Poon Choi or Pen Cai started off as a traditional Chinese New Year dish in Hong Kong and is often eaten in both Hakka and Cantonese homes throughout the world. Do not let the long list of ingredients puts you off. Preparation is actually very simple.
When it comes to Chinese New Year, there is a myriad of dishes to prepare for the family. What started off as a tradition during the Song dynasty, 'Poon Choi' remains a popular dish used to celebrate the Lunar New Year in Hong Kong and countries like Malaysia and Singapore. 'Poon Choi' is a dish with at least 9 main ingredients tells the history of an emperor who fled to a village where the villagers gathered all their prized ingredients to serve the emperor. As the emperor had his whole army with him, the villagers had to serve the food in wooden wash basins. Until today, there are villages still serving this dish using wooden wash basins which would need to be soaked before using, to avoid spillage. These days, you would be able to find "bucket dish" in big metal bowls, porcelain bowls or even clay pots.
The concept of making 'Poon Choi' is simple as it consists only three layers. It begins with the bottom-most layer where the ingredients would soak all the flavours from the middle and top layers. The second layer consists of ingredients with lots of flavours and gravy. The last layer which is also the upper most layer consists of drier ingredients which are usually more expensive.
While there are many variations to this special dish, I like to keep it traditional yet simple. The only dish which takes a longer time to prepare is the stew pork belly. The taste is extremely appetizing as it soaks the flavours of the Chinese vinegar and all the spices. After simmering for an hour, you will be greeted with tender and succulent pork belly. The gravy tends to be slightly thicker after a while due to the fats from the pork belly. As it sits on the second layer, the gravy will be absorbed into the sponge-like ingredients such as radish and fried tofu sticks.
The rest of the dishes need to be either quickly stir-fried or fried. As for the top most layer, feel free to buy dishes like roasted pork or grilled chicken. Below is the list of ingredients which you can choose to make your own 'Poon Choi'. Pick a minimum of 3 ingredients for each layer.