For many, Chinese New Year is a time of feasts and festivities. This is when no reason is needed for pigging out with friends and family, or even gorging oneself crazy with a plethora of Chinese New Year goodies like pineapple tarts to bak kwa. Also, no excuse is required for enjoying the wide variety of Chinese New Year dishes, and most certainly no apologies is needed for indulging! How to resist all that good food?!
Last week, I attended an event hosted at Violet Oon’s Kitchen by Asia Pacific Breweries Singapore (APBS), an appreciation lunch prepared by Ms Oon and her team for 60 elderly folk from the Kreta Ayer Seniors Activity Centre who had extended their help towards packing cookies for the annual ‘Cookies for Charity’ Programme. This lunch was a way to reward them for their effort and boy ‘o boy were they in for a special treat of delectable Nyonya dishes in an all-Peranakan spread!
In the past when my maternal grandma was still around, there were some dishes that made rather frequent appearances on the dinner table during family gatherings and Chinese New Year meals. Ngoh Hiang (Chinese five-spice pork and prawn rolls) is an absolute must, and preparation usually started days before, given the number of dishes she has to whip up on the event itself. My grandma modified the conventional style of making ngoh hiang and made them rather petite, each about 2 inches in length, almost bitesize to be gobbled up in quick sucessions. I remember how my cousins and I would sneak into the kitchen as the unmistakable aroma of ngoh hiang frying permeated the house, to grab a piece or two when they were freshly out of the oil wok, even if it meant to risk scalding our tongue and palate, and a probable spanking and tongue lashing from our mothers who were helping out with the feast, for being “ill-mannered” as our misbehaviour were referenced with beggars’!
Then there was always a gigantic pot of kari ayam, quintessential to all meals at my grandma’s. It was very very lemak, just the way I love it, and full of kentang which were two of my cousins’ favorites! Together with it was a large rice-cooker which was never empty, an assuring sign that there is always food in the house no matter what time whomever visited. Finally of course, there is an equally large pot of chap chye, cooked the day before to allow the flavours to fully develop overnight. There would be other dishes on the table of course, like Udang Masak Kicap, Tau Yew Bak (braised pork belly in rich soya sauce), or Hee Peow Tng (fish maw soup) on the stove but the trinity of Ngoh Hiang, Kari Ayam and Chap Chye was always there with their unfailing presence. Though the spread was simple, it was the very essence of traditional home-style cooking which kept everyone well fueled and watered, which in turn kept my grandma happy, knowing that her dishes are thoroughly enjoyed by her children and grandchildren!