13 Feb Happy Lunar New Year
Uniting Quong Tart aged care home in Ashfield isn’t just a Chinese-speaking community; it’s a Chinese-eating community too.
The 63 residents of Uniting Quong Tart and their care team who come from a wide range of Cantonese and Mandarin speaking backgrounds (including migrants from China, Malaysia, Indonesia and Hong Kong) know how to enjoy themselves. The service maintains a busy schedule of celebration events in the lunar calendar, including the Moon, Lantern and Dragon Boat Festivals, and this usually means delicious Chinese food.
As service manager Agnes Mak says, “Everything happens around the table. It’s where we gather, eat, talk and share. It’s where we come together.”
This week the beautiful heritage home (built by famous Sydney personality, tea mogul Mei Quong Tart in 1890) is decorated in red in celebration of Lunar New Year. Next Tuesday 20 February (on the fifth Day of the Dog), the Quong Tart family (as they call themselves) will gather for a Cantonese style New Year’s celebration complete with traditional lion dance, a visit from the God of Fortune and, of course, a feast.
Food is an important daily aspect of the culture that’s lived out at Uniting Quong Tart. It’s part of the team’s commitment to the concept of ‘ageing in place’ – an approach that aims to celebrate people through the continuation of language, culture and customs as they move into aged care. One lovely way this happens is that residents are given the choice of their preferred comfort food (usually noodle soup or congee) if they’re unwell with the flu.
Leisure and Lifestyle Coordinator, Yoke Lim, who has been with Uniting since the service first opened in 2008 also serves up a range of traditional activities including Tai Chi, Mahjong, Chinese opera and outings to Yum Cha. She gets the residents involved in decorating for the New Year celebrations and planning the menu – with dishes decided via democratic process with a resident vote.
“Chinese New Year is a time for family and everyone is family here,” says Yoke. “Everyone contributes something towards the celebration prep, just like they would at home. Because Quong Tart is their home.”
“They look around and say, ‘I made that decoration’ and they know they’re part of the family. I’m not a staff member to them; they see me as their daughter.”
Another favourite foodie event for residents is the regular ‘Come Dine with Me’ dinner party. It’s a favourite of 84-year-old Mei Shu Hua and 87-year-old Kang Lie Ying Lim who enjoy the opportunity to dress up for the multi-dish fine dining experience. The two ladies met a year ago at Uniting and soon became firm friends. They say they love everything about the living at Uniting Quong Tart – the activities, the staff and the food.
Kang Lie Ying says special dining events like Lunar New Year and the ‘Come Dine with Me’ event is good for her physical and emotional wellbeing. “The food doesn’t just taste good, it looks good too,” she says. “I have a better appetite when the food is nicely presented.”
Mei is also very happy living at Quong Tart. “The carers are very loving here,” she says. “It feels like home.”
Agnes smiles as she translates this compliment from Mei who only speaks Cantonese. “This is the most important thing,” she says. “This is why we do our work. To make people feel this way.”
Today, in celebration of Lunar New Year, the kitchen team at Uniting Quong Tart have shared a recipe for a vegan noodle dish traditionally eaten on New Year’s Day (which this year falls on Friday 16 February). Every ingredient symbolises something the eater is hoping for in the new year – from the red of the carrot representing good luck, to the unbroken length of the noodles symbolising longevity, every element has a special meaning. You can download the recipe card and visit your local Asian grocer to source the ingredients.
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Watch a video featuring the residents of Uniting Quong Tart.