It’s not 2014. According to the Chinese zodiac, it’s the Year of the Horse. Easily the region’s biggest holiday, the lunar new year festivities begin in mid- to late winter — this year, it’s January 31 — and last for two weeks. During this time, families reunite, Hong Kong is strewn with red and gold decorations, and mandarin oranges are piled high everywhere you look.
Food plays a huge role in the celebrations. Particular ingredients and dishes are eaten for their symbolic value, which is often derived from the names of the foods: Nian gao, a classic steamed pudding, sounds the same as the words for “higher year;” fish, pronounced “yu,” is homophonous with the word for “abundance.” Black moss, a kind of fungus that resembles vermicelli, in Cantonese sounds the same as fat choy (“prosperity”). This is also part of a common holiday greeting, kung hei fat choy, which means, more or less, “may you be prosperous.” It’s all about shoring up good fortune for the year ahead.
While most people spend the holiday with their families (which makes for busy airports and train stations), many of Hong Kong’s finest Cantonese restaurants offer special menus to celebrate. Here’s where to go for auspicious and delicious fare:
The stunning Cantonese restaurant on the 102nd floor of Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star The Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong serves an eight-course dinner menu (eight is a lucky number) January 31 through February 13, which includes its signature barbecued Iberian pork with honey; steamed crab claw with egg white in Hua Diao wine; and prized abalone accompanied by dried oysters — whose name sounds like “good business” in Cantonese — and sea moss. Toast your newfound prosperity with something from the epic wine list. If you’re here during the annual fireworks display — on February 1 this year — you’ll have a bird’s-eye view of the show.
Located in Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star The Peninsula Hong Kong, Spring Moon, with its gorgeous 1920s Shanghai décor, provides a six-course festive menu on February 1. This is a good choice for traditionalists, with a sequence of dishes, including a barbecue sampler, bird’s nest soup (it’s good for the skin) and whole braised abalone. While enjoying these classic dishes, a Chinese ensemble will dazzle you with melodies. You’ll also be invited to catch the fireworks show from the seventh-floor terrace, with a complimentary glass of champagne in hand.
The restaurant at Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star InterContinental Hong Kong kicks off the year with lavish set menus. Dinner in the jade-filled dining room on February 1 will give you a front-row seat for the fireworks over Victoria Harbour, thanks to the floor-to-ceiling windows. As you admire the show lighting up the night sky, savor superb service and elaborate delicacies such as “Buddha Jumping Over the Wall,” a stew of double-boiled abalone, chicken, bamboo pith and sea cucumber reputedly so delicious that even Buddhist monks would break their vegetarian vows to eat it.
Grand Hyatt Hong Kong’s One Harbour Road is another great Cantonese restaurant with harbor views — try to snag a window table on the lower level of the elegant, two-story dining room. When you’re dining in what feels like a 1930s Chinese mansion, it’s easy to slip into celebration mode. Highlights from chef Li Shu Tim’s holiday menu (which is available through February 10) include steamed garoupa with ginseng, red dates and chrysanthemum; and deep-fried pork belly with shrimp purée. Pair it with something from the Four-Star hotel’s ambitious wine program.
Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong’s romantic Cantonese venue puts forth a festive set menu (including dishes such as fish maw soup with abalone and shredded chicken) as well as à la carte choices (think wok-fried lobster with snap peas and black truffle) on February 1, along with a stellar view of the fireworks. The Chinese New Year specialties, which are offered à la carte, will be available January 31 through February 14 at the Four-Star restaurant. With hanging lanterns and an elaborate wooden ceiling, this space drips with Old World Chinese glamour, and you can always count on the famous Mandarin Oriental service.
Photos Courtesy of InterContinental Hong Kong and The Peninsula Hong Kong