Repast and present
Tara Jenkins and Karen Pittar
As the Lunar New Year rolls round once again, we look at how some of Hong Kong's personalities celebrated in their childhood, and discover which traditions they have held on to.
Bonnie Gokson (restaurateur and owner of Sevva)
'I was raised in a large home where manners and traditions were of utmost importance. At Lunar New Year, my mum would dress me in pretty clothes and new silk cocoon jackets, using lots of reds. The maids and gardeners would prepare our home.
Our family was known for giving large parties, so friends and relatives would come at noon, and I would compare my lai see with my cousins'. The grown ups would be in kwar, Chinese embroidered costumes, and my parents, aunts and uncles would be in the main living room to receive the guests. Everybody would gather around our dining table laden with dishes prepared by our main chef, Yuk Tse, and his team.
These days, since my family and relatives mostly live abroad or travel all over the world, it's harder to celebrate. Lunar New Year is about family togetherness. I clean and dress up my home in a festive manner to prepare for the new year. If members of my family are around, we gather for dinner: home-made dim sum - sticky rice dumplings with both savoury and sweet fillings wrapped in a leaf; delicious fried sticky rice balls that pop up like big balloons, with the centre hollowed out or filled with red bean paste.
Then there is also pun fan, a rice cake served with a chicken broth from my grandfather's province. [There's also] duck soup with lotus seeds and barley, braised pork shank with sea moss, and many other dishes.'
Grace Lin (author of Dumpling Days and Round is a Mooncake)
'The memories I hold most dear are of friends and family being together. I grew up in an area [of upstate New York] that was mostly Caucasian. However, Lunar New Year was still a time of celebration. All the Asian families that lived within driving distance would gather together and have a party. Everyone, dressed in their finest, would bring a Chinese dish or two - I remember tables full of food, and talking, laughing and eating. There were red paper signs with Chinese words for decorations, fake firecrackers, and home-made dragon masks for the kids.
My mother always made a big dinner - a whole fried fish and dumplings - and the phone would ring all night with relatives and friends calling. My father loved resolutions and we wrote them for the year. When I was a child they were always unrealistic -'ride a unicorn', 'win a million dollars'. My father would collect them and give us red packets. We didn't wash our hair (so not to wash away our luck) and stayed up as late as possible (the longer we stayed awake, the longer our parents would live).'
David Yeo (founder of Aqua Restaurant Group)
'Lunar New Year means a sense of renewal - taking stock of what happened the previous year, and how I can do better. My memories of Lunar New Year as a child? I have nightmares of taking off and putting on my new shoes 20 times in a day. I come from a big, traditional family. My father was the youngest of six brothers and sisters, so we all had to troop from one uncle's house to the next. Looking back, I should ask my mother whether it was her plan to use her children to collect as much lai see as possible in a single day.
Today my favourite part of Lunar New Year is the reunion dinner with my family and my mother's cooking. For someone who only took it up after she retired, she's a living rebuttal to anyone who thinks we are too old to discover latent talents. I appreciate the values that underpin our traditions: the Asian values of respect for our elders, and the strong bond of family ties even with our extended families. We continue to celebrate that, albeit over an electric hotpot instead of charcoal these days.'
Sin Sin Man (Atelier owner)
'As a child I remember filling the house with the most beautiful and colourful flowers to bring good luck - lots of red, pink and gold. The kitchen would be busy and full of energy for weeks, as grandma prepared traditional food, especially cakes and sweets. We cleaned the house from top to bottom - we called it sai bai bai - and shopped until we dropped: bed sheets, slippers, lingerie, a whole new outfit!
Lunar New Year's Eve dinner at home was a must for the whole family, and after dinner we all sat around drinking special tea and catching up on news, such as which cousin was going to the United States or London to study, or who was getting married in the coming months. I loved staying up late to help grandma prepare the red packets for the next morning. She would tell us stories about how she celebrated Lunar New Year as a child on the mainland.
Today, Lunar New Year for me is still all about colour, energy, joy, luck, fortune and blessings - and I love it all. I continue to enjoy family gatherings, the cleaning of house and mind, decorating with beautiful flowers, getting rid of old stuff and bad energy, while welcoming new refreshing energy - and also the good long holiday! One of my favourite holiday foods is ton yuen: sticky rice dumpling filled with yellow sugar in ginger soup. Every time I taste it I feel strongly Chinese, and my memories come flooding back.'
Dominica Yang (cooking enthusiast and author)
'The best part of Lunar New Year for me is the food. I remember the new year snacks from my childhood - turnip pudding, chestnut pudding, yam croquettes, melon seeds, different types of sweets, lotus seed tea and more. These were among my favourites that we received, along with lai see, when I visited grandparents, aunts, uncles, close relatives and friends.