Chinese New Year comes early in Richmond. I was lucky enough to find out about today’s festival. Only because I was having my lunch yesterday at Thanh Ha 2 on Victoria Street, Richmond. I was paying my bill and saw a colourful little flyer at the counter. It was an advertisement of the “Victoria Street Lunar New Year Festival 2012”. I didn’t know that the festival comes early in Melbourne, in several different suburbs on a different weekend. I guess in a way I was glad that I am not in Hobart at the moment, or I will be homesick missing out on this year’s Chinese New Year festivities.
It was a lovely day in Melbourne. A perfect blue sky. A cool temperature when I left my apartment late this morning to catch Tram 78 to Victoria Street, Richmond. I sat next to two women. They were sitting across facing each other. They were talking about the Chinese New Year. I pretend not to listen. But, unfortunately after a while I just could not help myself but had to join in their conversation. Only because I had to correct the woman sitting next to me. She is probably in her 50s. It was funny. She was arguing with the other younger woman, her companion, that last year was the Year of The Monkey! And, thinking that we are already in a new lunar year. I spoke gently in a soft friendly voice and said, “…umm…it is the Year of the Rabbit”. I laughed. Well, we all laughed. Then, she thought we are already in the Year of The Dragon. I had to correct her again, and said that the first day of Chinese New Year is not until Monday week. But, there is a festival at Richmond today, thinking that they were both going there. I had a good laugh and chat with these two women, who got off at Bridge Road for a bit of factory outlets shopping! But, before the woman next to me got off the Tram, she said that they may look for me after their shopping! Gasp! So funny. Then, a man across the aisle from me laughed out loud, and said I better watched out for those two women. Maybe remove my cap so they can’t spot me! Laughed again! We joked and laughed again! He must have heard our conversations. Who wouldn’t. The woman next to me was quite loud. It was quite funny!
The main stage and sign of the street festival with Victoria Street closed from 11 am to 10 pm, from Hoddle Street to Church Street, with a lot of traditional Vietnamese food stalls and even one Spanish stall selling paella! Unfortunately, the paella stall was pretty quiet. This was a Vietnamese street festival to celebrate the lunar new year. A bit odd to have a paella stall. Most people who went there would like to try the traditional Vietnamese street food, not paella.
There were plenty to do for everyone of all ages – from eating to trying out one’s luck at one of the game stall. There were some amusement rides including a jumping castle for the children.
There was a lion dance and dragon dance performance and the lighting of firecrackers at the main stage. Symbolic for the lunar new year festival. Ushering in the new year with an abundance of good fortune, health and happiness for the community, and to chase away evil spirits and bad fortune with the “noise” from the firecrackers.
What is a festival without food? There were plenty of food stalls, selling mostly traditional Vietnamese street food. Plenty of grilled and fried food, octopus, skewered pork balls, beef wrapped with betel leaves, chicken, sausages, fresh spring rolls, papaya salad (Thai), a type of snails (in Malaysia, it’s called “Balitong”), quail, corns, prawn pancake, coconut cake, calamari, 2 vegetarian noodles stalls, fresh sugarcane drink, fresh coconut juice, desserts and many more.
I could only sampled 3 things. First, I had some grilled beef wrapped in betel leaves for $5. It was very good and delicious.
Next, I saw this vegetarian stall selling traditional Hue style hot noodle soup. I had to try a bowl for only $8. It came with a plate of few different fresh herbs including Vietnamese sweet basil and betel leaves. The bowl of noodles had fried tofu, Chinese mushrooms, beancurd skins and carrots. The soup was utterly delicious and not too spicy.
Finally, as tempted as I was I had to try the tiny prawn pancake for $5 and a medium size cup of fresh sugarcane juice for $4. The 3 tiny prawn pancakes were dressed with coconut milk and fish sauce. I was thinking of my cholestoral level as I took my first bite. Interesting mix of flavours. Probably a bit greasy and rich for me.
…further down the other end of the street, I saw this other stall which looks much better in how they make the pancake, with I believed is the traditional method of making the tiny pancake. But, I was too full to even try.
Coconut cake was something new to me, but I was not gamed to try it. Looked very interesting but it was swimming in hot oil. Imagine the amount of cholestoral that goes into it.
The fresh sugarcane and coconut stall…refreshing and popular. Sugarcane is symbolic to the Hokkien community during Chinese New Year – on the ninth day of Chinese New Year, when the Hokkiens pay their respect to the Jade Emporer of Heavenly God for saving them. The legend had it that the ethnic Hokkien community was being attacked by their enemy to wipe out the entire community. But, some managed to escape by hiding in a nearby sugarcane plantation.