Hakkasan: Celebrating Chinese New Year in style
Executive head chef Tong Chee Hwee on bringing family traditions to his Michelin-starred London restaurant
Following the chaotic Year of the Monkey, the Year of the Fire Rooster is predicted to bring fresh and exciting challenges requiring practical solutions and good old-fashioned hard work.
This year, Hakkasan restaurants around the world are celebrating Chinese New Year with a limited-edition menu showcasing celebratory dishes and desserts accompanied by an exclusive Year of the Rooster cocktail.
When it came to putting the menu together, I was inspired by the traditional New Year feast in China and I wanted to showcase customs and traditions that our guests may not be familiar with. We want to give our guests a new experience and surprise them with flavour combinations they haven't tasted before.
The Chinese New Year menu at Hakkasan starts with a new dish called Fortune Tale, which is a prosperity "toss" salad. I created it using roasted chicken and jellyfish together to symbolise abundance, prosperity and vigour. The dish is most commonly eaten either at New Year or when you are about to embark on a new business venture. An entire ritual is involved in its consumption, with the family gathering around the dining table with the dish at its centre and everyone using their chopsticks to toss the salad as high into the air as possible. The higher the ingredients travel, the greater your fortunes will be. Our chef will show guests how the salad has been made and then encourage them to throw it as high as they can to give them a special experience of how we celebrated Chinese New Year in old times.
Dumplings are another dish traditionally eaten during this celebratory time. Jiaozi dumplings are commonly eaten at midnight on New Year's Eve in the northern provinces. They're made with flour and often stuffed with coins, peanuts or sweets to symbolise different blessings. Jiaozi signify wealth and prosperity; their shape resembles the ancient Chinese ingot, a currency used up until the 20th century, while the roundness of the tangyuan dumplings represent family unity and reunion. Meanwhile, in the southern provinces, tangyuan, a kind of sweet, glutinous rice dumpling, are traditionally eaten.
I remember the delicious meals my Hakka grandmother used to cook during Chinese New Year celebrations. She had such a talent for cooking, which she passed on to my mother. She always made Pen Cai (or "big basin feast"), one of the Hakka delicacies commonly served during Chinese New Year. Traditional Pen Cai is served in a big wooden basin. There is one on each table and every family member takes food from the basin, layer by layer, from the top to the bottom. Symbolic meanings are attached to this custom; it makes the family work together and is an attempt to encourage fortune and luck for us all.
The original version of Pen Cai only used basic and fresh ingredients easily available from farms, such as vegetables, chicken, duck and pork. However, it has transformed into an exotic and lavish affair with the addition of seafood such as oysters, abalone, sea cucumber and scallops.
I always celebrate Chinese New Year with my family and cook a delicious meal for everyone. I am happiest when my family are all together enjoying my food.
The limited-edition Chinese New Year menu at Hakkasan runs until 11 February and is priced at £88 or £108 per person; hakkasan.com
TONG CHEE HWEE is executive head chef at the Hakkasan restaurant group. He began his career at the age of 18 in the Happy Valley Chinese restaurant in Singapore before joining the Ritz Carlton hotel. He moved to London in 2001 to launch Hakkasan Hanway Place, which became the first Chinese restaurant in the UK to be awarded a Michelin star – an accolade it retains today.