By CJ Junitereal
I always think of Chinese New Year as a second chance at a new year—especially if the first part of January doesn’t go as I hope it would. Plus, I really like tikoy when it’s fried in butter and eaten dipped in sugar and a little calamansi. In the past couple of years, my friends and I have begun the tradition of yu sheng or “prosperity toss.” It’s more of a Southeast Asian Chinese tradition, popular in Singapore and Malaysia, and consists of tossing a raw fish salad (full of all sorts of auspicious ingredients) as high into the air as you can while wishing for good fortune in the coming year. It’s fun, and messy, and delicious—words that I also use to describe the steadfast friendship I have with the women who have been in my life since I was in fifth grade.
Chinese New Year has embedded itself into our consciousness in the past few years—whether we have a bit of Chinese blood in our ancestry or not—and many hotels and restaurants offer some kind of promotion to celebrate it. These are a few of my favorite picks for this year, and some of them also offer Yu Sheng.
Recipes for Prosperity at Sofitel Philippine Plaza Manila
Spiral has a new Chinese chef, Yui So Chan, which must be why the quality of the Chinese dishes on their buffet has noticeably improved. From Feb. 4 to 8, he whips up a spread of 12 Chinese-Malaysian, Hong Kong, and Cantonese dishes for Spiral’s buffet. Chef Yui explained that each one holds significance because of its shape, or the characteristics of the ingredients, or the way the words are pronounced.
One of my favorites is the creamy butter crab. Its hard shell signifies safety, and crabs are believed to be a sign of higher achievements and greater possibilities. Cereal butter prawns have a lovely, buttery, and crunchy topping with the distinct flavor of curry leaves. In Chinese, the word “prawn” is a symbol of liveliness and cheerfulness—they also look like smiley faces when placed horizontally.
Chef Yui serves his traditional pork dumplings with a piquant vinegar sauce—just enough to make things interesting and balance out the tasty pork filling. Because they resemble the shape of gold ingots, dumplings are a must-eat dish during celebrations because they symbolize good fortune and unity in families. Other auspicious dishes that will be served are Buddha soup, scallops in XO sauce (for fertility and new opportunities), long life noodles in eight-treasure sauce, braised abalone with mushroom, and traditional Hong-Kong-style steamed fish (it symbolizes everyday prosperity).
For those who don’t want to eat a whole buffet, Le Bar offers a selection of a la carte Chinese dishes at P799 nett per dish. And on the eve of Chinese New Year (Feb. 4), the Sunset Bar will have a Chinese Hawker Feast as part of its Sunset Barbecue Buffet for P3,488 nett inclusive of unlimited local beer, iced tea, special cocktails, and the wine of the month.
Chinese New Year Set Menus at the Manila Hotel’s Red Jade
Red Jade has all the hallmarks of a traditional Chinese restaurant, from the opulent red and gold interiors to the classic dishes on its menu. The Chinese New Year Set Menus (P1,888++ per person and P3,988++ per person for a minimum of four people), available from Feb. 3 to 6, feature a combination of nostalgic favorites and updated dishes. Among these are sautéed prawn ball and walnut with broccoli, pata tim (always a crowd pleaser), fried mango seafood roll, diced chicken and pork chorizo fried rice in lotus leaf, long life crab claw coated with minced shrimp, crispy fried pigeon, steamed garoupa in soy sauce, and baked rock lobster in cheese and butter with e-fu noodles.
Drop by on Feb. 5 at 10:15 a.m. for the traditional Lion Dance, and wait for the god of fortune to pass you by and sprinkle you with prosperity and good fortune.
Red Jade has always flown under the radar when it comes to Chinese restaurants, but its food always hits the spot, and if you want Chinese pomp and circumstance in all its traditional gaudy glory, then this is the place to visit.
Auspicious Chinese New Year Specialties at City of Dreams Manila’s Crystal Dragon
Crystal Dragon is one of my favorite Chinese restaurants. It may be a little more expensive than most, but its quiet elegance and the delicate quality of its dishes are worth it. This year, it offers premium specialty menus for lunch and dinner from until Feb. 19. It also offers yu sheng in two variants—the prosperity abalone yu sheng with fruit salad for P1,350++ for a medium serving, and the shredded roasted duck with fresh fruit salad yu sheng for P1,280++ for a medium serving.
The restaurant will also be showcasing poon choi in two variants—stewed abalone for P6,500++ and stewed tiger prawn for P3,500++. Poon choi is a traditional dish from the walled villages in the New Territories that is meant to be eaten communally. It consists of a large dish filled with seafood and meat, and is meant to be eaten layer by layer. The sequence of the layers is important and adds to the taste of the dish. Ingredients that absorb sauce, like radish and bean curd, are placed at the bottom, pork and dried mushrooms occupy the middle layers, and meat, seafood, and rare ingredients like abalone and sea cucumber crown the top. Each ingredient contributes both flavor and auspicious symbolism.
There are also two set menus priced at P3,880++ per person for six courses and a premium P6,880++ per person for seven courses. Both will include variations of the yu sheng and poon choi dishes.
And, if something more casual is your style, Red Ginger has a Lunar Festive Menu with dishes priced at P888++ each, and offers a single serve Mini Yu Sheng for P188++ from Feb. 5 to 7.
Chinese New Year Traditions at Marco Polo Ortigas Manila
Lung Hin has come up with two special authentic Cantonese set menus to usher in the Year of the Earth Pig. Among the dishes are the very traditional steamed live garoupa with minced garlic in supreme soy sauce, and braised abalone with fish maw in oyster sauce. It will also offer the classic salmon yu sheng or prosperity toss as part of the special a la carte menu for the Chinese New Year. The restaurant’s classic, light-filled interiors have a view of the city and leave you with a sense of brightness and wellbeing. I think that’s a pretty good way to start the year.
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