A clever twist here, an unexpected flavour combination there—Chinese New Year treats get a delicious non-traditional spin
The Lunar New Year may be driven by traditions, but when it comes to its celebratory treats, there’s no reason why tradition cannot be tinkered with in the name of delicious variety. Sure, yusheng with fruit and pineapple tarts with fish floss may sound a far cry from the original versions that we know and love, but at their heart, these delights are rooted in the same symbolism that makes them so important to the festive season.
TOSSED WITH NOVELTY
Lo hei at modern Chinese restaurant VLV is elegantly presented with slivers of raw salmon rolled up like roses and topped with a tuile of squid ink chips. Flavouring the melange of finely julienned vegetables like cucumber, carrots and radish is a piquant passionfruit plum sauce. Its Chinese New Year seven-course Fortune menu ($138 per person, minimum four people) also features dishes like the black truffle roasted duck, with its succulent flesh richly imbued with the flavour of the treasured fungus, and its friable, crisp skin beautifully burnished.
At Min Jiang restaurants, lo hei comes chockfull of finely sliced black plums, juicy mango, dragon fruit, rock melon and delicate orbs of watermelon. That’s in addition to a heap of romaine lettuce, carrots, green and white radishes, yellow frisee, snow pear, pomelo pulp, pine nuts, peanuts and sesame seeds. To add all-important crunch are crispy strips of fried yam, sweet potato and lotus root chips. This is all tossed in a rosemary plum sauce, redolent of the herb that gives this sweet salad a whisper of savoury depth ($78/$128).
Health-conscious celebrants may look to Blue Lotus for its Shi Quan Shi Mei (十全十美, $68 for small and $88 for large) yu sheng. The name translates to ‘completely perfect’, and the dish is made up of 10 herbs and vegetables, some aromatic spices, three types of nuts, tea-smoked salmon, fried salmon skin and silver bait. Rounding off this refreshing dish is a scallion-infused olive oil and wild honey yuzu dressing.
Also available within the restaurant’s Chinese New Year menus ($68 to $108 per person) are luxe dishes like truffle wonton lobster bisque, pan-seared barramundi with black truffle sauce, and slow-roasted beef rib with daikon.
For the main event, Min Jiang’s Gong Xi Fa Cai dish ($298 for eight people) allows for a sense of ceremony at the table. Pig trotters braised over four hours with Australian six-head abalones, dried scallops, black mushrooms and fa cai (black moss), are wrapped tightly in parchment and hidden in a handcrafted replica of a giant mahjong tile made entirely of salt. To get to the food, diners must break open the tile using a mallet, which comes with the dish.
At Joyden Concepts restaurants which include Joyden Treasures at Leisure Park Kallang and Joyden Canton Kitchen at HillV2), pomelos give festive dishes a vibrant lilt. The fruit is integral to the Lunar New Year table as its Chinese name, yòu, sounds like the words for ‘to have’ and ‘again’. Put simply, it is a homonym for constant abundance.
In Joyden’s dishes, only the pomelo pith is used. Preparing the pith is a laborious process that involves separating the painfully thin pith from the skin, soaking and washing it over several days to remove any trace of bitterness and tartness. The resulting pith is used in dishes like lobster medallion in premium XO sauce and wok-tossed tiger prawn and fresh scallops on crispy vermicelli (prices unavailable).
In the former, the pomelo pith imbues the fried lobsters with a hint of sweetness, and it is as much a joy to eat as it is to behold—the lobster is plated so that it resembles a dancing dragon. Similarly, the pith flavours the superior broth that the prawns and scallops are cooked in, all of which are served with a fried netting of vermicelli that symbolises a ‘bountiful catch of all the jewels in the sea’.
At the beautiful Yan restaurant at the National Gallery Singapore, Chinese New Year specials are inspired by the Year of the Rooster. There is chicken served two ways in the Duet Style roasted and Szechuan bon bon chicken ($35 for half, $70 for a whole chicken; must be ordered one day in advance): One half is roasted to a lovely burnished crisp, while the other half is shredded and coated in traditional Szechuan ma la spice. In another twist on tradition, Yan’s signature yellowtail yu sheng with golden flakes in Shun De style ($128 for 10 people) is anchored by an impressive ‘tower’ of crispy fried vermicelli that symbolises ‘heightened success’.
Even more impressive is Goodwood Park Hotel Singapore’s Auspicious Golden Pineapple ($94.15). Shaped by hand, these five-layer vanilla pound cakes sandwiched with buttercream are skilfully gilded in golden fondant. Almost too pretty to eat, they make great gifts or centrepieces for the festive table.
For another ‘gilty’ pleasure, look to the Queen’s Yusheng ($88) from Antoinette. This golden chocolate egg is filled with shredded pineapple, Thai green mango, red dragon fruit and pomelo. Surrounding it is a nest of chocolates, almonds, cashews, mandarin orange butter cake, meringue kisses, yam and sweet potato chips. To indulge, break the egg open with a mallet or a large spoon, and pour over the dressing made of mandarin orange, plum and gula Melaka before tossing all those delicious contents together in a symbol of oneness and luck.
Another visually striking creation that gives a new spin to traditional Chinese New Year offerings is Antoinette’s Eight Treasures Cake ($60). Taking inspiration from the popular eight treasures tea, or ba bao cha, it’s a butter cake loaded with eight ‘treasures’ of red dates, pine nuts, dried longan fruit, candied ginger, kaffir lime leaves, walnuts, goji berries and tangerine peel.
Those who prefer their sweet treats with less drama can opt for Antoinette’s Ang Bao ($10). The entremet is filled with layers of caramel and mandarin orange cremuex, cocoa sponge cake, dark chocolate mousse and cashew nougatine, and enrobed in a red chocolate glaze. An elegant chocolate tuile showered with auspicious gold dust completes this splendid sweet.
And finally, those fish floss pineapple tarts. Local bakery Bakerzin has created these fish-shaped treats filled with homemade pineapple jam and fish floss to yield a unique sweet-savoury snack. It is sold together with lemongrass-flavoured pineapple tarts ($22.80 for a box of 18 tarts), packed in a special festive tin.
Turning tradition on its head has never been this exciting and delicious!
Cover: Auspicious golden pineapples from Goodwood Park Hotel Singapore
This was first published in Wine & Dine’s January 2017 issue – ‘Twists to Tradition’