KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 17 — It is less than a week till Chinese New Year but everyone is already in the festive mood, or shall we say, the feasting mood. Time for some good eatin’ — for prosperity and for pleasure (choose well, and our taste buds will thank us).
Good things can come in small packages. Rather than binge, unbox abundance in the form of a bento, that traditional Japanese bundled meal. Hinode Bento at Bukit Jalil has this craving covered with two new seasonal bentos developed specially for this Chinese New Year.
The first is a minimalist Ebi Chirashi Bento where fresh prawns (ebi in Japanese) take centrestage. It’s an auspicious selection for the time of year given that “prawn” in Cantonese is har, which echoes the sound of ringing laughter. (“Har! Har! Har!”, anyone?)
Those seeking something more sumptuous may prefer Hinode’s Inari Sushi Bento, which is stuffed to the gills with unagi (freshwater eel), salmon, tobiko (flying fish roe), sweet morsels of kani (fresh crabmeat) and, of course, prawns for the joyous bellow of “Har! Har! Har!”
Though they are rightfully known for their creative bentos, Hinode also has other Japanese-inspired dishes such as this year’s Yuzu Sashimi Yee Sang. The requisite colourful fresh vegetables and roasted nuts (cashew and peanut) are present, of course, but what stands out is the sashimi.
The choice of raw fish can make or break a seafood-heavy yee sang. Rather than thin slivers of salmon, Hinode has opted for a thicker cut to complement the freshly air-flown hokkigai (Sakhalin surf clam) and crimson pearls of tobiko.
Drizzled with some of their house-made yuzu sauce, this sashimi yee sang will make any loh sang ritual a most raucous and relish-able occasion.
For a different take on yee sang, try the Prosperity Yee Sang at LI Damansara, located along a busy row of shophouses in Damansara Jaya. It’s a colourful rendition, with smoked salmon from Augustine Smokery, sunflower microgreens from Tiny Greens, both white and red cabbage, sengkuang (jícama), kyuri (Japanese cucumber), carrots, melon and pomelo.
To offset any greasiness from the fried bean curd skin, some pickled ginger, goji berries and a wedge of fresh lemon help brighten the proceedings.
Instead of all-spice powder, they use their own blend of dukkha, a mix of almonds, peanuts, sesame seeds and cumin powder. For the sauce, there is fragrant sesame oil as well as a sweet-tart tangerine plum dressing.
But it is LI Damansara’s Poon Choi that truly sets them apart from other restaurants similarly offering yee sang. Here head chef Lim Heng Kit has eschewed the usual abalone, large prawns and fish maw for something lighter: braised spring chicken.
The star of the show is joined by thick chunks of daikon, lotus root, white flower mushrooms, firm tofu, bean curd rolls, corn, black moss and broccoli. Fret not, deep umami flavours are guaranteed by the presence of festive lap cheong (Chinese sausage) and rich chicken stock.
Worried about packing on the pounds after all that Chinese New Year indulgence? Rest easy as Malaysian startup Wolf Pints has got you covered with their range of full flavoured, low calorie ice creams.
Insta-famous for their Pulut Tai Tai, a seasonal flavour where a creamy pandan base is interlaced with swirls of homemade kaya and morsels of pulut (glutinous rice), the health and fitness conscious trio behind Wolf Pints — Jonathon, Jen and Ezra — racked their heads to come up with something uniquely dong dong chiang.
The result is another guilt-free treat, their new Onglai Oolong flavour where the ice cream base is infused with jīn xuān, a creamy and flowery oolong tea from Taiwan, as well as pineapple jam and pieces of home-baked butter cookies.
The pineapple jam here is key as pineapple in Hokkien is onglai, which sounds like “Good fortune come!” Wolf Pints had already rolled out a popular pineapple tart ice cream before so they knew this was a flavour profile that will be well received.
Far from cloyingly sweet, the Onglai Oolong (also available as part of a CNY bundle that includes oolong tea sachets, pineapple tarts and three other ice creams of your choice) has a buttery quality thanks to the jīn xuān, also known as “milk oolong” in Taiwan, and the intense buttery aroma of the cookie crumble.
Perhaps you’re feeling a little nostalgic and desire something more old-school. Who doesn’t remember the simpler Chinese New Year of our younger days, when a generous square of bak kwa (Chinese dried meat) sandwiched between two slices of white bread tasted like the most sumptuous meal we could imagine... particularly if one was of the school-going age?
Walk down memory lane by dropping by Sunday Coffee & Cakes in Taman OUG, where the talented kitchen crew has taken the above classic combo and elevated it with a twist of their own to create their Chicken Bak kwa Floss Sando.
The “principals” of this sensational “cast” are, naturally, salty-sweet chicken bak kwa and savoury, light-as-air chicken floss. Taking a leaf from their signature Tamagoyaki Sando, which features Japanese-style rolled omelette that is battered and deep-fried, the cooks have include soft, runny scrambled eggs for a lovely textural contrast.
Dressing comes in the form of Sunday’s in-house spicy mayo (a blend of Sichuan style chilli oil and mayonnaise); some greens thanks to crisp butterhead lettuce.
And what’s a sando without white bread? Despite its name, Sunday is more than coffee and cakes. Their bakers make some of the best loaves in the neighbourhood: besides their white bread used here, they also have crusty sourdough available.
To round things up, no Chinese New Year celebration in recent years would feel complete without the now iconic Honey Mikan Roll from KITA Coffee in Bukit Bintang. The sweet citrus is at its peak during the winter months of December and January, which makes it the perfect pairing for fluffy chiffon cake and fresh cream.
Owner Rain Lee, also the Malaysia Barista Champion 2022, makes these soft rolls by hand with little tweaks every year so that customers have something special to look forward to. Last year’s version had a touch of Japanese yuzu, offering a tinge of subtle acidity.
For the Year of the Water Rabbit, Lee has crafted a new Honey Mikan Roll with red cocoa chiffon and orange marmalade jam; the latter adding a layer of bitterness to the juicy mikan (also known as satsuma mandarins).
Given that the name for mandarin oranges in Cantonese — kam — sounds just like the word for “gold”, there’s little wonder why this is everyone’s favourite fruit during Chinese New Year. May we all be blessed with good fortune and wealth but more important than that, good health and the company of our loved ones as we gather to ring in yet another fantastic year.
Learn more about:
Hinode Bento — hinodebento.com
LI Damansara — lidamansarajaya.com
Wolf Pints — instagram.com/wolf.pints/
Sunday Coffee & Cakes — instagram.com/sundaycoffeeandcakes/
KITA Coffee — facebook.com/kitacoffeemy/
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