For Chinese New Year, the L family invited us to celebrate with them at Shangri La Inn.
Typically, a CNY dinner is a banquet. However, what was new to me was the 'yu san' dish that would be served at SLI.
A literal translation of 'yu san' is raw fish. I had never come across this dish before. According to Mr L, serving yu san became popular about 30-40 years ago in Malaysia and Singapore. As with all the other dishes that are served in the banquet, yu san is symbolic of properity, abundance and all things great and good! I was intrigued and slightly apprehensive about the dish. I looked forward to trying a new dish, but at the same time, I was a bit squeamish at the idea of eating raw fish. However, more on this later!
To kick-off the banquet, shark fin soup was served. I love this soup, and this was a pretty tasty one! It had lots of shark fin, crab meat, dried scallop meat and chicken pieces.
For those people who haven't tried shark fin soup before, it's a moreish broth that's made with chicken stock and as much shark fin you can afford(!). It takes a bit of effort in making it and it's simmered for several hours to concentrate the flavour. The shark fin itself doesn't have much flavour but has a lovely slippery and gelatinous texture. It's thickened with starch to make the broth quite viscous. Needless to say, because of the cost and time involved to make the soup, this is usually served at special occasions... (I had two bowls...hehehe!)
Next was the yu san. This dish is usually served as an appetizer to raise good luck for the new year. It is eaten throughout the 15-day CNY celebrations, especially on the seventh day which is known as “every person’s birthday”.
According to Mr L, apparently that some of the top-end restaurants in Malaysia and Singapore make such a profit from this dish alone that they don't need to open for business for the rest of the year.
A big plate that had big pile of finely shredded carrot and radish, surrounded with pickled veg and ginger, sliced capsicum, spring onions, lemon wedges, coriander, thinly sliced raw salmon, deep fried wonton wrappers, crushed peanuts, and small parcels of five spice powder, sesame seeds, white pepper - I think that was all of it! The dressing was about half a cup each of plum sauce and vegetable oil.
The waiter assembled all of the above ingredients.
It was now time for the 'lo hei', which roughly translated means to 'mix up'. The folklore is that everyone gets a pair of chopsticks to toss and mix up the ingredients. The higher you toss the ingredients, the better the fortune/good luck that comes to you!
I was surprised that the yu san was quite delicious. The pickled veggies and ginger helped me get past the raw salmon (I kept telling myself that it's just like eating sushi). The dressing wasn't as oily at all. All the ingredients nicely balanced each other. It was fresh, crunchy, sweet, sour (from the pickled veg) and savoury. The composition of the yu san reminded me of Thai cuisine's approach in achieving sour, sweet, salty, and bitter flavours in the same dish.
Now, you'll have to forgive me for my minimal comments on the rest of the dishes - there were so many dishes and I was getting full quite quickly.
Glutinous rice wrapped in dried lotus leaf - a dish you'd find at yum cha.
Stir fried prawns with veggies. The prawns were seasoned with XO sauce (I think).
Braised dried oysters, shiitake mushrooms and 'fat choi' (black hair moss weed) with bok choi. I love this dish, but it's probably an acquired taste for those who aren't familiar with it. The dried oysters were super sized (it makes you wonder how big there were before they were dried) and have very umami flavour. Large, plump mushrooms with the fine black hair moss weed. The weed doesn't have much taste (at least that's what I think - I've never had the weed served on its own). The strong flavours come from the oysters and shiitake mushrooms.
I don't know much about the weed. Mr Strong says that the weed is grown on the ground in the Gobi Desert, and is has been over-harvested leading to desertification. The Chinese government has limited harvesting of the weed. It's very probable that most of the weed that's available for purchase these days are imitation moss weed.
Tofu and vegetable stir fry.
Finally, we've reached the desserts! A refreshing coconut and sago soup served chilled, with cantaloupe pieces. The coconut and sago soup is my favourite Asian dessert (I was so glad that they didn't serve the hot red bean soup - it was 35 degrees on that day!). There was also the sinful but deliciously crispy red bean pancake.
And it wouldn't be a CNY celebration with the dragon dance! I think everyone in the restaurant were impressed with the dancers' stamina - it was hot and sweaty work just to participate in the banquet...how they danced and did acrobatic work that lasted about 30 minutes on a 35 degree is definitely beyond me!
Food – 7.5
Service – 8
Ambience – 8
Price – 8
A great CNY banquet. My favourite dishes were the yu san, shark fin soup, braised dried oysters and the desserts. The staff were friendly and SLI is clearly a favourite for diners (the place was completely full, with a mix of Asian and Western diners).
Shangri La Inn
37-39 Brentford Square
Forest Hill 3131
Telephone: 9877 6298