An Unforgettable Lunar New Year

Cassia's signature Lou Hei

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 Hui 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 Hui 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.

The Legend Of The Chinese Zodiac

The Chinese Zodiac

The Lunar New Year is probably one of the most important Chinese festivals each year as it marks the coming spring.   This year, the New Year falls on February 10th.  The Lunar New Year is surrounded by age-old myths and folklore.  One of the most popular is the legend of the Chinese Zodiac.  Chinese astrology follows a cycle of twelve animals.  Each represent the Zodiac signs for their respective lunar year, with 2013 being the year of the snake.

According to legend, the Jade Emperor invited all of the animals to participate in a race across the river.  The winners would earn the twelve coveted seats in the Chinese Zodiac.

The rat and the cat were clever enough to hitch a ride on the strongest swimmer – the ox.  Just before it reached the shore, the rat pushed the cat into the river and jumped off the back of the buffalo and across the finish line, making it the first animal to earn a seat in the Zodiac. The ox then took second.

The Chinese Zodiac

In third place came the tiger, which was no surprise.  But in fourth and fifth place, and nearly tied, came the rabbit followed the dragon.  It is said that the dragon, who could have easily won, chose to help the rabbit across the river instead, thus claiming a later place on the calendar.

Behind the dragon, the horse could be seen approaching the shore.  But just as he was about to climb out of the water a snake slithered off the horse’s hoof.  Resulting in the sixth position going to the snake and the seventh to the horse.

The goat, monkey and rooster helped one another across the river on a raft and arrived at the same time.  The Jade Emperor was impressed with their resourcefulness and each received a place on the Chinese Zodiac calendar.  In eleventh place was the dog, who’s arrival was delayed because he enjoyed playing in the water.  After a break for a meal and a nap, the pig crossed the line and claimed the calendar’s final seat.

And now you know how the animals secured a place on the Chinese Calendar!  Oh and the cat?  It crossed the river in the 13th position, thus missing out in the competition.  The cat blamed its misfortune on the rat and they haven’t been friends since!

Romance in Singapore

Chinese Vday image

In Singapore we do not celebrate Valentine’s Day Once- but twice.

While the Western Valentine’s Day is recognized in Singapore, we also celebrate the Chinese version.  It falls on the fifteenth day of the Lunar New Year, which this year happens to be Februrary 6th.  In my earlier blog post about the Chinese New Year Celebration I mentioned a little about the Chinese Valentine’s Day, but I thought I would take a closer look at it now.

As I previously described one of the central traditions involves single women throwing mandarian oranges into the water to be collected by potential suitors.

But where does the excitement and lore come from?

Historically, it was only on the fifteenth day of the Lunar New Year that unmarried women could go out into the streets (accompanied by a chaperone).  Many young men would gather in the hopes of catching glimpses of these lovely maidens. The legend holds that there would be a “matchmaker” from the moon who would be watching and would tie red strings of destiny on the legs of compatible couples. Incidentally, because of this legend, matchmakers in the past were traditionally very busy on this day in hopes of pairing couples.

So, if you are looking for love, be sure to go out in public on the 6th.  You may just meet you destined partner!

The 15 Days of Chinese New Year

The must have Yu Sheng.

While the calendar may have moved from 2011 to 2012, here in Singapore and many other parts of Asia, the celebrations do not stop. Next up, Chinese New Year.  The Chinese New Year celebrations are rich in traditions.  Here at Capella Singapore, we’re already deep in the midst of preparing for all the festivities, from designing special menus, red packets, and special events to welcome the Chinese New Year.

Before the festivities begin, families spend the days leading up to the first day of Chinese New Year cleaning up the house.  This act symbolises getting rid of the old and bad fortune of the preceding year and making way for the good fortune of the coming year.  The eve of Chinese New Year is when the celebrations begin with a large family dinner.  The must-have dish is “yu sheng” (鱼生), which is a raw fish salad.  Every member at the table will “toss” it as high as possible to symbolise growth and prosperity.  “Yu sheng” is as a homophone for another Chinese word meaning an increase in abundance.  Therefore, it is considered a symbol of abundance, prosperity and vigor.

The must have Yu Sheng.

These days with everyone’s busy schedules, Singaporeans hardly have time to observe all 15 days of Chinese New Year, saving the celebrations to the more important days.  The first day is probably the most important day of Chinese New Year, as it is a time to honor one’s elders.  Families visit the oldest and most senior members of their extended families and those family members who are married give red packets containing money to the junior family members.

On day two, known as “kai nian” (开年, beginning of the year), married daughters visit their parents, relatives and close friends.  The seventh day is “everyone’s birthday” and is considered the day when everyone grows a year older.  Once again people gather in restaurants to celebrate this day and “yu sheng” is tossed.

The 15th and final day is known in the Hokkien dialect as “chap goh mei” (十五暝, the fifteenth night).  It is not only the last day of Chinese New Year festivities, but is also the Chinese “Valentine’s Day.”  According to traditions, single women throw mandarin oranges into the river and single men wait by the river to pick up the oranges.  The sweetness of the orange represents the indication of possible compatibility.

Chinese New Year 2012 begins on the 23rd of January so; if you’re looking for a new experience, join us in Singapore for all the festivities!

For a full taste of Chinese New Year in Singapore, check out this video: