Food is key to Chinese New Year, and families and restaurants will ring in the Year of the Monkey with special feasts.

Chinese eat to strengthen bonds, and believe that eating some dishes and ingredients also bring good luck.

Across Auckland, many Chinese restaurants have come up with special auspicious set menus - some that would set diners back $1388 for a table of 10.

Rita Lai, co-owner of Bunga Raya Restaurant in New Lynn, which specialises in yusheng, or the prosperity toss salad, says business gets "crazy" over the Lunar New Year period.

Advertisement

Chinese New Year doesn't start till Monday, but Ms Lai says her restaurant is fully booked from tomorrow.

The Herald has put together a list of some of the best places to eat over Chinese New Year, which is observed until February 22.

"Unlike in Asia, people in Auckland like to eat out during Chinese New Year rather than eat at family homes."

With yusheng, guests use their chopsticks to toss the food up while wishing for good things in the coming year.

Chinese New Year is observed until February 22.

At SkyCity's Jade Dragon, head chef Zhi Hua Cai has developed a special set menu that's probably fit for an emperor.

"It's traditionally a time for families to get together, everyone comes home for Chinese New Year for a big dinner, with New Year's Eve being the most important," Mr Cai said.

Costing about $140 per head when broken down, it includes braised chicken soup with dried scallops, sea cucumber and fish maw, and also braised dried oysters, scallops, fat choy and lettuce.

"The way 'black moss' is pronounced is similar to 'fa choi', which means money, so it's important to eat this dish to bring money in the new year," Mr Cai added.

Grand Park Restaurant, in Greenlane, is one of a few restaurants still serving shark's fin, which is considered a delicacy by some.

Over the festive period, Janet Chan, a Malaysian chef, is opening her home in the Auckland suburb of Mt Albert as a pop-up restaurant serving home-cooked Southeast Asian New Year dishes.

Mrs Chan said: "Chinese New Year is about home and family, and I want to give diners an experience of what it's really like having dinner in a family home."

A quick guide to Chinese dining etiquette

Sitting
Do not show disrespect by sitting in the seat of honour, the one that has the back against a wall or faces the entrance or the door. It's meant for the most important person of the evening, or the eldest.

Ordering
One person usually orders for the whole table, as Chinese dinners are traditionally family-styled and shared. Sometimes the host orders a few meals and the guests order additional ones.

Tea
The respectful way is to take the teapot in the right hand and place your left hand on the lid while pouring. To indicate that you need a refill, leave the lid partially off. Do not take the lid entirely off - it is considered bad luck.

Respect
To thank someone pouring tea for you, bend your index and middle fingers and tap them on the table. Legend has it that in ancient times, an emperor had gone undercover with secret servants to see how his kingdom was doing. At a restaurant, the emperor poured tea for his servants - but they were unable to kneel and bow to show gratitude, so instead knelt with their fingers.

Chopsticks
Never point them directly at people, which is considered rude, and never stick them upright in your rice bowl or dishes, as they look like joss sticks in food used to honour the dead.

Eating
The most senior person gets the first serve of the dinner and the polite way is to take a small portion, to ensure everyone gets some.

Fish
Fish is a must-have at Chinese New Year dinners. When eating a whole fish, never flip it over when one side is eaten. The fish symbolises a boat and flipping it indicates capsizing the boat. Instead, use the chopsticks to lift the back bone off to eat the rest of the fish.

Paying
Guests should never split the bill with the host as it is considered ungracious to imply the host cannot afford to pay or that you do not accept the hospitality. Do, however, make a sincere-looking mock effort to pay. Paying the bill would be considered rude, too, which is also the case if you just did nothing and expected the host to pay.

8 Symbolic foods to order

1 Bean curd, dried tofu (doufu) - Wealth and happiness fulfilled

2 Scallops, clams (shanbei) - Opening new horizons and opportunities

3 Duck (yarou) - Fertility

4 Whole fish (yu) - Surplus in wealth and luck

5 Noodles (miantiao) - Long life

6 Dried oyster (hoxi) - Everything good, good luck

7 Pork (zhurou) - Abundant blessing, strength and wealth

8 Spring roll (chunjuan) - Wealth.

Best places to eat over Chinese New year

Jade Dragon, SkyCity
Corner Victoria and Federal Streets
Ph: 0800-7592489

One of Auckland's most upmarket Chinese restaurant is offering Chinese New Year set menus ranging from $688 to $1,388 for a table of 10. A la carte selection at Jade Dragon includes steamed live fish and double boiled chicken and sliced abalone soup with ginseng, all believed to be lucky dishes. Outside SkyCity, there will be lion dance, acrobats and cultural performances every Friday to Sunday at 7pm during the Chinese New Year period.

Grand Harbour, Viaduct
Cnr Pakenham St & Custom St West
Ph: 09-3576889

A popular restaurant in the central city, Grand Harbour serves up Hong Kong-style dishes, specializing in duck as well as a wide range of seafood, including lobster, fish and crab dishes. On offer for Chinese New Year as part of its 12-course $868 set menu are dried scallop, abalone, sea cucumber soup and braised lobster on E-fu long life noodles.

Grand Park, Alexandra Park
Alexandra Park Raceway, Cnr Green Lane West and Manukau Rd
Ph: 09 6386998

A sister restaurant to Grand Harbour, this is one of the few places in Auckland still having shark's fin on the menu for Chinese New Year. Other specials include black moss (fat choy) dried oysters and pig tongue, and the shark's fin soup comes with abalone, sea cucumber and fish maw. There will be lion dance performances on New Year's Eve and Day.

Bunga Raya, New Lynn
2a/3062 Great North Rd, New Lynn, Auckland 0600
Ph:09-8278666

For those who want to experience Lo Hei, or the traditional Chinese New Year prosperity toss custom, where each guest tosses food up while wishing for good fortune, head to Bunga Raya for its Yusheng. Among other specials on the menu are Eight Treasure Duck - deboned who braised duck stuffed with glutinous rice and chinese herbs, Prosperity Pork Ribs and Happiness Prawns.

Beijing Duck Restaurant, Panmure
38 Queens Road, Panmure
Ph: 09-5278862

Eating duck over the New Year period is believed to bring fertility. Here, Peking Duck is sliced in front of diners at the table and eaten wrapped in pancake, cucumber, spring onions and sweet bean sauced. Also on the menu are the whole blue cod in spicy hot oil and stewed pork cubes and tofu skin in special sauce.

Barilla Dumpling
Dominion Road, Balmoral
Ph:09-6388032

Dumplings or jiaozi are eaten because they are shaped like gold ingots and believed to bring togetherness, wealth and heavenly blessing. Barilla serves a range of dumplings - with fillings from beef, chicken, pork, chives and fish - are available steamed or fried.

Flourishing Cafe, Avondale
4 Great North Rd, Avondale
Ph: 09-8284488

Where you will get a true value-for-money Chinese New Year dinner. Most dishes are priced between $20 and $34, including its famous crispy deep fried prawn balls and sizzling scallops with ginger and spring onion. Prawns represent laughter and liveliness.

Janet's Nyonya Wok, Mt Albert
15 Lorraine Ave, Mt Albert
Ph: 09-8498033

Janet Chan, a Malaysian nyonya (Straits-born Chinese) chef is opening up her home over Chinese New Year, serving home cooked hearty Malaysian-style new year favourites. Besides yusheng, her 8-course $480 menu includes rendang chicken, spicy prawns and otak otak fish - fiery specialties fit to welcome the Year of the Fire Monkey.