For the past few years we’ve started to head down to Stowell Street to join in the Chinese New Year Festivities. The noise and colourful pageantry is an amazing sight to witness. Fire Crackers, Devil Bangers (now called “fun snaps”), paper stretch out dragon and a variety of street food. If the weather is warm and dry, you can barely move along Stowell Street. I can’t remember coming to watch the celebration with my parents at all, but I’m a strong believer that Imogen and Abigail, should experience other cultures traditions.
Chinese New Year on Stowell Street
This year Chinese New Year fell on February the 14th. Also St. Valentines day, but lets not mix up the focus here. The day started off with a covering of frost and a 70% promise of rain. It was at that moment I thought people would start to drop out of our Chinese New Year celebration group. One of Catherine’s friends had organised a group to enjoy the best of Stowell Street, at Chinese New Year, in the Palace Gardens restaurant. There is something that doesn’t quite sit right there in my head. It’s a little like heading out to Florida from the UK to celebrate Independence Day.
Any way to celebrate the year of the monkey, we took over four tables of ten, which was one side of the restaurant.
A family from our group was running late, due to traffic, so we sat waiting, making small talk. Secretly thinking “What size banquet are we getting? Will they eat all the duck? I hope there’s Prawn Toast!” I span the lazy Susan, which creaked slowly around. I started to notice trolleys of steaming Dim Sum going around, followed by trolleys of an orange drink next to an orangier drink. Cat and I had been to a Dim Sum restaurant in London and we weren’t keen then, but that was OK as the Sweet and Sour Pork would be here soon.
Andrea turn up, took her jacket off and threw in a curve ball. She turned to a waiter and quickly said “One Pork, One Pork and Prawn and one of those!” Dim Sum was on the table and Andrea went on to mingle with another table. After about 5 minutes we all started to try these parcels. I’ve always been open to try new things, but if I don’t like it I rarely try again. But I’m polite so we’ll forget that last experience and try again.
Imagine a really well stuffed ravioli with pork and prawn. The outer layer had a sort of chicken flavour and it wasn’t as bad as I’d remembered. It then came out that some others on our table had been here for Dim Sum before and it was “really authentic”. Before Andrea had returned the original 3 wicker baskets of food parcels had gone and they were replaced with lots of other “stuff”.
I can’t remember everything on the table as it was passed out quickly, but what I heard sounded good.
Beef Balls, in the middle. Turnip cake is the squares, next up is Cuttlefish, followed by Pork and Prawn Dim Sum, I didn’t hear the rest, but Prawn crackers are bottom right. The Lazy Susan squeaked around and in front of me was what looked like sweet and sour pork strips. My chop sticks were about to pick up one when I asked Ray (a frequent Dim Summer) what they were. “Chicken feet!” As I said I’ll try anything once… but not chicken feet. Spare ribs and chicken wings frustrate me with a lack of meat. Chicken feet would only disappoint with the effort to meat ratio.
My next bite was with the steamed pork bun. This is what I remembered from London mainly. Imagine a slice of white bread with a teaspoon of meat inside, folded into a little packed and steamed. The Bread becomes quite sticky, but the fluffy sweet texture with a tangy meat flavour works really well. I ate it in 4 pieces. Snapped off the top corner with 3 goes and then picked up and wolfed down the last piece (imagine a sticky, fluffy open sandwich). It was during the third chew that I could feel the paper sheet that the item sat on. I’m hoping it was edible, because I eat it (everyone else peeled it off).
I then tried the Cuttle Fish, which I hoped would be like a crab cake, but the one thing you need to know about cuttlefish is it’s fragrant. Or should I use the term Pungent. I could use some comparisons, but I’m opting to stay away from that!
Cat looked at me “I think I’ll get a banquet for one”.
“Make it a Banquet for 2”.
The Coulsons agreed with our idea, and then the rest of the table followed.
The banquet consisted of the usual items, that I love and know like the back of my hand. Chicken and Sweetcorn Soup, Duck pancakes, Sweet and Sour Pork, Lemon Chicken, Chicken Curry and a King Prawn Dish.
Nothing unusual here, I was back in my comfort zone.
That was until…
One of the main attractions on Stowell Street at Chinese New Year is the Dragon dance and Lion Dance. The Dragon usually enters the doorway of the restaurants and eats a lettuce, then leaves. Palace Gardens is upstairs. So the Dragon battles up the stairs and stomps around the restaurant. It snaked in violently shaking, followed by drums and cymbals, straight to the Fire Exit.
This is also where I have a confession. My photography was rubbish and I missed most of the action, but my friend Stephen Coulson (Avid photographer) got some better action shots.
The Dragon attacks the lettuce and throws chunks of leaves all over.
Imogen was quite excited to get a “lucky” lettuce leaf!
Chinese New Year on Stowell Street is a lot of fun and I know the weather makes a huge difference to the day. Although I would have felt like I was missing out on the outside activities, this year some of the outdoors came inside. There is much more to the Chinese festivities, but as we didn’t really experience them this year, I’ll save that for next year!