An invite to a Lunar New Year dinner is no small matter, being the most important event in the Korean year, so when my (currently overseas) boyfriend’s mother invited me to join their celebrations, I gladly accepted.
As the date approached, I realised I knew none of the cultural etiquette that my boyfriend usually guides me through. I set about doing my own research, discovering that I shouldn’t wear black or white (the two represent mourning), that I should attempt to wear red or gold (these colours bring luck), that alcohol is an excellent gift, that the number 8 brings luck (featuring in the extravagant price tag of $888, and in the 8 courses), as does fish, which is an essential part of the meal.
Ripples itself is a simply decorated, medium-sized restaurant that showcases its Hong Kong Chinese identity in its window, lined with beautifully golden Peking ducks, and a large fishtank to the left of the entrance.
The meal was an 8-course behemoth, beginning with oysters and scallops in elegant sauces that gently evoked Chinese flavour principles. These were followed by a bizarre white soup of poached watermelon, slippery bean curd, and squid, which were followed by a platter of marinated pork, succulent chicken slices, and mellow, rich duck.
The next series of dishes emerged together; smoky beef stir fry, steamed spinach, artery-clogging chicken, an abalone, sea cucumber and shiitake mushroom dish, and the pièce de resistance — a whole fish, steamed to perfection.
Barely able to breathe by this point, we were served noodles with lobster, which I devoured on principle rather than appetite but was outstandingly delicious nonetheless. A cleansing fruit platter with coloured jelly cubes was then brought out, followed by the last course, a sweetened red bean stew (not pictured).
While I don’t have Asian heritage, and no nostalgia associated with Lunar New Year, I could see from those I dined with (who were half or fully Korean or Chinese), that the food evoked powerful memories; one cried out “Rainbow jellies!” the moment the fruit platter was brought out, as they had adored the sweets as a child; while another refused to eat the sweet bean stew because they’d been forced to eat it as a child.
Being the newcomer to the group, I felt I was being let in on a very intimate family occasion, as the meal was heavy with meaning and social norms, and, in line with Fischler’s principle of incorporation, eating such meaning-laden food allowed me to incorporate, to some extent, the identity of the food I ate.