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For Asian families around the world, Lunar New Year is the ultimate holiday filled with family gatherings, feasts, travel, gift-giving, parades, fireworks, and more.
In Vancouver, we’re all fortunate to get a real taste of Lunar New Year festivities, but as with any major holiday, things can also get a bit hectic. Luckily, Vancouver Community College (VCC) Asian culinary arts department head Barry Tsang has some expert tips for making the most of the celebrations.
According to Barry, it’s not uncommon for groups of up to 40 people to descend on Chinese restaurants during the holiday period, especially on Lunar New Year’s Eve. “Some restaurants will be serving 600 to 700 people a day,” he says. “Your servers may not have much time for you, and your food will be cooked in a hurry,” he says.
Chef Barry’s inside tip? Pick another day. Two or three days ahead is smartest, or even Lunar New Year itself. Days to avoid are New Year’s Eve as well as the few days after Lunar New Year. Especially in Canada, where we don't have a national holiday, the day itself is even more flexible. “It’s most important to have family all together,” he says.
Be ready for the rush
For kitchen and restaurant workers, Barry advises preparation of epic proportions. “Order extra,” he says. Then cut, process, and marinade as much as you can ahead of time.
Having worked in the industry for 38 years, Barry compares an unprepared kitchen to a row of dominoes. “One piece goes down and the whole thing falls apart,” he warns.
Barry says communication is also key to conquering a holiday rush in any restaurant. This includes communication not only between cooks but also with the front of house. “It doesn’t matter how busy you are,” he says. “If you’re communicating and you’re well-prepared, you won’t panic.”
Learn more about the deliciously symbolic Chinese foods served on Lunar New Year so you can order like a pro. Another option is to avoid restaurants altogether by cooking something yourself. Try the recipe below for Chef Barry’s sautéed shrimp (虾), which sounds like “ha” in Cantonese and symbolizes laughter and joy.
Chef Barry Tsang
20 pcs shrimp meat (size 21/25, peeled and deveined)
B) 3 tbsp shallots (fine diced)
3 tbsp carrots (fine diced)
3 tbsp celery (fine diced)
1 tbsp garlic (minced)
C) 5 tbsp ketchup
2 tbsp sugar
1 tsp Vietnamese chili sauce
D) 1 tbsp Chinese cooking wine
E) 2 sprigs cilantro
1. Add oil to hot wok and sauté A until 50 per cent cooked. Strain oil and set aside.
2. Add oil to hot wok and sauté B first. Add C and sauté until thickened. Then add A, sprinkle in D, and toss until cooked.
3. Garnish with E and serve.
Do you have a passion for authentic Asian cooking? Learn more about VCC's professional, five-month Asian culinary arts program starting in February or September.