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Ali Carte
Ali Carte

Feeling Lucky with a Chinese New Year Feast

By Ali Resich Photos By Nathalie Walker
January 19, 2014

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There are only a few more weeks to go before Chinese New Year celebrations bring hope for longevity and good fortune in the coming year. As familiar sounds of firecrackers and lion dances spur excitement in the air, children across the island will eagerly anticipate lai see, those lucky little red envelopes filled with monetary gifts.

Without a doubt, the culinary traditions enjoyed during the holiday are one of the most appealing aspects of the new year. In preparation for the festivities, Chinese dining establishments all over Oahu are unveiling their seasonal menu items. The Mandalay (on Alakea Street) is no exception, and its recipes for classics, such as jai and gau, are simply a cut above the rest.

Just as the red color of lai see represents good luck, many traditional dishes this time of year hold special meanings. According to owner Linda Chan, eating jai on the first day of the new year is said to bring good fortune. The Mandalay’s Jai ($12.95 per order) features 18 ingredients including a variety of mushrooms, chestnuts, carrots, baby corn and more. The long rice in the dish represents long life, while the lotus seeds are a symbol of fertility.

It wouldn’t be Chinese New Year without a pleasant helping of Gau ($12 large, around 3 pounds; $6 small, a little more than 1 pound), either. The Mandalay’s preparation of this must-have treat is indeed laborious, but it’s also 100 percent authentic.

“The traditional way to make gau is to mix the brown sugar with water and flour, and then we steam it for three hours,” says Chan. The resulting texture is perfectly chewy, a consistency that won’t be attained if any shortcuts are taken during the cooking process.

Gau is topped with sesame seeds and a red date, and Chan says it holds a world of symbolism. “Gau has two meanings: Gau in Chinese means ‘stepping up’ … in other words, prosperity for the coming year. And also, it’s sticky, so it’s (a symbol for) togetherness.”

The owner says patrons also traditionally consume seafood, such as Oyster Rolls ($18.95 per order) during Chinese New Year. The Mandalay presents a mixture of minced pork and dried minced oyster rolled up in flour and steamed.

These hearty and scrumptious bites are served in a delectable gravy. Like all of the restaurant’s new year items, Oyster Rolls are available for takeout as well.

In addition to a menu of joyful eats, The Mandalay will ring in the new year with a host of events. The eatery will welcome the year of the horse with a lion dance Friday, Jan. 31 at 7 p.m. There also will be a dim sum brunch Feb. 2 with two seatings: 10:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. The meal will feature plenty of dim sum options, as well as a salad bar and buffet-style items, including stir-fried string beans, orange chicken, chow fun and more.

Above all else, this special holiday is a time to gather with loved ones. “I remember the olden day. Chinese New Year is when all the family gets together and celebrates,” says Chan.

Keeping this tradition alive, The Mandalay is a perfect place to do just that.

The Mandalay

1055 Alakea St., Honolulu
525-8585
Daily, 10:30 a.m.-8 p.m.