Starting the Year of the Monkey in London
Chinese New Year in London is set to be the largest celebration outside of Asia with thousands descending on to the streets of Soho to mark the Year of the Monkey. While the main celebrations will take place in London this Sunday (14th February), Chinese New Year was actually observed on Monday 8th February, a fortunate date with the number 8 being a lucky number in Chinese culture.
What happens in London?
Whether you’re heading down with friends or family you can expect vibrant colours, delicious food and plenty of lanterns, red packets and lettuce! Lettuce you say? What does this mean you may ask? Well, the main event in London will be the annual lion dance. Still no mention of lettuce. Here it comes – the lion dance will set off from Trafalgar Square and make its way to lantern-lined Chinatown where the lion will bring good luck to the shops and houses it visits. Businesses will hang green vegetables in their doorways, usually lettuce with red packets containing money hidden in the leaves. The lion will then scatter the leaves spreading good fortune and blessings for the coming year.
The procession is accompanied by the beating of drums, cymbals and gongs. The instruments highlight the lion’s actions and every movement has a specific musical rhythm. According to tradition, the lion signifies courage and superiority and the dance combines, art, history and kung fu.
Traditional food for Chinese New Year (and where to find it)
Three traditional foods that are usually eaten at Chinese New Year include bao (buns), roast duck and steamed fish.
Bao are delicious, steamed morsels that can be found all over Chinatown. They have been increasing in popularity or the past few years in London and are one of the dishes eaten as part of New Year’s Eve dinner in China. One of my favourites are char siu bao which are fluffy white buns resembling clouds filled with sticky, barbeque flavoured roast pork. Try Yauatcha on Broadwick Street for these bundles of joy.
Roast duck is a staple for celebratory occasions and just walking the streets of Chinatown will make your mouth water for the crispy, perfectly cooked meat that hangs in so many windows. Try Four Seasons on Gerrard Street who are famed for their Cantonese-style roast duck.
Finally, steamed fish is another necessity for New Year’s Eve dinner. There is an abundance of choice around Chinatown for this simple yet special part of the meal. At Gerrard’s Corner on Wardour Street, it’s possible to sample steamed sea bass and monk fish cooked in the traditional way.
However you are spending the New Year, I wish you a happy and prosperous one! Enjoy the London festivities and food (of course)!
By Sunita Ghalley