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2020: Year of the Rat brings opportunities for prosperity

IF your local Chinese restaurant is closed, the owners are probably on their way home to unite with their families, and to celebrate Chinese New Year, Asia’s biggest annual holiday. Festivities commence on January 24, with a lavish New Year’s Eve dinner and continue for several days.

Sea bass in spicy sauce

Besides being the start of a new decade, 2020 ushers in the Year of the Rat, which in Chinese astrology symbolises prosperity and financial well-being.
There is a catch, however — the rat will only help those who pursue their goals honestly, and respect others.
So for world weary Zimbos who suffered losses and setbacks in 2019, the Year of the Rat offers good fortune, opportunities to create wealth and even the possibility of finding true love.
Political unrest in Hong Kong may dampen celebrations this year, and health authorities in China are working to contain the outbreak of a Sars-like mystery virus before the lunar new year holidays.
But for the majority, celebrations will commence with ritual offerings to gods and ancestors, followed by a feast of traditional dishes. Firecrackers are lit at midnight to scare away evil spirits and to celebrate the coming of the new year.
Since food and drink play an important role in determining the outcome of the rest of the year, it was essential to visit a Chinese restaurant and taste some of the dishes that would guarantee abundance, prosperity and wealth in the coming months.
We decided to visit The Panda, which opened last September on the busy Churchill Avenue.
Saturday lunchtime is often a busy time for restaurants, but when we arrived, only one indoor table was occupied at the Panda. George and I accepted the waitress’s offer to sit on the verandah, avoiding picnic-style tables with benches, and spreading ourselves out instead around a large table for eight ,with upright rather uncomfortable dining chairs.
We ordered a plate of steamed dumplings, based on the assurance that the number of dumplings you eat at New Year will determine how much disposable income you’ll have at your fingertips in the coming year.
Stuffed with ground pork, flavoured with garlic and served with a dish of soy sauce, the dumplings were freshly made and tasty. “Would you guys like chopsticks?” enquired our waitress, before bringing the next dish, a plate of noodles braised with vegetables.
Chinese noodles are a symbol of longevity and are served in long, uncut pieces. This is a lucky dish to eat during Chinese New Year, symbolising a long and happy life. It’s good manners to slurp the noodles when you eat them, rather than biting off dainty mouthfuls.
Slurping up the full length also makes a long life more likely, instead of a life cut off before time. I was disappointed that some of the noodles at The Panda were broken, but with the help of chopsticks, we hoovered up the long noodles in the required manner.

The Panda Restaurant

It’s important to serve a whole fish at a New Year’s meal. If the head and tail are still attached, you can be confident of a good beginning and ending of the coming year.
So we ordered sea bass, braised in a wok with chillis, ginger, soy sauce and spring onions. The sea bass had probably spent some time in the freezer before being prepared, but the sauce was delicious, and we devoured the whole fish, including the head.
Sweet rice balls, symbolising family togetherness, would have been the perfect dessert, but only ice cream was on offer, so we continued sipping our green tea (perfect accompaniment to a Chinese meal) while exchanging predictions about how 2020 is going to turn out.
If you’re keen to try your hand at making some of these dishes, most ingredients are available locally.
The new supermarket at Shangri-La Restaurant has a great selection of Chinese noodles, spices, sauces, fresh carp, pomfret and bream, and specialist Chinese vegetables such as daikon (white radish) and bok choy.
I can’t whole heartedly recommend The Panda, as the decor is non-existent, seating uncomfortable, and the overall appearance decidedly shabby.
So come tomorrow, I’ll be making cardboard rat cutouts, hanging up red Chinese lanterns, and hoping for a quiet and peaceful 2020 with abundant measures of happiness and wealth. By Charlotte Malakoff

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