Today is Chinese New Year eve and for many families that means a Reunion Dinner tonight. Families will reunite over a feast of dishes that are chosen for their auspiciousness. We'll be celebrating with long life noodles, whole fish for abundance and New Year cake for continued new heights. Homes have been cleaned, debts have been repaid and everyone will be wearing red for good luck.
The Lunar Festival runs for 15 days, culminating in the Lantern Festival. Across Sydney, there's an entire program of events celebrating the Lunar New Year, but I reckon yum cha is the easiest way to get into the spirit of things. Endless dishes wheeled straight to your table on trolleys? How can you go wrong?
In the city we often end up at The Eight at the top of Market City. It's the biggest restaurant in Chinatown, there's a broad mix of dishes and you should be able to eat here for about $20 per head. Occasionally there can be lulls in trolley traffic, so if you're in a hurry, try to score a table near the kitchen. Failing that, you can always flag down a supervising waiter to order your specific dishes - a trick worth deploying if you still haven't gotten hold of your favourite har gow prawn dumplings.
Har gow prawn dumplings
According to every Chinese mother, the quality of the har gow prawn dumpling is a litmus test for the rest of the menu. Har gow is the cornerstone of every yum cha house... if they can't get this foundation right, then there's little hope for everything else. Here they pass the test with ease: thin translucent skins, packed with generous chunks of prawn, and steamed till tender but not soggy.
Braised eggplant with fish paste
Yum cha with workmates usually involves a deviation from our standard family favourites. It's hard enough to find someone to share a serve of pai gwut fatty pork ribs, let alone a steamer basket of fung jao chicken feet with black bean and chilli. But it does mean a bounty of fried dumplings and other rarely ordered dishes landing on our table, including thick slabs of soft and sticky eggplant sandwiched around fish paste that has us licking our lips for more.
These vegetable dumplings were also new to me: a huddle of greens inside a glutinous rice dumpling that was stretchy and chewy, with a panfried crispy surface.
Cheung fun rice noodles with oyster sauce
Rice noodles are always a favourite. We had them stir-fried with oyster sauce on one occasion.
Jin cheung fun panfried rice noodles with hoisin and peanut sauce
But really you can't beat jin cheung fun, scrolls of rice noodles pan-fried until they brown to a satisfying crisp, then dredged across a saucer of sweet hoisin and a thick peanut paste.
Ja leung fried bread sticks in steamed rice noodle sheets
Ja leung is always worth seeking. It's a masterful combination of a freshly fried bread stick (also known as you tiao or yau ja gwai) wrapped in a freshly steamed sheet of rice noodle. The unlikely pair are what make this dish so enticing, the crunch of the donut against the silky slippery noodle, annointed with a sweet soy sauce and a sprinkle of shallots.
I don't think I've ever seen a kid resist fried whitebait, even though they may squeal in horror and/or delight at the visible eyes and tails. Actually I don't think I've ever seen an adult resist these either. They're way too crunchy to stop at one.
Fried prawn dumplings
Prawns always figure highly at yum cha. I had a friend with a prawn allergy who would always take a precautionary antihistamine just in case. The fried prawn dumplings hold a bounty of prawn inside the deep-fried purse, and prawn toasts are just as generous with the seafood, crusted with sesame seeds for nuttiness.
Ham soi gok combination dumplings
Ham soi gok combination dumplings can be a bit hit-and-miss here. Occasionally they can be a droopy soggy mess but when they're fried at just the right temperature, these 'footballs' yield a crisp shell, a wondrously sticky and chewy that has a hint of sweetness, and a pocket of savoury pork mince with shrimp within.
Inside the ham soi gok combination dumplings
Wu gok taro dumplings
Wu gok taro dumplings aren't everybody's favourite but our family adore their feathery exterior. Inside is a core of seasoned pork mince wrapped with a dough made from taro and wheat starch. It's the presence of wheat starch that causes the pastry to puff, creating a delicate net that splinters into a cascade of crumbs with every bite.
The dessert trolley may be loaded with squares of wobbly coconut jelly, baked sago pudding and cups of bright orange mango pudding, but my workmates go nuts for mango pancakes, fluoro yellow crepes wrapped around sponge cake, fresh mango slices and lashings of fresh cream. Ok I go a little nuts for them too.
Daan tart egg custard tarts
Tofu fah is probably one of the lightest desserts you can order, quivering scoops of fresh tofu ladled out from a chilled barrel and doused with a sweet ginger syrup. At the other end of the scale are daan tart, or egg custard tarts. The pastry is light and flaky, filled with an eggy custard that glistens under the lights. Vegetarians should be aware that the secret to the flakiness of the pastry is lard.
2014 will be the Year of the Horse. Wherever or however you may be celebrating this year, Happy Chinese New Year!
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Level 3, Market City
9-13 Hay Street, Haymarket, Chinatown. Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9282 9988
Monday to Friday 10am-3.30pm and 5.30pm-11pm
Saturday and Sunday 9am-4pm and 5.30pm-11pm
Related Grab Your Fork posts:
Chinese New Year - Dinner at The Eight, Haymarket
Chinese New Year - Homemade dinner with suckling pig
Vietnamese New Year - Tet Festival, Fairfield Showground
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1/30/2014 12:43:00 am