Chinese New Year is the biggest celebration in the world’s most populous nation.
Dictated by the lunar calendar, New Year falls on February 5 this year and lasts for about 15 days. Each year is marked by one of the 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac. This year it is the turn of the pig, last celebrated in 2007. (Next year, the rat is back in town.)
And you really couldn’t wish for a better dining companion. People born in the year of the porker are valued for their likeability, they are symbols of wealth, and, naturally, they have terrific appetites.
Not only does Chinese New Year provide a perfect time for Chinese restaurateurs to set out their stall and attract new customers; it is also provides a brilliant opportunity for Western customers to open up their palates to new flavours, textures, and particularly, spices.
Cantonese food is the best known-style of Chinese cuisine in the UK and not so long ago if you went to Chinatown in London or Birmingham, the offer would have been almost exclusively Cantonese in origin. Typically light and delicate, Cantonese food, from Guangdong Province, is renowned for sweet and sour flavours, freshness and tasty dim sum. But it is only one of eight of the great regional cooking traditions in China.
Today, particularly for millennials, dining out is all about the spice and heat of Szechuan cooking. Liquid head of content Richard McComb, a food writer, was introduced to the numbing power of Szechuan dishes on a trip to China in 2015 and visited London recently to see how food in Chinatown, London has been given a turbo boost of spice.
Richard says: “There are now six specialist Szechuan restaurants in the district, a seventh is due to open imminently, and half of the local restaurants in Chinatown now serve Szechuan-inspired dishes on their menus.
“At JinLi, I had the signature grilled sea bass in chilli oil. It’s the perfect dish for a winter’s day and is guaranteed to invigorate. If you want to go hardcore with the full Szechuan experience, try the boiled blood jelly with beef and tripe in spice soup.”
Richard says Chinese New Year offers a great excuse to try new dishes and step outside the Cantonese comfort zone.
“I am not saying avoid Cantonese food. Far from it. Cantonese roast meats and dim sum are one of life’s great eating pleasures,” says Richard.
“But there is so much more to Chinese cuisine. Go on, try Szechuan and spice up your life for Chinese New Year.”