Kung Hei Fat Choy (Wishing you great Happiness and Prosperity!)
February 1st, 2022 marks the Chinese Lunar New Year – the year of the Tiger! It is most significant and momentous in China and revered across the Asian culture. The first seven days are public holidays, and everything remains closed in preparation of this phenomenal, historic and cultural celebration. It is a commemoration of Spring to come, followed by the Lantern Festival on the fifteenth day, which marks the final day of jollification.
Having grown up in Hong Kong, a most vibrant and cosmopolitan city, I recall many sights, sounds and smells of this exhilarating holiday. Children playing and laughing on the streets, excited to be able to hold the crackling fireworks which further provoked squeals of laughter and delight.
Indulgent Sights & Smells
The aromas of Yau Gok (sweet fried dumplings filled with roasted peanuts, toasted sesame seeds and sweet coconut flakes) wafted through our nostrils, thus whetting our appetites. As soon as the streets were illuminated with red lanterns radiating the white bright, we knew it was time to turn around and go home to indulge in the cuisine that awaited us.
My family indulged in the practice of celebrating the New Year with our friends and family, a time for children to dress up as well – new shoes and bright colored clothing. The favorite ritual, however, was receiving gifts of money and sweets!
The homes are cleaned exhaustively as a purifying ritual. Mandarin orange plants are displayed, red lanterns swing outside the doors. Kitchens were busily cooking copious delicacies. Red and gold lai see packets – colors that symbolize energy, happiness, and good fortune – were readied in advance of welcoming visitors. The colorful lai see envelopes contained Hong Kong dollars of varying amounts. The elders of the family would utter “Kung Hei Fat Choy” and “Sun Tai King Hong” (wish you good health) as they handed out these gifts.
This was a time to relish in the astounding genesis of Chinese culture and cuisine that brings art, aesthetics, and science to the table. But before we partake of the food, let’s look at some of the traditional detailed tasks put into preparation. The celebratory meal starts by setting the scene.
For my table setting I determined to practice the art of Feng Shui. Typically, I used red tablecloths and napkins, gold napkin rings and votives, hung a red and gold lantern from the ceiling. This was the perfect opportunity to pull out my blue and white Chinese porcelain. For the table centerpiece, pièce de résistance, I would design a tall floral arrangement of plum or cherry blossoms, finally, placing kumquats sporadically.
The men would come dressed in Tang shirts or jackets and the ladies in their cheongsams of various lengths.
My choice of tea was winter warming Dark Oolong. The honor of pouring tea would be given to the newest member of the family.
It was not easy to find the right wines to pair with the complex umami flavors of Chinese cuisine. For the Chinese New Year events I catered in Hong Kong, I opted to play safe by pouring light, sweet, fruity wines such as Riesling, Moscato and Pinot Noir, usually available at our local expat food store.
Over time, the number of guests for our annual Lunar New Year meal grew. So, my idea for accommodating the number of guests evolved into “let’s cook together”. Essentially a soup-food or steamboat served as an interactive meal around the floor – with cushions strewn around. This concept was well received and resulted in the ideal solution for large gatherings (both in our home and when I catered events).
Out “hot pot” meals became a big hit. It was easy to prepare for and have the guests dip in their thinly sliced bites of meat and veggies into the mushroom broth and fish out with individual little round wired strainers that came with long handles.
Celebrating the new year with friends and family in the Chinese tradition was yet another way of building community. Diversity shines most when we come together over delicious food – even when the dishes seem foreign to us.
So, in honor of the Year of the Tiger, I will leave you with two gifts: a Chinese New Year menu menu and a recipe for Hoisin Glazed Pork Tenderloin. Whether you celebrate the Lunar New Year or not, I hope you will try these and let me know how it goes.
My Lunar New Year Menu
Sweet Boiled Peanuts and Pickled Cucumbers
Fire Cracker Shrimp Rolls with Sweet and Sour Sauce
Simmering Hot Pot Mushroom Broth for cooking (this would continue to develop more flavor as the guests would dip in the seasoned meat and veggies periodically).
Pork Carpaccio and Beef Tenderloin Carpaccio, julienne of Ginger & Garlic, seasoned with Black Cracked Pepper
Omnivores; Gai Lan & Choi Sum (C. Broccoli) , Bok Choy, Ong Choy (C. Water Spinach), Gai Choy (C. Mustard Greens), Julienne of Bamboo Shoots & Bean Sprouts
For dipping: Oyster, Soya, Sesame Oil, Garlic Chilies, Sweet & Sour, Red Vinegar
Whole Steamed Grouper (Fish-‘Yu’ means surplus, so the tradition is a surplus dish at the end of the meal)
Stir Fry Tofu & Eggplant in Black Bean Sauce (this one was curated for those who did not eat fish)
Egg & Scallion Fried Rice (to catch the sauce from the above dishes)
Mango Sago Pudding (refreshingly sweet, ingredients available all year round)
Recipe for Hoisin Glazed Pork Tenderloin (serves 2)
1 medium size pork tenderloin (around a pound or 0.45 kg)
2 tbsp. hoisin sauce (slightly sweet, and strong salty flavor from the fermented soybeans that add the savory umami element)
1 tsp. vegetable oil
1 tsp. sesame oil
1 tsp. toasted black sesame seeds
Kosher salt & cracked black pepper for seasoning (I use kosher salt for the coarser grains to flavor food gently and enable a clean hard sear)
½ inch peeled fresh ginger sliced
1 large clove of garlic sliced
1 tbsp. green onion sliced
2 sprigs of cilantro
Optional; sauté shitake or crimini mushrooms, slice and place on top of tenderloin and bake
Pat tenderloin dry with paper towel and season.
Heat vegetable and sesame oil in a pan over high flame, add ginger and garlic to perfume the oil, season the meat and pan sear on one side for 1 minute. Turn meat over and sear for another minute. If the meat is thick, sear both the sides and the ends as well for a few seconds to lock in the juices.
Discard the ginger and garlic. Transfer meat onto a baking sheet. Brush meat with hoisin sauce all around. (optional; Arrange cooked sliced mushrooms atop), sprinkle toasted black sesame seeds on top. Bake in pre heated oven at 375 degrees (190 C) for 15 minutes. Let rest for 5 minutes for juices to come together, meat should be pink for medium rare as it will continue to cook during resting time.
Pork Tenderloin is a very lean meat and should not be overcooked as this will compromise the end desired result. Slice horizontally for service once rested.
Place sliced pork and layer onto a platter, garnish with scallions/green onions and cilantro.
If you would like a sauce for this dish, pan fry thinly sliced shallots and a few sliced mushrooms in the same pan the meat was seared in. Once browned and softened, add ½ cup of white wine, let this cook down for a minute, season, keep aside. Add any juices from the meat when it is cooked.
“Man Man Sik” (enjoy your food!)