When I was a child, I’m embarrassed to say that part of me wished that the food that my family cooked was similar to what I had at my friends’ houses. They didn’t serve braised tripe to their guests, nor did they pack their kids ox tongue for lunch. At the time, I just wanted to be like everyone else. However, as I grew older and the Lower Mainland’s population became even more vibrantly diverse, I came to embrace and relish the dishes that once caused me shame.

During Chinese New Year feasts, I’m reminded of what I love particularly about Chinese cuisine: the togetherness of family and friends, the ceremony and rituals that mark many of the offerings, and the sophisticated techniques and flavours that are displayed in each item on the lazy Susan. Fortunately, here in Richmond, we can all share in these rich cultural traditions.

Photo Credit: Lindsay Anderson

I recently had the good fortune of attending a sumptuous Chinese New Year feast at Shiang Garden Seafood Restaurant (2200-4540 Number 3 Road). The space itself is grand, with its lofty high ceilings, sparkling chandeliers, and elegant china tableware. Service also is impeccable, making it the ideal setting for a special occasion Cantonese meal.

The sequence of dishes at a Chinese banquet is a gradual unfolding of the prowess of the kitchen, from initial palate teasers to carbs and dessert at the end.

 

Photo Credit: Tara Lee

Our meal began with Shiang’s Special Appetizer Platter featuring surf clam, jellyfish, duck webs, and sliced braised beef shank, all featuring different textures and tastes. The surf clam was a modern (and pleasurably chewy) addition to the traditional cold plate that usually opens Cantonese banquets.

 

Photo Credit: Tara Lee

When my Poh-Poh (grandmother) was still cooking, one of her specialties was very similar to our next impressive course, Braised Dried Oysters with Pork Tongue and Sea Moss. The dish also included iceberg lettuce, as well as abalone sauce. The prime ingredients were incredibly auspicious, symbolizing abundance, prosperity, and good fortune. I made sure I had an extra portion of this one.

 

Photo Credit: Tara Lee

A shift from the rich excess of the last course, the next item that appeared on the table was definitely lighter in taste. Sautéed Prawn and Cuttlefish was served, along with brightly green snow peas, Chinese mushrooms, carrots, and scallions.

 

Photo Credit: Tara Lee

A soup is a must in any grand Chinese meal, evidencing the expertise of the chef in creating nuanced and intense broth. Dried Scallop Soup with Seafood had a delicious viscosity to it and a great balance of flavours. It was a lovely, belly-warming course until the next showstopper dish.

 

Photo Credit: Tara Lee

The table let out an audible gasp when Braised Three Lobsters in Supreme Broth emerged from the kitchen. The pronounced ginger-y flavour of the shellfish made it particularly moreish. We all fought over the claws, and some sucked and scooped out the juices from the head cavities.

 

Photo Credit: Tara Lee

By this point, my palate was well warmed up for more substantial eating. We moved onto a Whole Steamed Rock Cod, a course that is also steeped in Chinese tradition. The fish itself is a lucky symbol, and cooked and served whole, it represents unity and coherence for the New Year.

 

Shiang Garden goosewebs

Photo Credit: Tara Lee

A particularly visually stunning dish was the Goose Webs and Chinese Mushroom, atop baby bok choy. The particularly large, round mushrooms in the centre invoked more associations of wholeness and longevity.

 

Shiang Garden Beef shortribs

Photo Credit: Tara Lee

This dinner not only showcased the continued significance of tradition in Cantonese cooking, but also the ability of cooks to dream up new creations (in this case, Western influenced). Shiang’s Special Beef Shortribs were incredibly tender and high on umami due to the use of fermented soybean paste in the sauce.

 

Shiang Garden Crispy Chicken

Photo Credit: Tara Lee

The last protein dish was Whole Crispy Chicken with shrimp chips. As a child, this was always my favourite dish due to its accessibility (who doesn’t like fried chicken with chips). The key elements to look for are crispy skin and moist, well-marinated meat. This one certainly delivered.

 

Shiang Garden fried rice

Photo Credit: Tara Lee

Hearty rice and noodle dishes then closed the savoury portion of the meal. Conventionally, generous hosts would leave these items to the very end in order to allow guests to fill up on the more lavish earlier courses, and to help with digestion. The aromatic Fried Rice, which included prawns, scallop, egg, carrot, and scallion, illustrated the kitchen’s deft skill with the wok.

 

Shiang Garden - Brasied E-fu

Photo Credit: Tara Lee

Meanwhile, the Braised E-Fu Noodles with Enoki Mushrooms and Bean Sprouts were the ultimate celebration of long life. It would be an exaggeration to say that my belly was full by this point.

 

Shiang Garden - Mango Pudding

Photo Credit: Tara Lee

The final festive dish was Mango Pudding, and Coconut and Osmanthus Jelly, both refreshing ways to end a wondrous meal.

I left sated and once again affirmed by the joys of a Chinese New Year dinner with great company. I hope you get a chance to try some of these wondrous dishes at Shiang Garden, and that you have a prosperous and abundant Year of the Monkey!