Interesting taboo: Females celebrate their birthdays by the decade e.g. 70th, 80th while males do it one year beforehand since the numbers “sounds” better. 9 in Chinese has various positive associations, since it also sounds like “long”.
He’s probably older than that – they didn’t have documentation like birth certificates back then and birthdays are largely chosen and might be off by years. The birthday banquet was held at Sheraton. This was a very popular place back in the days – there were only a few “opulent” restaurants at the time, and Sheraton was one of them.
Deep Fried Boiled Eggs with Longevity Noodles
This is a classic birthday dish in my hometown. It’s of Foochow origin, I believe. The boiled eggs are slightly coated with batter and then deep fried before being served with fried longevity noodles. It’s supposed to bring good luck, but this dish that’s becoming a little old-fashioned and I only see it during banquets thrown by the older generation now.
It’s good when done well and I ate 4 eggs myself since a lot of people at the table passed up on it.
4 Seasons Hot Platter
This is supposed to be the first dish in every banquet but since it’s a birthday, the longevity noodles come out first. There’s fish maw, shrimp, mushrooms, chicken, sliced abalone and other goodies piled into sectors on the platter.
There’s something for everybody and that’s why it’s a very popular dish in restaurants. It’s a little like poon choy in some ways, except this is the appetizer portion.
Shark’s Fin Soup
You have to see this from the perspective of someone born in the old country (that’s China) and went through WWII with Japan and the resulting famine, uprooting and all that comes with war. They had little and food was important to them. “Luxury items” like shark’s fin isn’t something immoral (only first world countries and the newer generation of people now have that mentality – you can only afford to think about environmental issues when you are living in relative comfort).
It’s just another must-have (to them) on the menu coz old habits die hard and they don’t see the plight of the sharks and probably won’t care even if they did. This is the generation that was born into war, and any food is good food and “status items” like shark’s fin is just another dish to them.
I just wanted to stave off the debate about this coz it seems that everyone needs to have a disclaimer and a stance nowadays. Honestly, as a traveler, I am of course for conversation but then again I don’t believe it’s an issue about education, at least not with the older generation so naturally consumption will die off as the new environmentally conscious generation comes of age.
Deep Fried Breaded Cod
Sheraton is well known for it’s fish – you can get your empurau fish steamed here and they do a mean curry fish head as well. I thought this would be mediocre since I prefer my fish any other way except fried (which ruins most of the taste, IMHO).
However, my cousin politely served me some so I had to politely eat some and I was amazed and went back for second helpings…except there was none left! This is easily the best dish I had in the banquet – the fish is battered and dropped into the deep fryer for only a few seconds, leaving a crisp exterior but and extremely moist interior with the cod flaking off with the natural juices still inside.
I’m getting hungry just thinking of this surprisingly well executed deep fried cod with the spicy dip. The plating is not much to look at, but trust me, it tastes spot on!
Paper Wrapped Chicken with Deep Fried Buns
This is one of my favorite dishes in Sheraton coz they do it so well. Paper wrapped chicken is a cooking technique that has the chicken and herbs wrapped in foil (and sometimes another layer of paper) so the entire bird’s juices is sealed inside, making it extremely tender and tasty.
However, the coup de grace is the deep fried bun. It’s a large, round piece of bread that’s the size of an Arab bread but this is baked in-house with chicken flavors infused into the loaf, which is then deep fried and served warm. It’s the contrasting textures that makes this work so well – the crunchy exterior with the soft, warm flavored bread that goes well with the herbal chicken.
Sea Cucumber with Sliced Abalone on top of Enoki Mushrooms
This is another classic Chinese dish – the sliced abalone comes out of a can, and the sea cucumbers are re-hydrated so the starchy sauce has to carry everything. It’s often said that Chinese cuisine is more about contrasting textures vs the balanced flavors (base and acidity pairing) and plating of “classic cuisine” e.g. French cuisine and I have to agree.
The soft and juicy Enoki mushrooms contrasts well with the chewy abalone slices and the slightly crunchy sea cucumber.
Asian Surf and Turf
I just made that up. Haha! There’s no seafood here, the two ingredients are pork and chicken done two ways. This is a very Taoist concept symbolizing yin and yang – the pork is good but the chicken is bad.
The banquet finished up with the classic fruit platter and I even got an RM 10 ang pow since I wasn’t married and it’s still Chinese New Year (and will be until the 14th of February). I think it’s a great idea that people do their birthdays on CNY since everyone is back in town and it was good to sit down with my uncles and cousins and for a relatives birthday banquet.
P/S – No, it’s not his actual birthday, I don’t think he even remembers the exact date – this wasn’t uncommon, my mom doesn’t either since my grandma didn’t register her birth until she was a few years old so we celebrate it on a fixed date every year that’s easy to remember.