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London’s best Chinese dumplings include sheng jian bao at Dumpling Shack

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The Ultimate Guide to Chinese New Year in London

Where to find the best dumplings, noodles, and whole steamed fish across town

Dumpling Shack’s peerless shengjianbao dumplings
| Dumpling Shack/Official

This year’s Chinese New Year festivities fall on Saturday 25 January, and it’s no surprise that food and drink are central to the celebrations — both are said to play a big part in bringing good luck and great prosperity. Families reunite to feast for days during Asia’s biggest annual holiday; each food has its own time-honoured tradition, and represents special traits for the coming year. Whether aiming higher with a nian gao (year cake) or elongating life by slurping some longevity noodles, one thing is certain: the Year of the Rat is going to be delicious.


Lo Hei/Yusheng (Prosperity salad)

Chinese culture is big on similar phonetics to auspicious phrases, which is why “yusheng” meaning “raw fish” sounds a lot like “abundance.” This communal Cantonese-style raw salad is served at the start of a Chinese New Year Banquet and symbolises abundance, prosperity and vigour. It’s typically made up of various shredded vegetables and assorted toppings, a sweet plum sauce, and slices of raw fish. The saying goes; the higher the toss, the more luck brought into the new year. Gather the gang around the dining table with chopsticks at hand and work those arms out by mixing and raising ingredients together all whilst shouting auspicious wishes and “Lo hei, lo hei!” (scoop it up, scoop it up).

Where to get it:

Kym’s, 9 Bloomberg Arcade. Kick start the new calendar year by making a mess. Part of their Year of Rat celebration menu, start the feasting with a salmon topped Prosperity salad.


Dumplings

Based on Chinese tradition, the number of dumplings eaten at New Year represents the amount of money one will have in the coming year, so eating one’s weight in “gold” by gorging on a mountain of dumplings comes highly recommended. The reason behind the wealth connection is that the shape of the dumplings is said to resemble ingot-shaped coins, an ancient Chinese currency. Some people may even choose to hide a coin inside one of the dumplings — the person who finds the coin is said to receive good fortune.

Where to get it:
My Neighbours the Dumplings, 165 Lower Clapton Road; 170-180 Victoria Park Road. Just a stone’s throw from Hackney Downs and Victoria parks lies some mighty fine potstickers and plump dumplings in the cutest of restaurants.

Dumpling Shack, Old Spitalfields Market, Brushfield Street. Shack up with a tray of juicy shengjianbao that’s pan-fried and steamed to perfection. A word of warning though, it’ll squirt everywhere once bitten into.

Din Tai Fung, 5 Henrietta Street. 18-pleat steamed soupy perfection. There’s a reason why these Taiwanese treasures are so sought after around the world.

Dumplings at Dumpling Shack, Old Spitalfields Market
dumplingshack/Instagram

Steamed whole fish

In Cantonese the word for fish — “yu” — sounds similar to the words wish and abundance, going hand-in-hand with “leen leen yow yu” — another traditional Chinese saying meaning to have abundance, success and wealth year after year. As a result, it’s customary to serve fish at some point during a New Year meal. For bonus luck points, the fish should be served whole, with head and tail attached, which symbolises a good beginning and ending for the coming year. A word of warning, though: an old superstition says it’s a big no no to flip the fish whilst eating, as this symbolises belly’s up, or in Chinese, “fan tow” — a capsizing boat, or death.

Where to get it:
Imperial China, White Bear Yard, 25A Lisle Street. Push the boat out and get a whole steamed turbot in black bean sauce.

Orient London, 15 Wardour Street. For a more traditional Chinese affair order all the Cantonese classics, but make sure the ginger and spring onion steamed sea bass is the star of the show.

Seabass in ginger and spring onion at Orient London
orientlondon/Instagram

White cut chicken

White cut chicken is a whole chicken that’s been poached in a broth; it may not look like much, but it’s moist, tender and packed with heaps of flavour. Serving a whole chicken during the celebration symbolises completeness and rebirth. In Chinese culture, chicken forms part of the symbolism of the dragon and phoenix, both mythical creatures bursting with luck, and the origin of the rebirth meaning. Again, extra luck points for keeping the whole chicken intact; having its head, tail and feet attached represents wholeness.

Where to get it:
Kam Tong, 59-63 Queensway. Opt to get either whole or half wood braised soya chicken to share with a group. Rich in flavour and packed with umami, it’s sure to be a New Year’s meal to remember.

New Tastes, 183 Mare Street. Order the Imperial Steamed chicken topped with a mountain of julienne spring onions and ginger. White meat that’s so silky and soft that it practically slides down your gullet.

Longevity noodles

Don’t even think about cutting the strands of noodles short: the longer the noodle, the longer the lifespan. Noodles are the key to longevity and harmony in Chinese culture and they’re not just limited to lunar New Year celebrations, they can be a part of birthdays as they mark every passing year.

Where to get it:
Chang’s Noodles, 35-37 New Oxford Street, Bloomsbury. Thanks to their hand-pulled technique and no use of machinery, Chang’s noodles are some of the most elastic and chewy in the business.

Gold Mine, 102 Queensway. The famous roast duck gets all the attention, but their under-the-radar braised yi mein or e-fu noodles with crab meat are bouncy, springy strands of delights.

Spring rolls

Say goodbye to winter and say hello to spring with some delightfully crunchy spring rolls. Spring rolls get their name from the Spring Festival in mainland China and they’re served to represent the new beginning of the year. Typically filled with vegetables or meat, these crisp little cylinders of joy are a symbol of wealth because their likeness to golden bars.

Where to get it:
China Tang, 53 Park Lane, Mayfair. These deep-fried golden wonders will go down a treat at any dim sum feast. They’re light, crisp and incredibly moreish, so make sure to order two portions — just in case.

Yi Ban, London Regatta Centre, 1010 Dockside Road. Come for the dim sum, but stay for their shatteringly crunchy meat-filled or vegetarian spring rolls.

Tang yuan (Sweet dumplings)

Nothing brings the family closer quite like a bowl of Tang yuan does. These chewy, multi-coloured glutinous rice balls in sweet syrupy ginger soup are associated with family togetherness. The round shape and pronunciation also symbolise union, so they’re often eaten throughout the New Year period when families get together for meals.

Where to get it:
Shikumen, Dorsett Hotel, 58 Shepherd’s Bush Green. Slurp up a refreshing bowl of sweet yet fiery clear ginger broth accompanied with QQ texture glutinous black sesame rice balls.

Tian Tian, 166 Mile End Road. Balls to the wall. Choose from an assortment of flavours including black sesame, red bean or peanut in a green tea soup.

Nian gao (glutinous rice cake)

Nian gao literally translates to “year cake,” which also sounds a bit like the Cantonese homonym for “higher year.” The sweet dessert is supposed to help the person that eats it climb the social ladder and achieve new heights. For this reason, many believe that the sticky steamed cake leads to a richer and sweeter life. Typically made with glutinous rice flour and cane sugar, it’s usually served as a dessert, but in different parts of Asia it can come in many shapes, sizes and varieties.

Where to get it:
Pearl Liang, 8 Sheldon Square. End on a high with sticky New Year glutinous rice cake that’s part of a 10-course Chinese New Year sharing set menu. The only way is up, baby.

Good fortune fruit

Load up on the vitamin C, as auspicious fruits are said to bring wealth, good health and fullness.

There’ll be plenty of lucky oranges and tangerines being passed around, as the Chinese words for orange and gold sound similar, while the word tangerine sounds like “luck.” Pomelos are also considered lucky, as the large grapefruit cousin signifies abundance; the Chinese word for pomelo sounds like the word for “to have.”

Where to get it:
Phoenix Palace, 5 Glentworth Street, Marylebone. Finish on something sweet with a fresh tropical fruit platter at this regal Chinese restaurant, and be blessed with a happy belly for the upcoming year.

China Tang

53 Park Lane, London , W1K 1QA Visit Website

My Neighbours the Dumplings

165 Lower Clapton Road, , England E5 8EQ 020 3327 1556 Visit Website

Murger Han

62 Eversholt Street, , England NW1 1DA 020 7383 4943 Visit Website

Old Spitalfields Market

16 Commercial Street, , England E1 6EW 020 7375 2963 Visit Website

HIDE

85 Piccadilly, , England W1J 7NB 020 3146 8666 Visit Website

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