Star man says Happy Chinese New Year from wonderful Hong Kong
The Star's Richard Ouzounian is in Hong Kong for New Year's, China style, and files this colourful report.
HONG KONG – I think I’ve unofficially wound up with the “New Year’s In Neat Places” beat for Star Travel! On Dec. 31, I was at the Cosmopolitan Hotel in Las Vegas and now I’m at The Mira in Hong Kong, getting ready to welcome in the Year of the Rabbit.
The Mira is a wow of an up-to-the-minute place with mirrors everywhere, making you feel a little disoriented even if you’ve only been drinking jasmine tea! Great spa, nice food, perfect Kowloon location and even a complimentary cell phone with every room.
It’s the day before Chinese New Year’s and that’s when everybody (and I mean everybody!) in the city goes shopping for food. My wife Pam and I hit the Mongkok Market, where the streets were solidly packed and the crowds had their pick of everything from still-alive crayfish to steamed pressed ducks.
I also noticed giant bunches of bok choy with red ribbons tied to their stem end and was told that’s because you’re supposed to hang them in your kitchen for good luck (i.e. financial rewards) before cooking your first new year’s day meal with them, which should be a vegetarian one.
We also stopped at a shop called Luk Kam Kee, where the crowds were lining up to purchase the snacks crucial to a successful New Year. Crispiness is an important quality, for good luck and sweetness, of course, so our life will be pleasant. Melon seeds to honour your ancestors and various kinds of preserved ginger to guarantee vitality.
Most Hong Kong citizens go home for dinner on New Year’s Eve, to start preparing for the annual rituals. (You must wash your hair before midnight, because if you do it after that, the dirty water will seep down to your ancestors, which is bad form.)
But we were lucky enough to be invited to the “Chef’s Table” restaurant called Xi Yan, run by Jacky Yu and hidden in an office building in the Wanchai district.
There are maybe a dozen tables, and there is one set menu for the evening, only it had 10 courses! We were the only Westerners present and it felt like we were part of a group of Hong Kong families celebrating in a very special way.
The food, of course, was spectacular, with a smoked salmon salad, a pyramid of pork belly and a perfectly steamed grouper being the highlights. Interesting to learn that in Hong Kong, grouper is a luxury fish, whereas in North America, it’s definitely on the low end as anyone who’s eaten their share of sandwiches in Florida is bound to know!
And the best part? This special New Year’s Eve Banquet was, with tip included, just under $70 per person Canadian!
Tomorrow, Hong Kong on New Year’s Day, including an inside look at the famous parade!
Kung Hei Fat Choy!
More to come from Richard, I hope, and then I'll be filing from New Zealand.