In Chinese culture and tradition, the New Year celebrations feature dragon and lion dances. Also known as Lunar New Year, it is now considered as one of the top five most celebrated festivals in the world. To make full use of the festivity, Chinese government announces longest public holidays in China keeping into consideration that citizens of the biggest populated country in the world make efforts to travel home to celebrate the New Year with their families and friends resulting in formulation of world’s largest annual migration in a given period. Chinese New Year falls on the first day of the first month in the lunar calendar and each year is represented by an animal out of 12 in total from the Chinese zodiac calendar. 2020 is the year of “rat” which incidentally happens to rank first on the Chinese zodiac signs.

To provide home away from home, Yao Jing, the ambassador of China to Pakistan and Maurizio Romani, General Manager Islamabad Marriott Hotel invited the denizens of Islamabad and Chinese expats and diplomats to Dynasty Restaurant, Marriott Islamabad to celebrate Lunar Year.

The vestibule adorned Chinese imprints and the lobby leading to the Dynasty Restaurant was giving a majestic look. Chinese lanterns, zodiac paper cuts, motifs, LED decorations not only managed to impress the guests invited to the event but also one could see visitors taking photos and selfies while appreciating the decor.

The eatery was packed to capacity even though the Islamabad chill had kept many at home. The ambassador of Norway who had just returned from Oslo after a month’s vacation informed that the temperature in Oslo and Islamabad is exactly the same. Polish ambassador though surprised by saying that Islamabad is colder than Warsaw as of today, thanks to the climate change.

So what does the year of “Rat” has in store for the Chinese, I asked one of the diplomats working for Chinese embassy in Islamabad. “If one digs into Chinese ancient history, it is interesting to point that according to the myth, the Jade Emperor said that the order would be decided by the order in which the animals will arrive at his party. The rat tricked the ox into giving him a ride which the ox happily agreed to. Just as the two arrived at the finish line, the rat jumped down and landed ahead of ox, becoming first and till today we go by this order. In Chinese tradition and culture, Rat is seen as a sign of wealth and surplus,” explained the diplomat smilingly.

To a lay man, Chinese New Year is all about humanity, love, affection and sharing. “In China, President Xi Jinping, kicked off the New Year celebrations by visiting the poorest areas in remote China region and spending time with the residents living below poverty line,” informed a Chinese guest while explaining the concept of Chinese New Year also called Chinese Spring Festival.

Maurizio Romani, General Manager Islamabad Marriott Hotel also followed the same Chinese tradition as one could see a sumptuous and festive Chinese food display in the restaurant prepared by the newly arrived Chinese Oriental Chef Zhao Xiaoping with more than 15 years of culinary experience under his belt. Appetizers were set on big round tables and also servers were making frequent rounds to make sure no one misses out on the Chinese delicacies.

Food forms as one of the basis in the Chinese society, which is seen through the significance placed on the New Year’s Eve dinner so Chef Xiaoping, keeping the Chinese culinary traditions alive, put on with great care and thought a menu for the guests. Spring rolls, dumplings, Kabayaki sea bass fillet with sweet sauce, cold aspic lamb, exotic cod fish dumplings in fish broth, grouper with black rice seeds, fortune dumplings, black truffle friend rice, yellow curry prawn with handmade noodles made most of the menu for the evening. In Chinese culture, the food signifies string ancient Chinese traditions as explained by Chef Xiaoping.

Spring rolls are traditionally eaten in the southern part of China to celebrate coming of the spring and more specifically eaten on the first day of the spring. Dumplings are the northern equivalent of spring rolls. They are eaten during very special occasions but especially during New Year.

In Chinese language, dumplings mean “exchange,” so it is considered an exchange between old and new year. By eating dumpling you are sending away the old and welcoming the new as per the myth. Dumpling can be made with fillings as per ones choice or liking. As I savoured the chef’s creation, I could taste Chinese cabbage, green onions, shrimps and corn stuffing. Noodles are a staple diet during New Year and it is believed that during the celebrations, Chinese do not eat long noodles, cut nor to be chewed, the longer the noodle, the longer the life. Steamed fish and chicken too are part of the feast and carry a myth. Half of the fish is eaten at dinner and other half on the next day signifying prolonged life and surplus wealth thus making the future prosperous as well.

All the guests exchanged their feedback on the Chinese feast, enjoyed the company, thanked the Ambassador and the General Manager and said Guo Nian Hao, Happy New Year to the Chinese friends.