Have your reunion dinner out for a change.

NO sooner has Penang settled down after the December celebrations than yet another round of festivities is upon us. Yes, it’s Chinese New Year once again, when children (or the young unmarried) rejoice as they look forward to new clothes and loaded angpows, as well as tucking into all the delicious biscuits and sweets that only make an appearance at this time of year.

Meanwhile, the adults have been busy preparing for it, ensuring that the tailor was booked well in advance or new clothes purchased; borne the crush at banks as everyone queues to get new notes for angpows; spring-cleaned and made the cookies, or, as is more the case now, bought them, either to eat or to give away as presents.

Food is of course of paramount importance, and housewives everywhere will have stocked up on precious items like big prawns, abalone and trotters to ensure that their family, who have come from near and far, feast on the best they have to offer during the traditional “31st Night Reunion Dinner” which this year is tonight.

E0C6C9C615154A6D8ECC0F5EEB799DFFYum: An unagi and Chinese bun offering from Sesame+Soy.

Penang, as always, will have more than its fair share of hotels and restaurants offering the usual “Poon Choy”, “Fatt Choy”, must-have Yee Sang and other auspicious-sounding names to ensure that the New Year brings plenty of good luck with it. If you’re looking to give Mum a rest at some point, however, here are a few places which offer something different to consider. Some will be shut tonight or tomorrow, but others may be open, so do call ahead.

Rosie at the Nyonya Breeze (Tel: 04-899 9058) in Straits Quay is cooking up a storm of Peranakan festive delights. We love our traditional dishes, but preparation can be quite labour-intensive, so it’s a treat to have someone do it for us.

“We have three sittings on Jan 22,” she told me. Amongst other yummy Nyonya New Year must-haves, there will be Kiam Chai Ark and Jiu Hu Char, which is delicious wrapped in fresh green lettuce and a (large) dollop of home-made sambal belacan.

Lui Cha might not be your cup of tea, but Hakka Tree (Tel: 04-899 3887), located on the first floor of Tesco Tanjung Pinang, offers a variety of other traditional Hakka festive dishes with intriguing names like Phoenix Eggs, Hidden Treasures, Concubine Prawns and Prosperity Oysters – preserved oysters coated with minced pork seasoned with salted fish which is then steamed, fried and served with “Fatt Choy” in abalone sauce.

“This,” explained general manager Diana Chin, “was a dish only served during New Year, as it was the only time enough money had been saved for the entire family to feast on this ‘grand’ dish.”

Chez Weng (Tel: 04-899 9878) at the newly-opened food hub of Precinct 10 in Tanjung Tokong will be doing a four-course, Western-style Chinese New Year set menu: Yee Sang served as a personal starter (“You can lou your own hey!” quipped proprietor Chef Weng) and a choice of mains “with Chinese influence”, he promised.

At the trendy g-Hotel in Gurney Drive, award-winning Chef Vincent Lee of their pan-Asian restaurant Sesame+Soy (Tel: 04-238 0000) has prepared a veritable banquet of traditional dishes with a twist: Dragon’s Salmon Yee Sang & Jellyfish served with Dragon Fruit and Lime Sauce, or how about Chicken smoked with tea leaves, sugar and rice, served with cucumber and Thai-style White Fungus and Jellyfish?

I rather fancy the idea of dining over water. David Chin’s eponymous Chinese restaurant (Tel: 04-261 2611) in Tanjung City Marina, Weld Quay, where you can eat watching the ferries as they majestically ply the waters, is doing a set menu. This includes old favourite Aromatic Crispy Duck with Pancakes, a popular dish he used to serve in his former restaurant in London.

“I have to put this in otherwise I’ll get complaints!” he laughed.

The Copthorne Orchid Hotel (Tel: 04-892 3333) in Tanjung Bungah has lined up some interesting entertainment to go with their traditional Family Reunion Dinner at the Hu Ji Chinese Restaurant: the “Thousand Hand Quan Yin” and, for me, the fascinating and delightful “Mask Changing Show” brought in all the way from China. Alternatively, dine in style as the Emperors would have done at the 1881 Chong Tian Hotel (Tel: 04-263 1881) in Jalan Pintal Tali, where their New Year course dinners come in ornate Dragon Bowls complete with gold handles.

With Penang traffic the way it is over festive times though, I don’t blame you for just wanting to hole up and stay put but without the accompanying hassle of having to cook so an alternative might be to buy in.

Anticipating this, Dragon-i has come up with an entire range of take-away products, from starters to desserts, which will allow you to tuck into delectable Chinese New Year dishes without having to lift a finger … well, except to push the ON button on the microwave, I guess. Their “Prosperity Treasure Pot” with abalone, sea cucumber, scallops and many other delicacies, even comes complete with a cooking pot!

Alternatively, order in a “Feast Deluxe” from Oriental Express (Tel: 014-305 7672; 6-10pm), from which proprietor Kim, who used to run a Chinese take-away in Britain, now offers a complete menu of British-Chinese specialties cooked without MSG. They will be delivered straight to your door in one hour.

“Our Crispy Chilli Beef is very popular,” he claimed.

Seriously, the problem is not finding somewhere open over the next few days … it will be getting rid of the ensuing calories which will have found their way straight to my hips!

As we say in Penang, “Keong Hee Huat Chai”, and I wish you a prosperous and wonderful Year of the Dragon.

Helen Ong blogs at www.helenong.com

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