Celebrate Lunar New Year at
Kaya Malay Bistro – 8 course Malaysian dinner
Lunar New Year (Spring Festival) is celebrated by Chinese around the world. Besides China and Taiwan, S.E. Asia Chinese in Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, India, Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia welcome the arrival of a new animal sign with glee. S.E. Asian Chinese cling onto the same tradition when it comes to food and rituals. Mother nature may have provided different land and sea harvest while regional ingredients play a key role in the food preparation, but the same cultural elements for turning out a celebratory meal filled with auspicious meanings and symbols do not change.
To showcase how Malaysian Chinese celebrates the most important festival of the year, Kaya Malay Bistro is excited and delighted to serve authentic Malaysian Lunar New Year dishes during the month of February. For the very first time in western Canada, foodies, families and friends will be able to taste and embrace Spring Festival and New Year fares, Malaysian style at Kaya Malay, starting New Years Eve – February 4th, 2019.
“Smoked Salmon YuShang Salad” (also called “Lo-Hey”), Fish Head Hotpot, Kumquat Chicken, Braised Lamb, Golden Fried Rice…just a few of Kaya Malay’s Lunar New Year fares, available in A La Carte menu and an 8-course menu for 4 or more. Come join us and share some of Chef’ Robert’s and Scott’s family recipes and precious memories of their childhood indulgence.
Kaya Malay Bistro Lunar New Year Menu
Lotus Root, Funjau & Peanut Soup or Coconut Prawn & Papaya Soup
Smoked Salmon “YuShang” Salad
Fish Head Hot Pot
Braised Lamb Shank
Golden Fried Rice,
Malaysian Nian Gao
$38 per person, for parties of 4 or more or menu items available ala carte
Please order in advance, call Kaya Malay at (604) 730-9963
My Review of Kaya Malay Lunar New Year Menu
I’m originally from a place where if you’re naked outside for 3 minutes, you’ll probably die. Here in Vancouver, the only thing that will happen if you’re naked outside is that you’ll have 3 minutes to find a rock to hide under before you die from embarrassment. So because I refuse to return to Calgary to subject myself to Arctic conditions in the winter (-40 with additional wind chill), I’ve deprived myself of the authentic Chinese cuisine that is served during Lunar New Year by my mother who would spend the whole week in the kitchen preparing traditional Lunar New Year food. So when I was invited to preview Kaya Malay Bistro’s Lunar New Year eight course menu, I donned my red Chinese jacket and jade necklace faster than an Asian could drive to Richmond Centre on Boxing Day.
If you’ve even been to a Chinese banquet, the feast usually starts with soup. Here, the broth is a simple bone broth with chicken feet, which is also called “phoenix claws” (凤爪—fèng zhuǎ) which are supposed to help the members of the family who work to hold onto wealth. Apparently, chicken wings help you fly higher, while bones help you to achieve outstanding accomplishments. Chicken feet are also a great source of collagen for maintaining beautiful skin and great for bones, muscles, and tissues. The lotus root represents abundance while its holes represents a mind open to new ideas. There were also peanuts in the soup which represent health, long life, birth of prosperity, continuous growth, multiplication in wealth and good fortune. So as simple as this soup seemed to be, it contained a potpurri of auspicious ingredients. I personally don’t like chicken feet as I find they have no taste, but I found the soup comforting as it’s made from a broth that is the base of so many typical soups that you will find in authentic Chinese restaurants and homes, and is quite mild but has that fragrant flavour that one associates with broths made from bone.
YuShang Salad literally means raw fish prosperity salad as the raw fish represents abundance and the word “YuShang” is a symbol of abundance, prosperity and vigor while the four vegetables in this salad ensures that diners will have luck in all directions. There were also Chinese garlic chives which symbolize eternity, and sliced mandarin oranges which symbolize gold because the Chinese word for mandarin—kam—sounds similar to the word for “gold.” I found that the YuShang Salad reminds of papaya salad as the vegetables in both salads are julienned and have a crunchy texture. The salmon in this salad though isn’t raw, but smoked as Chinese people never serve raw fish. The light dressing of plum sauce, rice vinegar, maple syrup and sesame oil was light and flavourful and not overwhelming and complemented the smoked salmon.
I spy with my little eye… you can’t be squeamish if you want to eat authentic Asian cuisine during Lunar New Year, especially when you have this fish head seemingly ogling you while you eat the rest of its body lol. Apparently, you should only eat the head and tail of the fish at the beginning of the Lunar New Year, because it expresses the hope that the year will start and finish with surplus. This is because the Chinese word for fish, “yu”, sounds like the word for riches or abundance. There’s also a rule that head should be placed toward guests or elders for respect and that diners can enjoy the fish only after the one who faces the fish head eats first. Also, the fish can’t be be moved and the two people who face the head and tail of fish should drink together, for even more luck. Here I moved the fish head for a better shot and hopefully, that won’t cause my luck to fly into the wind. Also apparently the fish eyes are always presented to the honoured guests as they are considered not only to be a delicacy but have numerous medicinal benefits such as to stimulating brain cells and staving off memory loss, as they contain unsaturated fatty acids called DHA and EPA. The entire fish head should also be consumed as it is full of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin A, and protein.
The Fish Head Hot Pot was flavourful and there were pieces of beef which I assume was used the base of the sauce, giving it a hearty meaty flavour. It was also chock full of some of my favorite Asian vegetables such as buk choy, taro and tofu. This would be a Chinese version of stew as taro is the Asian counterpart of potato which I like more as it has more depth of flavour to it, similar to sweet potatoes with a nutty aftertaste. And if you’re wondering if I sucked on the fish eyes or head, no as I am a very bad Asian and it’s a general rule of mine not to eat anything that keeps staring at me.
Any type of orange is auspicious as the word “orange” sounds similar to the word “wealth” when spoken in Mandarin. Also, the colour of oranges also symbolizes the colour of “gold”, and it is especially lucky when you bring any type of oranges to friends and relatives’ homes during Lunar New Year. This dish is very popular with families hoping for a lot of grandchildren, as the Cantonese word for “sour” sounds like the word for grandchild. If you like sweet and sour chicken, you’ll love the Kumquat Chicken more, as kumquats have a tart and sweet flavour at the same time, as the skin is sweet and the flesh tart and they are usually eaten and cooked whole. The chicken itself had a batter which was cooked until it had a nice crisp and crunchy texture with the moist chicken inside. If you’re coming in groups less than four, I would recommend ordering this dish ala carte, but if you’re married, female and without children, don’t be surprised if your parents make you eat this whole dish yourself.
Lamb isn’t a typical dish that you find in Chinese restaurants offering Cantonese style cuisine, but lamb is served in western China and usually also in hot put restaurants. Traditional Chinese medicine doctors believe that lamb is warm and nourishing, especially in cold winter. This Braised Lamb Shank was cooked until it was very tender and moist, with just a hint of curry and cumin. The Lamb Shank it was as delicious as the photo looked, so stop drooling. There were accompanying leeks which are an auspicious food to eat during Chinese New Year because the character “蒜” in its Chinese name (蒜苗/大蒜) sounds like calculating (“算”) in Mandarin and therefore believed to represent wealth or lots of money to count in the coming year. You might have to order two of these if you have meat eaters with big appetites in your party as I can guarantee that you probably won’t get more than a bite of this Lamb Shank.
Asian mothers seldom have to tell their children to eat all their vegetables on their plate because vegetables are seldom over or under cooked and always come with a delicious sauce. Here, the Wok-Fried Vegetables were cooked perfectly in black bean sauce which always makes vegetables taste 1000 times better. I don’t think I have ever had a plate of overcooked limp vegetables from any Chinese restaurant. Here, the auspicious vegetables are the eggplant which heals all of your sicknesses, the string beans represent longevity and the lotus root represents abundance as its holes represent a mind open to new ideas. And altogether as a whole, mixed vegetables represents family harmony.
Rice is usually served last at Chinese restaurants or banquets, because as a host when you serve rice or noodles first, your guests will think you’re cheap and therefore, you will lose face. By the time the rice arrives as the last course, your appetite should have been satiated with the meat and seafood dishes. Rice represents, luck, wealth, and serves as a a link between Heaven (Gods) and Earth (Men) and are usually served for symbolic reasons. In the Golden Fried Rice, there was shrimp which represents liveliness, happiness and good fortune because the Chinese word for shrimp (ha) sounds like laughter. Egg represents fertility, and if you’re a young couple trying to get pregnant, don’t be surprised if your mother-in-law hands you a big plate of fried eggs with only a teaspoon of rice. No complaints about the Golden Fried Rice, as I loved all the ingredients and it tasted just as good when I warmed it up the next day.
When I saw that Nian gao, Sticky (rice) cake, was on the menu, I started to salivate. Although there’s only three ingredients: rice flour, sugar and rice flour, it’s delicious because the brown sugar is cooked for such a long time that it caramelizes. Last week, my coworker brought one in with coconut milk in it, which I really loved. Nian Gao also called the New Year cake as it’s a must to serve this because it symbolizes an increase of prosperity every year. There is a New Year greeting ‘Nian Nian Gao Sheng’ that wishes people “advance toward higher positions and prosperity step by step.” According to a legend, sticky cake (Nian Gao), was a steamed fruitcake that was fed to the Chinese Kitchen God so that he will report favorably on a family’s behavior when he returns to heaven before the start of the New Year. Back In ancient times, Nian Gao was usually only offered to the ancestors and gods but now is a must for Lunar New Year.
The Malaysian version of Nian Gao is a combination of sweet and savory. In the picture above, you can see the outer layer of light batter which holds the three layers together, so I had to take a second photo (below) to show the actual layers. The first bite of the combination of sweet glutinous rice, taro and yam tasted a bit weird to me as I’m not used to this combination, but by the third bite, I loved how the sweetness of the glutinous rice and yam complemented the starchy taro.
At $38 per person for parties of four, this Lunar New Year Menu at Kaya Malay is a steal as it not only incorporates a lot of the auspicious foods that is usually served at Lunar New Year dinners, but everything we had was delicious and cooked perfectly. I was a bit surprised that Scott Kwan, Chef and owner of Kaya Malay didn’t add a lot of Malaysian curry elements to this dinner, but instead this dinner is food that my own parents who hail from southern China cooked for my siblings and I. Kaya Malay’s Lunar New Year dinner is only offered during the month of February so hurry and make reservations, but remember, to give the fish eye to your honoured guest. They may not thank you, but then again at least you can sleep easy tonight, not imagine a pair of eyes looking at the inside of your stomach tonight.