Few other cultures accord as much significance to food as the Chinese do. This is, after all, a people whose greeting centres around food – ‘have you eaten?’. So, when it comes to the most important celebration in their calendar – the Chinese New Year – it is little wonder that food features prominently. Many of the Chinese New Year specialties and goodies are consumed not only because they taste good but also because they are thought to bring a plethora of good things.
Abalone, for one, heads the list. Its Chinese name is bao yu which means guaranteed abundance. Consuming the delicacy is believed to usher in good fortune. Adding to its exclusivity and appeal is the fact that abalone are very expensive because of their limited supply. Despite the fact that there are many species of abalone found around the world, these sea snails grow very slowly and reproduce with varying degrees of success.
Abalone “Head Count”
Given its scarcity, part of the value of the abalone lies in its size. So, restaurants are known to label their abalone according to their “head count”. One head is considered the biggest an abalone can be. A two-headed abalone, then, means it takes two pieces of the abalone to make a jin (a Chinese unit of measurement equivalent to about 500 grams). A two-headed abalone, therefore, weighs about 250 grams. The higher the head count, the smaller and younger the abalone is. An average abalone served at restaurants weighs in at between 200 to 220 grams.
Abalone in Various Assortments
At Clark Quay’s Peony Jade, the menu for the Year of the Water Snake centres on the Chinese understanding of the Five Elements (五形). Balancing the elements in their natural sequence of Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water is said to help neutralise any negative energies and ill will. Each of its offerings in The Five Elemental Festive Creations represents one element.
Abalone features prominently in the dishes and come prepared in a variety of styles. Representing the Earth Element is “A wealth of good fortune” Cantonese-style Braised Kurobuta Pork Ribs with 10-head Abalone, Shitake Mushrooms and Diced Yam (S$108.88, serves 4 – 6). Here, the abalone is braised over a slow fire for over two hours with earthy elements like yam and shitake mushrooms to enhance the sweetness of the gravy.
The Metal Element is found in the Baked Golden Sakura Chicken with 10-head Australian abalone (S$168.88, serves 8 -10). A whole Sakura chicken, with 10-head Australian abalone, Yunnan rose-flavoured preserved vegetable, premium wood ear mushroom and red dates, is wrapped in lotus leaves and sealed in a golden chicken-shaped salt crust then oven-baked for more than four hours. To get to the delicious goodness within, diners have to smash the salt crust. This act of “hammering” is symbolic of chipping away the old to get to a year of goodness, health and success.
The Water Element “Everlasting happiness, longevity & abundance prosperity” Lobster, Australian four-head Abalone & Unagi Golden Treasures Pot (S$498.88, serves 6) has the abalone stewing in a luxurious broth-bath for six hours. The Chinese New Year must-have Pen Cai (Big Bowl Feast) in a golden wooden pot includes not just the abalone but also pan-seared unagi, whole Sakura chicken, Cantonese roast duck, baby lobsters, fatt choy (black moss), premium fagao (prosperity cake), premium shitake mushroom, pork knuckles and broccoli.
Simple, Healthy Food In A Luxurious Setting
The China Club Singapore promises Chinese New Year celebrations in an elegant, members-only setting. The exclusive restaurant atop the 52 nd storey of Capital Tower with 16-metre tall glass windows lets diners enjoy a spectacular view across the city right to Malaysia and Indonesia on a clear day. Its elegant Oriental décor combines sumptuous fabrics with Chinese accent pieces and Chinese motifs for an opulent interior fit for grandest of occasions.
Complementing its rich interiors are simply prepared dishes that play on the quality of the ingredients and their health-invigorating properties. Abalones are naturally favoured because, high in protein, vitamin E, selenium and magnesium, they are highly regarded by the Chinese for improving body strength, eye-sight and antibodies levels. They are also thought to be able to reduce fluid retention and improve circulation.
For the Chinese New Year, The China Club Singapore pairs abalones with mushrooms known for their ability to improve the immune system. It has Stewed Whole Fresh Abalone (three heads) with Assorted Mushrooms as well as Double-boiled ‘Kampong’ Chicken Soup with Whole Abalone & Yunnan Red Mushrooms. Upping the health quotient is their Braised Sliced abalone with Lingzhi Mushroom. Lingzhi mushrooms are considered “super shrooms” with anti-cancer, anti-oxidant, anti-bacterial, anti-viral, and anti-fungal properties. The abalone dishes are part of their set menus (S$138 – S$168 per person) and promise a healthy year ahead.
Treasures of the Sea
Szechuan Court and Kitchen at Fairmont Hotel plays up their abalone dishes by enhancing the flavour with other prized seafood. Their yusheng - Bountiful Ocean Treasures Yusheng ($288 for 10) – is shaped like a snake guarding the treasures of the deep and, along with Australian abalone, comes with fresh swordfish, Boston lobster, and Australian salmon.
Braised Whole Abalones, White Flower Mushrooms and Dried Jumbo Oysters and Broccoli (S$88 - S$176 depending on the size, available in set menus as well) is a deliciously flavourful dish, having been cooked in a fragrant stock for nearly five hours.This year, whether cooked in different styles, simply prepared to bring out its health benefits, or paired with seafood to enhance its taste, the abalone has been treated with imagination and creativity and will surely help to usher in good fortune in the most tasteful of ways.
Peony Jade @ Clarke Quay
Blk 3A #02-02
Tel: 65 6338 0305
The China Club Singapore
168 Robinson Road
Tel: 65 6820 2388
Szechuan Court & Kitchen
80 Bras Basah Road
Tel: 65 6431 6156