Chef Jeremy Pang, founder of School of Wok, comes from a long lineage of passionate cooks and ever hungry eaters, and Chinese New Year gives the Pang family the perfect excuse to get the family together and share good food.
We spoke to Jeremy about the traditions of Chinese New Year, the importance and significance of fish, and celebratory customs that greet the start of the new lunar year.
“Golden crispy stuffed wontons, lobster noodles, freshly blanched spring greens, succulent pork belly and whole steamed sea bass with crushed soy beans fill-up millions of banqueting tables each year as families sit down together to feast and celebrate the Chinese New Year. It is a time of food and family, neither in moderation. As we approach February we come into the most auspicious time of the year in Chinese culture, the Lunar Festival or Chinese New Year. It is a time of the year where businesses all over China shut down and families gather for uninterrupted time together. For some, it is the only time of the year they are able to do so, and for this reason, the food that is shared during this time of year is special, requiring that much more thought and care.”
“Chinese culture incorporates symbolism and meaning into everyday life; from how to behave at the dinner table, what colour to wear on what occasion, to what numbers are considered lucky. But especially during Chinese New Year, symbolism and significance is at its peak, especially when it comes to what is cooked and eaten. Traditional Chinese New Year dishes include: wontons, which symbolise good wealth and prosperity; spring greens, renewal; long uncut noodles, a long life; and whole fish, abundance and unity. By sharing these dishes at the table, you are not only hoping for these benefits yourself, but more importantly wishing them for friends and family.”
“With the spirit of celebration and generosity in mind, Chinese New Year is a time to serve show-stopping food to the people who matter most. One such dish that is surprisingly simple to create is a beautifully arranged fish, served whole, right on the table. Not only does it convey the wish of abundance to those seated around your table, but it is a wonderful way to elevate the meal, giving your guests a bit of extra love and care, whilst keeping flavours light. This helps to restore balance at a banquet meal that also includes deep-fried wontons and slow-cooked pork belly. Even outside of Chinese New Year, whole fish is a typical dish served in Chinese culture when the family is gathering together for any type of celebration, sharing it out amongst the table, reassuring each individual that they are a part of the family.
If you are preparing a more western style of meal, where food is served in courses rather than all at once, as is typical in Chinese culture, steamed scallops, which symbolise new horizons or opportunities, are a wonderfully simple yet elegant way to let your guests know you are wishing the very best for them in the new year. Followed with a main of whole fish, spring greens and steamed rice for those keeping health in mind, or a crispy five-spice pork belly for those looking for something slightly heartier and rich, both make for a wonderful, celebratory meal that balances out colour, texture and flavour perfectly.
Of course the Chinese New Year celebration isn’t complete without the gift of a red envelope, normally given to children by their elders, containing money and symbolising the wish of good wealth and fortune for the future.”
Want to spend more time with your guests and less time stressing about the food? Pre-blanch your veggies. When the time comes to whip-up your dishes, this step will cut your cooking time in half and ensure vegetables are still cooked through.
Tagged banquet, Celebrations, Chinese, Chinese New Year, Family, Feasting, fish, Five spice, Jeremy Pang, noodles, pork belly, Scallops, Symbolic eating, whole fish, Wok School, wontons, Year of the Dog