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SYMBOLIC SUSTENANCE. A staff member in the kitchen takes out a roasted goose, top photo, from the oven and hangs it on a rack to drip oil as part of preparation of the "poon choi" dish, bottom photo, at RenRen Heping Restaurant in Hong Kong. Tighter COVID-19 restrictions, including a ban on dining in restaurants after 6:00pm, caused Hong Kong residents to hold their annual reunion dinner on Lunar New Year’s eve at home. (AP Photos/Kin Cheung)

From The Asian Reporter, V32, #2 (February 7, 2022), page 15.

Savoring a lucky Lunar New Year’s eve dish at home

By Alice Fung and Janice Lo

The Associated Press

HONG KONG — Tighter COVID-19 restrictions, including a ban on dining in restaurants after 6:00pm, meant many Hong Kong families ate their reunion dinner on Lunar New Year’s eve at home this year.

The traditional dish known as "poon choi," or "basin food," is a large dish filled with lotus root, radish, taro, and more expensive delicacies such as prawns, abalones, and meat layered on top. Each food is symbolic and enjoying the dish with family is a way of sharing hope for a good year.

To make up for lost business from the dine-in restrictions, many restaurants offered "poon choi" takeaways. Each ingredient was prepared and cooked separately in advance, usually in the early hours of the day before the dish was assembled for customers to take home.

RenRen Heping Restaurant chef Fong Wah-yat was busy preparing takeaway "poon choi" for two weeks, with the restaurant receiving some 425 orders for the dish.

"Chinese people like to eat these expensive foods like sea cucumbers and abalones at our Lunar New Year family gatherings because we have worked very hard over the past year," Fong said. "We should eat these delicacies to reward ourselves for our hard work."

Each ingredient in the dish carries meaning. Fish maw represents a constant flow of fortune, while abalone — with its shape reminiscent of gold ingots — represents abundance, according to Fong.

"All the things that Chinese people eat during Lunar New Year bring good luck, and we hope it will bring us a good year ahead after eating them," he said.

Hong Kong’s tightened restrictions meant restaurants that depend heavily on the festive season have seen their revenue dip.

"Banning dine-in after 6:00pm actually hugely affects the business of both Chinese and western restaurants because the income generated from dinner accounts for a great percentage of a restaurant’s total revenue," said Mansfield Hui, owner of RenRen Heping Restaurant.

While ordinary take-out meals cannot offset the losses much, more expensive dishes like "poon choi" help, he said.

For some customers, takeaway "poon choi" is a good alternative while the omicron variant is surging in the city.

"If you eat in a restaurant, there will be many people and during the pandemic, I do not want to eat in a restaurant with so many people," said Ng Wai-kuen, a customer who bought takeaway "poon choi" for six people and was planning a dinner at home.

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