Auspicious Eats in the Year of the Ox at newly Michelin-starred Man Ho
February marked the beginning of the Year of the Ox as family members young and old assemble to celebrate and dine together in colorful celebration of the Lunar New Year.
As with most festivities, there are plenty of traditions and customs to be considered, not least the choice of ingredients, preparations and dishes to be enjoyed. But with such a long history when it comes to food symbolism and the auspicious nature of certain foods, there's also plenty of opportunity for Chefs to innovate, stamping their personality and signature on some of the season's most iconic dishes.
Jayson Tang is Executive Chinese Chef at the renowned Man Ho Chinese Restaurant at JW Marriott Hong Kong, somewhere recently awarded the huge accolade of one Michelin star for its combination of cuisine and service. Tang brings impressive experience from working in other Michelin-starred kitchens, respecting the auspicious importance of the season and integrating clever and creative ideas to really make his dishes really stand out. Born and raised in Hong Kong, Chef Tang is more than familiar with delivering a memorable and sumptuous family feast:
“Custom has it that all the food should carry an auspicious meaning, often derived from the Chinese homonyms or metaphors, so that it will bring good fortune and luck to the whole family for the coming year.”
For Hong Kong, surrounded by so much coastline, fish remains a critically important element of the region’s cuisine. At Chinese New Year, showcasing the freshest ocean catch through Yusheng is top of the auspicious list for diners at Man Ho. Yusheng is a traditional raw fish salad, taking on adaptations and influences from across Asia where it remains a festive treat every year and an iconic symbol of abundance and prosperity. Not only that, it’s a feast for the eyes too, incorporating a spectrum of colorful ingredients, as Chef Tang explains:
“By replacing the usual raw fish in the recipe, we use premium Australian abalone with its distinctive taste and texture. It goes perfectly with the rest of the shredded ingredients, namely red ginger, sweet and sour pickle, green bell pepper, jelly fish, pomelo, carrot, turnip, green radish, preserved vegetable, melon and crispy cracker.”
The critical part comes when everyone at the table tosses the salad while uttering auspicious phrases to bring blessings and good fortune for the new year. So yu is a homonym both for “fish” and “abundance”, while sheng means both “raw” and “life - taken together then, yusheng implies “abundance of wealth and long life”. In Cantonese it's known as lohei as lo implies “tossing up good fortune” and hei means “to rise”.
In putting together the lunar new year’s celebration menu, the Man Ho team has been keen to introduce other beloved ingredients, sourced wherever possible from local farms, markets and producers. One great dish that combines two such ingredients is Pan-fried Dried Oysters with Sea Moss, a creation that Chef Tang is particularly excited by, saying it’s “a perfect combination of all things fortunate on a plate.”
Chef Tang’s playful side is on show too, taking the opportunity to create some dishes inspired by the zodiac to kick of the year of the ox. Showcasing some very different cooking techniques, guests can enjoy the melty goodness of Chinese Braised Oxtail as well as Stir-Fried Minced Wagyu Beef with Pine Nuts and Lettuce which goes from wok to plate in seconds, the humble green leaf representing “wealth”. Nice touch.
Let’s not forget a great pudding, as no New Year celebration should take place without a memorable finish, so Chef Tang has created two signature gourmet puddings for 2021. The first takes the popular red date which undergoes a Man Ho makeover and is crowned with gold leaf. The second combines a savoury turnip cake with dried tiger prawns (ensuring another helping of “surplus”), served with Man Ho’s exquisite homemade XO sauce.
Chef Tang won’t let us into its secrets, merely revealing that it is “freshly made with plentiful handpicked ingredients such as dried scallop, Chinese ham, dried shrimp roe, dried shrimp and so on”. One thing is clear though, namely that on tasting it, everyone would want their own jar of it in the kitchen!
With the ox - the second animal of the Chinese zodiac - denoting hard work, positivity and honesty, it's clear that these are attributes personified by Jayson Tang and his committed brigade at Man Ho. Together they ensure that the Lunar New Year is replete with delicious and auspicious traditions to make for a prosperous year ahead.