The Chinese calendar is also known as the lunar calendar as it is calculated around phases of the moon (the 1st of each month is always a new moon and the 15th a full moon), as well as the agricultural calendar (農曆) as it contains information about seasonal changes which were important when the bulk of people farmed for a living.
From a very early age, I was taught to appreciate that there are a few major festivals on the Chinese calendar that require us as a family unit to sit down to dinner together. The most important, of course, is Chinese New Year, also known as Spring Festival (春節) as it heralds the spring season in the northern hemisphere and the related time of tending to crops which are starting to shoot. Chinese New Year is a very well publicised event around the world and even attracts a street parade to celebrate the occasion in our fair city of Sydney.
The next event of importance would be Mid-Autumn Festival (中秋節), also called Moon Festival where the moon is meant to be at its roundest and ‘fullest’ and is a time to celebrate togetherness as well as the end of the harvest season. The food of significance is the moon cake, often with a centre of a salted duck egg yolk or two or three…or four!
And then there’s Winter Solstice Festival (冬至) which the Chinese see as the end of winter as from this day onwards, the daylight hours become longer again in the northern hemisphere and means for more productivity in a farming environment. I have fond memories of celebrating it with family in Hong Kong as a child, with all of us crowding around a hotpot (火鍋) for food and warmth. It is a bit incongruous to celebrate it whilst living in Sydney as it is summer solstice with us being in the southern hemisphere, but it is an occasion for a family dinner nonetheless especially when it normally falls just a few days before Christmas.
So we find ourselves at Kam Fook Chatswood as, although we’ve had yum cha here a countless number of times over the years, we’ve never actually tried if for dinner. It’s quite a busy evening as everyone seems to be out for dinner, so the usual Chinese restaurant plate of complimentary pickled vegetables and complimentary soup are most welcome to keep us occupied whilst we peruse the menu. For those not familiar with Chinese soups, it is a broth-like affair that is often chicken or pork based and contains ingredients to give it health beneficial qualities.
When dining out we usually choose dishes which are either too fiddly to prepare at home or those which are too difficult to replicate in terms of flavour or ‘breath of wok’ (鑊氣). So we start our meal with ‘Lobster cooked with ginger and spring onions on a bed of e-fu noodles’ (薑蔥龍蝦伊麵底) where the noodles act as an excellent vessel to soak up the sweet shellfish juices. The cornstarch coating on the pieces of lobster is a tiny bit too thick but otherwise the dish tastes lovely.
My choice for the evening is the vegetarian dish of ‘Bamboo fungus with seasonal vegetables’ (竹笙扒時蔬) which is a bit light on the bamboo fungus but features plenty of broccoli, cloud ear fungus and mixed wild mushrooms in a light oyster sauce.
Nella chooses the ‘Three cups chicken’ (三杯雞) which arrives simmering with a clay pot full of chicken pieces on the bone and is fragrant of a sticky, sweet soy and spring onions. Upon tasting, there is a mild kick of chilli which makes the sauce perfect for pairing with a bowl of plain rice.
We often have ‘Grouper served two ways’ (星斑兩食) as it is quite good value. One dish standardly is fillets of the fish stir-fried with a seasonal vegetable (炒斑片) and, in this instance, is asparagus segments. The asparagus have mostly been peeled but are a tiny bit overcooked and too soft for my liking as a result.
The other dish is normally a choice between having the fin bits steamed alongside firm tofu but this evening we’ve gone for the head and belly parts to be braised in a hotpot (燜斑頭煵) with lettuce, deep-fried tofu and Chinese roast pork.
And, as always, we have food left over to be taken away which is desired for dinners to celebrate calendar festivals as it means there is plentiful feed for the family. But there is no escaping before further gorging ourselves on a complimentary fruit platter and Chinese dessert soup. Thank goodness it’s red bean (azuki) soup (紅豆沙) as my husband loathes the mung bean variant!
Kam Fook (金福) Chatswood
Level 6 of Westfield Chatswood, Anderson St, Chatswood NSW
Tel: (02) 9413 9388
Opening Hours: 7 days 10am-3pm (yum cha lunch)
happy chinese new year & happy eating!