Getting Luckee: Susur Lee decodes his Chinese New Year dim sum platter
This February 19, restaurants across the city will ring in the Year of the Ram (or Goat or Sheep, if you’d prefer with special dishes that symbolize good fortune, wealth and happiness. Among those restaurants: Susur Lee’s Luckee. We asked Lee to guide us through his special dim sum platter—available from Luckee’s special menu until March 1—and what makes it so, well, lucky. “Dim sum is not proprietary to Chinese New Year,” says Lee. “But these have been enhanced to make them appropriate for the festival.”
Traditionally, dumplings are meant to resemble boat-shaped silver ingots, which symbolize prosperity; the more dumplings you consume, the more money you’ll make. These ones are stuffed with lobster, the Cantonese word for which is made up of the characters for dragon (which gives lobster some street cred when it comes to power and strength) and prawn (pronounced haa, it’s often associated with happiness).
Black moss (faat choy) sounds like the Cantonese words for “striking it rich.” The same characters appear in a greeting you’ve probably heard before: “gong hey fat choy,” which translates to “congratulations and be prosperous.” The vegetable, balanced atop one of Luckee’s chicken and shrimp siu mai dumplings, has a soft, vermicelli-ish texture, and is a staple in Chinese New Year cuisine.
A once-dry, but now rehydrated Fanny Bay oyster (hou si) sits pretty on the second siu mai dumpling and is meant to represent success. (In Cantonese, the pronunciation of oyster sounds similar to “good business.”) Braised dried oyster and black moss is a popular New Year’s combination, and these dumplings are bite-sized versions of the Prosperous & Good Fortune plate on Luckee’s special holiday menu. “That’s the dish my mom would wake up at 3 a.m. to make,” says Lee.
Abalone (bao yu), a sea snail, stands in for good fortune and excess, and here, it’s placed on top of a golden har gow “coin” to underline the concept of wealth. To keep things real, the reddish colour of the har gow wrapper is made from carrot juice instead of an artificial red dye. (The colour red is considered good luck because the word, hung, is phonetically similar to “prosperous.”)
Meshy bamboo pith fungus (zhú sūn) is wrapped around a steamed crab claw and symbolizes long life—again, thanks to how similar the words for both are to one-another. “Food, for me, is education,” says Lee. “I discovered all of these meanings from my mom and my chefs.”
Just in case you haven’t been counting, every order has eight items—an auspicious number, because the number eight (baat) sounds like the word for wealth (faat). When it comes down to it, this holiday basket “is for anybody who likes money,” says Lee.
$32 (serves two). Available now until March 1. Luckee, 328 Wellington Street W., 416-935-0400.