5 Must-Have Lunar New Year Goodies

Lunar New Year celebrations are in full swing and delicious snacks have started to pile up in the pantry.  Some of my all-time favourites include buttery pineapple tarts, spicy shrimp rolls and sweet nian gao (sticky cake).  In fact, these traditional goodies are not just delicious; the Chinese put a lot of thought into the symbolism that goes into each snack.  From wealth to good fortune, here’s a simple guide on how to eat your way to happiness this year.

Pineapple Tarts

Try pineapple tarts from www.bakerzin.com

Try pineapple tarts from www.bakerzin.com

It’s no wonder these are such a hit during Lunar New Year – these rich golden tarts are a symbol of good fortune.  In the Hokkien dialect, pineapple is ‘ong lai,’ which sounds like ‘prosperity has come.’

The most popular variety is an open-faced tart topped with sweet pineapple jam, however, some pineapple tarts are also made to look like gold nuggets or ingots. Done right, the pastry should light and buttery, and the pineapple jam should have just the right touch of sweetness and tartness that leaves you craving for more.

Love Letters

Image via www.kele.sg

Try love letters from www.kele.sg

These egg rolls have such a poetic name because they were once used to hide secret messages between lovers in ancient China.  Today, they are considered auspicious because they look like gold bars.  Baked with sugar, flour, eggs and coconut milk, they are wafer-thin, crispy and have the perfect crunch.

Shrimp Rolls

Image via http://rasamalaysia.com

Picture from http://rasamalaysia.com

Shrimp are believed to represent happiness while the tiny rolls symbolise wealth, because they look so much like gold bars.  Made with dried shrimp, sambal chilli, shallots, garlic and sugar, these spicy and sweet treats are completely addictive.

Bak Kwa

Image via www.beechenghiang.com.sg

Try bak kwa from www.beechenghiang.com.sg

‘Bak Kwa’ means ‘good fortune ahead’ in Cantonese.  This caramelised dried jerky is barbecued until it turns a deep rich red – an extremely auspicious colour believed to ward off evil in Chinese culture.  Traditional bak kwa is made of pork, although you can get chicken or beef options today as well.  I personally love the bacon bak kwa for its juiciness.

Nian Gao

Image via breadetbutter.wordpress.com

Image via breadetbutter.wordpress.com

‘Nian Gao’ translates to ‘sticky cake.’  However, it also sounds like the Mandarin expression for ‘rising higher each year’ and is thus a promise of better things to come.  This delicious glutinous rice cake is traditionally sold with words of blessing on top.

Want to make your own Nian Gao? Executive Chinese Chef Lee Hui Ngai of Cassia shares his favourite recipe with me!

Chef Lee Hui Ngai

 

Chef Lee’s Secret Nian Gao Recipe

Ingredients

Glutinous Rice Flour – 450g
Coconut Cream – 120g
Flour Starch – 180g
Oil – 55g
Coconut Sugar – 120g
Sugar – 540g
Water – 630g

 

Instructions

  1. Boil the water and dissolve the coconut sugar and sugar. Allow to cool.
  2. In a separate bowl, combine the glutinous rice flour, starch and oil. Mix till smooth.
  3. Slowly add the cooled sugar syrup to the flour and oil mixture. Mix till smooth.
  4. Add the coconut cream to the mixture and strain.
  5. Place the mixture in a pan and steam for an hour.

Enjoy Chef Lee’s other Lunar New Year delicacies at Cassia at Capella Singapore.

An Unforgettable Lunar New Year

Every Lunar New Year’s Eve, if I’m not abroad, you can expect me to be having dinner with my family.  By family, I mean all 23 of them from my 93-year-old grandmother to my 2-year-old niece.  It is something my grandmother insists on—she believes a person who forgets tradition, forgets family.

Like any cosmopolitan city, it’s nothing short of a miracle to get so many people to sit down to dinner together in Singapore.  It requires the expert management of multiple clashing schedules, packed with the million little demands modern life makes.

As you can imagine, arranging an unforgettable dinner for 24 is no simple affair.  So this year, I’ve decided to take a leaf from Executive Chinese Chef Lee Hiu Ngai of Cassia, Capella Singapore.

During the 40 years of his culinary career, Chef Lee has charmed diners at top hotels in Beijing, Hong Kong and Singapore, and made Lunar New Year memorable for so many families.  He generously shares his ‘recipe’ for happiness this Lunar New Year.

Executive Chinese Chef Lee Hui Ngai from Cassia

Executive Chinese Chef Lee Hiu Ngai from Cassia

What is the most unforgettable Lunar New Year meal you’d recommend?

Chef Lee: One of the top five fish I’ve tried over the past four decades of my culinary career is the Unforgettable Fish.  In Mandarin, it’s called 忘不了鱼, which actually translates to ‘unforgettable fish’.  Once you’ve tried it, you’ll see why.  The first time I savoured this fish was when a guest from China specially requested it.  I took my first bite, and was instantly enraptured.

The Unforgettable Fish

The Unforgettable Fish

Why is this fish so exceptional?

Chef Lee: I could tell you how sweet, succulent, silky and tender it is, but that barely begins to describe it.  The Unforgettable Fish swims against the current, and its scales are unusually crisp when steamed.  Unlike other fish, we tend to steam this fish with its scales intact.

At Capella Singapore, we import the Unforgettable Fish ‘live’ from Sabah, Malaysia when it’s fully-grown and at least 2kg in weight—any smaller, and it loses some of its unique flavour.  As with the best ingredients, there’s no need to do too much with it.  It is best enjoyed lightly steamed, with a glass of white wine or champagne.

Any other dining tips for an unforgettable Lunar New Year?

Chef Lee: Lunar New Year has special significance for Chinese around the world.  We believe it is auspicious to enjoy a beautiful and unforgettable meal to herald an amazing New Year.

Fortune and good luck aside, what really warms my heart is being with my family, and watching their sheer delight in enjoying a meal together.  As a chef, this naturally fills me with a deep sense of pride.  But as a father, husband and son, this gives me a glimpse of true happiness, in all its richness and simplicity.

Cassia's signature Lou Hei

Cassia‘s Signature Lou Hei

If you are planning your own Lunar New Year’s celebrations, be sure to check out Cassia’s Lunar New Year specials here.

Chef Mak Kwai Pui Visits Capella Singapore

This week, I had the great honor of meeting one of Asia’s most celebrated “dim sum” chefs, Michelin Starred Chef Mak Kwai Pui from the famous Tim Ho Wan Dim Sum Specialist restaurant in Hong Kong.

Literally translated, dim sum means “a touch from the heart” and it is a cuisine that is strongly linked to the ancient Chinese culture of visiting teahouses to rest and relax over a pot of fragrant tea and a light snack.  Today, dim sum has evolved to become more than just a light snack, but a culinary experience for local epicures and a culinary fine art for many Chinese chefs.

Having Chef Mak visit Capella Singapore was a hit among hotel guests as well as the local community.  I myself have visited Chef Mak’s Hong Kong restaurant and waiting for a table and a chance to enjoy his specialty—the Baked Barbecue Pork Bun with its delicately toasted crust encasing a rich blend of generously sliced succulent barbecued pork and savory sauce.

For four days, Chef Mak took over the kitchen Capella Singapore’s Cassia and epicures were granted the perfect opportunity to catch the culinary mastermind.  During the visit Chef Mak let us in on the secret to great dim sum: patience and perfecting the basics.  Culinary excellence aside that also makes for a great life lesson!

Chef Mak’s visit is just one of the impressive guests chefs Capella Singapore has had the pleasure of hosting.  Hopefully you will be able to join us for the next special culinary experience.  Keep an eye on Facebook for the details!