Tag Archives: Richmond

A Chinese New Year feast from Canada’s finest

Rock cod with scallions at Jade Restaurant

On the most important day in the Chinese calendar, the best Chinese chef in Canada served me what may have been the finest Chinese meal I’ve had in my life.

It was Chinese New Year at the Jade Seafood Restaurant (www.jaderestaurant.ca) in Richmond, British Columbia, and chef Tony Luk, named  Canada’s most skilled chef of 2011 by the Chinese Restaurant Association, pulled out all the stops.

Chef Tony Luk

My friend Mijune Pak, a Vancouver-area food blogger (www.followmefoodie.com) who is fluent in the Cantonese language, did the ordering.  We wound up with a creative yet traditional seven-course dinner plus a dessert sampler.

The meal was not cheap.  Paying $25 for a single abalone is not normally on my budget.  But this was a meal that I will long remember.

We started with seafood soup served in a hollowed-out, miniature pumpkin.  It’s a worthy alternative for the more customary shark’s-fin soup.  “I won’t eat shark’s fin,” said Mijune.  “Sharks are getting fished out of Chinese waters.”  This excellent soup instead had shrimp, scallops and whitefish.

The second course was a seasonal delicacy: braised whole fresh Australian abalone with leafy pea shoots.  Abalone is a meaty and somewhat rubbery shellfish with a distinctive flavor.  But it is always served on the lunar new year because its circular shape is said (by the superstitious) to represent money and, thus, prosperity.  I had two.

Abalone with pea shoots

Before a course of “live” rock cod was served, our server presented the reddish-scaled fish straight from the tank, and asked if we approved as it flopped around in a plastic container.  Of course, we said yes.  Minutes later, it laid on a large platter covered with sliced scallions and a sweet, vinegary sauce.  Competition for the white eyeballs was not severe.

Next came Grandpa’s smoked chicken, chopped and served cold with ginger and onions.  Although this recipe has won chef Luk several awards, it was one of my least favorite dishes. 

A baked and grilled beef brisket, cloaked in a brownish-gray mushroom gravy and served with green beans, did not look appetizing, it was one of the best plates of the night. The meat was the consistency of melt-in-your-mouth short ribs, and the flavor was superb.

Mijune Pak and tofu dumplings

A course of dried oysters and mushrooms, wrapped in tofu dumplings, was savory and delicious.

Our final hot course was a mixed-mushroom chow mein, tossed with shiitake, oyster and black trumpet mushrooms.

For dessert, we tried several of the restaurant’s sweets.  We had a hot almond soup with egg whites and a warm red-bean soup with lotus seeds.  Swirled mochi (rice) cake was a traditional recipe, and coconut cake was baked with preserved and salted egg yolk.  But our favorite was a light mango pudding that put the perfect accent on an excellent meal.

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Chinese New Year: Popular Practice

Lion dance at Aberdeen Centre

Chinese believe the advent of the lunar new year is a time of renewal, a time to sweep away the misfortune of the previous 12 months and get a fresh start in the new one.

In Richmond, British Columbia — a Vancouver suburb whose population of nearly 200,000 is about two-thirds ethnic Chinese — this is as true as anywhere else on the North American continent.

With large immigrant populations from Taiwan, Hong Kong and, more recently, mainland China, Richmond is virtually an Asian transplant.  Throughout the central city area, known as “The Golden Village,” Chinese script is more prevalent than English. 

God of Fortune

The large shopping centers sell food, clothing and luxury items geared specifically to Asian buyers.  They become community gathering places where important events, especially including the annual Chinese New Year, are celebrated.

The face of popular Buddhism is often very different than the spiritual facet.  In a temple, you won’t find lion dancers nor the bearded God of Fortune.  But you will find them in a Chinese-oriented shopping mall. 

As my Chinese Canadian friend Mijune Pak says, tongue only slightly in-cheek: “The Chinese are all about money and good fortune and prosperity.  Those are the important things in our culture.”

At Aberdeen Centre, the largest and most modern Richmond shopping center (named after a district of Hong Kong), the holiday spirit took over in late January with its Flower & Gift Fair.  Area nurseries offered delicate orchids and colorful citrus plants, while tiny rabbits of gold and banners of red were everywhere.  Indeed, as the primary color of good fortune, red was everywhere.

Wild about the new year

The Fairchild Media Group, a Cantonese- and Mandarin-language broadcasting conglomerate that also owns Aberdeen Centre, presented the new year’s eve entertainment.  Well-attended performances of music, dance and comedy led up to a midnight drop of tickertape.  A highlight was an acrobatic show of lion dancing by a martial-arts troupe.

But a Thursday (New Year’s Day) presentation at nearby Yaohan Centre, attended by Richmond’s mayor, city councilors and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, was equally impressive.  Here, the dignitaries painted the eyes on dragon masks before they began to dance.  A long string of firecrackers exploded in sparks and smoke under the watchful eye of the handsomely attired God of Fortune himself.

“The noise and music scare off evil spirits,” explained Taiwan-born Stacey Chyau.  “The animals, whether they are lions, tigers or dragons, are fierce.  They also keep the spirits away.”

Chyau said her family burns paper money so that ancestors can share in their prosperity. “Sometimes we burn paper houses and Mercedes Benzes,” she said.  “This is the only way for our ancestors to receive prosperity on ‘the other side.’”

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Chinese New Year: Visiting the Temple

Offerings to the Buddha

For many Chinese immigrants and tradition-bound Chinese families, it is essential practice to pay a visit to the neighborhood temple on the occasion of the lunar new year.

Last night, Wednesday, when the Year of the Tiger came to an end with a boisterous roar, the Year of the Rabbit was welcomed by the heavy Asian population of British Columbia’s Lower Mainland.

I observed the occasion at the International Buddhist Temple in Steveston — the second-largest Buddhist temple in North America.  If I said my prayers properly, I parted company with the evil spirits and bad luck of the past year, and opened myself to all the blessings of a new year.

International Buddhist Temple

At the side of the spacious parking lot that flanks the multi-building temple complex, newly arrived temple goers bought sheaves of incense sticks from a row of vendors.   I followed them as they lit the entire bundles in nearby oil burners, and then carried them through a gateway.

Past a classical garden pond with a beautifully illuminated pagoda, I watched worshippers make their initial offering to an alabaster-white “laughing Buddha” icon. 

A few steps further, more incense was presented to a tier of bronze sculptures representing a Chinese Buddhist pantheon.   I recognized Guan Gong, who assures safety, and Bao Qing Tien, the master of justice.

The walkway entered a portal to the main temple grounds.  A gong sounded my arrival.  A wall of murals, to my right, wrapped around a 360-degree statue of GuanYin, presented as a thousand-armed goddess of mercy.

The broad courtyard bustled with activity.  Whirring fans in the good-luck colors of red and gold were being sold to my left.   In front of small icons in all directions, visitors were offering incense and flowers.

At the heart of the courtyard, two dozen steps climbed to the main worship hall.  An enormous image of the seated Gautama Buddha, covered in gold leaf and flanked by attendants, dominated its center.  Pyramids of fruit — oranges, persimmons, pomelos, all round to symbolize the perpetuation of life — were piled in front.   Towers of tiny Buddha images rose on all sides.

At about 11:30, temple monks knelt on cushions before the main image and began chanting.  Their rhythmic song continued until midnight.  Several dozen temple visitors joined in, stumbling over the words to the sutras but never losing the spirit of the occasion.

Thrangu Monastery

Chinese religion is an interesting blend of beliefs.  Those raised in the Christian tradition often consider it blasphemy to embrace other faiths.  But Chinese are Buddhist — and they are Taoist — and they are Confucianist — and they offer basic ancestor worship.  The pursuit of one path does not preclude the pursuit of another.

On New Year’s Day, February 3, I ventured to another, very different, Buddhist temple. The Thrangu Monastery, built just four years ago in Richmond, was the first traditional Tibetan monastery built in Canada.  Few worshippers were in this magnificent temple when I visited, but I was cowed by the 40-foot Buddha that rose over my head, surrounded by more than 1,000 small Buddha images.

Chinese New Year comes early in 2012: January 23.  I’m already making plans for a mid-winter return.

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