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Hungry Ghost Festival: When The Gates of Hell Open

Come straight home from college after class. Don’t loiter around until late at night.” 

Don’t stare and point at people by the road.” 

Wash your feet properly after coming home.” 

Back when I was younger, these were just some of the things my mother used to caution me about whenever the Hungry Ghost Festival approached. Celebrated in many parts of Asia, predominantly among Chinese communities, the festival proper falls on the 14th day of the 7th month according to the lunisolar calendar (August 22 this year) – but the entire 7th month is generally known as Ghost Month.

During this time, ghosts and spirits are believed to wander the earthly realm, so the living pay homage to their ancestors as well as lost spirits by burning offerings, as a form of merit making. The practice can be traced to the ancient Chinese practice of ancestor worship, but over the years, has evolved to absorb elements of Taoism and Buddhism as well.

Like many young people, I used to think superstitions associated with the Hungry Ghost Festival were a load of baloney – but I guess with age comes the wisdom of hindsight, and an understanding of how cultural beliefs are tied to our identity and our place in the world. These are practices that have been passed down through the generations, sometimes for thousands of years – and in a rapidly modernising world, there’s something to be said about keeping them alive, even though you might not believe in them per se.

While my family is not particularly traditional, we do observe some superstitions and practices which I think are quite fascinating, especially to people of other cultures. There are also differences between how it is celebrated and observed among Chinese diasporas around the world, such as in Malaysia, where I am from. So without further ado, here are some interesting facts and trivia about the Hungry Ghost Festival! 

OFFERINGS

During the Ghost Month, the gates of Hell are opened and spirits roam the earthly plane. Among them are ancestors whom the living forgot to pay tribute to, those who died without a proper send-off, and lost spirits. Because of this, they are ‘hungry’; hence the importance of providing them with food and entertainment so that they won’t cause harm or mischief.

ProjectManhattan, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Filial piety is an extremely important part of Chinese culture, so even after their death, you are expected to honour your ancestors with offerings of food, drink and material goods. It is common for people to burn paper effigies of items like houses, cars, servants, clothes and hell bank notes, in the belief that these can be enjoyed by the deceased in the afterlife.

There are also people who make offerings for lost souls: those who have no one to pray for them, or victims of suicide, murder or accidents. Aside from accumulating good karma, it is believed that it will appease these angry spirits and prevent them from harming the living. Prayers for lost souls are usually held at temples, or by the road – so if you see people huddling over a fire in the evenings with bowls of food and joss sticks, it is best not to point and stare because you might risk offending wandering spirits.

PAPER EFFIGIES

Paper effigies are an inseparable part of the Hungry Ghost Festival – but if you think they’re just rough, crudely shaped pieces of paper, then you’d be wrong. While I won’t deny that some are printed with machines, there are still effigy makers who make it the traditional way by hand. They are often commissioned to create items such as mansions, life-sized effigies of guardians, servants and deities, vehicles, even ‘designer’ clothes. These master craftsmen are artists in their own right, often creating incredibly intricate pieces that take months to complete. It’s crazy when you think about the amount of time and effort that goes into each piece, only to have them go up in flames in seconds.

Paper effigies are burnt in the belief that the deceased will receive them in the afterlife. As you can see, there can be some pretty quirky items – like gold watches, mobile phones and even dentures! Photo: Jorge Láscar from Australia, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The first time I took part in a paper effigy burning ceremony was when I was eight or nine, and I vividly recall the beautiful patterns on the paper samfoo (traditional Chinese clothing for women, usually with floral patterns) that was meant for my late grandmother. Over the years, paper effigies have become more and more creative (?), with items like mobile phones (what service provider do they use in hell, I wonder?), SIM cards, laptops and the like. My colleagues in Singapore even shared a photo of paper durians with me recently. Now, I definitely don’t subscribe to the idea of my grandparents operating mobile phones and texting each other in the afterlife, but it’s certainly a unique part of the celebration.

GETAI

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Chinese opera was the main form of entertainment during the Hungry Ghost Festival, but these have since been replaced with more modern performances. Photo: grungemann/Flickr

In the old days, villages and towns would host large open-air stages, and a troupe would put on a show in the evenings. The benches at the front were always left empty, as they were meant for unseen guests. Over the years, traditional opera fell out of popularity, but the practice of hosting entertainment for the dead did not – instead, it evolved into Getai, or literally ‘song stage’. I’m not sure how it is celebrated in China as I wasn’t able to find references on the net, but in Malaysia and Singapore they are quirky, lively affairs.

Tents are set up in fields or commercial spaces (where I live, there’s one every year in front of a food court). There would be live auctions and a dinner (proceeds usually go to charity). Sometimes there are still traditional opera performances, but you’ll also get stand-up comedy, entertainers singing pop songs or oldies, and even women dressed in skimpy clothing dancing to modern numbers. This aspect might seem blasphemous to some, but I find it very unique because it goes to show how adaptable Chinese culture can be – you gotta move with the times. In Singapore, where 76% of the population is ethnic Chinese, the getai culture is even bigger; shows are broadcast on national TV.

SUPERSTITION

Every culture has superstitions, but the Chinese in particular have many. Growing up, I wasn’t allowed to cut my nails or whistle at night, because it might attract bad spirits. In retrospect, I think there was a hint of logic behind them: electricity (and nail clippers) did not exist in the old days, so it was dangerous to cut your nails in the dark. Also whistling at night would disturb the peace. But because we often parrot what our elders tell us, we continue handing these superstitions down even in modern times when we can turn on the light with the flip of a switch.
As for Ghost Month, here are just some of the common beliefs:

  1. Don’t stay out late. – Night is when the spirits are at their strongest, so to avoid anything untoward, avoid staying out after dark.
  2. Don’t go swimming – Angry water spirits might try to drown you.
  3. Don’t swear – you don’t know when a spirit might be lurking around and feel offended.
  4. Don’t wear red – apparently spirits are attracted to the colour red, and might follow you home.
  5. Wash your feet when you get home – to get rid of unwanted bad energy.
  6. Don’t hang your clothes out at night – you might just have an extra guest coming into your house when you collect them
  7. Don’t tap someone on the shoulder – it is believed that a person has three ‘lights’ – one on their head and one on each shoulder, which ward off evil spirits. By tapping them, you’re essentially extinguishing the light.
  8. Avoid killing insects – the Chinese have a belief that spirits might be reincarnated as insects like butterflies and moths. They could be visiting relatives, so if you just smacked that moth flat, you might have killed grandma.
  9. Be wary of offerings. – Sometimes people leave offerings out by the side of the road (especially in Malaysia) so it’s best to keep an eye out. You wouldn’t like it if someone stepped all over your food now, would you?
  10. Don’t take photos – The idea of photographs and how they can capture spirits is not unique to Chinese culture. So it’s best not to snap any, especially of offerings. I’m sure you’ve watched Shutter.

As the world grows ever modernised and practices that are deemed old-fashioned and superstitious are abandoned by the younger generation, it is heartening to see that The Hungry Ghost Festival still has its proponents. It’s a case study of how culture is fluid and ever changing; where tradition is valued but also adapts to the times.

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How To Gain Weight: CNY Edition

Happy Chinese New Year!

This year’s festivities are much more subdued due to the pandemic, but I still had an enjoyable time bonding (and eating!) with the family over the weekend. To save on the hassle of preparing an elaborate meal for our reunion dinner night, we decided to have hotpot/barbecue out on the porch. We bought most of the ingredients in advance so we wouldn’t have to rush to the market on the few days leading up to CNY.

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Aside from the quintessential pork belly slices (you can get these from the local butcher nicely packed), our hotpot ‘buffet’ also had all the other essentials: chicken and fish slices, pork balls and fish balls, needle mushrooms, squid, seafood cheese tofu, fried beancurd sheets, and for carbs, udon noodles. Moomins opened a celebratory can of mini abalones – they’re especially cheap this year due to a dip in demand.

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We bought a 2-in-1 BBQ/hotpot stove from Lazada, just for this.

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The soup base we used was from Hai Di Lao. We bought the shrimp flavour thinking it would be mild, but it was actually quite spicy. It also had preserved vegetables, which gave it a sour tang. Personally, I prefer something milkier and sweeter, so I will probably go for another flavour the next time around.

I know processed foods aren’t the healthiest, but seafood cheese tofu and bursting pork balls (above) are my favourites whenever I have hotpot. Seafood cheese tofu is usually made from surimi, so the texture is bouncy, and it has bits of creamy cheese within; while bursting pork balls are so called because there is hot soup in the centre, so caution should be taken whenever you bite into them so the juices within don’t spill everywhere and burn your tongue.

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My parents weren’t keen on the pork belly slices, so my brother and I ate most of them. I can safely say that I ate my fill lol. I prefer mine cooked in the hotpot, because they tend to get crispy and hard on the grill (I like mine to be soft so you can taste the texture of the fat and lean meat). Dip them in some soy sauce and chilli, and voila! Magic. We rarely have hotpot at home, so this was a very satisfying experience.

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By the time we finished dinner and the washing up it was nearly 10pm. We had initially planned to have our yee sang right after, but everyone was too full, so we watched Bad Genius on Netflix and waited for midnight.

Instead of the usual salmon yee sang, we got a fruits version this year. My cousin and his girlfriend are doing it as a part-time business, so it was our way of showing support (I also sent two sets to friends). It was basically a fruit salad consisting of green and red grapes, strawberries, mandarin oranges, carrots, pomegranates and dragonfruit (we didn’t add this in because it was too soft and watery), plus toasted pumpkin and sesame seeds. In place of plum sauce was honey.

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All in all, good, albeit on the sour side despite the addition of honey.

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After all that feasting on reunion dinner night, our first day of CNY was tamer affair. Traditionally, many families will observe a vegetarian meal after the extravagance of the previous night – we had a simple meal of udon and mock meat with fried egg for lunch. Also spent the afternoon playing mahjong. Everyone was rusty, because we only do this once a year lol.

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I received a nice surprise on the morning of Day 2: my friend H sent me a CNY package!

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Went out in the afternoon with Pops to Moon Palace Restaurant, to pick up our order of poon choi. For my non-Chinese readers, it’s basically a Cantonese dish comprised of a pot filled with luxurious seafood and meat items, which are then poured over with a rich sauce. Due to the large portions, it is meant to be shared, and you’ll often see it at festive occasions like Chinese New Year and weddings. I’ve only had poon choi once or twice during food reviews, never with the fam, so it was a first for all of us.

Our poon choi came with abalone, dried oysters stuffed with fat choi (a type of cyanobacteria with the appearance of human hair – it sounds gross lol but tastes like seaweed), roast duck, poached chicken, brocolli, huge shiitake mushrooms, abalone mushrooms, prawns, yam, scallops and roast pork. The oyster sauce that was to be poured over coagulated slightly from the cold, but otherwise everything was excellent. I especially liked the abalone mushrooms: they were thick and juicy. It’s no wonder people use them in making imitation meat – the texture is very similar.

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And finally, to round up our 2nd day, another round of yee sang; this time vegetarian.

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Bonus: Air-dried clay Mandarin Oranges my brother made for fun.

While this CNY lacks the cheer and pomp of yesteryears, I think I actually enjoyed it more. The weekend was spent bonding with the fam, playing Divinity 2: Original Sin, embroidering (new hobby!), and just eating. Like a lot. I think between Pops, the brother and I, we finished five cans of snacks and a dozen canned drinks. Also, I got no exercise in at all, so it’s not surprising that I gained 2kg.

It’s back to the grind tomorrow, and I’ll be getting back into my workout routine as well.

Hope you all had a good celebration!

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This “App” Calls Out Auspicious Sayings For Chinese New Year – So You Don’t Have To

Chinese New Year is just around the corner (the first day falls on 12 February), but with the pandemic still raging in many parts of Southeast Asia, celebrations will definitely be more subdued. In Singapore, for example, gatherings will be limited to eight people, no CNY company dinners are allowed, and shouting during lo hei (the act of tossing yusheng, a ‘fish salad’ often served in Malaysia and Singapore during CNY) is also discouraged. Understandable, since no one wants Fourth Uncle’s spit flying all over the place (even before the pandemic, but I guess back then it was… tolerated). Here in Malaysia, the government has yet to announce an extension of our Movement Control Order, but it seems likely to be extended for another two weeks.

I wrote a piece recently about how certain traditions and practices might be observed differently this year, including e-hongbao and online shopping for clothes – and now we can add one more to the list: an app that calls out auspicious sayings like ‘HUAT AH’ (prosperity/good luck) and BU BU GAO XIN (steps to success). If you think about it, it’s actually quite a brilliant solution for lo hei – since saliva is more likely to fall into food what with all the shouting and yelling of auspicious phrases. Also, since many people won’t have the luxury of visiting their relatives, the app is a fun way to liven up the atmosphere – minus the worry of spreading COVID-19.

Created by a kind soul going by the pseudonym DJ Beng, the ‘app’ (they’re calling it an app but it’s really more of a web page, since it only works on Google Chrome) contains 15 auspicious sayings, which you can tap on for the desired phrase. Some of these include the customary “Nian Nian You Yu” (Luck every year) and Huat Ah. There’s also a separate tab for toasting, ie Yamseng. What I find really cute is that the longer you press the “yamm” button, the longer the audio plays: the effect is really reminiscent of actual toasting during Chinese gatherings, where everyone tries to shout yammmmm as long as possible. The audio even includes the typical ‘out-of-breath’ effect you get from people trying to sustain their shouts, so it sounds very realistic!

Best of all? There are both Mandarin and Cantonese options for the lohei. For Cantonese speakers like myself, this is a joy. Canto is being eroded these days in favour of Mandarin, and it’s always nice to see your own language being celebrated.

You can have a go for yourself at djbeng.com/lohei.html. Note: It only works on the Google Chrome browser on your phone.

*Cover image: Getty Images

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Easy 4-Step Bakkwa Puffs

Bakkwa (also known as rougan) is the Chinese version of jerky, consisting of flattened pieces of dried meat seasoned with sugar, salt and spices. It is very popular among the Chinese community in Malaysia and Singapore, and although you can get it all year round, it is most commonly eaten during the Lunar New Year. We also prepare it differently here; ie cooking the meat over charcoal so it gets imbued with a nice, smoky flavour.

Bak kwa

Photo: Alpha, CC BY-SA 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

I’ve never been much of a bakkwa fan. I don’t hate it – if I was visiting someone during the festive season and they offered me a slice, I wouldn’t say no – but I certainly wouldn’t go out of my way to buy it. I’m sure many people would beg to differ though: apparently the line for the Lim Chee Guan brand of bak kwa in Singapore can stretch up to three hours!

Recently, my colleagues were tasked with making a video on ‘unique ways to prepare bakkwa’, and on my part, I had to come up with a recipe. All the good ones like pasta, fried rice and what not had already been taken. Not being much of a cook myself, I initially thought of just frying it as an omelet and calling it a day, but then my mom suggested I use it as filling for pastry, and bake it with cheese. Brilliant, Moomins!

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Closest place to my house selling bak kwa is Oloiya in Bandar Puteri Puchong. Thankfully, Malaysians are a bit saner than Singaporeans (or maybe it’s coz COVID cases are in the four digits daily these days so people are kiasi?) , so there was no three hour queue.

Oloiya sells chicken and pork bakkwa in 100, 300 and 500 g portions. Unlike pre-pandemic times, they no longer display stacks of meat out in the open, probably for hygiene purposes. Instead, everything is vacuum packed and sealed. No tasters as well. It takes away from the traditional shopping experience, but hey – safety first.

I couldn’t visualise how much each portion was because everything was already packed into plastic, so I ordered the middle option (300g – RM35). It turned out to be quite a lot, as there were six pieces inside.

Aside from traditional chicken and pork, Oloiya has items like “Blooming Beauty Pork” (basically dried bacon strips), pork / chicken floss, and snack-sized bakkwa (called Bak-Off. I’m surprised this name got approved for the market lol). For those who are looking for gifts, Oloiya also offers nicely packed gift boxes with options for personalised engraving.

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Anyway enough promo: on to the bakkwa puffs.

Ingredients:

  • 3 pieces store-bought filo pastry (if you’re feeling hardworking, you can make your own – but I don’t have a recipe for that lol)
  • 1 piece bakkwa, cut into thin strips
  • 1 slice cheese
  • 1 egg, beaten (for eggwash)

Method:

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  • Fill half of the filo pastry with bakkwa and top with cheese. Make sure there is enough space at the edges to fold.
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  • Fold pastry into triangles and seal the edges with a fork.
  • Brush egg wash on top of pastry for colour.
  • Pre-heat oven. Set to 180C. Bake for 20 minutes. (PS: If it doesn’t look brown enough, either bake for another 10 minutes, or set the oven to a higher temperature.)
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And there you have it. A creative way to enjoy your bakkwa!

If you think about it, you’re basically making a sandwich of sorts. I mean, you can’t really go wrong with meat + cheese + pastry combo. The pastry gives it a nice and crispy exterior, and the bakkwa’s sweet and salty flavour goes great with cheese. The texture also softens a bit during the baking process, so you actually get meat that is more moist.

What are some of the creative ways you eat your bakkwa? Or do you enjoy it as it is? Let me know if you’re planning to try this recipe, and how it turned out for you! 🙂

Hello!

If you enjoyed reading this post, consider giving me a figurative angpau. Contrary to popular belief, I do not make big moolah from writing – and this will go towards hosting fees and ensuring that I can continue to deliver authentic content for your reading pleasure. Thanks for stopping by!

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Celebrating Chinese New Year In The Middle Of A Pandemic

Chinese New Year, also called the Lunar New Year, is set to fall on 12 February this year. It marks the beginning of a new year according to the traditional lunar calendar, and heralds the arrival of spring. 

Here in Malaysia, Chinese New Year is a pretty big thing, since people of Chinese descent make up more than 20% of the population (about 6 million people). If this was any other year, CNY decor in malls would have already been up right after Christmas. There’d be cookie displays flooding bakery shelves; Padini/Uniqlo would be packed with shoppers buying new clothes on sale, and we’d all be subjected to the torture of loud, repetitive dong dong chiang music 24 hours a day, 7 days a week across all TV and radio channels. 

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Unfortunately, we are in the middle of a pandemic – and like all the other people who made sacrifices last year for Christmas, Deepavali and Hari Raya, it is now our turn to give up the freedom that we often take for granted: the ability to travel home to see our loved ones.

On 13 January 2021, the Malaysian government implemented a second targeted Movement Control Order (MCO), restricting travel to and from red zone states. Workers in non-essential services are required to work from home, travel is restricted to a 10 kilometre radius to buy groceries and essentials, and eateries are only allowed to run on a take-away/delivery basis. Of course, celebrations of any kind are no longer allowed, as are things like weddings and other events. (Adding to the whole hullabaloo is the national Emergency which was declared by our King because of political in-fighting, but that’s for another entry lol.) 

The last time we had an MCO was back in March 2020, and it lasted for two months. Although the current MCO has only been announced for the next two weeks, many people are foreseeing an extension, at least for a further two weeks. With thousands of cases daily in Malaysia (at the time of this writing, there have been over 100 deaths in the last two weeks), most (sane) people understand that this is necessary to break the infection chain and ensure public health and safety. 

Since no events are allowed and travel is restricted, many of us will have to make do with a quiet celebration at home this year. While we won’t be able to observe certain traditions, I think that technology has allowed us to adapt (and innovate) in ways that would not have been possible 20 or 30 years ago – and we can use that to make CNY 2021 a memorable one. 

Reunion Dinner 

The reunion dinner on the eve of CNY is an integral part of CNY celebrations – some even consider it to be even more important than New Year’s Day.Traditionally, it’s when everyone gathers to feast and wish for a prosperous year ahead, whilst enjoying dishes with auspicious meanings (usually fish, pork, prawn and chicken – since back in the days meat was difficult to come by and would only be eaten on special occasions).

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Fam reunion dinner from 2018

The food for reunion dinners used to be prepared at home by the women folk. More than just preparing a meal, it was a way for people to bond. When my grandparents were still alive, the kitchen on CNY eve was a battlefield, and my grandma commandeered it like a general: slicing, dicing and supervising her helpers (my aunties). I kind of missed that after she passed away. In the last few years, eating out has become a trend, since nobody wants to go through the hassle of cooking and washing up for 20 people. Now that there are once again dine-in restrictions at restaurants, perhaps it’s time we went back to the drawing board and rediscover what it means to cook, and eat, together. 

For those who aren’t able to attend the reunion dinner night, I think it would be a good idea to set up some sort of Skype or Zoom call with family, so that you’d still be able to ‘eat’ together –  sort of like what I did with the hubs for our anniversary last year. It won’t replace being there in person, but in these unprecedented times, we have to make do with what we can – and it will hopefully stave off some of the loneliness that people who live away from home will undoubtedly feel during the festive season. 

Ang Pau Mali

Another tradition synonymous with CNY is the giving of red packets (ang pau) containing money to unmarried members of the family. As a kid, I was always super excited to receive ang paus (RM100 was a lot of money for a kid in the 90s). Funny thing though: at the end of each visit, the money would go to my mom, who’d keep it for ‘investment’…. And I’d never see it again lol. (Just kidding, I love you mom.) 

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Now that I’m married, I’ll no longer be on the receiving end, sadly. Under normal circumstances, it’s understandable not to give an angpau if you’re not visiting a particular relative. Unfortunately for married folk, the emergence of e-wallet apps and e-angpaus means that some of us won’t be able to wriggle out of it with the in absentia excuse: your nephews and nieces will probably say, “Aiya auntie, send it through e-angpau lah!” 

In With The New 

People usually buy new things for CNY (especially clothes), as it signifies a fresh start. Many clothing retailers are not able to open their brick and mortar shops, so more have gone online to provide for their customers. You can also find nice clothes on platforms like Shopee and Lazada for super cheap.

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There are pros and cons to shopping online. While it’s certainly more convenient and safer (no hour-long queue to get into the changing room, no fighting with another auntie for the same shirt you both have your eyes on at the sale rack), it can also be challenging for people with unusual body shapes/sizes, since they can’t see or feel the material/ cutting prior to their purchase. (Like yours truly. I have huge… shoulders. winkwink.) If you’re going to buy stuff online, best do it early to avoid disappointment, in case your item comes late in the mail. 

Chinese New Year foods in Malaysia

*Photo: evelynquek, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Buying gift hampers for associates, or cookies / treats for friends and family is another long standing CNY practice, and again, online shopping makes it convenient to have your items shipped directly to the doorstep of your recipient. As for treats for personal consumption, if you have the time, it might be a good idea to try your hand at baking/making your own. If you’re enterprising, you can even make a larger batch to sell and earn some extra money on the side. 

Cleaning / Decorating the House

People often underestimate the importance of decorating one’s personal space to elevate the mood. I believe it’s crucial; not to show off, but to re-centre yourself and your frame of mind. It’s one of the reasons why I wear office clothes even while working from home, because it kicks my mind into ‘work mode’. Lounging in pyjamas all day is comfy, but it also makes me more inclined to go roll around on the bed every 10 minutes. Similarly, just because no one is visiting for CNY doesn’t mean your house shouldn’t be clean and tidy.  

Unfortunately, technology has not yet evolved to the point where I’m able to kick back with a nice cup of coffee and a book, while my robot assistant does everything for me. So, manual labour it is.

CNY in 2021 will certainly be different, but if you put it into perspective, it’s not all doom and gloom. Traditions are meant to be kept and preserved, but if that isn’t possible due to circumstances beyond our control, then perhaps it’s time to innovate some new traditions. 

That being said, McD’s Prosperity Burger is back on the menu. 

Some things just never change. 

If you enjoyed reading this post, consider giving me a figurative angpau. Contrary to popular belief, I do not make big moolah from writing – and this will go towards hosting fees and ensuring that I can continue to deliver authentic content for your reading pleasure. Thanks for stopping by!

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Trying Out Kuala Lumpur’s OG Hokkien Mee: Kim Lian Kee @ Petaling Street / Chinatown KL

Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown has a storied history. Like many Malaysian cities with a rich tin mining heritage, it started off as a pioneer town, with a large Chinese migrant population. Although Malaya was then under British rule, the colonists often appointed overseers from within the respective communities – and in KL, a “Kapitan Cina” administered over the Chinese.

One of these Kapitans, Yap Ah Loy, is attributed to the founding of KL’s Chinatown. After devastating fires, floods and civil war between the Chinese (from the Hakka and Cantonese clans) for control of the tin mining trade, many of the miners and coolies were keen on skipping town. Yap  persuaded them to remain in KL and ply another trade: growing rice and crops. He opened a tapioca mill in Petaling Street, which allowed trade to recover. In Cantonese, Petaling Street is called ‘Chee Cheong Kai’ (starch factory street), a tribute to its beginnings.

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Over the years, Chinatown’s flavour changed (I wrote about this in a previous post, which you can check out here). It became less of a hub for Chinese culture and more of a cheap market for counterfeit goods, managed by foreign workers from Bangladesh, Myanmar, Vietnam, Indonesia, Pakistan and India. This loss of authenticity is the reason why I have not returned to Chinatown for many years – until recently. Times are hard, and the pandemic means that many foreign workers, whether legal or illegal, have been sent home. The street is much quieter now, and most of the stalls are manned by local Chinese again.

Thankfully, one thing that has remained unchanged through the years is food – and Petaling Street is home to many well-established, decades-old institutions, such as a 40-year-old muachi stall, a 2nd generation roast duck kiosk, wantan mee, and of course, Kim Lian Kee. 

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Widely touted as the ‘birthplace’ of Hokkien Mee in Kuala Lumpur, Kim Lian Kee was founded by a Fujianese migrant, Wong Kim Lian in 1927. That makes it close to a 100 years old! The brand has since expanded all over Malaysia, with proper restaurants in malls and commercial areas. At Petaling Street, the ‘original’ hawker stall, which has outdoor seating, sits just across the road from a slightly more upscale-looking resto with air-conditioning. 

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The style of cooking and noodles may have Hokkien roots, but Hokkien Mee was created by the Southeast Asian Chinese diaspora – and as such, you will not find it in China. Three places are known for their Hokkien Mee, and they are all slightly different: Penang’s version features thick noodles in a spicy broth made from prawn shells, prawn heads, prawn and pork ribs, served with pork slices, hard boiled eggs, kangkung, bean sprouts, fried shallots, sambal and lard. Singapore’s Hokkien Mee is stir-fried, lighter in colour and comes in a fragrant sauce made from stewing prawn heads, meat, clams and dried fish.

KL’s version, which is what Kim Lian Kee serves, is known as Hokkien char by Penangite Hokkiens, to differentiate it from the soupy one. It is stir-fried in a dark soy sauce together with ingredients such as pork, squid, fish cake, cabbage and lard. A good Hokkien Mee should be cooked over a charcoal fire, and the intense heat (wok hei) helps to seal in all of the flavours.

I had high hopes for KLK’s Hokkien Mee. Unfortunately, while it was decent, I would not say it is the BEST that I’ve ever tasted.  The noodles were nice and had bite, but they also had a strong bitter taste, likely from kan sui (lye, used in making yellow noodles). The yuet kong hor (moonlight kueyteow – raw egg on stir fried kuey teow noodles) was also just… okay. A tad disappointed, as I was expecting more from a place touting itself as the ‘birthplace’ of Hokkien Noodles. Oh well, you win some, you lose some.

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Aside from noodles, Kim Lian Kee has an extensive menu offering dai chow dishes like fried rice, fish and meat items, vegetables, tofu, etc. We got a fried rice with shrimp. Again, not bad but nothing wow either. The rice was a little hard. Uncle Roger would have a couple of things to say,

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The best item that we ordered (the bro agrees) was the fried chicken wings. They came in a set of three pieces, freshly fried and still piping hot. The chicken was marinated well and had great flavour, the insides were juicy, and the skin was crispy.

Our meal along with drinks came up to RM68, Considering that we were in a tourist area, I think it is still a fairly reasonable price.

Video below:

KIM LIAN KEE (PETALING STREET) 

92, Jalan Hang Lekir, City Centre, 50000 Kuala Lumpur.

Opening hours: 11AM – 11PM (closed Wednesdays)

*The original hawker stall is at No.42, across the road, and is only open at night from 5PM. 

**If you’re looking for awesome Hokkien Mee, I have two other suggestions. One is the Kim Lian Kee branch at Aeon Cheras Selatan, although I haven’t been back in 5 years so the quality may be different now), the other is Aik Yuen Hokkien Mee in Setapak, behind the Tawakal Hospital. The latter is literally a shack and looks dodgy af, but you know those are the kind of places that serve the best food lol.

***PS: I am now on Patreon! You can subscribe here. You can also follow me on other social media channels on FacebookInstagram and Twitter. Your support would mean the world to me! 🙂

 

Hilton Kuala Lumpur Celebrates The Mid-Autumn Festival with Royal Midnight Mooncake Series

The Mid-Autumn Festival is an important festival in Chinese culture. Also called the Mooncake Festival or the Lantern Festival, it is also celebrated in a few other East Asian countries, where it is known as Chuseok in Korea and Tsukimi in Japan. The festival falls on the 15th day of the 8th month according to the Chinese Lunar calendar, when the moon is believed to be at its fullest and brightest. Like the Lunar New Year and Winters Solstice, it is a time of reunion for families, where they gather to watch the moon. The moon’s round shape also symbolizes unity and togetherness, as no matter how far apart loved ones are from each other, they can gaze upon the same moon in the night sky.

Mooncakes are an integral part of the Mid-Autumn Festival. In Malaysia, malls are often chock full of stalls stacked high with mooncake boxes in the days leading up to the festival. Traditional flavours like lotus paste, red bean and black sesame are always popular, but there are also modern creations like tiramisu, chocolate, durian and many more.

Drawing inspiration from these stories, Hilton Kuala Lumpur’s mooncake series, “Royal Midnight”, appreciates the fine art of simplicity and serves as a tribute to the beauty of traditions. Featuring a lunar medallion and silver embroidered clouds on a navy blue sheen fabric, the luxurious mooncake box doubles as a jewellery case.

Royal Midnight

The box is so pretty – it’s a work of art on its own!

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Received a box from Hilton KL for work and shared it with colleagues. Brought home the traditional Baked White Lotus Paste. Its eerything a good mooncake should be – not too sweet or greasy, and definitely not cloying. But as with everything, eat in moderation – a baked mooncake can contain as much as 800 calories!

Chynna Special 2020

This year’s signature, the Bulgarian Blush (RM38 nett), comprises custard cream cheese, Bulgarian Rose petal Jam and pine nuts, enclosed in a delicate baby pink snow skin.

Traditional Baked

Enjoy the traditional season with our array of mouthwatering halal-baked mooncakes.

  • Baked White Lotus Paste – RM35 nett
  • Baked White Lotus Paste with Single Yolk – RM38 nett
  • Baked Lotus Paste with Single Yolk – RM35 nett
  • Baked Pandan Paste with Single Yolk – RM35 nett
  • Baked Red Bean Paste with Almond Flakes – RM35 nett
  • Traditional-Style with Five Nuts Mix – RM38 nett

Snow Skin

  • Heavenly Gold – Snow Skin with Pure Premium Musang King Durian – RM56 nett
  • Blue Moon – Snow Skin Amaretto Lotus Paste with Blueberry Cheese Feuillantine – RM35 nett
  • Flower Drum – Snow Skin Lotus Paste with Soft Custard Egg Yolk – RM35 nett

Gift Boxes

  • Royal Midnight Traditional Baked – RM258
  • Royal Midnight Snow Skin – RM268
  • Christy Ng’s Crimson Red/Royal Purple Traditional Baked – RM158
  • Christy Ng’s Crimson Red/Royal Purple Snow Skin – RM168
  • Lunar Charms Traditional Baked RM138
  • Lunar Charms Snow Skin– RM148
  • Heavenly Gold Package – RM318

2020 Mid-Autumn High-Tea at The Lounge

Royal Midnight_Mid-Autumn High-Tea at The Lounge

Indulge in a Mid-Autumn high-tea for two consisting of bite-sized Chinese delights by Chef Lam, and traditional and snow skin mooncakes, complemented by Dilmah’s Natural Rosehip with Hibiscus Tea. The high-tea is priced at RM236 nett for two and isa available from 18 July to 4 October, weekdays from 12.30PM to 5.30PM.

All mooncakes are available for purchase at the hotel lobby or online at www.takehome.hiltonkl.com from now until 4 October 2020. For more information, call +603 2264 2264.

*Photos not watermarked courtesy of Hilton KL.

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Food Review: MK Hotpot, Sri Petaling Is My New Favourite Place

I almost didn’t get to try this place. Glad I did! 

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C and I were food hunting in Sri Petaling, and like the indecisive people we are, walked back and forth between several hotpot outlets (one was closed, another was too expensive, the other had a limited menu, etc.). After what must have been 40 minutes, we finally settled on MK Hotpot, a new resto that serves hotpot with a slight twist. The place is tucked on the first floor, so keep your eyes peeled for the sign outside the staircase.

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Simple interior, but cosy. Tables are adequately spaced apart. Service is attentive and friendly.

You order by set, with each set comprising of a soup, a ‘main course’ and a side. There are six different kinds of soup bases, so there’s something for every palate – like Signature Golden Chicken, Herbs, Tomato and Pepper. I went for the Tonkotsu (pork bone soup), while C opted for the Taiwanese Spicy soup. For the choice of protein, there is chicken breast slices, pork belly or lean pork slices, Australian Beef / Lamb slices, seafood platter and vegetable platter. Last but not least, pick a side of different rice and noodle dishes.

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There is a condiment and sauces station, where you can mix your own dipping sauce. You can find the typical fried shallots, garlic, sesame, peanuts, sesame oil, vinegar and soy sauce, as well as shacha ( a paste made from soybean oil, garlic, shallots, chilli, brill fish and dried shrimp, popular in Hokkien communities ie Fujian in China, and Taiwan).

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Each set comes with mushrooms, pumpkin, cabbage and lettuce, corn on the cob, wood-ear fungus, quail eggs, radish and tofu. Add them to the soup to get that naturally sweet flavour.

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The unique thing about MK Hotpot is its ‘stone pot’ concept. Instead of a large vat to boil the soup, which is usually the case with other hotpot chains, you get a small stone pot each (which I think is more hygienic, coz you won’t have to cook your ingredients in the same pot). The pot also doubles as a shallow wok of sorts – the correct way to enjoy the food, according to our server, is to first stir-fry the ingredients with some oil, garlic and shallots. Once the food has released a nice fragrance and is slightly cooked, you then add the soup and let it boil.

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We got some ala carte items – pork balls, octopi, enoki mushrooms, cheese tofu, and giant shrimp. They are currently running a promotion, whereby if you like their Facebook page, each shrimp set of 3 costs just RM9.90. Everything is fresh and tasty, and they aren’t stingy with portions either.

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My tonkotsu soup base was the bomb – C and I ended up finishing almost all of the soup.  It was savoury, rich and lipsmacking-ly good! Her Taiwanese Spicy wasn’t bad either, but I think it’s more suitable for those who like that Sichuan mala /chilli oil taste. We also ordered a tempura (it was translated to Tian Bu La and I was like what on earth) which C wasn’t impressed with but I secretly liked lol.

Our meal for two came up to about RM100, with drinks. We ordered some extras, but I think the price is still reasonable given the portions and taste. In fact, I’m headed back there again this weekend with another group of friends!

MK HOTPOT (SRI PETALING) – Non-halal 

11-2 Jalan Radin Bagus 6, Bandar Baru Sri Petaling, Sri Petaling, 57000 Kuala Lumpur
Phone: 018-262 8332
Opening hours: 12PM – 11PM (closed Mondays)
PS: This is not a paid review. Views here are entirely my own.