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A seemingly complex yet deceptively easy dish to make. Pen Cai or Poon Choi will be the quintessential Chinese New Year dish you can easily prepare and impress your loved families and friends during the auspicious reunion dinner.

What is Pen Cai

The word ‘Pen’ (Chinese: 盆) means basin or pot and ‘Cai’ (Chinese: 菜) means vegetable. In cantonese, it’s pronounced as Poon Choi. Its origin dates back to the Song Dynasty of China around the Guangdong Province. The dish literally means a pot of vegetables but really, the value of the dish nowadays is rarely just a humble pot of vegetables. In the ancient times in China, the dish was served in a large wooden, metal or porcelain basin, with all the best possible ingredients added in. People will gather around on a large table and dip their chopsticks into the dish and enjoy it in a communal style.

Even though the literal translation means a pot of vegetables, in Chinese terms, ‘cai’ (Chinese for vegetables) do not really mean vegetables but it’s a term used to describe a ‘dish’. So it’s right to say Pen Cai actually means a dish served in a basin or pot. The ingredients are mainly meat, such as poultry, pork, lamb, beef, and seafood such as fish, sea cucumber, prawns, crab, abalone, scallops. Other ingredients may include mushrooms, radish, pig skin, chicken feet, bean curd and etc.

pen cai

This dish is popularly served during Chinese New Year in Chinese restaurants, in a family sharing style. A such Pen Cai symbolises prosperity, harmony, fortune and unity.

Today, this Chinese New Year dish features the best, auspicious and expensive ingredients presented in a luxurious plating, such as tiger prawns, abalone, scallops, sea cucumber, and etc. It’s labourious to make this dish as each ingredient is individually cooked to retain its unique and original flavour and then put together in a delicate plating.

pen cai

Ingredients for Poon Choi

The ingredients are mainly divided into 4 groups:

  • Vegetables – I choose to use long cabbage as the base. The broccoli is used for its beautiful green colour and it adds a flowery texture to the other meat.
  • Meat – Roast pork and smoked duck is used in this recipe, you can also add in roast chicken, roast beef or braised lamb too.
  • Seafood – Canned abalones are used here, the brine can also be used in the seasoning sauce. Prawns, scallops, sea cucumbers are also common ingredients consumed during Chinese New Year feasts. You can also add fish maw, crab meat, fish, or even shark fins.
  • Seasoning – The base of the seasoning is a broth boiled with prawn shells and water. I have added light and dark soy sauce, oyster sauce, Chinese wine, white pepper powder, canned abalone brine, and sesame oil. A corn starch slurry helps to thicken the sauce.

What are the other Chinese New Year dishes

Check out these other easy to make dishes:

Watch how to make Poon Choi on YouTube

Pin now, cook later

pen cai

Eight Treasures Pen Cai 八宝盆菜 (Special Chinese New Year Dish)

A seemingly complex yet deceptively easy dish to make. Pen Cai will be the quintessential Chinese New Year dish you can easily prepare and impress your loved families and friends during the auspicious reunion dinner.
5 from 2 votes
Prep Time 1 hour
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 30 minutes
Course chinese new year, dinner, lunar new year, lunch
Cuisine asian, Chinese
Servings 6 persons
Calories 950 kcal


Seasoning sauce


  • 3 cups water or use 3 cups chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1 lot prawns shells


  • Wash 6-8 fresh shiitake mushrooms. Trim off the stems. Then make cross cuts on the mushrooms (for decorative purpose).
    Note: You can also used dried shiitake mushrooms. Simply hydrate the mushrooms by soaking it in warm water for about 15-30 minutes until they turn soft, then trim off the stems and make cross cuts on the mushrooms.
    6-8 fresh shiitake mushrooms
  • Wash and cut 100 g broccoli into smaller bite sized pieces.
    100 g broccoli
    cum the broccoli
  • Cut 100 g long cabbage into sections about 1.5 inch thickness.
    100 g long cabbage
    cut long cabbage
  • Soak the cut cabbage in water for about 10 minutes. Then remove and set aside.
    long cabbage
  • Use a vegetable peeler to peel off the skin of 1 carrot. Slice the carrot thinly. Then use a flower shaped cookie cutter and cut flower shapes out of the carrot slices.
    1 carrot
    shape the carrot
  • Slice 200 g smoked duck meat into half an inch thickness.
    If it's taken out of the fridge, heat it up in a microwave or oven first.
    200 g smoked duck meat
    duck meat
  • Slice 200 g roast pork into half an inch thickness.
    If it's taken out of the fridge, heat it up in a microwave or oven first.
    200 g roast pork
    roast pork
  • Wash 6-8 tiger prawns. Then trim off the whiskers and legs of the prawns, but keep the head and shell on.
    6-8 tiger prawns
    trim prawns
  • For the 300 g sea cucumber, if it's already hydrated, rinse under tap water to remove any debris or dirt hidden in the fold. Then cut into an inch thick.
    300 g sea cucumber
    cut the sea cucumber
  • Boil a handful of 1 lot prawns shells with 3 cups water for 15 minutes over medium heat.
    Once boiled, remove the prawn shells.
    Note: You can also use chicken stock or vegetable stock as an alternative.
    3 cups water, 1 lot prawns shells
    boil the broth
  • Boil each ingredient individually and briefly. Then remove the ingredients and set aside.
    For broccoli and mushrooms, boil until softened.
    For cabbage, boil until slightly wilted.
  • For prawns, cook until they turn orange.
    For 6-8 fresh scallops, cook for about 3 minutes, take care not to overcook.
    For sea cucumbers, cook for about 30 minutes and quickly remove from the boiling broth. Otherwise it will 'dissolve' into the broth.
    6-8 fresh scallops
    boil the prawns
  • Turn off the heat. Sieve the broth to remove any residue.
    drain the residue
  • Turn on medium-low heat. Then add all the seasoning ingredients – 1 tbsp Chinese wine, 1 tsp light soy sauce, 1 tsp dark soy sauce, 1/4 tsp white pepper powder, 1 tsp sesame oil, 1 tbsp oyster sauce and 4 tbsp canned abalone brine.
    Mix 1 tbsp corn starch with 1 tbsp of water to make slurry, then add to the broth and keep stirring until the broth thickens.
    4 tbsp canned abalone brine, 1 tbsp Chinese wine, 1/4 tsp white pepper powder, 1 tbsp oyster sauce, 1 tsp dark soy sauce, 1 tsp light soy sauce, 1 tsp sesame oil, 1 tbsp corn starch
    make the sauce
  • Using a nice looking claypot or serving bowl, place the cooked cabbage in.
    layer the greens
  • Then layer with the cooked prawns, scallops, sea cucumber, roast pork, smoked duck, mushrooms, and broccoli.
    Place 6-8 canned mini abalones in the centre.
    6-8 canned mini abalones
    add abalone
  • Pour the seasoning sauce generously over the dish.
    add the sauce
  • Garnish with the carrot flowers.
    garnish with carrot
  • Serve warm immediately.
    pen cai



Calories: 950kcal
Keyword abalone, chinese new year, seafood
Tried this recipe?Tag @BeautifulVoyager.Kitchen on IG!

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