Gong Xi Fa Cai! Happy Chinese New Year of the Rooster!

Long before Game of Thrones’ Daenerys Stormborn became the mother of dragons, I was told by my grateful mother that I was lucky to be born a Fire Dragon.

Chinese New Year Vector Free

And so it was that at the start of every new Lunar year since 1976, I checked my Fire Dragon’s fortunes for the coming year. 2017 holds this auspicious forecast for me: “The overall fortune trend for those born in a year of the Dragon is good. The Dragon can turn bad luck into good with a good interpersonal relationship.”

That is really good to know, and I will take that to heart especially after a rough 2016.

Chinese New Year is one time in the year when I do miss being back in Asia, specifically my home country, The Philippines, because it’s like a second New Year’s celebration given our East-meets-West culture. In fact, to mark this Year of the Rooster, the Philippine Zoo launched a Rooster Exhibition which apparently showcased different roosters from around the world, including a 7kg French rooster named “Mr. Universe”.

This is also one time when I get homesick (or foodsick?) for amazing Chinese food. However varied Madrid’s gastronomic landscape is, I doubt I’ll be able to find fresh steamed har gau (shrimp dumplings), crispy peking duck, Hainanese chicken rice or my absolute favourite egg whose appearance leaves my Western companions nauseous: the century egg.

Egg-citing flavours! Photo from BBC

Yet there is one tiny, cutrelicious place in Madrid’s Barrio Salamanca that I keep going back to, if only because its sketchy atmosphere, strange but familiar mix of smells and amazing food remind me so much of the authentic Chinese eateries in the Chinese quarter Binondo in Manila. My Taiwanese friend took me here when I first arrived in Madrid in 2008.  To this day, it still satisfies.

Yue Lai on Calle Hermosilla 101 (near metro Goya) offers some familiar menu go-tos like Mapo doufu (spicy tofu), dim sum and spring rolls, but it is known for specializing in a Sichuan style of cooking called “Hot Pot”. Interactive cooking is involved, because at the center of the table, a small fire stove with a cauldron of boiling water is placed along with assorted side dishes consisting of your choice of sliced meats (I normally order beef), won tons, dumplings, seafood, shiitake mushrooms, noodles, bok choi, and various other veggies. The point is to chuck them all in the hot pot so it cooks together, flavouring the broth and making a perfect soup for a winter’s day.

I also love this place because it does not turn down the volume on spice. It may be too much for some people not used to the spice level, like my Venezuelan friend Guillermo who started crying and sweating bullets at some point after trying the spicy concoction. And then there was an old British colleague of mine who was absolutely grossed out seeing all the guests on the dinner table simultaneously dipping their chopsticks in the simmering stew.

So although it is a simple enough cooking technique, I guess hot pot is not exactly for the unadventurous or spicy food amateur. Still, for an authentic piece of Sichuan in the heart of the swanky part of Madrid, I highly recommend Yue Lai.

Have I mentioned trying what we Filipinos call “Addidas” or chicken feet yet?

Gong xi fa cai everyone!

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