If you have already failed to stick to your New Year’s resolutions, reset your cultural clock by celebrating Chinese or Korean New Year and Thai Songkran. Follow this guide for an all-you-can-eat buffet of good fortune Asian New Year gourmet goodies across Joburg.
By Anna Trapido
CHINESEChinese New Year is celebrated with fanfare and dragon dancing on consecutive weekends in Joburg’s two Chinatowns: Commissioner Street in downtown Joburg and Derrick Avenue, Cyrildene. Chinese families generally come together for a quieter, New Year’s Eve dinner (Nian Ye Fan) prior to the public parties. The evening is spent preparing jiao zhi dumplings – shaped like ingots to signify wealth – to be eaten at midnight. Legend has it that the more dumpings you eat then, the more money you can make in the upcoming cycle.
At Dumpling Shop in Cyrildene kindly staff will help you pick out dumplings with a lot of pleats; if the junctions are too flat, poverty will ensue. Sui Hing Hong in Joburg's historic Chinatown on Commissioner Street has a good selection of frozen dumplings. Fusion fans adore So Yum in Hyde Park Corner for the ‘Hong Kong Pears’ (potato dumplings stuffed with duck, prawn and chicken) and sesame-coated chocolate dumplings. Dumplings must be arranged in lines; ring-shaped plating will result in an unsatisfying life that goes round in circles.
Long noodles, mian tiao, served uncut and swimming in broth represent longevity. Chef-patronne Emma Chen’s PRON in Linden serves superb tofu noodles with leeks. Her posher Red Chamber restaurant offers chicken soup noodles, on the menu as ‘a pick you up and babalas recipe’. Zengcai Li and his wife Feng Qin Hu’s Northern Food make magnificent Zhurou Dun Fentiao (braised pork with potato noodles) and have locations in Cyrildene and Rivonia. Everything on the menu at the historic downtown restaurant Swallows Inn is available with noodles for an extra R2. Food history fans will adore Joburg’s oldest surviving Chinese restaurant. Founded in 1940, the menu reflects the culinary fusion that inevitably occurs in a diaspora community isolated from its motherland for almost a century. It is also where Nelson Mandela used to eat noodles as a young lawyer.
Dumpling Shop 13A Derrick Ave, Cyrildene
Sui Hing Hong 17 Commissioner St, Ferreirasdorp, City Centre, tel. +27 11 834 7905
So Yum Hyde Park Corner, cnr Jan Smuts Ave and 6th Rd, Hyde Park, tel. +27 11 325 5360, soyum.co.za
PRON 69 7th St, Linden, tel. +27 11 782 1736
Red Chamber Hyde Park Corner, cnr Jan Smuts Ave and 6th Rd, Hyde Park, tel. +27 11 325 6048, redchamber.co.za
Chinese Northern Food 20D Derrick Ave, Cyrildene, tel. +27 72 030 9414
Swallows Inn 6 Commissioner St, City Centre, tel. +27 11 838 2946
KOREANEumnyeok Seolnal marks the first day of the Korean lunar calendar, almost always sharing a date with the Chinese Lunar New Year (every 24 years the new moon occurs between Korean and Chinese midnight so you can celebrate on consecutive days). Children wish their elders a happy new year by performing one deep traditional bow and saying the words ‘saehae bok mani badeuseyo’ (translated as ‘please receive a lot of luck in the new year’). Today this gesture is typically rewarded with a small gift of money, but the traditional practice of giving gifts of rice cakes (ddeok or tteok) persists in some communities.
Korean restaurants and grocery stores are less common than Chinese food sources in Joburg, but most Chinese supermarkets have a Korean corner. Ready-made ddeok are found frozen and fresh in the bakery section at Rivonia Asian Supermarket. This magnificent pan-Asian epicurean emporium also keeps Korean short grain rice flour to make your own, as does Market Kokoro, also in Rivonia. To make your own at home Steyn’s Culinary School in Pretoria offers Korean cooking classes. At New Year, Korean families set out a table replete with delicious dishes presented to ancestral spirits. Following the rite, the food is eaten by the living. The main dish is a ganjan-seasoned soup called ddeokguk containing rice cakes, julienned cooked eggs and marinated meat. After consuming it Koreans consider themselves to be a year older so it is common to ask a Korean their age by asking, ‘How many servings of ddeokguk have you had?’ Koreana in Sunninghill makes magnificent ddeok rice cakes and ddeokguk soup.
Rivonia Asian Supermarket Ground Floor, Oriental City, cnr 9th Ave and Rivonia Rd, Rivonia, tel. +27 11 803 8900
Market Kokoro Rivonia Junction, Rivonia Blvd, Rivonia, tel. +27 11 79 756 0814
Steyn’s Culinary School 345 Glyn St, Hatfield, Pretoria, tel. +27 12 362 5340, steynsculinaryschool.co.za
Koreana The Square, cnr Naivasha and Leeukop Rds, Sunninghill, tel. +27 11 234 5425.
THAISongkran (Thai New Year) is marked from April 13–15. The date is calculated according to ancient astrological charts and the event signifies the beginning of a new astrological year. Often referred to as the water festival before the Buddhist era, the throwing of water was a spring festival practice that symbolised farmers’ desire for rain. Subsequently a range of water-related Buddhist religious rites have evolved in order to wash away evil and bring good luck for the year ahead. Today the festivities bubble up into boisterous water-balloon throwing and generalised soaking. Food is traditionally taken to monks and the elderly.
Auspicious New Year’s dishes are regionally specific but Larb Gai (spiced chicken salad with mint and Thai basil on lettuce cups) is commonly consumed (‘larb’ means fortune). The kindly ladies at Cyrildene's Friends Thai Supermarket keep an instant packet version of the classic Songkran dessert, Sang Ka Ya (Thai Coconut Custard). Just add boiling water and stir. Arrive early if you want to buy their small selection of khanom tom kaow (coconut-rolled rice flour dumplings). Thai cooking classes are offered at Thai Café in Paulshof.
Friends Thai Supermarket 218 Hettie Street, Cyrildene
Thai Cafe Cambridge Crossing, corner Witkoppen and Stonehaven Rds, Paulshof, tel. +27 11 803 9806, thaicafe.co.za
Anna Trapido is the author of ‘Hunger For Freedom, The Story of Food in the Life of Nelson Mandela’, and ‘To the Banqueting House: African Cuisine, An Epic Journey’. She is also the former editor of ‘Rossouw’s by Diners Club South African Restaurant Guide 2015’.