Chinese New Year at the NSNTR

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Pineapple tarts and peanut cookies
Pineapple tarts and peanut cookies, typical Indonesian Chinese New Year desserts. Photo: NSNTR Archives

IO – Happy New Year! 

Chinese New Year this year falls on 1 February 2022. According to the Chinese calendar, starting that date, the Universe will be under the influence and auspices of the Water Tiger. In ancient Chinese mythology, tigers are brave, hard-working leaders. They are among the most favored among the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac as well. 

The Chinese New Year, which heralds the end of winter and the coming of spring, is a special moment for Chinese people to reunite and enjoy the company of their families. They sit together at a big table and talk and laugh and eat together, celebrating one another. One of the best places to celebrate this event, which properly starts on the first day of the first month in the Chinese calendar and ends on the 15th day in the Chinese month, with the Cap Go Meh celebration in Jakarta, is the NSNTR restaurant, located on the 8th floor of Mercure Hotel Pantai Indah Kapuk, Jakarta. 

NSNTR is a restaurant that focuses on local dishes from various regions in Indonesia. That’s not surprising, as “NSNTR” is actually an abbreviation of “NUSANTARA”, which is an alternative name for the Republic of Indonesia as well as the name of its future capital city. The NSNTR menu offers dishes from as far west as Aceh and as far east as Sulawesi – and everything else in between. 

Garang asam barramundi fish.
Garang asam barramundi fish.

For this year’s Chinese New Year, NSNTR launches a set of Indonesian-Chinese dishes. One of these is, oddly enough, Singaporean-Style Wok Fried Hokkian Noodle. It is a great favorite among Indonesian Chinese, who eat it with their relatives in Singapore. Noodles are cooked for the New Year, birthdays, and other significant celebrations, because its long strands remind people of a long life, a smooth fortune. This type of noodle is complemented by vegetables, stir-fried chicken, and quail’s eggs because the Chinese names of these ingredients are similar in pronunciation, with auspicious phrases that particularly suit the hope brought in for the New Year. 

Another auspicious dish that they serve is the colorful yee sang, principally consisting of raw fish (“yee sang”), which is a homophone for “a life of abundance”, and various types of vegetables with different colors that symbolize a different type of hope and blessing for the upcoming year each. Yee sang is eaten by having everyone on the same table mix and roll the ingredients together with their chopsticks and pull them up high, before eating their mouthfuls together as well. This is believed to help diners grow and prosper in the coming year with each other’s help. 

Interestingly, NSNTR also launches the sweet Indian curry lamb korma for the Chinese New Year. This is a sudden contrast of very distinct Asian flavors that enrich their offering. 

Moist, bursting, pink kue mangkuk,
Moist, bursting, pink kue mangkuk, the Indonesian version of cupcakes.

A Fusion of Local Flavors 

One of the highlights of NSNTR’s Chinese New Year dishes this year is the garang asam barramundi. The Asian sea bass or barramundi is a popular fish in the Southeast Asia area, while garang asam is the very Javanese method of steaming fish marinated in belimbing wuluh (Averrhoa bilimbi) in banana leaves. It is a twist of the Chinese tradition of serving fish for the New Year, as “fish” and “abundance” are homophones in the Chinese languages. There are also the not-so-local Malaysian ayam percik (“splashing chicken”, chicken marinated in spices and roasted) and the very Indonesian array of satays. 

Diners who came to enjoy their meal with their families, friends, colleagues, and partners for the Chinese New Year were entertained with the spectacular Barongsai Lion Dance, wherein the “lion” will make a brief stop at each table as it dances to the typically Chinese traditional music that accompanies it. NSNTR also has an outdoor area that directly faces the hotel’s swimming pool and a bar that serves signature drinks. Mocktails, cocktails, and local beverages are available for those who have finished their culinary treats in the indoor area. 

Golden pineapple tarts
Golden pineapple tarts, a symbol of prosperity.

“Chinese New Year this year should be a happy time, one where you meet and eat together with your loved ones – friends, family members, colleagues. The small reunion that takes place after a long separation due to the pandemic as well as daily business will mean more with our authentic cuisine, which turns it into an unforgettable memory,” said Sean Halpin, Cluster General Manager at both Swissotel PIK Avenue and Mercure Pantai Indah Kapuk, Jakarta. 

Due to recurring increase of the COVID-19 virus spread in Jakarta and surrounding areas, NSNTR implements strict health protocols for each one of its guests and staff. Make sure you do your 3M’s: mask up properly while not eating and drinking, maintain separation of crowds and physical distance, and maintain hygiene by regularly washing hands with soap in running water. Happy Chinese New Year! (Fred)