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What Is Poon Choi?

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  • Written By: Karize Uy
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 20 October 2014
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Poon Choi is a largely-portioned dish that comes from Hong Kong. It is usually cooked in sizable proportions and can feed more than 10 people. It is usually served in basins, whether metal, porcelain, or wooden, full to the brim with different meats, vegetables, and other foods. Poon Choi also has an alternative Roman spelling of “pun choi.”

Many English menus and writers translate Poon Choi as “Big Bowl Feast,” but the actual translation of the term is “vegetable basin,” with “choi” referring to vegetables. It is widely believed that the dish had originated over six centuries ago, during China’s Song Dynasty. Mongols had invaded the country, and the reigning child emperor, probably Emperor Weiwang, escaped towards the provinces of Hong Kong and Guangdon, along with his troops. In order to provide food fit for an emperor, not to mention feed a multitude of soldiers, the villagers gathered all their the finest ingredients available and cooked it into a dish. Finding no royal-appropriate containers, the local people decided to put the cooked dish in wooden basins used for laundry, and the dish has evolved to become the Poon Choi.

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Virtually any kind of meat and poultry can be cooked in a Poon Choi, such as beef, pork, chicken, and even shark’s fin. Seafood is also found in the dish, including the likes of prawns, crabs, scallops, and eel. Other processed foods such as fish balls and squid balls are also included, as well as mushrooms, bean curd, and ginseng. Aside from the protein, vegetables are also a significant part of dish, such as broccoli, bok choy, radish, and cabbages. Sometimes, a separate dish of green, leafy vegetables is served alongside the Poon Choi.

All the ingredients, after they are cooked, are put in the container layer by layer, usually with the meat ingredients on top to make the dish look more appetizing. Sometimes, dried noodles with eggs are placed on top of the dish, like a crown. Modern-day Cantonese restaurants would usually place a portable gas stove on the customer’s table and warm the Pun Choi before it is served. The dish is continuously warmed by the gas stove until it is completely finished.

Food has always been a symbol a community and prosperity to the Chinese, so the Poon Choi is often present during big celebrations such as weddings and birthdays. Each table receives one big dish of the Pun Choi, which is shared by the seated guests around the table. The Chinese culture usually frowns upon leftover food, so guests can take home whatever is left of the dish.

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