Can dining on symbolic Chinese dishes promise a better year ahead?
We interviewed two star chefs about which foods are auspicious in the upcoming Year of the Water Rabbit, and were relieved to find out that rabbit’s not on the menu. Eat these lucky foods instead.
Chef Jereme Leung
Born in Hong Kong, celebrity chef Jereme Leung started cooking at 13 and achieved mastery by spending almost 30 years in restaurant kitchens and traveling through different regions of China, learning their cuisines and the ingredients they use.
It is everybody’s wish to start off the New Year well, a desire matched equally by the Chinese love of tradition, symbolism and ritual.
An expert in all four schools of Chinese cooking—dim sum, barbecue, wok cooking and knife work—he honed his craft at some of Southeast Asia’s best hotel chains, like the Mandarin Oriental, the Four Seasons and the Conrad. At Conrad Manila, the chef established China Blue by Jereme Leung, which serves the Modern Chinese cuisine Leung pioneered by remaining true to traditional Chinese techniques while pushing the envelope in terms of style and presentation.
Today, he continues to create unique and successful restaurant concepts all over the world via his Jereme Leung Concepts Limited, and has been conferred numerous global awards, including the Five Star Diamond Award by The American Academy of Hospitality Science, naming him one of the “World’s Best Chefs.”
THE PHILIPPINE STAR: What are the foods considered lucky for Chinese New Year?
Chef Jereme Leung: The Chinese Lunar calendar pinpoints to a time of renewal, the end of a year’s cycle, the beginning of a new cycle, at the onset of spring. This can be any day between the 20th of January and the 19th of February in the Gregorian calendar.
This event has been at different times called the Spring Festival (Chunjie), the Time of Beginning (Yuanchen), and the First Day (Yuanri). Mostly, it is simply known as Chinese New Year. Each New Year signifies a turning point in the lives and fortunes of the Chinese. The slate is wiped clean; much is in store. It is everybody’s wish to start off the New Year well, a desire matched equally by the Chinese love of tradition, symbolism and ritual.
Numerous food ingredients and dishes regarded as bringing luck, abundance and prosperity were traditionally served in Chinese celebrations and gatherings during Chinese New Year, below I list a couple of the most well known ones:
Mandarin oranges—Known as “gan” in Chinese, it is the embodiment of gold.
Nian gao CNY glutinous rice cakes—The name “nian gao” rhymes with “higher year,” connoting the attainment of hopes and ambitions. These sticky rice cakes represent growth and attainment of ambition.
Yusheng (Mandarin) or Yee Sang (Cantonese) Sashimi Salad—This delectable dish tops the menu at every Chinese restaurant in Southeast Asia during the two-week Chinese New Year period. It is considered an auspicious dish, as the term used for mixing the salad together—“Lou San”—sounds the same in Cantonese as the words for good luck and prosperity.
Chinese Black Moss “Fat Choy”—It is actually Nostoc Flagelliforme moss that grows near the desert and dry areas across the globe. In China, it is mainly found in areas like Inner Mongolia, Gansu, Qinghai, and Ningxia provinces. The name “Fat Choy” resembles “getting rich” in Cantonese.
Whole fish “you yu” (Mandarin) or “yao yu” (Cantonese)—This Cantonese expression means “abundance,” which is considered very lucky for the Chinese to be having abundance of everything at the beginning of the new year.
Are you planning to include them in your menu for China Blue, and how would you put your own spin on them?
Our resident Chinese executive chef, Khor Eng Yew, and myself have incorporated many of these Chinese well wishes symbolism into our two Chinese New Year Menus featured this year.
Both our set menus start with a Yee Sang raw fish salad and have a dish with a whole fish.
One of our menus features Chinese Black Moss “Fat Choy.”
Both our set menus feature Nian Gao and this year it is being prepared in pandan flavor and shaped like a mandarin orange.
And, most importantly, regardless of well wishes, symbolism and resemblance, all dishes are prepared by our team at China Blue by Jereme Leung at Conrad Manila, which is well known for their quality of cuisines that are both delicious and well presented!
* * *
Conrad Manila offers the traditional Yee Sang Prosperity Toss, Nian Gao treasures and a well-curated set menu at its award-winning China Blue by Jereme Leung. The Chinese set menu features steamed live sea lapu-lapu with black garlic, shredded, assorted mushrooms in superior soya sauce; stir-fried king prawn with creamy garlic chili sauce; and golden roast US duck with BBQ sauce, among others.
For reservations and inquiries, call 8833-9999 or email [email protected]. To learn more about Conrad Manila’s promotions and offers follow them on Facebook (ConradManilaPH) and on Instagram (@conradmanila) or visit bit.ly/CNYatConradManila.
Chef Johanne Siy
Singapore-based Johanne Siy is the head chef and partner at acclaimed restaurant Lolla in Singapore. Her cuisine is mindful, produce-driven and reflects her focus on Modern European cuisine.
Siy trained at the Culinary Institute of America in New York and made her bones at Le Bernardin and Café Bouloud in New York City.
Returning to Singapore, she worked for chef Andre Chiang at Restaurant Andre for four years, and was part of the team when the restaurant achieved two Michelin stars and its highest ranking in Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list.
She also spent time in the kitchens, farms and forests of Scandinavia, where she staged at Noma and Relae in Copenhagen and Faviken in Sweden.
Last year, Siy was awarded Female Chef of the Year at the World Gourmet Awards 2021.
She was two of the Six-Hands Dinner at Restaurant Metronome on Jan. 17, which was part of chef Miko Calo’s collaborative Avec Series along with chef Margarita Fores.
What are the foods considered lucky for Chinese New Year?
Chef Johanne Siy: There are quite a number of items considered auspicious for Chinese New Year. These include mandarins, fish, abalone, prawns, and oysters, to name a few. For the most part they are considered auspicious because the words for them sound like the words for “luck,” “prosperity,” “wealth” and “abundance” in a Chinese dialect. For some, it’s because of the color or resemblance to something associated with wealth. Abalone, for example, resembles gold ingots.
Did you include them on your menu, and how did you put your own spin on them?
For the Six-Hands collaboration with chef Miko Calo and chef Margarita Fores at Metronome, we served an abalone dish to wish our guests “guaranteed abundance” for the year ahead. We served abalone from Wando that was braised for 10 hours, along with a mushroom broth made from eight different types of mushrooms. The team was excited and very much looked forward to that collaboration!