Yusheng (魚生), or "lo-hei" (Cantonese for 撈起 or 捞起) and Lunar New Year go together like Hongbao and generous aunties, but there is something quite wasteful about these traditions.
So can you make Chinese New Year celebrations at your F&B business more sustainable without forgoing the cherished traditions? Here are 8 suggestions and ideas that restaurant owners can consider to minimise their environmental impact this Year of the Ox.
1. Sustainably-fished Yusheng
The most popular incarnation of Yusheng has got to be the Qicai Yusheng (七彩鱼生), which means “seven-coloured raw fish salad”, but as its self-explanatory name attests, it isn't vegetarian-friendly. In fact, it's not very sustainable: 85% of fishing grounds in the world are already overfished or fully exploited. Atlantic salmon - farmed that is - is your best option if you have to choose a fish, and figures on WWF's Singapore Seafood Guide under the "recommended" category that includes seafood species "from well-managed, sustainable stocks which are not considered to be over-exploited".
2. dabao to Reduce food waste
Keep your customers happy, full, and considerate. Not only is food waste a national problem, but it increases over the Chinese New Year celebrations. Your staff can help them choose the right portions, recommend ordering slowly instead of all at once and when taking customer reservations, use this time to kindly remind customers to bring containers so as to avoid single-use disposables, emphasising on your efforts to reduce waste.
At the end of the meal, offer to pack their leftovers. It's also a great time to introduce them to barePack and attract luck by making a positive contribution to protecting the environment.
3. Vegetarian Yusheng
Better still lo-hei to a low-impact dish that is vegetarian or even vegan-friendly. If the idea seems overwhelming and you don't know where to start, take a leaf from Nature Vegetarian Delights and Lotus Vegetarian Restaurant whose Chinese vegetarian concepts offer indulgent plant-based choices that are perfect for the auspicious day. From 100% vegan Prosperity "Abalone" Yu Sheng 鸿运愉生 to Strawberry Pineapple Tarts 草莓凤梨酥, you won't be short of ideas on what to provide your customers who have made a lifestyle choice to protect lives and the environment.
4. Meatless Bak Kwa
Bak kwa which you might recognise better as barbecued pork jerky originated in China, it is said in the Fujian province where the poorer families could only treat themselves to meat for Chinese New Year. In an effort to preserve these treats for longer, they would slice the pork, beef or mutton, marinate and air dry them before cooking. While vegetarian jerky might seem completely detached from the origins of the tradition, its symbolism of good fortune remains the same. But you can have a plant-based version that replicates the red colour that is considered auspicious in Chinese tradition. Here's a Vegetarian Bak Kwa recipe we found to inspire you on More than Veggies, recipes from a Singapore-based private chef and food blogger. There's even a book out here if you want more!
Can we forgo sending Hong bao this New Lunar Year?
5. Send a green red packet
Consider gifting your employees an alternative to the traditional paper ang paos. Every Chinese New Year is the festival of the year that really sees "hongbao" - or red packets - flying out of the stores. A Chinese tradition, Singaporeans celebrating Chinese New Year are familiar with the in-person act of handing out the hongbao among family and friends, a tradition that begs to change this year amidst the pandemic safety regulations. On Monday last week (January 11th, 2020), the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) encouraged Singaporeans to trade the paper envelopes for electronic ones, something that is already common practice in China via the messaging app WeChat. Customers of Citibank, DBS Bank, OCBC Bank, Standard Chartered Bank, UOB, and Maybank can add a Chinese New Year greeting via WhatsApp or SMS when they send money to a payee account.
Electronic hongbao or e-hongbao are not carbon-neutral however they do cut down on production carbon-emissions - an estimated 330 tonnes according to the MAS - and the subsequent waste generated (with its own carbon footprint). In terms we can relate to, that's equivalent to charging 5.7 million smartphones or one smartphone for every Singaporean resident for five days.
6. Mandarins on the menu...
Not on the trees! In Singapore's humid weather, those auspicious orange fruits go bad within a week, contributing to food waste, and a very poor aesthetic for your business. Bring mandarins' symbolism of gold into your business' celebrations by adding them to your menu, not your decor, and feed your customers happiness and prosperity! With oranges, tangerines and mandarines you can make a bunch of auspicious desserts for a Lunar New Year menu.
Orange Sorbet (using the peels as bowls)
Mandarin orange peel
300ml mandarin orange juice
100g caster sugar
Simmer the orange peels in water and sugar.
Once cool, remove peels and mix in the juice.
Pour into a shallow tray and freeze.
Take it out, break the frozen mixture into small chunks and run it through a food processor before freezing it again. Repeat this once for a smoother consistency.
Garnish with mint leaves.
6 mandarin oranges
Juice from 1 large lemon
7 cups sugar
Shred the tangerine rinds finely without the white pith.
Discard the membranes and seeds before chopping
Combine the chopped fruits with the water and lemon juice.
In a large saucepan, bring to boil, simmer and cover for 45 minutes. Gradually add one cup of sugar at a time and stir evenly over heat until it jellies.
Pour into serving jars and use in your restaurant or sell them to take home.
Talking about decorative trees, how can restaurants decorate for Chinese New Year in an eco-friendly way?
7. Versatile and lasting decorations
You don't need real mandarin orange trees to create the right restaurant setting. Reusable artificial mandarin trees (unless you can pluck your fruits before they rot for use in the kitchen) are much more sustainable. Wasting food for decorations when 10% of Singaporean families don't eat enough to stay healthy isn't a charitable way to enter into the Year of the Ox.
Reuse everything you have whenever you can, and if you are a new business looking to create a stash of decorations for years to come, avoid buying them new - they just need to 'look' new. Check out Carousel and any businesses that you can borrow from. And if you are buying new (last resort!), beyond avoid disposable types, look for decorations that are not dated such as ones that don't mention "Year of " but instead focus on auspicious wishes and characters that you can reuse year-on-year. Christmas and the Lunar New Year have the colours red and yellow in common, so if you're smart you might be able to find decorations that are general enough to be used twice in a calendar year also, reducing your storage needs.
8. Gift your excess cooking to those less fortunate
It's bad enough to know we don't all eat to our appetite, but if anything, nothing hits the sad truth harder than knowing some don't get to celebrate Chinese New Year with a table full of food. Invite your customers to leave a tip that will go towards the Singapore Food Bank's Feed the City programme and donate accepted foods to the charity. And because kindness starts at home, ask your staff to take it home the excess cooking you have at the end of the day to share. What better way to start the New Lunar Year than by an act of charity towards your brothers and sisters?
What is your business doing differently this New Lunar Year of the Ox in 2021? Share with us, we would be delighted to add your contributions to our blog in a future update.