Earlier this summer, one of my dearest cousins got married. Her and her beloved’s nuptials were a multi-part saga consisting of a traditional Indian ceremony, a Chinese wedding banquet, and an afternoon cruise. I got me a small piece of the couple’s happiness at the banquet, which took place at Delight 28 in Manhattan’s Chinatown. Anyone who has been to a Chinese celebratory banquet knows that it is pure, delectable insanity: an 8, 10, or 12-course, family-style feast. Once the dishes start coming, they keep coming until your stomach has tripled in size, or exponentially if you’re really talented, and pleads for a hard-earned reprieve.
Part of what makes it fun is knowing the general kinds of dishes that will be served, and the order in which they usually appear. While this removes some of the excitement of unpredictability, it makes for some entertaining and snarky commentary from my extended family. Suffice it to say that my cousins can be hilariously effective in poking fun at Chinese traditions. It’s also always a treat to catch up with everyone, and get in some gossip and playtime with the little ones.
First off: there is always a bottle of Coke and a bottle of Sprite at the table, along with a metal container of ice cubes that always seem leaner and more fragile than most. But perhaps that observation just reflects my American preference for things hearty and plus-sized. Each table is also set with two bottles of wine. The banquet usually starts off with a cold appetizer medley of spaghetti-ed jellyfish, pickled radish, suckling pig, and a variety of meats: a combination of various off-cuts and cold-cut undetectables. It’s never my favorite dish, although I am partial to the jellyfish, but I can’t imagine partaking of a banquet without it.
A soup course usually follows, traditionally shark’s fin soup. I can’t remember if this soup had shark’s fin (it looked a little paler than other times I’ve had/seen it), but I had a couple spoonfuls and it was really savory. A good dousing of vinegar (“cho” in Cantonese) is always recommended.
One of the first dishes to hit the table usually is the epic fried shrimp with mayonnaise, walnuts, and broccoli. When I was younger, i.e., I wasn’t concerned about my hips or arteries, this was probably one of my favorite foods. It definitely still hits certain nolstagic buttons, and this particular rendition was a good one. The shrimp were fresh and sweet, lightly fried, mayonnaise was administered with a moderate touch, the walnuts were crunchy (not chewy), and the broccoli blanched to an alluring, bright green.
This chicken and scallops dish made an early appearance as well. Scallops are one of those things I really like and wish I ate more of.
Another seafood dish, this one with abalone, mushrooms, and Chinese greens in a thick, umami-licious gravy. The mushrooms were plump and oozed delicious sauce-goo. I appreciated that the gravy was not unpleasantly thick, nor was it clumpy in the way that corn starch-enhanced gravies can sometimes be.
In the middle of the banquet is when the heavy hitters come out: to my mind, the lobster and roast chicken/duck are the dishes that brings out the “holy crap” look in people’s eyes, while also signifying the beginning of the end. As a bonus, the surprise of the evening was the roast squab (or pigeon? I didn’t clarify) — C and I tore this dish up. The meat was super flavorful and the skin was light and crisp.
Lobsta — infused with scallion and wok flavor.
Chicken parts hiding beneath shrimp chips, hoping I will not notice their tastiness. I did.
Squab, pigeon, [tiny bird of choice], whatever it was, it was squawking delicious. And yes, those are Pringles garnishing the plate. Very classy.
Another one of those dishes up there with my all-time faves: a fish carcass fried crisp, with the meat extracted and stir-fried with assorted vegetables in a light sauce. I love alternating bites of the succulent meat with the crisp exterior…a pleasure akin to eating fish and chips?
Anyone who has been to their fair share of banquets knows that before dessert MUST come fried rice and noodles. It’s the last call to fill yourself up, if you missed out on the other stuff. As with the cold jellyfish et al. appetizer to begin the meal, I can’t imagine a banquet worth its weight without these final two carb dishes.
*All pictures courtesy of Canaknight.
The meal was supreme satisfaction — classic Cantonese food that didn’t disappoint. Congrats biao-jie!!!
Delight 28 Restaurant
28 Pell Street (between Doyers and Mott)
New York, NY 10013