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.
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.
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).
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.)
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.
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.
*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!
Malaysia has 13 states and 2 Federal Territories, each with its own unique cuisine. Some are better known than others: Penang for its assam laksa and char kuey teow, Negeri Sembilan for its Minang cuisine, Sarawak for its mee kolok, and Kuala Lumpur for its Kari Laksa. But despite being one of the country’s economic hubs and the gateway to Malaysia, Selangor food is often overlooked – which is a shame, as the state is home to a slew of gastronomical delights, drawn from the multicultural background of its inhabitants. The recipes for some of these dishes have been handed down through the centuries and perfected in modern times.
Whether you’re a native Selangor-ian or just visiting, here are five authentic Selangor dishes to indulge in for your next gastronomic adventure!
Pecal is a common appetiser that can be found just about anywhere in Selangor. A traditional Javanese salad of sorts, it consists of vegetables topped with a mouth-watering peanut sauce that can also be served with Ketupat or Lontong (rice cubes). Pecal is easy to make, so you can try your hand at making it at home! Key ingredients include peanuts / groundnuts for the kuah (gravy), tofu, bean sprouts, long beans and cucumber.
Nasi Ambeng is made for sharing, as it is usually served on a platter for four to five people. It comes with side dishes such as chicken, fried noodles, long beans and sambal tempe accompanied by white rice. The dish is a common sight at festivals or large gatherings (kenduri).
Another Selangor dish with Javanese roots is Sambal Taun or Sambal Tahun, which was brought over by early Javanese settlers. A copious amount of chilli is used to make sambal taun. Cow skin is often used as the main protein, but clams, cow lungs and anchovies can also be used, according to one’s preference. Other ingredients needed to complete the dish are red onions, garlic, shrimp paste, coconut milk, oil, tamarind paste and a pinch of salt and sugar.
In the tongue of the Banjar people (who are originally from South Kalimantan in Indonesia), ‘Wadai’ means ‘Kuih’, while ‘Kipeng’ means pieces. Back in the day, the Banjar community traditionally served Wadai Kipeng as part of their Thanksgiving ceremony. This porridge-like dessert is made from glutinous rice flour, coconut, palm sugar, granulated sugar and pandan leaves – the perfect sweet ending to any meal.
An all-time favourite snack, Bahulu Kemboja can be served for breakfast or tea. To maintain the moisture of the kuih, original pandan essence straight from the leaves has to be used, along with wheat flour, rice flour, coconut milk, eggs, sugar and salt, as well as a dash of sesame seeds as toppings.
For more interesting tidbits and tales about Selangor, visit www.selangor.travel.
When visiting the National Museum of Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur, most people make a beeline for the grand main building – a three-storey structure with various galleries within chronicling the history of Malaysia from Palaeolithic times up until the modern era.
Next to it, however, is a smaller, humble-looking building that can be easy to miss – which houses the Orang Asli Crafts Museum, aka Muzium Seni Kraf Orang Asli. Displays are limited but they offer an interesting insight into the often overlooked Orang Asli community in Malaysia.
The Orang Asli (literally ‘aborigines’ or the ‘original people’) are natives of Peninsular Malaysia who pre-date the arrival of the Malays. Numbering around 150 – 200, 000, they form around 0.7% of the population.
Despite being the true natives of the land, many of them live below the poverty line, with their rights often trampled upon (especially in regards to land ownership, as many Orang Asli live off the land) and their access to modern facilities such as healthcare and education are limited. There are three distinct groups: the Negrito, Senoi and Proto-Malay, further divided into 18 ethnic tribes, each with their own language, culture, traditions and practices. Most still live in or close to forests, and practice animism. Some of these tribes include the Mah Meri, Jakun, Temuan, Temiar, Seletar, Bateq and Semai, among others.
Most of the items on display at the Museum are masks and carvings from the Mah Meri and Jah Hut tribes. The Mah Meri of Selangor are among the most well known Orang Asli tribes. They live close to the coast and make a living as fishermen, although in recent years, tourism has also become an important source of livelihood. They are extremely skilled at woodcarving, hence the masks which are used in rituals and ancestor worship. Ancestor Day, a massive celebration that honours the tribe’s ancestral spirits, is a spectacle to behold, attracting tourists from all over the world to Pulau Carey, where most of the tribe are concentrated at.
Typically carved from Pulai wood which is soft and pliable, Mah Meri masks are a representation of their ancestor spirits, called Moyang. Some are based on animal figures as well, such as Siamang (monkey – far left), and cow (top row, far left). The masks are named after the Moyang Spirits, such as Moyang Bojos, Moyang Hapok and Moyang Belangkas, which the Mah Meri believe are imbued with extraordinary powers.
Tools used for carving.
Masks are not the only thing unique to the Mah Meri, as they also have statues that represent the spirits. (Above) Spirit of Mother and Baby, carved from Angsana wood, depicting a mother carrying a suckling babe.
Another wood carving of a tiger spirit in chains.
Aside from Mah Meri carvings, visitors will also find many Jah Hut wood carvings on display. The Jah Hut live in the highlands of Pahang, with the name ‘Jah Hut’ meaning ‘different people’ in their language. They live in or near forests with agriculture as their main income, as well as hunting and gathering the bounty of nature. Pahang is home to lush and dense rainforests, and the Jah Hut, like many Orang Asli, have a strong connection to spiritualism and the land. Their carvings are representation of beings from their beliefs and mythology.
(Above) Spirits of Genting, Batu Hulu and Sawan.
The carvings are actually a little frightening to look at, almost demonic.
I believe that there exists a realm beyond our own, which is why you should never disrespect anything while you’re hiking in a jungle (in Malaysia, we believe in ‘makhluk halus’ and ‘penunggu‘, ie spirits). Having to live off the jungle, I’m sure the Jah Hut know more of these things than we city folk do, and who is to say that these representations are not real?
Another room in the museum houses displays on traditional clothes, arts and crafts, tools and burial ritual items.
Pensol or nose flute, a traditional musical instrument
Some Orang Asli tribes, such as the Jah Hut, build wooden tombs for their departed, while others place the body in bamboo or a simple wooden coffin.
Many tribes are also known for their weaving skills, such as the Temuan and Temiar. In recent years, NGOs such as Gerai Orang Asli have helped to promote these handmade crafts to the public, where they have amassed a loyal following – thereby providing the women of these communities a way to utilise their skills for income.
Mah Meri clothing, which consists of a tree bark shirt and palm leave skirt, as well as additional garments and accessories that are intricately plaited. The headdress worn by both the men and womenfolk resemble long dreadlocks.
A life-sized carving of Penjaga Gunung Tahan or the Guardian of Mount Tahan. Tall and long limbed, the guardian is shown as having long protruding fangs and holding a stick, with a loincloth and a container slung around the waist. A scary apparition to bump into if you’re out hunting, to say the least.
While the Orang Asli Crafts Museum is not large by any standards, the displays are certainly interesting, offering a fascinating insight into one of Malaysia’s smallest but oldest communities. The Orang Asli have been here for thousands of years, way before any of the great civilisations came to be, and their knowledge of the land and seas have been handed down the ages. Their language and culture is slowly being eroded in modern times – which is all the more reason to educate the public on the importance of preserving them.
That being said, I think there are a couple of things that the museum can improve on to make visitor experience better:
- Update the data and stats on display, which are a little outdated.
- Improve the information billboards, especially the portions in English. The explanations were rife with odd syntax and grammatical errors, which is unseemly for a national museum.
How To Get There
The Orang Asli Crafts Museum is located within the grounds of the National Museum complex. From KL Sentral, KL’s main transportation hub, there is a 240-metre covered walkway to the museum grounds. Alternatively, take an MRT and alight at the Muzium Negara station.
MUZIUM SENI KRAF ORANG ASLI (ORANG ASLI CRAFTS MUSEUM)
Jabatan Muzium Malaysia, Jalan Damansara, 50566 Kuala Lumpur
Opening hours: 9AM – 6PM
*Tickets cost RM2 (USD 0.50)
Hey guys! Hope you had a great Lunar New Year!
One of my good friends had her wedding ceremony recently – and I was honoured to be one of her bridesmaids! It was my first time, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Not only was it a happy occasion, but I also learned a lot of fascinating things about Malaysian Chinese wedding culture.
Hold up, you ask. Am I not Malaysian Chinese?
The short answer is yes. The long answer is that I am a third culture kid, so I’m quite out of touch with my own roots. (My Indian ex-colleague, who was also there as a bridesmaid, said she felt like she was attending it with a non-Chinese friend lmao.)
But I digress.
If you’ve always wondered how a Malaysian Chinese wedding is like, read on!
MORNING – THE TEA CEREMONY
Weddings are usually a whole-day affair, starting with a tea ceremony in the morning. Chinese society is patriarchal, so a woman ‘belongs’ to the husband’s family once she is married – the reason why sons are more prized than daughters. (It’s BS but we shall not get into an argument about the patriarchy here, lol). As such, the groom goes to the bride’s house to take her home with him.
Prior to the wedding date, the couple would have consulted a monk / master at the temple to determine the most auspicious day / time for this to happen. In Helen’s case, we had to be there early as Hong had to leave the house by 8AM.
The bride looking resplendent in a traditional ‘kua‘.
Unlike the cheongsam, which is form fitting, the kua is modest, and is often elaborately embroidered with motifs such as flowers, dragons and clouds in gold and white.
Aside from my ex-colleague and I, Helen’s best friend Mui, her cousin and 2nd sister (not in the picture) acted as bridesmaids. The shirt says ‘Jie Mei’, literally, ‘sisters’.
Helen had arranged for a dai kum (chaperone) to help manage proceedings. A Dai Kum’s role is akin to an emcee – she will ensure that rituals are done accordingly, all the while announcing good tidings and wishes to the new bride and groom.
The dai kum arrived ahead of Hong’s entourage with a basket of gifts for the bride’s family – 10 mandarin oranges (to represent completeness; from the saying “10 chuen 10 mei” meaning perfection), cakes, sticky niangao (wishing for the couple to stay sweet and ‘sticky’) and peanuts.
Veiling of the bride by her elders. The veil may not be removed by anyone other than the husband-to-be, after which they are considered man and bride.
So what were we doing as the bridesmaids? Well, the groom had an entourage of ‘brothers’ – our job was to rag them with door games, of course! Traditionally, the bridesmaids act as doorkeepers, because no way the groom is able to waltz in so easily and claim the bride. The door games involved the brothers doing silly tasks, and the groom had to fork out red packets filled with money to demonstrate his sincerity. It was all in good fun though!
Some of the games we played:
- asking them to apply makeup on one of their members until the sisters were satisfied.
- having them fill up a cardboard heart with lipstick marks
- eating bitter-gourds and chasing them down with Coke
- the groom had to read a love declaration outside the bride’s door (eg: I promise to feed the baby, clean, cook and provide for the household expenses on time)
When the groom was finally ‘allowed’ into the room, the bride was there waiting for him. She looked very demure in her dress and veil. Hong got down on one knee with a bouquet of flowers, and asked Helen to receive him. After she accepted the flowers, he lifted the veil, kissed her and slipped on new red shoes for her. Shoes are a homonym for ‘harmony’, hence auspicious tidings.
Helen and Hong, with Helen’s sister and brother-in-law.
After all the shouting and screaming from the games, things finally settled down for the tea ceremony. The bride and groom first served tea to the elders according to rank, whereby they received red packets and jewellery for the bride. The younger cousins then served tea to the newlyweds, and received red packets in return.
Around 10.30AM, it was time to bring the bride to the groom’s place. From the time they left to the time they arrived at the groom’s house, the couple had to be shielded by a red umbrella for good luck.
The couple’s vehicle door can only be opened by a younger, unmarried male relative, in exchange for a red packet. The groom and bride cannot open the door on their own.
Prayer paraphernalia at Hong’s house. The tea ceremony was essentially the same as the one at Helen’s place, minus the ragging.
Some parts of the ceremony were changed to fit modern times. For example, the visit to Hong’s house was ‘symbolic’ – it was actually his parents’ house, since Helen and Hong already have their own house. We drove to their house for a buffet lunch, and also to visit the bridal chamber.
The bridal bed should be new and have new bedsheets; preferably red.
In the evening, the couple hosted a Chinese-style banquet at Hee Lai Ton in Pudu, Kuala Lumpur. The concept is more akin to Western-style wedding ceremonies, with a sit-down dinner and different courses of dishes being served throughout the night. There were print outs of the couple’s wedding photos, which guests could take back as souvenirs, as well as a banner that they could sign.
The couple was busy throughout the night entertaining the many guests, so we didn’t see them much. Good thing we managed to squeeze in a few photos!
The food at Hee Lai Ton was surprisingly good – we started off with a cold platter of appetisers comprising marinated baby octopus, fried fish cakes with salted egg, and there was also steamed fish and a bomb Iberico pork ribs platter.
The three-tiered wedding cake and champagne tower.
Halfway through the dinner, after the bride had a change of gowns, the couple was invited onto the stage for the cake-cutting ceremony and popping of champagne. Everyone then stood up for a toast (or three) – led by one rep from the groom’s side, one rep from the bride’s side, and finally the groom himself. You might have heard of the classic call ‘Yam Seng‘ – which is Cantonese for Cheers.
Three cheers for the newlyweds!
We didn’t stay for dessert as I had a 7AM flight to catch the next day – but even though it was a tiring day jam packed with activities, it was all in good fun.
Here’s a simple video:
It’s that time of the year again!
I’m talking, of course, about the Mid-Autumn Festival, which sees hotels, confectionaries and even cafes pulling out all the stops with their mooncakes.
Among them is Hilton Petaling Jaya’s Toh Yuen Chinese restaurant, which recently launched its Jade Rabbit series – inspired by the character from Chinese folklore who lives on the moon and prepares elixirs of life for Chang’E, the moon goddess. The offerings include various flavours of mooncakes and snowskin mooncakes, and come in pretty boxes decorated with images of rabbits.
Aside from the baked classics such as white lotus paste, red bean paste, black sesame paste and mixed five nuts, Toh Yuen has also put a modern spin into its snow skin offerings, with flavours such as Blueberry Cheese, Pomegranate Raisin, Tiramisu Treasures, Chocolate Walnut Indulgence and Durian Delights. Durian lovers will definitely want to indulge in the latter, which tastes like real durian rather than flavouring, and even has bits of the fruit embedded within.
Another must-try is the Blueberry Cheese, which has a mild, subtle cheesy flavour in the centre, as well as the Pomegranate Raisin, which is tangy and fruity. The best part is that they’re not too sweet!
You can get the mooncakes ala carte for RM30+ each, purchase a premium Jade Rabbit Series gift box of four pieces for RM118 nett, or two pieces for RM68 nett. The oriental Standard Box of four and the Oriental Bloom Premium Box of four are RM78 nett and RM88 nett respectively.
Mooncakes aren’t all you can have at Toh Yuen, as they are also having a Mid-Autumn Afternoon High Tea promotion, where you’ll get to enjoy mooncakes as well as several other dishes.
For our media tasting session, we were treated to plump parcels of har kau, perfectly pleated with chewy, slightly translucent skins enveloping juicy shrimps within. The chicken siumai was excellent as well, topped with delicate fish roe that just explodes in the mouth.
A more substantial dish would be Chef’s handmade La Mien, which comes topped with deep fried chicken cutlet and bokchoy. Tossed in a light sauce, the noodles have just the right amount of al dente.
The high tea is available until 22 September 2019. For reservations, call +603 7955 9122 or email PETHI_FB@hilton.com.
All of the traditionally baked and snow skin goodies are also available for purchase at the pop-up store in Hilton Petaling Jaya’s lobby or Toh Yuen Restaurant (Level 1) from until 13 September 2019 as well as from One Utama Shopping Centre (29 August – 13 September 2019).
With the Mid-Autumn Festival just two months away, some hotels and brands are already rolling out their mooncakes. Fans of Hilton Kuala Lumpur‘s mooncakes will recall their unique collection of mooncake boxes last year, which were designed in collaboration with Khoon Hooi (they were absolutely gorg, by the way).
This year, the hotel has teamed up with Malaysian shoe designer Christy Ng for their Tropical Allure series – a beautiful mooncake box that looks great on its own as a statement piece.
Available in two colours – Crimson Red and Royal Purple – the rounded faux leather bag features hibiscus prints paired with gilded zippers and trimming. Aside from hand-carry, the bag can also be converted into a crossbody bag by attaching a handbag strap (sold separately for RM20). Each box comes with four pieces of Chef’s choices’ baked mooncakes at RM168. The Snow Skin Package retails for RM178, with any choice of four pieces of snow skin mooncakes. If you just want the bag and not the mooncakes, its RM148.
Classy and elegant!
The Hibiscus print also matches the hotel’s signature snowskin mooncake – the Chynna Rose (after China Rose, another name for the hibiscus flower, with ‘Chyna’ being the name of the hotel’s Chinese restaurant).
The Chynna Rose features lusciously smooth lotus paste infused with ginseng, tart hibiscus jam and crispy almond nibs, all encased within a subtle lavender-hued snow skin.
I’ve never been a big fan of mooncakes because of how sweet they are (you tend to feel queasy after a few bites), but the Chynna Rose is not overly sweet, and the tartness of the jam is rather refreshing.
Hilton KL chefs demonstrating how they create their signature snow skin mooncakes during the launch of the series.
The wooden molds that are used to get perfectly shaped mooncakes. The chef explained that traditionally you’re supposed to knock three times to get the mooncake out of the mold, but I can’t remember why lol.
Aside from Chynna Rose, you can also opt for the hotel’s other renowned snow-skin flavours, such as the Heavenly Gold (Snow Skin with Pure Premium Musang King Durian – RM56), Blue Moon (Snow Skin Amaretto Lotus Paste with Blueberry Cheese Feuillantine – RM35) and Flower Drum (Snow Skin Lotus Paste with Soft Custard Egg Yolk – RM35).
For those who prefer the classics, there is Baked White Lotus Paste (RM35), Baked Pandan Paste with Single Yolk (RM35), Baked Red Bean Paste with Almond Flakes (RM35) and Traditional-style with Five Nuts Mix (RM38).
(From left) Hilton Regional General Manager Jamie Mead, model, designer Christy Ng, Director of Business Development Alex Cotterill and Director of Marketing and Comms Eugene Oelofse.
The Tropical Allure series is available for purchase at the pop-up store in Hilton Kuala Lumpur’s lobby until 13 September 2019, as well as at major shopping malls such as Pavilion Kuala Lumpur (23 August – 12 September 2019), Mid Valley Megamall (22 August – 13 September 2019) and One Utama Shopping Centre (29 August – 12 Sepetember 2019). Alternatively, order online at takehome.hiltonkl.com, call +60322642006 or email email@example.com.
*Photos not watermarked courtesy of Hilton Kuala Lumpur.
Nin 30 Man or Reunion Dinner night on the eve of the Lunar New Year is one of the most important occasions for Chinese families, where family members travel back to their respective hometowns and gather for a feast. For many of us who work in cities, it is perhaps one of the rare times that we see all our relatives under one roof….Although in recent years, since my grandparents’ passing, it has become rather quiet. Some cousins drop by for short visits, while others prefer going overseas for holidays. This year was a very subdued affair, since the only people in the house were my elderly aunts. My brother and I were the only ‘young’ ones lol.
Before the dinner, my third Aunt (Sar Kor) will cook some dishes to be presented to the Gods and my ancestors at the altar. Then we ‘invite’ them to join the dinner later at night. Traditionally, people used Xing Bui, a pair of cups, to indicate if your invitation has been accepted. The cups are thrown onto the floor and one should face up and the other down, an affirmative sign. Otherwise, we keep trying until we get the desired result.
In my family, we use coins instead of cups. The coins have been handed down for generations and look really old. Out of curiosity, I took a better look at them and found out that one dated back to 1896 (!!!!)
Burning paper ‘money’ for the ancestors.
Dinner time! A must-have dish during CNY is Yee Sang, a salad-like mix of shredded vegetables, pomelo, onions, condiments and crunchy snacks poured over with plum or fish sauce. The tradition is to toss the yee sang while saying some well wishes out loud, to bring joy and luck into the new year.
Aside from the Yee Sang, everything else was home made by my aunts 🙂 The poached chicken was done perfectly: tender and juicy, the meat’s flavour was brought out when dipped into a hint of soy sauce.
Shrimp is another dish that is good to have in the new year, because its read as ‘ha’, which sounds like laughter. My aunts cooked them with curry leaves for a fragrant aroma and flavour.
Roast pork belly was salty goodness, with a crisp and crunchy skin. Think of it as Chinese-lechon. 😀
It was also my dad’s/Second uncle’s birthday, so we got them a carrot cake. 🙂
How was your CNY reunion dinner? Hope you had a good one!
One of the great things about visiting relatives in Ipoh ? Glorious food. My third aunt, whom I call Sar Kor, is a great chef, and probably the only aunt among my dad’s many sisters to have inherited my late grandmother’s cooking chops. The cuisine is a mix of Hokkien (my great grandparents came to then-Malaya from Fujian province on junk boats in the late 19th century) and Peranakan (Straits Chinese) influences, as my Ah Ma learnt her dishes from a Peranakan neighbour. Simple but hearty comfort food.
A typical home-cooked meal would look like the one above. Blanched vegetables in soy sauce are a must-have for every meal (gotta get them greens in!), while steamed chicken is more of a Hainanese/Cantonese thing (aunt does it really well though. Moist, tender and great when dipped in soy sauce) – but there are also distinctly Hokkien/Peranakan dishes. Sambal petai (stinkbeans in spicy shrimp paste) delivers a hot kick that is addictive with rice, so its worth it to have bad breath for a few hours. Then you have braised pork belly with herbal egg in dark soy sauce, which is kind of like the adobo of the Hokkien world. The way Sar Kor makes it, the belly is so soft and tender with the right amount of lean and fat that it just melts onto your tongue. To wash it all down, a warm hearty bowl of sweet carrot and corn soup with pork.
We’ve been suggesting to her to do one of those home-kitchen thingies (what do you call them, underground kitchens?) where, say, a group of 10 guests come to your home to enjoy excellent home-cooked food. Concepts like these have been picking up lately and you can find homekitchens offering local, Sri Lankan or even Korean fare. We don’t know if she’ll take up the idea, but it would be great if she did, don’t you think? 🙂