Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Ringing in the Year of the Dragon

On Sunday night, we went with Stanley and his family to a restaurant in Kaohsiung for a Chinese New Year banquet. Stanley’s family has adopted many foreigners, and we happily joined their American, English, and Japanese guests at a round Chinese-style banquet table. The celebrations officially started as the God of Fortune entered the room in an opulent parade to the main stage of the banquet room. Children were invited up to the front of the stage to wish everyone a Happy New Year, and then the eleven-course meal started to come out. A lot of the foods served for New Year’s Eve dinner hold special meaning and significance. I’m no expert, but the BBC News magazine posted an interesting article about the significance of special New Years dishes this week. Check it out here!

First, we had a selection of cold meats and cured fish. We got to try mullet roe, which is a very popular food given and served at CNY each year. The next course was shark’s fin soup, minus its most controversial ingredient. This soup, instead, was chock full of mushrooms and tons of different types of seafood. The kinds I identified were lobster, crab and shrimp, though there were many others as well. The next course was steamed whole fish (my favourite!!!), then a dish of langostines in a clear broth. When you order shrimp or prawns in Taiwan, they usually come with the shell, legs, face, etc still attached which used to freak me out, though now I am able to very calmly watch as Boje peels them for me. :)

Next was leg of pork, which looks a bit intense for the Western palate, but was the most tender, amazing, delicious, perfect, beautiful pork I’ve tasted in a long time. It came in a very rich and beautiful gravy as well! After the pork leg was crab with sticky rice (like we had at Anna’s wedding) and then a dish of sliced squid cooked with bell peppers and onions. The sauce reminded of us of sweet-and-sour dishes you’d find at a Chinese restaurant back home. After that was fish with mushrooms and bok choy, then of course a tureen of black chicken soup. During the meal, musicians walked around playing traditional songs for each table, and the God of Fortune came from table to table to gamble with diners. I myself won a beautiful little envelope containing a shiny NT$10 coin. I hope that’s a sign of good things to come in the New Year!

For dessert, we had a beautiful fruit tray and individual steamed cakes. There were two flavours. One was honey and the other tasted richer, like a mapley molasses. It was all delicious, and we had a really great time. After we finished eating, the guests at the table all gave red envelopes containing cash gifts for Stanley’s nephew - it’s customary to give red envelopes to children on New Year’s Eve. Our Taiwanese friends have lamented to us that the holidays can become very expensive once you reach adulthood!

We hope all our friends who observe the Lunar New Year had an excellent weekend. This was an experience we’ll always remember fondly, and a highlight of our time spent in Taiwan thus far.

The restaurant was absolutely beautiful...
... and there were intricate wooden carvings everywhere, many of which were apparently saved from temples across Taiwan.
Shark Fin (Style) Soup. Apparently there was not real shark fin in the soup.
Leg of pork.
Crab and sticky rice.
Squid with vegetables.
Seafood with bok choy and mushrooms.
Cai Shen (財神) pays our table a visit.
Amanda beats Cai Shen at the dice roll... and wins 10NT.

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