Taifenglou restaurant's menu for Lunar New Year's Eve includes auspiciously named dishes like mandarin fish (above) and its signature dishes like deep-fried shrimp (below left) and sauteed tripe slices with coriander (below right). Photos Provided to China Daily
Scallion-flavored sea cucumber is a representative dish of Shandong cuisine.
Most Chinese go home for dinner on the eve of the Spring Festival, but engaging an in-house chef is becoming a trend. Sun Ye talks about eating out on Lunar New Year's Eve.
The head of the China Cuisine Association says his unwavering choice for dinner on Lunar New Year's Eve is Hongbinlou in Beijing.
That Feng Enyuan, general secretary of the association that gauges Chinese cuisine, opts to book the same table and order the same set of dishes for years has more to do with his ethnic group.
Feng is an ethnic Hui, a Muslim, and Hongbinlou is one of the most prestigious halal restaurants in Beijing.
"Sauteed ox tripe with coriander, braised ox tail, kung pao shrimp, squirrel-tailed mandarin fish - I order them every year. My family, especially my 80-year-old mother, loves these dishes," Feng says.
Hongbinlou is so popular that four weeks before that dinner of the year, only two tables were still available, right near the restaurant entrance and not exactly a prime position.
All 15 private dining rooms have been reserved since October. Some were booked as early as last Spring Festival, after customers had finished their 2012 meal, a Hongbinlou staff member told China Daily.
By the time this sees print, most other restaurants in Beijing would be fully booked.
Taifenglou, with its signature scallion-flavored sea cucumber, crispy duck and other Beijing-styled Shandong cuisine, is one more that would have run out of tables for Lunar New Year's Eve.
The restaurant on Qianmen Street is now tuned to the hustle and bustle on that night, to the extent that it has warned customers ahead that they only offer set menus.
Average cost for a set is about 1,800 yuan ($290) for six cold dishes and eight to 10 hot dishes in the general dining room. It will cost several hundreds more in the private parlors. The menu normally includes the restaurant's signature dishes, as well as auspiciously named dishes specially designed to usher in good luck for the year.
A quick check with Beijing's better Chinese restaurants says it is just too late to decide on dining out now. In fact, it would have been too late by October. No tables are to be had for love or money.
You will have to be better prepared by putting down a booking deposit for next year now, or try a catering company for an in-house chef to manage the table for your family.
Feng, from China Cuisine Association, says this is the next new thing.
"It will free family members from housework and retain the cozy atmosphere of home. No going out in the cold too," Feng says.
Fu Yang, creative executive of Youjingge, which offers catering services, says the company will possibly start home catering for Chinese New Year next year. It already does Christmas parties and celebratory get-togethers with food that's not strictly traditional.
"I believe the best dining experience should be international. The main course might be Chinese, but the matching dessert may come from somewhere else," Fu says.
He says Beijing has welcomed this understanding of fusion food, and the company's catering business has thrived on this.
Fu expects the trend to speed up more in 2013. "I'm always on the lookout. Competitors are coming out so quickly and we have to be on our toes."