February 18 marks the beginning of the Chinese New Year, the Year of the Pig. Traditionally, it’s the kickoff of a 15-day celebration. Colourful costumes, music and dance help set the mood. But when friends and family gather, it’s the scrumptious food that takes centre stage. Whatever your background, the occasion makes a great excuse while you’re here to enjoy what is arguably some of the world’s best Chinese food.
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“Lucky” foods hold symbolic meaning in Chinese cuisine. Dumplings, lettuce, fish and noodles are associated with wealth, prosperity, abundance and longevity respectively. You’ll find these auspicious foods on New Year’s menus at the city’s finest Chinese restaurants.
Bright Pearl Seafood Restaurant designed its New Year’s menu to help ensure luck and financial success for the upcoming year. You never know—dishes like sweet and sour fish fillet in a crispy nest ($22) just may be a smarter investment than a lottery ticket! Chinatown’s largest Cantonese restaurant also serves specialty plates like fried seafood noodles ($13.75) and the manager-recommended hot and spicy garlic shrimp ($14.95).
A family favourite for casual dining, the Chinatown standby Lee Garden Restaurant offers a special menu prepared the Cantonese way. Order dried scallops and oysters with vegetables ($28) along with tiger shrimp and deep-fried milk ($24) and you’ll double your business’s prosperity—or so it’s believed.HOUSE SPECIALTIES TO ENJOY ANYTIME
Don’t restrict yourself to just New Year’s to enjoy the city’s Chinese restaurants—you can savour these delectables at any time of year.
Dine like royalty in the Entertainment District at the elegant King’s Garden Chinese Cuisine (214 King St. W., 416-585-2221)—the service is impeccable. Enjoy a two-course Peking duck ($42) or choose from all-day dim sum offerings, such as decadent deep-fried stuffed crab claws ($6.80) and steamed pork dumplings with scallops ($4.50).
Internationally renowned for its fine Cantonese cuisine, Lai Wah Heen boasts a cosmopolitan menu that makes exploring China’s varied regional flavours well within chopsticks’ reach. The luxe spot in the Metropolitan Hotel brings entrées from Beijing, Shanghai, Chiu Chow and Szechuan province. These regional influences translate into such dishes as diced kung pao chicken with stir-fried cucumber and peanuts in spicy bean paste ($18), and Taiwanese triple cup chicken, an example of Fujian cuisine consisting of a hot clay pot of chicken pieces flavoured with soy sauce, rice wine and vinegar ($18).
Lai Wah Heen’s more casual midtown sister, Lai Toh Heen is no less worthwhile. Featuring a tea-coloured onyx bar and custom-designed seating, its chic lounge is ideal for sampling dim sum. The 1930s Shanghai-inspired dining room creates a warm ambiance for enjoying stir-fried quail breast with morel mushrooms and spicy peanut sauce ($18) and braised ox tail with ginger and scallions ($22). Chef John Kwan’s tasting menus ($60 to $80 per person for six or eight courses) draw on regional cooking styles.
To complement its stunning lakeside view, Pearl Harbourfront Chinese Restaurant creates such speciality dishes as sizzling prawns with black bean sauce on a hot iron plate ($21.95) and honey beef with sesame seeds ($17.95).
Often moonlighting as an upscale hub for networking suits and visiting celebs, the real profession of Pink Pearl Restaurant (120 Avenue Rd., 416-966-3631) is serving lip-smacking Cantonese and Szechuan cuisine, like its signature lobster with ginger, green onions and fried noodles ($20.50).
Kung hey fat choi! Prosperity to all!
TIP! Take home a steamy souvenir. TenRen’s Tea (454 Dundas St. W., 416-598-7872) offers elegant tea sets and novel accessories.
Ring in the Year of the Pig at the Toronto Celebrates: Lunar New Year Festival. For more details, see Festival Fun!To learn more about Toronto’s diverse neighbourhoods, see 10 Multicultural Neighbourhoods.—Linda Lee