A New Year in Full BloomCover Story Features
January 25, 2015
Story By: Yu Shing Ting | Photos by: Anthony Consillio
When observing Hawaii’s culturally diverse restaurant scene, Royal Garden in Ala Moana Hotel ranks high on the list of Chinese eateries serving the most authentic Hong Kong-style cuisine, bar none. The food really is authentic.
In China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, Chinese New Year is the biggest holiday of the year. Many businesses close throughout the week, and millions are expected to travel throughout Asia to be with their families.
This year, Chinese New Year is Feb. 19, welcoming the start of the Year of the Sheep. There are many important elements to celebrating this joyous occasion, including eating traditional Chinese New Year foods.
At Royal Garden, chefs have prepared some special dishes just for this exciting time of year. Gau, which is the round mochi pudding cake typically displayed in clear plastic food wrap with a piece of red paper around it, is a popular Chinese New Year treat believed to bring good luck and prosperity.
Known as nian gau (or nin go in Cantonese), the name sounds like the Chinese word for “higher year,” so eating gau is thought to help you move up in the new year. Gau has a stickiness to it that represents families sticking together throughout the year, a hint of sesame seeds is sprinkled on top for fertility and one red date is placed in the middle for good fortune.
“With gau, the proportion (of ingredients) is important. It has to be perfect, otherwise it’ll be too hard or too soft,” says restaurant owner Calvin Wong. “Not only that, but we also have to give it enough time to steam. We have to steam each gau for about four hours, and you can’t steam it on very strong fire, it has to be a slow steam.”
Gau will be available starting Feb. 1 ($7.95 small, $15.95 large). And while it’s common to slice and bite this Chinese treat, another way to enjoy it is by first refrigerating it, then cutting it into squares about a quarter-inch thick, dipping it in egg and pan-frying it.
Also special is New Year’s Jai ($13.95), a vegetarian dish, which features seaweed, Chinese peas, black fungus, long rice noodles, dried bean curd and more. Jai usually is reserved for the first meal on the first day of the year, as a way to start fresh.
Another Chinese New Year favorite is Minced Dry Oyster with Lettuce Wrap ($16.95). When enjoyed, the delicious dish hopefully will bring good business relationships and wealth. Both aforementioned dishes are available starting Feb. 6.
On Royal Garden’s regular menu, patrons will come across other popular items for Chinese New Year, including Deep Fried Taro Ball Stuffed with Scallop ($19.95) and Braised Sea Cucumber with Black Mushroom ($19.95).
Royal Garden opened its doors about 30 years ago on the third floor of Ala Moana Hotel. Wong, who was born and raised in Hong Kong, moved to Hawaii to attend University of Hawaii, and loved the Islands so much he decided to stay. His brother, Johnny Wong, who was trained in the kitchen by a famous Hong Kong chef, serves as executive chef; and their other brother King Man Wong is assistant chef.
“We’ve been here from day one, and that’s why customers keep coming back, because we can guarantee the food is the same (in taste and authenticity),” says Calvin. “Our standards will never change. Plus, my brother enjoys cooking and I enjoy eating so much. He’s always introducing new dishes that you only can get at Royal Garden.
“We’re known for our Royal Garden Style Seafood with live lobster and crab that’s doused in a homemade sauce of garlic, shallots, butter and chicken broth. People try it and never forget it. It’s so good.”
Throughout the years, the restaurant has built a solid reputation and has gained a loyal following of customers that spans generations. Royal Garden also is a favorite of community and business leaders, as well as top executives from around the world.
Keep in mind that Royal Garden’s special Chinese New Year menu starts Feb. 6 (priced at $345 or $455 per table, order one day in advance), and private rooms for 10 to 20 people also are available.
Right now, the restaurant offers a special promotion, where customers who spend $30 or more receive a coupon for a free dim sum (with same value of $3.75) to use during their next lunch visit before May 31, 2015. Spend more than $60 and receive two coupons, or spend more than $90 and receive three coupons.
Gung Hee Fat Choy! Happy Chinese New Year!
Royal Garden Chinese Restaurant
Ala Moana Hotel, 410 Atkinson Drive
Monday-Friday, 11 a.m.-2 p.m. (lunch) and 5:30-9:30 p.m. (dinner)
Saturday-Sunday, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. (lunch) and 5:30-9:30 p.m. (dinner)