Auspicious Return-of-Spring menu at Wan Li

Kicking off the Lunar New Year with an auspicious start is a Chinese tradition which sets the tone for the rest of the year so the first 16 days of the first lunar month is an all-important period.

Entrance to Wan Li Restaurant on the lobby level
of the Renaissance Johor Baru Hotel
This belief is exercised in many ways including hanging up Red lanterns and decorations, wearing shades of Red colour and presenting Red packets filled with fortune money…

Even eating certain dishes for their symbolic meaning is believed to bring about good fortune and prosperity in the coming year.

From my research on Lunar New Year festive food, I learn that there is not only symbolic meaning in the dishes eaten but even the food preparation and ways of serving it, also means a great deal.

In fact, the auspicious symbolism of common food items are seasonally elevated to new heights for their appearance (shape and size!), its association with good fortune and abundance (excess!) and even its pronunciation to augur wealth and wellbeing!

"Tien-tien mi-mi" is the phrase uttered as sweet
plum sauce is drizzled on the platter of Yee Sang salad
At Wan Li Restaurant for a food preview, I study their Return-of-Spring set menus and see Chinese characters next to the mundane English descriptions. I don’t have such a good command of the Chinese language (Ahem!) so I turn to my bi-lingual friend for a bit of help.

I’m prepared for some pretty interesting words and phrases because it is a Lunar New Year tradition to impress with flowery and positive language, especially for dishes presented on the eve and during the festive season.

In the usual practice for festive meals, the Yee Sang or raw fish salad is served as the first course of the Lunar New Year meal.

Fortune Dog Ushers in Prosperity in this
steaming bowl of double-boiled soup
A serving staff will sprinkle the condiments, add the raw fish slivers and drizzle the various sauces over the pile of salad and it is a tradition to pronounce auspicious wishes as one carries out each of the above steps. Guests are then invited to toss the salad for good fortune.

Among all the good words uttered, “Tien-tien mi-mi,” is the only (Mandarin) phrase I remember as the staff pours the plum (sweet!) sauce over the salad. This literally means, Sweet-sweet honey-honey to wish sweet moments upon the diners!

Double-boiled chicken soup with cordyceps flowers is a rich, comforting soup served in individual portions in steaming hot bowls. Since the coming lunar year is the Chinese zodiac Year of the Dog, the chefs have creatively named this soup (in Chinese!), Fortune Dog Ushers in Prosperity.

I like the idea of using free-range chicken in the chicken dish, Steamed Chicken with Himalayan Mountain Salt, and while it’s less fatty, it’s a little chewy to bite. The salt is just in the right proportion to savour comfortably. The name of this dish (in Chinese) is, Phoenix spreads its Wings to take Flight.

Steamed Chicken with Himalayan Mountain Salt is
also named Phoenix spreads its Wings to take Flight
Nian-Nian Yau Yee,” is the traditional Mandarin name for the fish dish, Steamed Dragon Tiger Garoupa with black fungus in superior soya sauce that augurs well for year-long abundance in good fortune!

Prawns are another must-have item on the menu as the Cantonese word for prawn sounds like laughter: Ha! and has the positive idea of smiles and happiness.

When whole prawns, wok-fried in superior Mandarin sauce is served, I’m reminded that the Cantonese name for this dish is “Siew Hau Cheong Hoi” which simply translates as Laughing/Smiling Always!

Another dish that’s mandatory during the Lunar New Year is best known by its Cantonese name, “Ho See Fatt Choy” made with high-value dried seafood like braised dried oysters, dried fish maw, whole dried mushrooms and broccoli.

Braised dried oysters, dried fish maw, whole mushrooms
and broccoli is (Cantonese), Ho See Fatt Choy
Fatt Choy is a type of dried black sea moss. When cooked it looks like black vermicelli or threads of hair – which may not appeal to diners – so the chefs have wisely reduced it in this dish.

An auspicious (Cantonese) name, “Kum Yoke Moon Thong” is given to Lotus Leaf Rice made with diced chicken and mushrooms in organic red rice and steamed, wrapped in a lotus leaf. 

It takes a few moments for me to decipher its name and I nod in understanding when I realise it just means, A House Full of Gold and Jade!

I’m delighted that both set menus come with two desserts: Chilled Yam Cream with Sago and the other, Chinese Sweet Cake coated in fresh shredded coconut.

Slices of Chinese Sweet Cake or neen ko,
coated in fresh shredded coconut
I had forgotten about the traditional Chinese New Year (Sweet-Sticky) Cake made mainly from glutinous rice and sugar and when it suddenly dawned on me, I instantly recognize this sweet cake as (Cantonese) neen ko.

This Sweet Cake dessert is aptly named (Cantonese), “Neen-Neen Ko Seng” meaning, Progressing Every Year, a very auspicious wish for anyone who aims to move forward or upward in their life!

I'm not a fan of coconut so I request for a separate serving and the chefs kindly obliged. So I savour my piece of Sweet Cake in its original form, just the way my dad likes to eat it. 

My serving of original neen ko
For the Reunion Dinner on the Lunar New Year Eve, Wan Li has arranged two sessions from 5.30pm and from 8pm and offers two Set Menus for groups of 10 or six persons.

Set Menu A and B include one bottle of red or white house wine per table of 10 persons.

Set Menu A which includes Prosperity Salmon Yee Sang for 10 persons is priced at RM1,888 nett per table and RM1,188 nett per table of six people.

Set Menu B which includes Prosperity Abalone and Salmon Yee Sang for 10 persons is priced at RM2,388 nett per table and RM1,588 nett per table of six people.

Poon Choy, a veritable banquet in a basin, is also served for dine-in or takeaway in two sizes: Large (for 10) at RM880 nett and Small (for 5) at RM480 nett.

When this Cantonese-style Fortune Abalone and Dried Seafood Treasure Pot is served, I spot the heads of abalone, whole sea prawns, florets of broccoli, black moss and dried scallops on top.

As we eat layer-by-layer, I discover whole Chinese mushrooms, fish maw, dried oysters, sea cucumber, and two types of poultry – juicy pieces of steamed free-range chicken and roasted duck.

Poon Choy (Small) topped with high-value ingredients
All these tasty and auspicious items are resting on a bed of Chinese Tianjin Cabbage, lotus roots, pumpkin, white radish, soaked in the rich flavours of golden garlic and abalone sauce.

Two choices of Yee Sang in two sizes, are also available for dine-in or takeaway.

Prosperity Salmon Yee Sang: Large at RM128 nett and Small at RM98 nett while the Auspicious Abalone Yee Sang is: Large at RM178 nett and Small at RM128 nett.
Wan Li Restaurant [Pork-Free] is on the lobby level of the Renaissance Johor Baru Hotel, 2 Jalan Permas 11, Bandar Baru Permas Jaya, 81750 Masai, Johor. 

Advance orders are recommended for takeaways.

For orders and reservations, Tel: +607 – 381 3388. Email: or

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