the meal, which looks more like Christmas Eve than New Year’s Eve, sometimes with shows, concerts, family reunions. Everything is geared towards luck, happiness, health, prosperity,” continues the man who grew up in the Plateau and then in Côte-des-Neiges.
A word in Chinese can have several phonetics. The word “radish”, for example – “choi tau” or “cai tou”, depending on the region – can resemble the words used to wish “good luck”.
It is therefore a particularly favorable ingredient for these celebrations during which the guests should stick to happy and positive topics of discussion. Family bickering prohibited!
Benny Shek, owner of Kim Fung, amusingly shows us the little puffs of fried dough that are on the table with the cakes. There are several that pile up in a container, which would symbolize the reunion, a concept that has been undermined in recent times. The restaurateur also points out that the beautiful golden balls sprinkled with sesame outline smiles, where the dough has cracked while cooking. It bodes well! In northern China, dumplings are particularly popular at Lunar New Year, for their resemblance to gold bars.
The bowl of resistance
Then, against all odds, Mr. Shek invites us into the kitchen. The restaurant may have been empty for weeks, but there are easily half a dozen employees busy preparing the famous poon choi, the quintessential Cantonese festive meal. These first bowls will be to go. But the day after our visit, the room could reopen thanks to the easing of restrictions. Mr. Shek is delighted to be able to receive his customers again, on the very evening of the Chinese New Year moreover. This is a fun coincidence!
Nothing screams abundance more than poon choi, that big bowl filled to the brim with shrimp, pork, abalone (sea snail), chicken, duck, bamboo, lotus, sea cucumber, dried oysters, etc. It’s a highly symbolic communal dish, which the Kim Fung sells for $198 and which, although meant for eight people, would easily (and royally) feed a large family for a whole week.
Winston Chan has every intention of leaving with his huge bowl of land and sea delicacies. Since his grandmother left about fifteen years ago, he and his family have developed the habit of eating New Year’s Eve in the restaurant. There are quite a few that offer it, as evidenced by the list at the end of this article.
In the family of Anita Feng, who also comes from the former province of Canton (now Guandong), we sometimes eat poon choi. But it will more often be a whole fish and/or chicken, with lots of vegetables, a meal cooked by the chef’s parents.
“They won’t let me touch their kitchen!” laughs the one who has made spicy Szechuan cuisine one of her specialties. Grocery counter owner Jai Feng herself came up with a great menu for two last weekend, including “healthy tiger salad”, “daikon lucky cake”, “stuffed lucky cabbage with Pork”, “Mouth-watering Prosperity Chicken” and “Golden Tiger Squash Bread Stuffed with Salted Egg Custard”.
“The new generation no longer celebrates like their parents and grandparents. I wanted to prepare dishes that reflected my broader experience of different Chinese cuisines. Symbolism can be found in all kinds of dishes. A long stuffed eggplant can very well be called “longevity eggplant”. The frying, with its golden side, recalls money, wealth. So there are several ways to make a Chinese New Year meal in 2022,” says the chef.
Where to have a Chinese New Year meal?
Winston Chan provided us with a list of restaurants that do Chinese New Year meals. The festivities often last two weeks. It is therefore possible that we can taste certain specialties until February 15. But it is better to inquire before going there.
1111 Saint-Urbain Street, Montreal
70 De La Gauchetière Street West, Montreal
Restaurant Mon Nan
43 De La Gauchetière Street East, Montreal
Dobe and Andy
1071 Saint-Urbain Street, Montreal
Restaurant Ruby Rouge
1008 Clark Street, Montreal
Deer Garden Signatures
7350, boulevard Taschereau, room 35, Brossard
8245 Taschereau Boulevard, Brossard)
Sai Yan House
2230 Lapiniere Boulevard, Brossard
Shanghai Fu Chun (in Second Chinatown, near Concordia)
1978 De Maisonneuve Boulevard West, Montreal
118 Barry Street, Kirkland