Hotels and Chinese restaurants are rolling out a dizzying selection of Chinese New Year (CNY) food for takeaway and most of what we’ve tasted so far is pretty good.
Those having a steamboat reunion dinner at home can up their game by ordering premium ingredients such as fresh prawn dumplings and pork balls with oyster from Man Fu Yuan at InterContinental Singapore and those looking for something extra special can splurge on a $700 pencai from Shang Palace that comes in a beautiful custom-made red-and-gold pot and includes a whole deboned garoupa stuffed with foie gras and wild mushrooms.
Some of these CNY takeaway items stand out for being not only top grade, but also very creative. And while quality often comes at a price, a few are very well-priced. Here are our top picks of delicacies to order for the Year of the Rat that you can enjoy at home.
It used to be a tough choice deciding whether to get the steamed radish cake or yam cake from Crystal Jade because both are delicious. But this platter solves that problem by including both in a set of five cakes. Packed neatly in a red box, it makes a very nice food gift too.
The cakes, which are a mix of sweet and savoury ones, also include a nian gao, a roselle osmanthus cake and an egg sponge cake. The cakes are also sold individually in slightly bigger versions with a diameter of 17.8cm. Those in the set measure 11.4cm.
At $54.36, from Crystal Jade. Order at: estore.crystaljade.com until 4 February or Crystal Jade outlets from tomorrow to 8 February.
Nian gao or New Year cake is a must for Chinese households. Taoists use it as an offering to the Kitchen God so that the deity would have only sweet things to say when he makes his yearly report on the family. And to others, it symbolises a rise in one’s fortunes.
Traditionally made with glutinous rice flour and brown sugar, the cake is too hard to be eaten as is and is usually sliced and pan-fried or steamed before serving. But these yam paste nian gao tarts are ready to eat. And they are yummy, with the sweet cake encased in a brittle tart shell. A layer of yam paste below cuts the sweetness.
The only drawback is that, unlike traditional nian gao which can keep for months, they are best eaten fresh.
You need to order three days in advance and the last day of collection is 8 February.
At $32.10 for a box of nine, from Jade at The Fullerton Hotel Singapore, 1 Fullerton Square. Order at: shop.fullertonhotels.com
This Cantonese restaurant serves the most premium—and the most expensive—steamboat in town. Available only on pre-order, it costs $180 a person for a minimum of four persons.
Just for the Chinese New Year season—from now to 8 to 10 February—of the steamboat ingredients are also available for takeaway. They are not cheap, but the quality, especially that of the handmade balls and dumplings, is unrivalled among steamboat eateries.
Our choice are the fresh prawn dumplings ($26 for eight) and minced pork balls with dried oysters ($32 for eight), which boast fresh-tasting ingredients and a springy texture. We had bought them previously to supplement home-cooked reunion dinner steamboats and they were a hit.
Other takeaway items include poached drunken kampung chicken marinated in Chinese herbs and huadiao wine ($22 for half a chicken), freshly handmade crab claw with minced prawns ($28 for eight), USA Angus beef balls with water chestnuts ($32 for eight) and eight-head abalone with minced Hokkaido scallops ($108 for 10).
From $22, from Man Fu Yuan at InterContinental Singapore, 80 Middle Road. Order at: singapore.intercontinental.com/festive/shop
If you are planning to hold your reunion dinner at home, but do not want to cook, the best option is to order one of the takeaway set meals that many Chinese restaurants have put together. This set by the Paradise Group, consisting of four dishes, offers one of the best value.
One of the dishes is Prosperity Abalone Yu Sheng, which would have cost $46.80 on its own. The salad with a tangy plum sauce comes with a can of abalone. There is also the Auspicious Black Truffle Kampong Chicken, with the bird steamed with black truffle for 11/2 hours hours until it is tender and infused with the aroma of the prized delicacy.
The Grandeur Treasure Pot or pencai is the main event. This comes with items such as abalone, sea cucumber, fish maw, conpoy, dried oyster, mushroom, dried fish maw, black moss, pork trotter, duck wing, Chinese sausage, bean dough, cabbage, yam, lotus root and radish. The five-person pot is also sold on its own at $258.
Last but not least is the Fortune Lotus Leaf Glutinous Rice. The rice is fried with mushroom and Chinese sausage, and seasoned with a housemade sauce before being wrapped in lotus leaf and steamed.
The set is available for collection at the participating outlets until 9 February, from 11.30am to 3pm on the eve of Chinese New Year and from 11.30am to 8pm on other days.
At $328, $298 (serves from five to eight persons) for Paradise Gourmet Rewards member. Order at: Beauty In The Pot, Paradise Dynasty, Canton Paradise, Paradise Classic or Paradise Hotpot outlets. Each set comes with a complimentary six-can pack of Tiger Crystal.
If you want to be the most popular person at your dinner gathering, just turn up with a roast suckling pig. Few can resist the delightful crackling. Cantonese roast masters do it best, getting the skin amazingly crispy while keeping the meat moist. While most restaurants serve the dish only for dine-in, Si Chuan Dou Hua in Kitchener Road packs it for takeaway as well.
If you worry about the crackling going soft by the time you get home, it does not. The one delivered to my office was perfect a couple of hours after leaving the oven. Nonetheless, you should not keep it for much longer than that and I’d suggest you collect it just before your meal. It comes in a handy long carrier box and is available until 9 February. Order one day in advance.
Also must-try this year is their mouse-shaped nian gao, with the adroable purple hue made from sweet purple potato powder.
At $328, from Si Chuan Dou Hua at Parkroyal on Kitchener Road, 181 Kitchener Road. Order at: www.sichuandouhua.com/promotion/chinese-new-year
This article originally appeared on The Straits Times.