It was my Ah Ma’s 89th birthday over the weekend, so the whole extended family showed up at my aunt’s house in Ipoh to celebrate. It was also the Aidiladha holidays, so everyone was travelling away from KL over the three-day weekend, which meant that we were stuck in traffic for a good four hours .___.”

We finally reached at 7pm, just in time for dinner. Went in to greet Ah Ma and helped set up the tables. The small house, which is usually quiet, was rowdy with laughter and the chatter of relatives. As Ah Ma can’t walk these days, my aunts called a caterer to provide the food, and my Sa Kor (third aunt) whipped up a couple of her own specialties as well.

I was told that the catering only came to RM14 per person. That’s super cheap! And the food was pretty delish too. In KL you won’t be able to get good caterers for anything less than RM30.

If you’re wondering how a typical Malaysian Chinese gathering with food looks like, here it is:

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No party is complete without fried chicken wings. I think this spans all cultures.

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There was fried rice, fried bihun (vermicilli noodles), beancurd stuffed with fishpaste and topped with dried oyster (hou si, which sounds like ‘good fortune’ in Cantonese and a lucky symbol), fried foochok (beancurd sheets) wrapped over spiced ground pork and crabmeat sticks, curry chicken, stir fried vegetables, shrimp, watermelon, and glutinous turmeric rice. The yellowish rice is my Sa Kor’s specialty, and has a crispy, hardened crust with soft, gooey rice bits on the inside. It was very popular with the guests and gone within a few minutes.

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Spicy shrimp with curry leaves for that extra oomph. Shrimp is called ‘ha‘ in Cantonese, and again, the symbolism is that it sounds like laughter – ergo, good fortune and a great dish to have during happy occasions.

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Another one of aunt’s signature dishes – curry chicken. If you’ve tried this, you’ll never want for any sort of curry out there ever again. My Sa Kor got this recipe from my Grandma, and somehow nobody else in the family can make it like how my Grandma used to except her. Everyone in the family would really look forward to our Chinese New Year reunions when we would be able to sink our teeth into the deliciously tender chicken chunks and soft potatoes; or pour the creamy, savoury gravy over hot, white rice.

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Ah Ma with the butter coffee cake and a ‘sau pau’ (longevity bun). It’s a large pink bun traditionally served at Chinese festivals or birthdays – the equivalent of the Western ‘birthday cake’. Sometimes it has little bumps on the front and back to symbolise a ‘turtle’, since turtles live a long life.

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The cake was pretty yummy too! Or maybe I just haven’t had cake in a long time, so.

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Smaller ‘sau paus‘ are shaped like yellow and pink peaches. According to legend, the God of Longevity (yuet lou) in Taoist beliefs have a garden full of these, and eating one would increase one’s lifespan by a thousand years. Of course, these were only reserved for other deities in Heaven, so mortals made their own version of it in the form of coloured steam buns. No, you won’t be adding any years to your life after eating these, sorry.

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Happy Birthday, Dear Ah Ma! 89 is a long way to come, and I know it has been hard raising 10 kids with grandpa. Here’s to many more years of good health to come. We❤ you.