Chinese New Year dinner was held earlier this year, and rather than two tables, we had just one. It is my first year in Taiwan without my grandfather, but looking around the table, I realized it wasn’t just my grandfather who was missing. Two great uncles had passed away shortly after my grandfather and my brother, my parents and two cousins were absent as well. At first I feared it would be one of those quiet, awkward dinners – with people keeping their heads bent low over their plates to avoid talking – but this is the Ho family dinner modus operandi: eat first, talk later. And as long as a few key players are present (namely, my aunt and two cousins), there will always be enough conversation to keep things rolling.
An hour before dinner, grandma and cousin Karen Skype with my brother, who is now in Shanghai. You can see his blog here.
My uncle, cousin and aunt’s younger sister, who is visiting from Taichung, a city in the middle of Taiwan.
On our way to the bus stop. Yes, we took the bus to dinner. It was just down the street.
First course: fruit salad with shrimp and crab.
The restaurant: Chao Jiang Yan (it was Chao Zhou style food).
Shark’s fin soup, which makes me sad. I would never order it. But if it’s cooked and served, I’ll eat it. Just don’t expect to see this at my wedding banquet.
One of my favorite seafood dishes ever: steamed Alaskan king crab legs with garlic, ginger and served atop the best tasting vermicelli noodles ever. Sam Woo’s in Irvine actually makes this too.
Grandma Zhang reaching for a crab leg. They are an interesting couple – thoroughly Americanized (they both speak impeccable English and have jobs at the American school – and their daughter teaches English in Ethiopia. Every year, I exchange one or two sentences with them and learn something cool.
In the foreground is the menu, on display so that diners can read ahead and know how to pace themselves. I discovered the menu too late and by the time dessert came around, was really stuffed. Thank God for my extra stomach.
Stir-fried scallops, squid, and broccoli.
This is actually one of the small appetizer dishes that are just put out on the table. We had a debate about it until the manager came to settle it for us: half the table said it was some sort of jelly, made to look like fish skin while the other half insisted it was fish skin. The manager said, just as I put it into my mouth, “It’s fish skin.” Tasted like crunchy jelly… it was good.
I don’t know about the rest of my family, but this was the savory highlight of my evening: sweet and sour pork surrounded by prawn, walnut, and mayonnaise wraps, fried and topped with crispy almonds.
Steamed fish, of which I just took the head. A Chinese New Year dinner would not be complete without fish. Chinese people love puns and “fish” is also a homonym for “happiness.” So eat the fish for happiness. (I actually forgot to eat the fish, I was so absorbed by the pork).
What we thought was the last savory dish: abalone mushrooms over spinach – don’t be fooled, this stuff is amazing.
Then there was a mix-up in the kitchen and we received an extra dish – banana-leaf wrapped steamed chicken and rice. We assumed it was a gift from the manager and dug in. The manager rushed out and said, “Uh, oh…okay well yeah my gift to you guys…yeah, my gift. Happy New Year!” We were like, “Wow, great. Thanks!”
The group, smaller, but no less family – everyone’s visible except for my second uncle on the left.
Dessert: mochi with yam hearts in the middle and curry pastries on the outside. Similar to some dimsum dishes – I think Chao Zhou is also in the south, close to Guangzhou.
Posing with my favorite kind of paper. 100NTD = roughly 3USD. The manager, after giving us the chicken and rice, said, “You guys are a lucky table, you ought to buy lottery tickets!” There’s nothing like the lottery to get a bunch of Chinese people reaching for their purses and grinning big. Each one took out 100NT for a 1500 pot and we gave it to our great aunt to buy the tickets. Wish us luck 🙂
One of many toasts.
Another toast – to the New Year and to our lottery tickets. Just like that, another Lunar Year came to an end and we, grinning, welcomed the year of the Rabbit.