Cantonese restaurant

3 Hong Kong Chefs on Their Chinese New Year Culinary Memories

To kick off this year’s celebrations, we’re asking three acclaimed local chefs to share their Chinese New Year culinary memories and favorite festive recipe.

The year of the tiger is ready to rush on February 1st. In the Chinese zodiac, the animal is known as the king of all beasts and represents bravery and strength. Across East Asia, the start of the lunar year marks a shift in energy celebrated with parades, ceremonies and, most importantly, family celebrations.

Although each family generally follows its own traditions and recipes, many regional and centuries-old specialties are considered auspicious and symbolize the holiday. This year, we asked the chefs of three of Hong Kong‘s most popular and established Chinese and Cantonese restaurants to share their favorite recipes and take a walk down memory lane.

Three acclaimed Hong Kong chefs share their Chinese New Year food memories

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

Hong Kong Peninsula Spring Moon Chef Lam Yuk Ming

What recipes do you associate with the Lunar New Year?

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

What traditional and nostalgic dishes remind you of family celebrations?

Chicken roll with gold coins and classic barbecue duck feet.

Tell us about one in particular.

Hong Kong 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 often took me to a Chinese restaurant when I was little, and it was a staple dish for us. It was popular and inexpensive back then, but many restaurants no longer make it, due to the complex preparation process.

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

What Lunar New Year recipes do you love to make the most?

Dried oysters are one of the festive specialties I like to cook with. They go well with all kinds of preparations and, being a premium ingredient, no additional flavoring is required. In Cantonese, dried oysters represent all good things, as the Cantonese word for oyster sounds like “good things”. I also like to make red date pudding.

What will you be serving 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 Hello [Cantonese-style raw-fish salad], traditional Chinese culinary delights created to be shared. Symbolizing prosperity, abundance, good fortune and family reunions for the coming year, Spring Moon’s poon choi features a combination of premium ingredients, such as abalone, fish maw, dried mushrooms and scallops, all topped off with a unique braised chicken sauce. I spent four years in Beijing and Braised Chicken Gravy is one of my favorite recipes I learned there. At Spring Moon, I would 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 abalones at Legacy House

What recipes do you associate with the Lunar New Year?

Traditional Chinese foods that have symbolic meaning. For example, fish in Chinese is called you, which represents a surplus and is traditionally considered a very good sign of what is to come. Additionally, the golden color of the spring rolls represents wealth, and the sticky rice balls symbolize family, togetherness, and wholeness.

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. Watching everyone around the table enjoying the homemade dessert means a lot to me, especially during the holiday season.

What Lunar New Year recipes do you love to make the most?

I often work during the holidays and when I get home it’s already late. I like to enjoy homemade Tang Yuan made by my family. It’s very sweet and warms my heart. It’s not how expensive the ingredients are, it’s the unity of family that brings me joy during Lunar New Year.

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

At Legacy House, we will serve the signature Fu Gui chicken and poon choi, which are both traditional and symbolic of family gatherings.

Ho Lee Fook – Chef ArChan Chan

chinese new year food
A Cantonese feast by new chef Archan Chan at Ho Lee Fook

What recipes do you associate with the Lunar New Year?

Lunar New Year is the time of year when families come together and spend time together. Many foods eaten during this time bring good luck and symbolize family reunions, but the ones that stand out to me are fat choy ho si [braised oysters and sea moss], poon choi and Hello.

What traditional and nostalgic dishes remind you of family celebrations?

In my family, it is a tradition that all 16 of us meet at my grandparents’ house and that we poon choi. It can get a bit competitive as we have to “fight” for certain ingredients if there isn’t enough for all of us and of course I always try to get the abalone before everyone else!

Tell us about one in particular.

My grandmother always cooks braised mushrooms with dried oysters and fat choy during chinese new year. The dish is delicious and hearty; its meaning is “good”, which corresponds to 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 “to get rich”. Sometimes my grandmother would also add abalone, as it is a luxury ingredient that we believe will bring good luck and abundance for the rest of the year.

What Lunar New Year recipes do you love to make the most?

I must say that Hello is one of my favorites. There are so many ingredients in the dish that there is plenty of room for creativity. I really like seeing guests mixing it up and throwing it as high as possible. It brings lots of laughs and fun to the table.

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

I haven’t quite decided yet, but I’m thinking of maybe making a sashimi Hello, as many people in Hong Kong enjoy it, and it was a Lunar New Year staple when I was in Singapore, or abalone clay rice. It would be a little nod to my own family traditions of eating abalone, but also something delicious and luxurious to share with my new Ho Lee Fook family and guests.

(Hero and featured image: ho hai from Spring Moon)

This article originally appeared on Prestige Hong Kong.