Monday, February 2, 2009

Inner views of Chinese New Year

And the festivities continue still. As Sydney Festival comes to an end I do hope that there will be other festivals throughout the year to keep me entertained - well, at least throughtout the rest of summer. In the meantime Chinese New Year festivities are doing the job nicely, with food and seemingly endless local government-sponsored affairs. Any chance to learn a little more, to get a view into the inner workings and to be merry with others is fine by me.

Now tell me, how many chances would one get to see the kitchen of a Chinese BBQ shop? Before retreating in any disgust or fear, I'd say fairly few. As part of the Chinese New Year Festival, the Haymarket Chamber of Commerce ran free historical and cultural tours of Chinatown. As much an educational experience as culinary (it ends with a yum cha option), the drawcard for me was the opportunity to enter the kitchen of one of the most popular Chinese BBQ shops in Sydney's Chinatown - they were the only one with queues of dedicated customers on Chinese New Year's Eve.

I admit that I was a little trepidatious about seeing the kitchen; afterall, I don't want future eating experiences to be potentially ruined. But I can proudly say that I was pleasantly surprised and impressed with what I saw. Take heed, the following pictures are not for the vegetarians among us.

Roast duck, char siu (Chinese BBQ pork) and roast pork are the main items I see home from these stores and it is these items that feature in the kitchen this day. Upon descending a steep set of stairs to the kitchen, I am greeted by stainless steel, white tiles and this to my right.

This little piggy didn't quite make it to the market...

I can only presume that the other (top) half of this little piggy had become that stunning centrepiece of Chinese New Year celebration offerings that is the roast suckling pig. I am repulsed and drooling simultaneously at the thought. Elsewhere in the kitchen were preparations of all stages for roast ducks - the overall process of which is more complicated than just sticking the bird in the oven we're told. Recipe secrets were not shared but it was nonetheless intriguing to see parts of the preparation process, from white-pink bird to the golden, glazed versions in the display window.

Ducks in preparation

Ducks soaking and drying in their marinade
(Similarities to the fake tan process?)

Other festivity at this time was the twilight parade through Sydney streets for the new year. Some ingenious thinkers among us had planned to camp out at a spot to catch the parade that provided not only seating, but air conditioning, drinks and atmosphere in spades. A bar on one of the streets that the parade would pass - clever indeed. And steering away from the sauv blanc affair for a night found us in the capable hands of a very decent Mudgee drop while waiting for the parade.

Chain of Fire sauvignon blanc semillon from JB's Hotel, Haymarket

The parade itself was pretty impressive, perhaps helped along by the not too fruity, not too dry wine and the cool breeze on another balmy summer evening. Some select imagery below but a most congenial and festive atmosphere by the roadside barricades.

2009 - year of the ox

A young, hot pink lion

Henan Province (China) performers

Henan Province performers in the parade

Shaolin Temple performers

That's the spirit!

Marching band

Fireworks in Tumbalong Park

Late night snacks in Chinatown of the quick-and-easy, eat-on-the-go variety should be more plentiful, I think. Anyway, piping hot custard puffs aren't too bad, nor pricey, if you don't scald the tongue on the first mouthful.

Custard puffs from Emperor's Garden, Haymarket

The custard is thick, hot and gooey but not egg-y like the type you get in egg tarts. The pastry is also hot and holds the custard well while not being too oily or overbearing. A dollar gets you four of these hotties so they're made for sharing really. Happy Chinese New Year all!

Money doesn't grow on trees, but it seems red packets do!

Emperor’s Garden Cake & Bakery on Urbanspoon

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