Lee Man with Michel Roux

Richmond native and food writer Lee Man with legendary chef Michel Roux. (PHOTO: SUBMITTED)

With February 8 marking the beginning of the Year of the Monkey, it’s time to once again celebrate with friends and family over a bountiful feast. Lee Man, born in Hong Kong and raised in Vancouver, writes about food for a variety of publications (e.g. Time Out, Eat Magazine, Wine Access) and serves as a judge for both the Vancouver Magazine and Chinese Restaurant Awards. Drawing upon his expertise in Chinese cuisine, Man suggests five sumptuous dishes that are culturally significant for heralding into the New Year.

Golden Paramount oysters

The Pan-Fried Oysters at Golden Paramount are a must-have. (PHOTO: TARA LEE)

Dish #1: Pan-Fried Oysters

“At Golden Paramount (8071 Park Rd.), I really like their pan-fried oysters. They air-dry them slightly. They’re really savoury. They have garlic bits in them. And the Cantonese word for oysters is ho see, which sounds like good, ho.”

salt-baked chicken

Salt-baked chicken, Hakka-style, can also be found at Hakkasan Bistro. (PHOTO: TARA LEE)

Dish #2: Salt-Baked Chicken

“At Hoitong (8191 Westminster Highway), I really like their whole salt-baked chicken. They do a really good job of it, and the chef is really proud of it. He preps the chickens the night before, and I’ve been in the kitchen, with all the chickens hanging there. It’s a real point-of-pride dish for him. A whole chicken symbolizes everyone being together and they usually serve it with the head and tail, which symbolizes good beginnings and good endings.”

Shanghai Wonderful rice cakes

Nin gou is a flat chewy noodle dish served with meat and vegetables—seen here at Shanghai Wonderful. (PHOTO: TARA LEE)

Dish #3: Shanghainese Nin Gou

“I like the nin gou at Shanghai River (7831 Westminster Highway). When Cantonese people have nin gou, it’s a special kind of pudding, but I actually enjoy Shanghainese nin gou, which is a flat chewy noodle. I like it with pork and preserved vegetables because of the clean flavours of that and the chewiness of the noodles. And nin gou means the coming year will be better than the year that we had.”

Lee whole rock cod at Chef Tony Seafood Restaurant

Chef Tony Seafood also does a fabulous job of a whole fish. (PHOTO: 365 DAYS OF DINING)

Dish #4: Whole Fish

“Another thing to have for Chinese Year is a whole fish. Fish represents fortune, and is a big symbolic dish for all Chinese people. I think Kirin (7900 Westminster Highway) does a really good job of a whole fish. While rock cod or cod is what they would generally serve, I’ve also seen black cod at certain restaurants. For Chinese New Year, Kirin will also have set menus that are full of other auspicious dishes so it’s easy to organize a dinner there.”

Xi'An

Hand-pulled noodles from the Xi’An Cuisine stall in the Richmond Public Market. (PHOTO: LINDSAY ANDERSON)

Dish #5: Hand-Pulled Noodles

“As a symbol of longevity, I like hand-pulled noodles. Inside the Richmond Public Market, there’s the Xi’An Cuisine stall (8260 Westminster Highway) in the food court. They do hand-pulled noodles and handmade dumplings. Their lamb soup with hand-pulled noodles is really nice. It’s very rustic and gives a sense of what rural Chinese food is like.”

What Not to Eat on Chinese New Year

“There are a couple of dishes I would not order. One is squid. For Cantonese people, it sounds like slang for ‘you’re going to lose your job.’ And I wouldn’t order squash, gua, during Chinese New Year since gua means to die. That being said, it’s easy to get too hard and fast with these rules. Generally, just have fun with the food and don’t take it too seriously. The most important thing is to have family and friends around you. Whoever is around the table is just as important as the food that’s on the table since it’s all about togetherness.”