As I typed this first paragraph, I was full. I was so full my stomach pressed lightly against my chin. So full that it didn’t feel like merely a weight, but pressure, pushing out in every direction. So full that the very thought of eating food, or drinking, was anathema.
Now, barely 5 hours later, and I am hungrily eyeing the box of pineapple tarts on the table. Being insatiable is, of course, the whole point of Chinese New Year. There should be only addition, never subtraction. People greet each other with wishes for perpetual surpluses – not that we’ve got enough to live comfortably, but that we’ve got more than that. Preferably more than ever previously possessed. More, more, more.
More in this case is roast chicken, fats and skin beautifully rendered and bronzed, the meat thoroughly cooked but moist.
More in this case is yusheng with cute little abalone, full of slightly briny, slightly fishy juices and hiding in with all the glistening julienned salad. As usual it’s the crisps, just thinly coated with plum dressing and oil, that attract me most, standing out from a loose weave of strands of different textures but much the same plum flavour.
But more is, most of all, poon choy, a braying mix of flavours and textures and sensations all loosely bound together by the broth. It is mildly sweet and loudly, vastly savoury, packed with all kinds of umami from everything else – tender, pull-apart dried scallop (my favourite), meat rolls liberally seasoned with parsley. Abalone that squeak, spongy fried skin that squelch, supple prawns.
But maybe in a poon choy there is some sort of lesson too. The things that top a poon choy are always spectacular, valuable, pretty. And then you dig in, past the shellfish and the good stuff, and it’s fried yams, napa cabbage and lotus roots, and a trotter.
But this trotter, from the stretchy skin that has thoroughly imbibed everything above it to meat with the pleasurable chew of pulled pork, is brilliant too. Yes, it looks like an anticlimax given what precedes it. But the Cantonese, who came up with this dish, also came up with the saying – the good stuff sinks to the bottom. The meat’s collagen, the vegetable sweetness, is the real balance and base of the broth. Go for more by all means, the pot tells me in my fullness-induced hallucinations. But pay attention to what’s beneath.