Chinese New Year : Home is where the Best Feasts are

I am back! Just a long weekend off for my favourite celebration of the year, I felt as if I have left for an entire year! There was so much to catch up on, I felt as if I had an overrun marathon for the whole week that left me breathless.

Although I had eaten so much within that long weekend regardless that I had forewarned myself, I can vividly remember all the wonderful feasts. Few of them was taken outside in restaurants as we do not want to tire our dear grandmothers and mothers, but those few home made feasts was what I treasured most.

On my Ah Ma side, it had been many years since she cooked a feast for our Chinese New Year as all her children want her to rest and relax, while on my Pho Pho side, it would be the usual feast of my favourite dishes such as jiu hu char, which had me standing by the side of the bowl, nearly finishing off by wrapping it in fresh raw lettuce and popping it into my mouth again and again, ah bliss, and also the must have heart-attacking duck soup, I swear that it is more of duck ‘oil’, but nonetheless irresistible! These home cooked feasts will have me gobbling up as if there were no tomorrow while I just nibble on the restaurant food, which once I got so sick off I cheated my way out of dinner by saying I wanted to visit my Lai Ma (Nanny), which I did of course but with no food.

Speaking bout my Lai Ma, she is another wonder woman in kitchen, apart from being a wonder woman of raising kids, which would be another whole story I will share soon. Last year, when I got real lucky, she had me sit down and feasted on her food during my visit. At that time I was already full from lunch at Pho Pho’s but staring at her version of Chinese New Year home feasting; I could not resist and proceeded to have second lunch of the day! I cursed myself for eating too much beforehand while continued on feasting anyway. So this year, with the reminiscence of the wonderful feast I had with the tastes still vividly at the tip of my tongue, I smarted my way out from a lunch out with my relatives in a restaurant and ‘visited’ my Lai Ma on Chor Yat (first day of Chinese New Year) itself. Beside the fact that I was really yearning to see both my Lai Ma and Lai Pa (her husband) after a long time, I was also secretly yearning for her special dishes.

When I got there, many people were there visiting already, including U and her brother which grew up with me together under my Lai Ma’s care. I waited patiently while enjoying their company and once they leave, I casually asked if there is lunch. My Lai Ma was extremely surprised “What! You haven’t had your lunch? Why didn’t you say so just now?” Glancing at the clock which was showing only near to 3pm, it wasn’t that late from lunch but from my Lai Ma’s reaction, just like how a typical Chinese would react, it would had seemed like I had been starving for years. Quickly, she had me get the rice while she got me a big bowl of ham choy thong (salted vegetable soup). I stared at the spread in front of me and proceeded to enjoy the feast, this time with lots of room in my tham jiak stomach to fit in.

Stir Fry Ngaku / Chai Buey / Steam Chicken / Char Mangkuang@ Chinese New Year
Stir Fry Ngaku / Chai Buey / Steam Chicken / Char Mangkuang@ Chinese New Year

The ham choy thong is how I always remembered it would be, as she cooks it quite frequently, salty, slightly spicy and sourish, which serves real well as an appetizer. Then there was the must-have steamed chicken, eaten with her homemade green chili sauce. Another meat dish is the lor bak (deep fried marinated minced pork rolled in thin soybean sheets) which was home made by my Lai Ma’s sister was really good too. The chunky minced pork was really juicy and fragrant while the soybean sheets were perfectly crunchy. My Lai Ma made pickled cucumber to eat with it, which surprisingly pairs really well together and to me, it was better than the usual Loh sauce (dark sauce thicken with corn starch, usually served at the hawker stalls).

Lor Bak @ Chinese New Year
Lor Bak @ Chinese New Year

Then next is my favourite chow mangkuang (stir fried sliced yam bean) which tastes like my Ah Ma’s Cantonese version with added cuttlefish strips. This dish has similarity to my Pho Pho’s Hakka darker and much more sinful version, which is to be eaten best wrapped in fresh lettuces.

Finally, it was the star dish of the day, which was the first that came to my mind when I was reminiscing about her dishes of last year. It is the stir fried ngaku (arrowhead/arrowroots) with nam yue (fermented red beancurd) that despite looking weird with its pinkish hue, it was a real delight to the palate. Slight sweet yet salty and with just hints of nam yue (many people find this an acquired taste, but trust me it is just a slight complement here). This dish is also a darling to eat wrapped in fresh lettuce, but first slathered generously with tim cheong (sweet sauce). I once asked where to get the tim cheong and my Lai Ma said “Aiya, make it yourself. Very easy! Put this this and that that together, and ta-da – you got your ultimate tim cheong”. Sorry though I cannot remember those ‘easy’ steps, aih, they all make it sound so easy, time for me to buck up! I must start cooking and making more Chinese cuisines. This is definitely one better way to enjoy ngaku apart from the usual addictive fried ngaku crisps which are widely available (both homemade or store bought) at this time of the year.

Stir Fry Ngaku@ Chinese New Year
Stir Fry Ngaku@ Chinese New Year

I ate with such gluttony and tham jiak-ness that halfway through my feasting, Lai Pa took second helpings of rice and joined me together at the table. Now the real family feast has begun!

Chinese New Year : Too Much of Good Things

Been back to my home town as I said I would, where every year relatives from near and far try their best to return because of both my grandmothers, Ah Ma and Pho Pho. Just for the reunion day itself, I had already indulged in so much food, here is just a glimpse of some of them that I managed to captured:

Chinese Feast @ Chinese Recreation Club, Taiping, Malaysia
Chinese Feast @ Chinese Recreation Club, Taiping, Malaysia

Yes, and that is just for PRE-Chinese new year. I wonder if my tham jiak tummy can take more to come. Anyhow, this is one case where too much of good things is still good, great even!

I wish you all Happy Chinese New Year新年快樂. Till we meet again after all the feastings and gamblings!

Dongzhi in Malaysia

Tong Yuen @ Dongzhi, Malaysia
Tong Yuen @ Dongzhi, Malaysia

So it is end of the year again. December always seem to be the special month of the year, something like a black sheep of the family. Technically it is no different of any other month in the year, but somehow it is special. To some it would mean Christmas but to the Chinese it would mean Dongzhi Festival, for the school goers it would mean holiday and for many others it would just mean the end of year, the time to reflect, to pay gratitude and settle personal debts if there are.

As a Malaysian Chinese, even though I have never been to my origin of country before, China, where my grandparents and great-grandparents came from, I was like the rest here who had never forgetten their culture. We are still tied very much to our roots, calling ourselves Chinese, proudly claiming which clan we are from – Hokkien, Cantonese, Hakka, Teo Chew, and Hainan and so on. It is so natural, where one Chinese would ask another their surname (to judge) or just asking straight out which clan they are from.

So even though we have long (or always) been living in Malaysia, and even with the ever predictable weather of either rain or shine, we still carried on the tradition of celebrating Dongzhi (Winter Solstice) Festival, where in Cantonese we call it Kor Tong, loosely translated as ‘passing through the winter’. So in order to kor tong, the tradition is to eat Tong Yuen (glutinous rice dumplings), along with various hot sweet soup, my Ah Ma usually make the sweet ginger soup version. It seems that we like to celebrate with glutinous rice, reminded me of my Bak Chang for Duan Wu festival.

As I said before, after coming up to KL, away from family, I seldom have the chance to enjoy all these festivals anymore, what more to have the chance to eat Ah Ma’s tong yuen. I wish I would have the chance to once again make these with her, rolling of colorful balls, making them round this time. Fortunately though, I had a chance to eat home made tong yuen this ‘winter’ as J’s mum made some for the family. J and I only had it today, late from the real date because we had been away for a weekend escapade with friends (food adventure to follow soon). I was so happy when I found that J’s mum had made the sweet ginger soup version, this one sweeten with my favourite gula Melaka. J’s mum made small plain tong yuen in pinks and also big white ones with crushed peanuts filling. It was absolutely delicious! So I guess now I have officially kor tong, what bout you?

Tong Yuen @ Dongzhi, Malaysia
Tong Yuen @ Dongzhi, Malaysia

By the way to everyone who is celebrating, Merry Christmas, and to the Chinese of the world, Happy Dongzhi and I wish you all abundant with family and friends reunions.

Chinese New Year Food in Malaysia

Back from missing in action. Chinese New Year had been a blast this year. As usual, I will be back in my hometown, Taiping and celebrated with family and friends.

As I am getting back on track from my holiday mood to my working routine, time is slipping away pretty quickly. As for now, I’m leaving you guys with pictures of the wonderful tummy-filled CNY celebration that I had. Enjoy!

Pho Pho Stir-frying vegetables
Pho Pho Stir-frying vegetables

Pho Pho (mum’s mother) shredding the pre-soaked black fungus

Nyonya Loh Hon Chai (Fried Mixed Vegetables)
Nyonya Loh Hon Chai (Fried Mixed Vegetables)

Loh Hon Chai (Fried Mixed Vegetables)

Jiu Hu Char (Stir fried shredded Cuttlefish with Yam Bean)
Jiu Hu Char (Stir fried shredded Cuttlefish with Yam Bean)

My absolute all time favourite Jiu Hu Char (Stir fried shredded Cuttlefish with Yam Bean)

Stir Fried Mix Vegetables with Chinese Mushrooms
Stir Fried Mix Vegetables with Chinese Mushrooms

Another Stir Fried Mix Vegetables with Chinese Mushrooms

Fresh Crabs!
Fresh Crabs!

Live crab waiting to be cooked. We Chinese only eat the freshest from the sea.

Chinese Crab in Tomato Sauce
Chinese Crab in Tomato Sauce

Cooked Crab in Tomato Sauce, a little kick from ginger, spring onion and chillies

Steamed Chicken
Steamed Chicken

Steamed chicken, a must have for every Chinese household on reunion

Steamed Chicken
Steamed Chicken

The steamed chicken chopped and served sprinkled with chinese parsley

Pork Tripe Pepper Soup
Pork Tripe Pepper Soup

My aunt chopping the boiled pork tripe from the soup to bite sizes

Steamed Fish
Steamed Fish

Taking out the steamed fish (fresh from the sea too)

Pho Pho
Pho Pho

Pho Pho enjoying the food while waiting for the fish to steam

Homemade Yee Sang
Homemade Yee Sang

Yee Sang – We have it every year over at my mother’s side, whenever we can meet up either the reunion day or Chor Yat/Chor Yee (first/second day of Chinese New Year). This Yee Sang of ours is self made, with the carrots and radishes freshly sliced thinly (no shredding as it will sweat too much) and then Pomelo freshly shred to pieces. The hues of greens and beige stripes are papaya pickles. In the middle is our main ingredient of the dish – abalone slices. The red packets contained Five Spice Powder and crushed peanuts ready to be sprinkled over the Yee Sang later.

Lou Sang!
Lou Sang!

Once ready to serve , crispy dough crackers are scattered all around the dish. Next the spices and peanuts are sprinkled over follow by pouring of plum sauce over it. We would then gear ourselves with chopsticks and then simultaneously toss the Yee Sang all over. As belived, the higher you toss the better. We usually end up with bits and pieces on our hand due to the crazy tossing by everyone.

Lou lou lou!
Lou lou lou!

Then all of proceed to scoop everything out onto our bowls and devour it. We would of course aim for the abalones but at last, we would end up distributing to each other anyway. The Yee Sang definitely tasted good, with fresh ingredients, right plethora of tastes of sweet and sour plus right textures of soft, chewy, crunchy and juicy all together. I looked forward to it every year. If you want to know more about this, Foodcrazee have an extensive information on his own deconstructed Yee Sang.
Overall, a lovely Chinese New Year, with jeans a little tighter, wallet a bit fatter (from all the Ang Pows), heart a little fonder and of course, smile a little wider!