We celebrated Chinese New Year (CNY) with our family reunion dinner on 13 February, the eve of CNY. Mum cooked a number of dishes, but all of us “kids” also brought something along for the meal.
For our contribution, Jac and I made minchee (pork mince and potato cooked with onions, garlic, soy sauce and oyster sauce – see minchee recipe). This is one of my all-time favourite dishes. I’ve loved it ever since I was a kid. Give me some minchee and rice and I don’t need anything else. In fact, just give the minchee and I won’t need anything else! :-P
When we arrived at my parents’ home, my sister Juji and her boyfriend Jay were already there, making the “green noodles” for cendol (pronounced “chen-dole”) which was to be one of the desserts that evening (What’s cendol? See Wikipedia entry on cendol and one of my photos of cendol). Juji had also baked two kinds of cookies that are traditionally made at Chinese New Year. First, peanut cookies. These totally melt in your mouth and it’s always hard to stop at just one. When I was a kid growing up in Malaysia, my two older sisters and I would help our late grandma make these. We would get a little assembly line going and I was thrilled and proud when I was trusted to do the important job of making the dent on the top of each cookie with a wooden chopstick. I remember the first time I did that I was a little over-excited and pushed the chopstick all the way through the cookie! But I redeemed myself with the next ones and the assembly line continued without further incident. Heheheheh. :D
Second, one of my favourites, pineapple jam tarts. Juji made hers “roll style” with the filling wrapped in the pastry rather than “tart-style” with the jam on top of the pastry. What I love most about these is the jam that oozes out at the ends. It caramelises from being baked in the oven and is chewy and sweet and sticks your teeth together when you eat it. Mmmmm. Jac and I couldn’t resist sneaking a taste of the peanut cookies and jam tarts before dinner. All that did was make me hungrier for my dinner! In anticipation of a big meal that evening, all I’d eaten that day was breakfast at around 9am. My tummy was well and truly ready for a feast.
My nieces Ruby (aged 2) and Zoe (almost 1) ate their dinner before the adults. The poor little girls hadn’t been well that week. Both had colds and were sad and cranky – not their usual happy selves, and they didn’t enjoy their dinner as much as they usually do. It’s good that they are still too young to know about and look forward to Chinese New Year, so they didn’t know to be disappointed they were sick at Chinese New Year. I was sick as an adult one CNY with laryngitis which included the most painful sore throat ever – I couldn’t eat anything and was so sad I had to miss out! Ruby didn’t eat much at all, which is very unusual for her. This was her dinner – mini quiche, minchee, cheese, fruit loaf, tomatoes and grapes. Normally, she’d have demolished this and asked for more, but this time she didn’t finish her dinner, a definite sign she wasn’t well (Jac looks out for similar signs with me when she suspects I’m not well).
My sister Juji assembled the yee sang, a Chinese raw fish salad (“yee” means fish and “sang” means raw). Mum gets a yee sang kit which includes packets of dressing, seasoning and all the colourful garnishes, to which you add the grated carrot, radish and fish. Like last year, we had smoked salmon instead of raw fish. Yee sang is supposed to symbolise prosperity, abundance and good health. It’s a dish many Chinese families eat at some point during the Chinese New Year period, which lasts for 15 days.
I don’t actually like yee sang myself (not a big fan of raw fish or smoked salmon), but it does look very pretty.
The fun part of eating yee sang is tossing the salad. Everyone grabs a pair of chopsticks and together we all help toss the salad. The photo below shows the yee sang after it was tossed, just before it was devoured.
More about yee sang
See last year’s Belated Chinese New Year family dinner post for more on yee sang, including a video of yee sang being assembled. Searching for the phrase “yee sang” in Google will also bring up lots of info and images from around the Internet.
My sister CW and her hubby M picked up Chinese roast meats on the way to dinner. There was a big box of tasty tender char siu (Chinese barbecue pork)…
…and delicious roast duck. There was a container of dark, salty duck sauce to pour over the duck to make it even more delicious. I know I’ve mentioned this before, but very time I see a majestic pile of roast duck like this I hear Elaine Benes from Seinfeld’s voice, starving and delirious:
But here it was, mountains of duck. And not fatty duck, either, but juicy, tender breasts of duck!
We also had a dish of soft, silky egg tofu topped with hoisin sauce, fried garlic and chopped fresh spring onion.
Mum served the coriander that was supposed to go on top of the tofu dish in a separate bowl because a number of us don’t like fresh coriander (including me).
We also had a dish of oven-baked finger-sucking good spicy peri peri chicken wings. Obviously, this isn’t a Chinese dish, but nevertheless, it’s a family favourite as there are quite of few of us chicken lovers. Peri peri chicken pops up at our family meals for all kinds of occasions.
There was a dish of mackerel and snake beans in sambal belacan. Jac thought it was too stinky (she doesn’t like the smell of belacan) but I liked this a lot! The fish pieces were meaty and the beans were tender. The sambal was quite hot, so I needed to eat it with rice or tofu to cool my burning mouth down.
There is a lot of symbolism in the dishes Chinese people eat on special occasions. We always have chap chye at Chinese New Year, a vegetable dish with braised cabbage, Chinese mushrooms, bean curd skin (foo chok), young bamboo shoots, vermicelli and different kinds of fungus which all symbolise wealth and success. As my eldest sister CW commented, most of our symbolic dishes symbolise wealth or prosperity!
We all loaded up our plates buffet style, then sat out on the patio to eat. This was my plate, round one, with a bit of everything. Round two I went back for more of my favourite items – rice, minchee, char siu and chap chye. The sharp-eyed among you may notice the placemat my plate was quite festive – a Christmas-themed placemat! Hahaha!
After dinner, Juji and Jay assembled the cendol for the first round of dessert. We served the cendol in bowls rather than as drinks in tall glasses (I don’t know about elsewhere, but here in Perth, restaurants tend to serve cendol as a drink in a tall glass). My brother shaved the ice. Jay placed the “green noodles” in the bowls of shaved ice, while Juji poured coconut milk and palm sugar syrup over the top. When I was a kid I thought of the green noodles as “green worms”, which somehow made the cendol all the more enjoyable (young TFP had a worm eating fantasy? o_O ). I took a few photos but had to move quickly to serve the bowls of cendol to everyone out on the patio before the shaved ice began to melt. The cendol was sweet and wonderfully cold and refreshing. I would’ve had even more, but I wanted to leave room for the other desserts that I knew were coming!
My sister-in-law Angela had made lemon and lime tart and chocolate brownies. I’ve had Ange’s brownies before – they have sultanas in them (yum!) and are chewy, moist and rich – I was really looking forward to them. But I was most eager to taste the tart. I love lemon and lime flavours in desserts and rather like tarts. :)
The tart was tangy (I almost said “the tart was tart”, which it was!) and a great partner to the chocolatey brownie. And of course, more peanut cookies and jam tarts!
It was a delicious dinner and fun catching up with the family. Too bad my second sister who lives in Sydney couldn’t join us this year. Towards the end of the meal, my eldest sister CW checked Twitter on her phone and said to me “Hey! did you tweet during dinner?” Heheheh. I did tweet during dessert but it was a stealth tweet and no one sitting at the table noticed at the time. :D Family members can login to Flickr and see the full set of photos (people as well as food) from CNY family reunion dinner.
We’ll be getting together again next weekend to visit relatives and pay our respects for Chinese New Year. You know what that means, of course: more eating! :D
Happy Year of the Tiger, everyone! Next year (2011) will be my year – the year of the rabbit. :)