Greetings from Singapore! It's my last night here, so I thought I'd post something up. I will definitely be back to visit your blogs and catch up on all that I've missed, although I do wonder if I might have to sleep for ten days in the UK to recuperate from the busy-ness over here! It's been a full-on but enjoyable time, and betcha you're missing the food over here on Devilishly Pleasurable ;)
As you may know, it's now Chinese New Year, or Spring Festival, traditionally celebrated to usher in the spring season as well as to mark a new year in the Chinese calendar. This calendar follows the Zodiac, with a cycle of twelve years. Each animal represents a year, and I'm a Tiger. That was last year, however. This year is the year of the Rabbit. That morning, I woke up and helped with some spring cleaning (for a change), and went to meet my good friend K to catch up on ten months' worth of news on each others' side. She had just finished work, and I saw a pretty girl in a beautiful dress lugging a cardboard rabbit. . . Following which we proceeded to hunt for a place to eat in the crowded mall, and finally settled at Haagen Daaz, partly because they had seats. And my, were the icecreams fabulous! I used to get vouchers off my mother and lug some friend off to HD so we could pig out to our hearts' content. HD has become so expensive over the years, it is best afforded only with vouchers and special deals.
I've also been wearing my mother's clothes to my hearts' content (whilst buying her more of course ;) ). . somehow I just love what she has, even though she thinks I am a bit crazy for wearing them with great relish. . I remember her wearing this beautiful flowy red dress when she was pregnant with my brother, but it is too gorgeous to pass up ;)
I got the house ready for guests as well. Chinese New Year lasts for fifteen days, although only two days are designated public holidays. This year, however, coincided with a long weekend. There is the tradition of home visiting or 拜年 in Singapore, originating somewhere in the 18th Century when the head of a Gentlemen's Club had his birthday coincide with Chinese New Year. As a result, people from all over the island would come and pay their respects, and thus the practice spread over the years. Families buy goodies and lay them out on the tables. These include awesome pineapple tarts of different varieties, jars of roasted nuts, tins of loveletters (a wafer-like pastry rolled into long cylinders), and a host of other delightful treats that sweeten the deal for the young and the old alike. Of course, modern additions such as boxes of truffles, 'mochi', and newfangled creations like 'chocolate cereal cookies' have been incorporated. I have vivid memories of how my grandmother used to squat for hours on end fanning a charcoal stove whilst baking kueh bolu, loveletters, and make kueh lapis in the corridor area outside the flat where I grew up in. During Chinese New Year when I visited her house, trays of goodies and preserved condiments would be on the table, whilst pussy willows leaned softly from tall vases. Then I would sit down and sip the cheng tng she had painstakingly prepared and brewed for at least a day, eating the agar jelly she made, and the ngo hiang which she prepared from scratch. Going over to her home for Chinese New Year lunch on the first day after mass was awesome, and I'd tuck in to a large spread of food on the table-- perhaps about 17 different plates of dishes were presented for one to eat to one's heart's content. And of course, there is the famous bak kwa or sweet barbecued pork that you can find in almost every house. So yes, it was awesome just to prepare the home for guest visits, whilst alternating with our own trips to others' homes. As you might guess, I love having people around, helping to cook and hosting good company.
Succulent Mandarin oranges are given in pairs to the homes that you visit, and you get another pair in exchange.
The Eve of Chinese New Year is known as Reunion Dinner night. Family members come together for dinner, and those residing overseas fly back if possible. Perhaps the concept of CNY has lost its appeal with Generations X and Y who choose to fly away instead to avoid the crowd or 'nosey aunties asking when you will get married' but I still love the warmth and festivities. To me, it is a time to get together, a time to celebrate bonds and the people you love. And hey, you can always avoid those you dislike ;)
Reunion Dinners can be held at restaurants or at home. A common practice is steamboat-- a large pot of bubbling soup with a free-flow of meats and vegetables to immerse in it. Perfect for the cold winter days too, actually. Otherwise, cooking at home is a great idea too. I used to spend my Reunion Dinners steamboating with the paternal side, but after the death of my paternal grandmother, this stopped. Large families are difficult to gather together, and in that side of that family, I am already a grand-aunt! Reunion Dinners at my maternal grandmother's (she brought me up) followed, but she passed away in 2007. My parents invite my uncles and aunty over these days, and we all help to cook. As you can imagine with the spread of food always on this site, food is in my blood. My father cooks extremely well, and so does my mother. In fact, my younger brother demonstrated a proclivity at it as a very young child (a pity he doesn't bake anymore at 19!). Likewise, my maternal uncles have their own specialty in cooking. . Sunday lunches over at their home with their generous use of ingredients make me drool. This year for Reunion Dinner, we had a seven-course meal-- oh so decadent and amazing. And heartwarmingly home-prepared. There were so much leftovers we had them for days, whilst concocting new creations with them. Shown above is clear soup brewed for hours. In it is fish maw, abalone, mushrooms, cabbage, chicken and prawns, topped with Chinese parsley-- a most extravagant soup!
Then there were the large prawns which I happily polished off, giant pork ribs, and a ginormous 1.25-kg white promfet steamed with shitake mushrooms, ginger, garlic and sour plums. There was also roasted chicken and duck, which I ate with great relish. . and my father thinks I'm crazy for taking photos of all the food, to which I just smiled and nodded, acknowledging my insanity and telling him I love to look at these photos when I'm craving them in the UK. Although it is just part of the story. . these are lovely memories to keep, and with the ease of digital cameras, let's snap to our hearts delight! But I digress. On the top right is South East Asian-style chicken curry with chunks of potatoes and of course, chicken. My youngest uncle takes about 6 hours to make it, loaded with loads of bua kalak, yellow ginger, chilli padi, curry powder and all sorts of other spices. This extravagance, however, is not commonplace nor an everyday affair (even if D cooks loads for me). Historically, chicken and duck were a yearly luxury for peasants in China-- the proliferation of meats as easily-accessible everyday items partly account for weight gains across the years. And so it is only with such celebrations that we indulge in such excess. Of course, without wasting anything :)
And here I leave you with a photo of the gorgeous Ms K who seemed to be doing a Yes Sir, No Sir, Three Bags Full salutation at the time of the photo taking, only for me to realise she looks like a Fortune Cat who is supposed to usher in loads of money. Chinese love to say 'Huat ar!' during Chinese New Year, meaning prosper (money!). Then a friend pointed out that it's the wrong hand that she's raising, but this hand brings luck. So I wish you all loads of luck this year of the Rabbit. . and promise to stop by and say hello. . and reply to all your comments! Thank you for your continued presence here :)