Chek Mok Kit Keung's Guide to Chinese New Year
The Shang Palace chef on how to make your Chinese New Year celebrations momentous - and memorable!
The Chinese Lunar New Year which takes place this year between January 27 and February 2 is the time when family and friends, whether nearby or far away, return home or get together to celebrate. Why is it celebrated at this time?
Well, traditionally, Chinese New Year was set to coincide with the slack time just before a new year of farm work begins, as a time of preparation. Obviously, when most Chinese were farmers this made sense. However, even with more than half of China's population now urban dwellers - a generation ago it was just a quarter - the celebrations are, for many, more important than ever.
So in the run up to Chinese New Year we're going to be running some interviews with some of the world's most important Chinese chefs and some of the best recipes from our wonderful new book China The Cookbook, to bring you a happier, healthier and maybe even wealthier, new year.
We kick off today with Chek Mok Kit Keung, head chef at Shang Palace at the Shangri-La Kowloon hotel in Hong Kong, who tells us about the new year celebrations that stick in his mind from childhood, how to make yours just as memorable and the one dish he'd eat or serve from the 800 plus in China The Cookbook.
What makes a perfect Chinese New Year celebration? Chinese New Year is all about family. No celebration will be complete without a proper gathering with all my family members. It is traditionally the merriest season for the Chinese and a great opportunity to catch up with some relatives and friends.
What is the one that sticks in your memory? Chinese New Year has always been my favourite festival, and my childhood celebrations are still fresh in my memory. Back then, all the kids would come up with ideas and plans to get the most number of _lai sees_ – it’s not the money, but the fun which counted. It’s also the best time of the year to meet most of my cousins and friends, some from around the world. We would make traditional goodies, design fei chun and play a lot of fun games while our parents were playing mahjong or watching festive performances.
What can our readers do to make their meal extra special? I always try to be creative in terms of choices of ingredients. It takes a lot of time to experiment with different combinations of food ingredients and see how their flavours complement each other, but the creation you come up with could be beyond amazing. For example, I know roselle flower and guava are both appetising and have health benefits, so I tried putting them together and created a Roselle Flower and Guava Pudding for this Chinese New Year. It is now a very popular fabulous festive choice among the other traditional flavours this year at Shang Palace. In addition, I would say presentation is always essential. Food creations have to taste good and look good. I am always trying to add a little twist – edible flowers, creative plating and so on to make my creations stand out.
Where will you be celebrating this year? Chinese New Year is always the busiest time of the year for Chinese chefs. I will spend most of the time working at Shang Palace. Nevertheless, I will make time for my family and visiting friends, and hopefully let them try some of my new creations.
What would you serve from China The Cookbook? I would go for the Roast Squab with Port Wine Sauce. It’s always good to have some meat dishes during family gatherings. Port wine sauce should go well with squab. This dish should be quite juicy and flavoursome. I personally consider it a good choice to share with a few guests or family members.
If this has whetted your appetite for the coming celebrations look out for our recipes and chef interviews in the coming days featured in China The Cookbook. Or, if you want to start planning your CNY meal right now, buy China The Cookbook here.