6 places for delicious grub while ringing in the Year of the Monkey
Celebrate the Chinese New Year at some of Dubai's top Asian venues
Yet another thing to get up to this Feb!
Chinese New Year is the most important occasion in the Chinese calendar. Legend has it that the festival started off as a way to scare off the Nian Monster who terrorised villages by eating their babies. Since the monster was averse to loud noises and the colour red, the villagers set off fireworks, held loud dance performances and festooned everything in red. All this has been going on for about 4,000 years and so here we are now.
Because the Chinese are notoriously superstitious and it is the start of a new year, the other ancient traditions involved are all about luck. Celebrants are meant to eat lucky foods that are considered to herald a prosperous year ahead and avoid foods that indicate poverty. And there are lots of taboos: for example, you shouldn't take medication over the course of the 15-day festival because it means you'll be sick all year. You also shouldn't wash your hair because it corresponds with washing away your wealth; or sweep the floor, because it symbolises sweeping away good fortune. These last two taboos are a bit gross because that's like over a fortnight of not washing your hair or cleaning up, but I'm going to try and not be judgmental of other cultures here.
Considering the massive number of Chinese tourists who make their way to Dubai annually to do a pile of shopping and the fact that Chinese folks make up about 2.2% of the population in the U.A.E. it's no wonder the city's Asian outlets are going all out for this ridiculously fun festival. And we all know that Dubai likes a good festival.
This year (the year of the Fire Monkey, btw) the festivities roll out starting February 8th. Here are 6 that are definitely worth checking out.
Live acts at Novikov's Asian Room
Despite its Russian moniker, Novikov's outpost in Dubai is all about pan-Asian flavours. The super glam resto-bar has cooked something up for CNY and we're not talking about the food (although the food should be good); they're promising diners an immersive experience with amazing live performances, including an impressive Shaolin Monk dance and a traditional Chinese lion dance. Also exciting: Novikov's acclaimed bar will be serving up exclusive cocktails inspired by the Year of the Monkey and I suspect they'll be a lot more creative about it than just adding a splash of banana liqueur to their signature drinks.
Monday, February 8th; The Sheraton Grand Hotel, World Trade Centre Area; call 04 388 8744 to book yourself a table or check out novikov-dubai.com
A full week of festivities at Atlantis, The Palm
This resort is taking Chinese New Year very seriously. They're kicking things off with a massive fireworks display opposite Nasimi Beach; putting on lion dances throughout the resort between the 7th and the 9th; and have come up with special menus at their three signature Asian restaurants, Saffron, Asia Republic and fine dining Chinese restaurant YUAN. I'm most excited about what's happening at YUAN: the team there is putting a more traditional twist on their usually contemporary menu and have set up part of the venue to mirror the interiors of a Siheyuan, a traditional Chinese mansion.
Shoes off please.
Running from Sunday, February 7th to Saturday, February 13th; Atlantis, The Palm; Saffron will be featuring a Chinese New Year themed buffet dinner starting at AED 255; and the more laid-back Asia Republic will feature a Chinese New Year menu for both lunch and dinner. For Chinese New Year restaurant bookings call 04 426 0000 or hit up atlantisthepalm.com
Doing it right at Hakkasan
At the heart of the Chinese New Year is food. Families gather for a lavish reunion dinner and, honouring that custom, Cantonese cuisine power player Hakkasan is focusing on the food. Given its Michelin-starred heritage I don't mind that one bit.
Hakkasan's famous International Executive Chef Ho Chee Boon has created a limited edition set menu that showcases 'dishes that will bring diners joy, luck and prosperity in 2016'. I'm currently too hungry to list all the mouthwatering dishes on this menu, but suffice it to say that there will be quite a bit of fish (because fish is auspicious) and deluxe Dim Sum platter (because dumplings are also auspicious). The menu will also feature drinks and desserts inspired by the Year of the Monkey.
Keeping things on that traditional track, Hakkasan restaurants around the world will be honouring the Chinese Lam Tsuen Wishing Tree tradition. Diners are invited to share their hopes for the coming year by writing their wishes on gold ribbons and hanging them in the restaurant. Plus, they'll be handing out traditional red envelopes containing a lucky coin to diners at the end of the meal.
Hakkasan: too classy for fortune cookies
Jumeirah Emirates Towers, World Trade Centre Area; The Chinese New Year menu is available at AED 488++ per person and is available till Monday, February 22nd; call 04 384 8484 to book a table or visit hakkasan.com
Traditional delicacies at Royal China
Like Hakkasan, Royal China is also concentrating on food with a menu featuring a host of traditional Chinese dishes that you wouldn't be able to find in Dubai the rest of the year. Dishes like Braised Black Moss with Dried Oysters, Sticky Rice Dumplings in Sweet Red Bean Soup and Stewed Scallops with White Gourd. Actually, you probably wouldn't be able to find braised black moss with dried oysters anywhere else in Dubai, period.
They'll also have two fellows dressed as Sun Wukong, a.k.a the Monkey King; and Caishen, a.k.a the God of Wealth, passing out fortune cookies and little gifts to diners throughout Chinese New Year's Eve and Chinese New Year Day. We're not sure how good the costumes will be, but a token from the God of Wealth is sure to delight anyone setting foot in the DIFC.
The special menu is available from Saturday, February 6th until Monday, February 15th; Precinct Building 4, DIFC; book by calling 04 3545543 or visiting royalchinadubai.com
Feast at Zheng He's
Performances and decorations aside (spoiler alert: there will be plenty of dances and lots of red lanterns) this Chinese seafood restaurant is going all out in terms of Chinese New Year traditions. Sit down and you'll be served a traditional Chinese welcome drink (details unknown), following which you'll be invited to 'toss the Prosperity Yu Sheng' salad. This is an apparently un-ironic ancient Chinese ritual where this traditional salad (theirs consists of salmon sashimi and pickled vegetables in a plum dressing) is tossed to toast the new year. In keeping with custom, Zheng He's is offering a classic festive dessert called Nian Gao. It's a pan fried Chinese glutinous rice cake that's meant to bring the eater good luck and prosperity in the year ahead. I've googled it and it kind of looks like a flan.
Zheng He's Chinese New Year menu is available through Sunday, February 7th to Wednesday, February 24th at AED 350 per person, with full on festivities from the 8th to the 13th. Mina A'Salam, Madinat Jumeirah; call 04 4323232 to book or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Share the love at Hong Loong
Chinese New Year is all about communing with family and friends so the folks at Hong Loong have come up with a five-course sharing menu that encourages friends and family to come together and, well, eat.
Like the CNY menu at Zheng He's, Hong's starts the meal off with the traditional lucky ‘Yu Sheng’ salad. But unlike Zheng He's theirs involves soft shell crab and pickled peach rather than salmon sashimi. The 'happiness salad' is then followed by a special New Year Dim Sum platter which includes a delicious-sounding lotus bun filled with braised seven spice beef brisket. Then there's this delicate lobster broth with lobster dumplings, Chinese oven-baked dressed crab, and tender duck breast cooked in a clay pot, and a lot of other delicious-sounding plates that I'm not going to enumerate because I'm running out of space (and I obviously had to reference the lucky salad and the Dim Sum platter because I really like Dim Sum).
Just an FYI: Hong Loong is particularly famous for its Dim Sum.