Lunar New Year is a special time when families reunite, plan for the coming year, and eat some really delicious food. For the Year of the Rooster famous Australian chefs have shared the dishes they love to cook over Lunar New Year.
Adam Liaw, Yee Sang
"My favourite dish would be a dish called Yee Sang. It basically translates to 'raw fish'."
A dish with origins in Malaysia and Singapore, this has been a family favourite for 2010 MasterChef Australia winner Adam Liaw over Lunar New Year ever since he was a child.
"I don't know of anyone who would even think about making that dish at some other time of the year. It is just a New Year's dish," says Adam.
Yee Sang is mostly eaten on the 15th day of the lunar cycle to signify the end of the New Year, although these days many people are making it on New Year's Eve for their big family reunion dinner.
"It sounds a bit weird when you describe it, but it's raw fish and crispy wontons and of course salad greens and julienned vegetables… all arranged out with pickled ginger on a big platter in big piles."
Once the sesame seeds and thick plum sauce get poured over the platter of ingredients, then the fun begins.
"Everybody puts their chopsticks into the one salad and tosses it up in the air. It's supposed to be lucky; the higher you toss the salad, the more luck you have for the year."
- Adam Liaw
"It's manageable when you've got six or seven people around the table, but for our last family reunion dinner we had about 60 people trying to gather around the table," laughs Adam.
"It got a bit messy."
Breaking with tradition, Adam has been experimenting with ingredients such as wakame seaweed in the salad, because of its nice vibrant colour.
"This year I'm going to potentially maybe do a bit of food art - which is a very Cantonese thing - and try and make it into the shape of a chicken."
See Adam's Dragon See Yang recipe here.
Elizabeth Chong, Crayfish
For renowned chef and author Elizabeth Chong Lunar New Year is "a feasting of choice rather than of necessity" and a time when "you'll eat something you never do during the year".
"Even the humblest family," she says, "will save enough to have a special, special meal."
Elizabeth adores all seafood, and so a beautiful crayfish cooked in the Chinese fashion with long life noodles would be the way she would choose to end her feast.
"The crayfish of course is symbolic as well, and symbolism plays a huge part in Chinese New Year," she says.
Crayfish is 'loong ha' in Cantonese which means great prawn.
Prawn is the sound 'ha', which "has the same sounding as laughter so that means it's joyful and happy and you are laughing while you're having it," says Elizabeth.
"Chinese love things that sound the same and then they make that a symbol you see."
Elizabeth usually buys crayfish tails which are a bit easier to cook because they're all flesh.
"I will chop the meat through the shells so that when they're cooked the shell becomes this brilliant red colour," she says.
"[At] New Year you have to have dishes on the table which are a red colour because red means happiness and joy, it's a very positive colour."
- Elizabeth Chong
Elizabeth stir fries the crayfish quickly with ginger and spring onion, and then cooks up some long life noodles with chives or spring onion, and maybe some slivered snow peas, to accompany it.
Finally she simmers the crayfish tails in a little bit of stock for about seven or eight minutes and then tosses them through the stir fried noodles.
"We've got long life with the noodles... and we have the laughter from the big prawns and the big crayfish," Elizabeth says.
"So that's a beautiful dish to send just to sort of finish the dinner and then you say 'Gung hay fat choy' [which is a Lunar New Year greeting meaning happiness and prosperity] and that's happy new year and that's guaranteed when you have that dish."
Elizabeth Chong is an ambassador for the Chinese New Year Melbourne Festival and will be presenting cooking demonstrations during the festival. See all the details here.
Kylie Kwong, Blue Swimmer Crab
Chef and restaurateur Kylie Kwong has a huge family gathering each Lunar New Year with about 70 people, and everyone brings a dish to share.
"I do a stir-fried native blue swimmer crab with black bean, native Australian herbs and my Billy Kwong house chilli sauce. It is such a festive, generous-looking dish, with its bright red hue symbolising prosperity and good luck," says Kylie.
"I love this dish, not only because it is delicious but really because it is a direct reflection of who I am - I'm a third generation Australian, 29th generation Kwong, so even though my family adhere to some of the traditional Chinese New Year rituals, we have also created some new ones because we are Australian."
- Kylie Kwong
Kylie began experimenting with Australian ingredients and traditional Cantonese cooking techniques after she heard Rene Redzepi give a brilliant keynote address at the Sydney Opera House in 2010, about the importance of using native ingredients in our cooking in order to express a certain time, place, history, culture and flavour of our country.
This year to mark the first night of Sydney's Chinese New Year Festival, Kylie is bringing together some of Australia's most exciting chefs, producers and winemakers for the Carriageworks Night Market, where they will be creating dishes inspired by the streets of Harajuku (Tokyo), Hongdae (Seoul) and AnFu Lu (Shanghai).
"My vision is to offer a melting pot of multicultural food dishes in which all of these amazing foodies are asked to think of a dish that reflects their own unique style, with an Asian twist," says Kylie.
"These stalls are key to my 'Australian-Chinese' New Year message, which is all about celebration, collaboration, sustainability and community."
Kylie recommends everyone to come with an empty stomach in order to taste as many dishes as possible.
See Kylie's Blue Swimmer Crab recipe here.
Lee Chan, Dumplings
Moving to Melbourne from her hometown of Sydney led passionate home cook and TV presenter Lee Chan to create her own Lunar New Year tradition.
"I've sorted of created a bit of a tradition with my friends here - my extended family - where we sit around and make dumplings," she says.
"We all get together and have a good old yarn and make dumplings, and then I cook [them] for everybody and then we just have this dumpling feast.
"I love dumplings, but it's more so the memories that are attached to dumplings."
- Lee Chan
While Lee makes all sorts of dumplings "for all sorts of friends", for the Chinese New Year Melbourne Festival she'll be demonstrating how to make a duck dumpling with beetroot casing accompanied by a beetroot relish.
"I boil the beetroot to cook it," says Lee, "and with the water from the beetroot it becomes a really rich sort of red-purple colour."
"So when I'm making my dough instead of using normal water I just substitute it with the beetroot water and it comes out this beautiful light pinky-red kind of colour."
The beetroot itself doesn't get wasted either. Lee grates that up finely and mixes it with a little bit of soy sauce, some tamarind paste and sesame oil.
"It makes… like a saucey relish type thing to go with the dumplings which is a lot different to what people are used to."
Lee says the reaction to her reinvented dumpling depends on who's eating it.
"My mum might raise her eyebrow a little bit, but I think as long as it tastes good and as long as you do cook it with a bit of heart and you do a recipe justice, I think most people are okay with it.
"Sometimes you have to try new things."
Lee Chan is an ambassador for the Chinese New Year Melbourne Festival and will be presenting cooking demonstrations during the festival. See all the details and more of her recipes here.