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Snake, liver sausages, and crocodile: Winter solstice Chinese banquet
Tomorrow is the shortest day of the year and the Cantonese celebrate it by gathering up the clan for a fantastic meal. Here's how to throw a winter solstice 'party' the Chinese way
Any excuse to have a Chinese banquet: Tomorrow is the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, traditionally marked by -- surprise, surprise -- a big family meal. Here's what we ordered for our winter solstice feast at Lei Gardens at the IFC:
A Chinese banquet always kick starts with a plate of pork near the beginning of the meal. We had succulent barbecue pork, an attractive dark red color and just sweet enough. The square slab of roast pork next to it is like a pork cake: a layer of savory pork meat, followed by a layer of tender fat, topped off with crispy-crackling pork skin.
To ward off winter chills, there is nothing quite like a bowl of snake meat soup. Snake meat is such a potent body warmer that diners who have symptoms of an over-heated body, such as sore throat, mouth sores, acne -- should not eat snake as it will worsen the symptoms.
This bowl of snake soup was thick, rich, with lots of meat as well as julienned fungus, bamboo shoots, and mushrooms. Chrysanthemum petals and bits of lemon grass are sprinkled in to add fragrance.
Take a whole crocodile tail, seal it off in a pot with abalone broth and cook it for over six hours. That is how the Cantonese render a scaly amphibian edible. It was delicious. The meat tasted intensely of the best, most tender chicken thighs, while the prized skin and fat were of a firm jelly texture, much like high quality sea cucumber.
Crocodile meat is used to cure asthma in Chinese medicine and is a great food for keeping the respiratory system healthy during the cold months.
Claypot rice with preserved sausage
Cantonese know that winter is officially here when they eat their first claypot rice of the season. Lei Garden followed Chinese banquet protocol and served ours at the end of the feast, with heaps of diced preserved pork sausage, dark liver sausage, cured pork belly, and pickled mustard.
The slightly charred rice that sticks to the bottom of the pot was scraped off and served separately -- the kids greedily grabbed at the crispy rice bits.
IFC Lei Garden Restaurant
Crocodile at Lei Garden must be ordered a week in advance. A whole crocodile tail was HK$1,488 when we visited, and served 20 people.
Open daily, 11:30am-3pm, 6-11:30pm
Shop no. 3007-3011, 3/F, International Finance Centre, Central