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London’s China Town Prepares For Year of the Tiger

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The Ultimate Guide to Lunar New Year in London

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

Photo by Hollie Adams/Getty Images

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This year’s Lunar New Year festivities fall on Sunday 22 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 East and South East Asia’s biggest annual holiday; each food has its own time-honoured tradition, and represents special traits for the coming year.

This Lunar New Year is also significant because it is the first in two years where, in London, life feels at least somewhat closer to normal. Whether aiming higher with a nian gao (year cake); elongating life by slurping some longevity noodles; or wondering exactly to what extent the culinary tropes of Lunar New Year represent the reality of the diaspora communities of the U.K., one thing is certain: the Year of the Tiger 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 Lunar 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:
Sambal Shiok
Kick start the new calendar year by making a mess. A lightly smoked salmon-topped Prosperity salad packed with fresh vegetables, pomelo, marinated seaweed, prawn crackers, and wonton crackers. Mandy Yin’s beloved Holloway Road restaurant is making this annual hit available for pre-order to both dine in and take away, with a salad designed for four-to-six people accordingly priced at £46.66.
171 Holloway Road, Holloway N7 8LX

Tao Tao Ju
Part of its Year of the Tiger celebration set menu or as a standalone dish for two to four persons. Beautifully arranged cucumber, carrot, pepper, lettuce, radish, onion, ginger, pomelo, salmon and fried wonton strips on a platter. Sprinkled with sesame seeds and peanuts.
15 Lisle Street, Chinatown WC2H 7BE

Rasa Sayang
This Straits cuisine restaurant is serving a special Yu Sheng salad for between two and six people from 14 January. Perfect for diners that don’t want to commit to an entire feasting menu to try this popular LNY dish, portions come in a medium size for two, or a large for six people. Served in many restaurants and homes throughout Singapore and Malaysia, each interpretation is different and the ingredients all carry a special significance.
5 Macclesfield Street, Chinatown W1D 6AY


Dumplings

The number of dumplings eaten at New Year is said to symbolise 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. But: let it be known that the origins of this tradition are regionally contested, prone to debate, and, perhaps, exaggerated by political media.

Where to get it:
My Neighbours the Dumplings
Get your fill of mighty fine potstickers and plump dumplings that are made in-house and available either for dining in or finishing at home.
165 Lower Clapton Road, Clapton E5 8EQ

Dumpling Shack
Shack up with a tray of juicy shengjianbao which have been pan-fried and steamed to perfection. A word of warning though, the scorching hot broth will squirt everywhere once bitten into.
Old Spitalfields Market, Brushfield Street, Spitalfields E1 6EW

Noodle and Beer
Eat the dumpling rainbow at this fashion-forward Chongqing and Sichuan noodle restaurant. All are handmade, filled with either Sichuan-spiced pork or chives and prawns.
31 Bell Lane, Spitalfields E1 7AB

Din Tai Fung
18-pleat steamed soupy perfection. There’s a reason why these Taiwanese treasures are so sought after around the world.
5 Henrietta Street, Covent Garden WC2E 8PS

My Old China
This Acton restaurant is a double act between a Catonese and Sichuanese chef. The former presides over some imperious dumplings.
270-272 High Street, Acton W3 9BH

Dumpling Shack’s shengjianbao — some of the best dumplings in London, available for take away this Lunar New Year as London is in coronavirus lockdown
Dumpling Shack’s shengjianbao
Michaël Protin/Eater London

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:
Chu Chin Chow
Oakleigh Park’s hidden gem bringing the goods. Choose from sea bass, dover sole, or turbot steamed in ginger and spring onions, black bean sauce, pan-grilled with soy sauce or Malaysian assam sambal sauce.
7 Cat Hill, East Barnet EN4 8HG

Golden Dragon
Part of the six-course Year of the Rabbit set menu. Order the show-stopping whole steamed turbot with ginger, spring onion, and chillies.
28-29 Gerrard Street, Chinatown W1D 6JW

Jinli Uxbridge
Jinli’s whole steamed seabass, prepared with black bean sauce, ginger, and spring onions is the perfect dish to usher in the new year.
91 Pleld Heath Road, Uxbridge UB8 3NJ

Turbot with spring onions and ginger at Chu Chin Chow in East Barnet, one of the best places to order takeaway this Lunar New Year while London is in coronavirus lockdown
Turbot with spring onions and ginger at Chu Chin Chow in East Barnet
Jessica Wang

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:
Gold Mine
Its famous roast duck gets all the attention, but the steamed chicken with ginger and spring onion sauce boasts an unreally soft butter-like texture.
102 Queensway, Queensway W2 3RR

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
Thanks to the hand-pulled technique and no use of machinery, Chang’s noodles are some of the most elastic and chewy in the business.
35-37 New Oxford Street, Bloomsbury WC1A 1EP

Four Seasons
The roast duck specialist might be known for its glossy hanging birds, but the braised yee mein noodles with crab meat are bouncy strands of delight covered in a thick gravy-like oyster sauce.
23 Wardour Street, Chinatown W1D 6PW

Mandarin Kitchen
Signature lobster noodles are the name of the game at this legendary Queensway joint, but try the homely braised e-fu noodles, a delightful springy chewy texture loaded with luxurious umami seafood and shiitake mushrooms.
14-16 Queensway, Queensway W2 3RX

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 of their likeness to golden bars.

Where to get it:
Maxim Ealing
A west London institution that needs no introduction. Instead of the signature old-school Pekingese dishes try the crispy crackling spring rolls filled with rainbow julienned veggies.
153-155 Northfield Avenue, Ealing W13 9QT

Tang yuan (Sweet dumplings)

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:
Five Friends Dessert
Chinatown’s new dessert shop on the block. Slurp up a range of refreshing dessert bowls such as sago, bean paste soup, double skin soup or sweet yet fiery clear ginger broth. All are accompanied with a choice of toppings, including ‘QQ’ texture glutinous brown sugar black sesame rice balls.
12 Little Newport Street, Chinatown WC2H 7JJ

Tian Tian
Balls to the wall. Choose from an assortment of flavours including black sesame, red bean, or peanut in a green tea soup at this little restaurant — not to be confused with the popular supermarket of the same name.
166 Mile End Road, Bow E1 4LJ

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, some 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:
Royal China Groupa
Back by popular demand, the regal Chinese restaurant is offering its jiggly nian gao alongside its famous turnip cake for savoury and winter root vegetable lovers.
Various locations.

Mama Chen’s Kitchen
A glutinous rice cake made with love and hand-pounded care. A laborious process, but chef Ivy and her mum promise extra bounce and chew than the standard fare.

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:
Plum Valley
Technically not an actual orange, but finish on something sweet with these oh-so cute limited edition New Year custard buns shaped like the lucky citrus fruit.
20 Gerrard Street, Chinatown W1D 6JQ

China Tang

53 Park Lane, London , W1K 1QA Visit Website

FARE

205 West Wacker Drive, , IL 60606 (312) 217-8041 Visit Website

My Neighbours the Dumplings

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

Dumpling Shack

Brushfield Street, , England E1 6BG Visit Website

Gold Mine

102 Queensway, , England W2 3RR 020 7792 8331 Visit Website

Tao Tao Ju

15 Lisle Street, , England WC2H 7BE 020 7367 0083 Visit Website

Behind

20 Sidworth St, Hackney, London , E8 3SD

London

, , England Visit Website

Henrietta

14 - 15 Henrietta St, London WC2E 8QH, UK, London, +44 20 3794 5314 Visit Website

Texture

34 Portman Street, London, W1H 7BY Visit Website

Custard

4 Duchess Walk, London, SE1 2SD

Murger Han

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

Chu Chin Chow

7 Cat Hill, , England EN4 8HG 020 8449 5156 Visit Website

Old Spitalfields Market

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

Maxim Ealing

153-155 Northfield Avenue, , England W13 9QT 020 8567 1719 Visit Website

Four Seasons

84 Queensway, , England W2 3RL 020 7229 4320 Visit Website

Mandarin Kitchen

8766 Lyndale Avenue South, , MN 55420 (952) 884-5356 Visit Website

Din Tai Fung

5 Henrietta Street, , England WC2E 8PT 020 3034 3888 Visit Website

Tian Tian

166 Mile End Road, , England E1 4LJ 020 7790 6269 Visit Website

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