Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Gung hei faat coi - Happy New Year of the rabbit

Chinese New Year isn't a food filled occasion that I had celebrated until I was recently invited by friends to Victoria Asian Cuisine in Monkstown, Dublin for a New Years feast. I happily went off to wikipedia to research about all the New Years traditions to make sure that I wouldnt do anything disastrously wrong. There was only one tradition that stuck, which I now strangely cant find anywhere on Wikipedia. This was that under no circumstances should you wear black. Unfortunately when I turned up in an array of reds and golds I found out that Wikipedia was lying, much like the time it told me that mince pies came from Holland.

So there I was in my red, for my New Years feast. Victoria run a New Years feast every year, where you can book tables of 8 or more for a very reasonable (€32 a head) for ten courses of food destined to bring you prosperity in the Chinese New Year. During the night there were prize draws in aid of charity, where most tables seemed to win a few bottles of booze and right at the end of the night the Karaoke machine was opened up for those few Asian guests in the room with singing voices, and those many Irish with no singing voices but fantastic belief in themselves.

salad for luck in eating the rest of the feast 
First out was a smoked salmon salad. A load of small bowls were brought to the table containing things like smoked salmon, sesame seeds, carrots, coriander, something that looked a bit like cornflakes and ginger. We were told to take a bowl and empty it into the big bowl. Then the waiter came around with 2 little envelopes, one which smelled a bit like Chinese 5 spice and the other that smelled oddly like nothing but was possibly MSG. We were then instructed to all dig our chopsticks in to mix the salad. I could have eaten this salad all day (which is what leads me to believe MSG might have been an ingredient), it was everything in one - sweet, sour, crunchy, soft and fantastically fresh. 

Next to arrive out was an "Imperial Treasure Platter" of assorted deep fried goodies, tempura prawns, crab claws, chicken satay skewers all guarded by a little orange salt Confucius. Deep breath, only 8 more courses to go!

After this, some giant prawns and then the crispiest roast chicken I have ever eaten (for prosperity said the menu). A scary looking sea bass came next looking slightly like it had been shot and its entrails placed lovingly on the plate surrounded by decorations of orange slices. It was beautifully cooked, and lovely and light after the previous few courses. 

Next out some lovely roast duck followed by another Confucius minding some lamb chops. These menu items listed the following as their benefits "inspires good team spirit and raises hope for a profitable year" followed by "to bring about wealth and riches". These guys should open a restaurant outside the gates of our government offices, I suspect they could change the country around.

After this came dishes of Chinese vegetables, rice and noodles. Rice and noodles apparently are always left to the end for the anyone that might still be hungry, it being important to stuff your guests with the good stuff first. All novice buffet diners should bear this in mind! 

Finally to top it all off a big plate of fruit, including a number of which were meant to look like rabbits. Don't recognise them from the photo above, see below. 

I had figured that it might be bad luck to eat rabbit on New Year in the year of the rabbit, but it appears that rabbit shaped orange was absolutely fine.

I cant recommend going for a Chinese New Year feast enough, its a great chance to have a massive feast of different foods that you might normally not eat all with the goal of bringing luck to the next 12 months. If you're willing, Victoria is also a great spot for Karaoke but I didn't hang around long enough to find out.

Since then Ive been reliably informed that red and gold are the customary colours for brides, something that none of those dressed in black at the table (for bad luck) knew about either. The year of the rabbit is, or so I'm told, one of the luckiest Chinese years and probably one where you should avoid trusting Wikipedia too much as a main source of information

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