Monday, February 22, 2010

Enter the Tiger - Chinese New Year at Mandarin Kitchen and Pearl Liang

I am not a great Chinese person. You just need to look ^ (up) at the title of this blog to realise that I am rather crap. But one thing I do strongly believe in is Chinese New Year. Not because I normally get some money from my parents, but I have been brought up to believe in it and much like Christmas, it's a great excuse to go and have fun, and maybe more importantly, eat. Based on the lunar calender, the actual day varies every year, and this year sees it falling on the 14th February. Some are going to be celebrating Valentines Day, but my heart will very much be with welcoming in the year of the tiger.

I do not claim to be an aficionado on Chinese New Year, far from it actually. As I have spent my entire life born and raised in the West, my actual knowledge of this celebration is limited to what is celebrated by my family. There are tonnes of eating and non-eating traditions around Chinese New Year and one of the "non-eating" revolves around cleaning your home. For example, you need to make sure you sweep outwards to rid your home of evil spirits, making sure your home is clean 3 days prior to New Years day. After the day of New Year, you are not allowed to clean for a week, otherwise you will be sweeping your luck away. Another of the traditions that we follow in the family is what is known as the reunion dinner. Held on New Years eve, the whole family gets together and eats. This year (actually, most years), we ate at Mandarin Kitchen.

Reunion Dinner at Mandarin Kitchen
Reunion Dinner at Mandarin Kitchen

There are a few traditions that we uphold at this meal. One is ordering "Yee Sang", a raw fish salad. Signifying good luck, this salad is kept as separate constituent ingredients on a single plate before, under strict orders of my mother, the whole family gets stuck in with their chopsticks. Apparently the higher you toss the salad, the better your luck will be. Can't say I believe it that much, but I wasn't taking any chances!

Reunion Dinner at Mandarin Kitchen

Some people also say steamed fish is essential, although on this occasion, we went for some crab with the obligatory noodles. Noodles symbolise longevity and are an essential ingredient in every Chinese New Year meal. No self respecting Chinaman would dare go without.

Writing this has actually been quite difficult. I have never experienced Chinese New Year whilst in a Chinese country and whereas my parents try hard every year to instill within us some tradition and Chinese values, I think sometimes I struggle to understand the true meanings behind the traditions. Essentially, it is a way of bringing family and friends together, so I decided to try and organise another feast for some of the great friends I have made this year.

Pearl Liang

This time, the venue was Pearl Liang (which ironically has strong links with Mandarin Kitchen). After a few discussions (where I had hoped nothing was lost in translation), I managed to book the large private dining room for an "intimate" meal with 16 of my chums. Some foodie related, others just related.

Chinese New Year at Pearl Liang

We drank and ate and were merry. We ordered plenty but the cornerstone of the meal revolved around two whole suckling pigs. After the initial parade where they were suitably papped by its adoring public, they were whisked away to the kitchens for the crisp skin to be portioned up.

Chinese New Year at Pearl Liang

On return, the glossy skin was devoured with light and fluffy pancakes, pleasant crunches echoing around the dining room as all conversation stopped. Aaahs of pleasure followed as the skin slowly disappeared to reveal a now rather naked piglet. These were whisked away once again where they were portioned up into three plates and distributed across the three lazy susans.

Keong and Christina get hitched

At the end of the meal, I handed out some red packets called ang pow (or hong bao/lai see depending on where you are from) which traditionally contain money and are handed out by those older or those married. No such luck for these guys, they just got chocolate money but I thought it would at least distinguish this feast from any old get together. (Please check out Catty and Lizzie for another view of our little celebration)

So that was it, my Chinese New Year in a few words and some pretty pictures. Keong Hee Huat Chye to you all (That's happy new year in Hokkien) and here's to a prosperous year of the Tiger!

Mandarin Kitchen - 14-16 Queensway, London W2 3RX
Mandarin Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Pearl Liang - 8 Sheldon Sq, Paddington, W2 6EZ
Pearl Liang on Urbanspoon


diva said...

Mmm jealous of the feast! Looks like u had a great celebration. I do miss all the quirky things Chinese people do at CNY like the da sao chu (cleaning), leaving out nian gao cakes with red packets to bring in more fortune all that stuff. Although being Western educated makes us see these things as silly, sure makes me feel good doing them! x

catty said...

crappy chinaman or not, you organised a beast of a feast (I didn't mean for that to happen) so thank you muchly for that :D

tehbus said...

@Diva - I do wish I knew more about my culture, but totally agree, I love Chinese New Year and I love learning more and more about it!

@Catty - Next up, KARAOKE!!!!

London Chow said...

Ah, I didn't get a chance to 'lau yee seng' this year round but I must say that the suckling pig looks delightful! I don't suppose you tried the lobster noodles at Pearl Liang? Read from Giles Cohen that the master chef from Mandarin Kitchen have joined Pearl Liang and he's supposed to be good at that dish.

Oh, here's wishing you a properous Chinese New Year!

tehbus said...

@LondonChow - I think Mr Coren is slightly behind the times as I believe the chef and the FOH moved over the Pearl Liang when it opened. I may be wrong, but have been going to both for years. The lobster noodles at PL are good, but I always go back to MK!

ginandcrumpets said...

Thanks for organising CNY feast. I particularly liked the crispy shards of pig skin in fluffy steamed pancakes. And the tofu was brilliant too. Actually, it was all tasty.

Greedy Diva said...

Such a fun night, and a delicious feast. Thanks so much for organising - perfect choice of venue. (I thought I was stuffed, but managed to eat all my coins on the way home!)