It was a year ago when I last gathered with a few of my friends. We had planned for a multi-course dinner at our downtown go-to restaurant, Hong Shing, for a Lunar New Year celebration meal – a time when many Asian cultures celebrate. We feasted on dishes that were meant to be eaten with well wishes in mind – for good health, longevity, prosperity and happiness. Symbolic ingredients and dishes included uncut noodles for example, are always enjoyed that represented a long life. “Fatt Choy” a type of mossy vegetation that is translated to wishes of prosperity. Eggs are always on the table that represent fertility and life. Dumplings represent wishes of wealth to come your way. Of course, we would always have enough food leftover – symbolic an abundance of happiness and wishes to never go without. Yes, we’re pretty superstitious.
I’ve always enjoyed sharing our customs with friends – their kids have always been so delighted when I hand them their first “hong bao” or “lei see”. With eyes wide open, they are so eager to learn about this red packet tradition (gift of money) which always leads to conversations of other New Year traditions. But this was a favourite from giving and receiving with two hands to learning to not hungrily opening the packet immediately to see what’s inside. I’d tell them it’s different from a Christmas or birthday present, you don’t open it immediately in front of the person who gifted it to you.
The New Year’s wishes last year include more cautious greetings of “stay safe and healthy”. It was right at the time of the Lunar New Year when Chinese restaurants were beginning to experience a shift in our city. There were no more queues at dim sum. No more waiting out the door for a table at dinner time even uptown in Richmond Hill and Markham. It was eerie. Restaurants were quietly shuttering or adjusting their businesses well before the rest of the city. Now, it’s a year later and we all know impact the pandemic has had on all of us. But what we’ve witnessed over the past year is just how creative our diverse and vibrant city can be even in the most challenging times.
The Year of the Ox begins on February 12th this year. The New Year is traditionally celebrated over the span of 15 days. However, celebrations this year will be adjusted for many families. Of course, there will be no gatherings happening but the focus has shifted to take out from restaurants and cooking at home. I’ll still find a new outfit to wear (another tradition) and get the red envelopes ready for safe drop off for the little ones.
Here are some great ideas that I’ve come across to help usher in the Lunar New Year this year…
Hong Shing CNY Collaborative Meal Kit: Several second (and even third) generation Chinese-Canadian independent restaurant owners, chefs and small businesses are coming together in the most delicious collaboration by offering a Chinese New Year celebration meal to be enjoyed right in the comforts of your own home. The faces and forces behind this collaboration include Hong Shing Chinese Restaurant and The Highbell Group (Joybird, Makan, Quell). Together, they have also enlisted local entrepreneur/businesses Yueh Tung, EC Projects from Evelyn Chick and the city’s much loved Tap Phong Trading Co. to create a complete Lunar New Year experience.
What’s inside the box?
- 8 course meal including dessert curated by Colin Li and Trevor Lui – included are symbolic ingredients of the season (full menu can be viewed on the link below)
- Cocktail/Mocktail kit with custom tea curated by Evelyn Chick (EC Projects/Salty Paloma)
- Duo of acclaimed sauces from Yueh Tung Chinese Restaurant
- Custom Selected set of Chopsticks from Tap Phong Trading Co.
- Double Happiness Cookbook from Trevor Lui
- Premium Chinese Tea from “Yum Cha” by Trevor Lui
- 6 Pack of Hong Shing’s New Red Pocket Pilsner Craft Beer
This special dinner promotion will run from February 5-19. The meal kit is $288.00 and will feed up to 6 people. It requires 24 notice and will be available starting February 1 for pre-order via www.CNY.HongShing.com
GEORGE Restaurant: If you’re looking for a creative twist to your celebration, George offers a very special Lunar New Year menu for take out or delivery (in addition to their weekly menu). The 5 course tasting menu ($125 per person) is available only on February 11 and 12. Order in advance. The menu features an impressive selection of dishes and options:
Black Cod, Saffron Pannacotta, Roasted Brussels OR Lobster, Navy Bean Relish, Lemongrass ($5 substitute), or vegetarian option
Ricotta Gnocchi, Chanterelle Mushrooms, Breadcrumb OR Agnolotti, Pumpkin Seed Crusted Sweetbreads, Carrot OR Orechhiette, Peppercorn, Black Truffle ($30 substitute)
Pork Belly, Semolina Cake, Honey Mustard Miso, OR Shortrib, Heirloom Beets, Chickpea OR Vegetarian option
Beef Tenderloin, Caramelized Onion, Black Olive OR Lamb, Seasonal Ratatouille, Thai Curry OR Bison Ribeye Fingerling Potato, Fennel ($5 substitute) OR Vegetarian option
Kalhua Chocolate Cake, Espresso Mascarpone, Pear OR Yogurt Cheesecake, White Chocolate, Almond
Chef’s Plate: I often have families with kids ask for dinner ideas that can be worked in as a learning experience. This meal kit idea makes for a tasty theme night. The kit includes all the ingredients pre-portioned to recreate a flavourful Chicken & Shrimp Chow Mein (Noodles) dish. The kit is available to order from January 24 to Feb 3. Search up some of the traditions and for crafts — make paper lanterns or paper “firecracker” chain decorations for a fun activity with kids. For dessert, explore the produce section at the grocers for fruits including persimmons, dragonfruit, and clementine oranges.
Bayview Village Shopping Centre: in partnership with eliteGen, is celebrating the Lunar New Year virtually this year with a “Pamper in Prosperity“ series. From February 6 to 11, they will offer up virtual experiences featuring beauty, food, and wellness products provided by the mall’s retailers. Participants can purchase a $28 self care kit ($200 in value) and receive access to all six sessions to be enjoyed all in the comforts of your own home.
Inside the kit:
- Folha floral kit from Pusateri’s Fine Foods
- SkinCeuticals Simply Clean face wash, from Hammam Spa by Céla
- 16 oz fresh juice and 2 oz booster form ELXR Juice Lab
- Powder Kiss lipstick from MAC Cosmetics
- Limited edition Lunar New Year donut from Bloomer’s
- 1 year magazine subscription (6 issues) to eliteGen
Panda Mandarin Lunar New Year Celebration: For families with young children, this Toronto-based Mandarin language school will host their annual celebration this year online. During the virtual event, kids will learn how to make New Year crafts, learn about some of the traditions through storytelling, enjoy music and more. The event will be held on February 13 beginning at 2:00 pm EST. For more information contact firstname.lastname@example.org