CNY is really special, you know it is when the roads empties and everything shuts down by about 3-4pm on the Eve of it. It is special, not because I am a Chinese per se, I am 3rd generation Singaporean, Chinese, in that order and if anyone asks, I’d say I am South East Asian. Besides, I eat a copious amount of chilli, that is definitely not a Chinese trait..
It is special because it is the one time of the year, I can really be on holiday, in these days of connectivity, 24/7 reach, unrelenting requests from clients…something happens at CNY, everybody simply switches off.
It is a good succession of days with no stress work wise, good food..food you don’t get to eat unless it is CNY, drinking and for many..gambling. Everyone dresses up, everyone wishes each other.. for a change.. It is great!
The highlight of which is the Reunion Dinner..every family has it, everybody rushes home to it, everybody looks forward to the special dishes their moms will cook up year after year, there is a lot of tradition to that.
There is meaning to every dish you feast on e.g. fish – may you have more every year, celery – counting (money), beancurd – kua ( a person of high ranking), black moss – prosperity..the list stretches.
My mom is an exceptionally good cook, whilst growing up, we had perfectly balanced home cooked meals every day, always a soup, meat or fish and vegetable. Her repertoire is so wide that we can go for months without a repeat of a dish. I remember when I ate at my schoolmates house for lunch some of those days of youth, I was amused with their food…sardines from cans, luncheon meat etc.. Nothing ever came out of a can at my house, everything was fresh and different every day.
I wanted to write this because I wanted to showcase ‘some’ of my mom’s CNY food, the creme de la creme of her self taught inventive cooking that I’ve enjoyed all these years..all too aware that each year may just as well be her last. Cooking up 8 – 10 dishes single handedly can’t be easy.
This was the Reunion Dinner, frankly, it is a little bit sexist, only unmarried children and sons with their families can come back to the family home for this. Any married daughters, obviously, will have to go back with their husbands to the in-laws. If the in-laws aren’t cooking..sorry still can’t come back..sounds really silly…but coz they’ed be eating into the family’s fortune..sigh, I know..it is embarrassing.
This is abalone with celery..abalone, of course is an expensive delicacy, never eaten unless it is CNY or a birthday of ‘senior’..and the celery? As mentioned denotes that you have lots to count (money i.e.)
Braised mushrooms with black moss and dried oysters…this dish has to be done ahead of the day, braising is a long slow process..not sure of the full meaning but prosperity is one of it.
Fish of course is a definite must..’nian nian you yu’..may you have lots every year.
Pre cooked mom’s highlight, we called it ‘5 spices’ but mom’s creation is of pork, prawn, crab, turnip and goodness knows what rolled into a thin bean curd skin, to be deep fried.
Deep fry and we are ready!
Steamed sea cucumber and mushrooms stuffed with meat/prawn/crab and goodness knows what, finished with a drizzle of abalone juice heated up with I don’t know what…sorry many things are unknown coz my job was just to eat.
And how it was finished..
Prawns..that’s is luxury, prawns in days of yore is of course extremely rare and expensive, even now, not quite for daily consumption.
Here goes, raring to sit down to eat!
The 1st day of CNY lunch is just as extreme, all kids with their respective families are due back to wish their aged parents long life and all the best for the year and gets to eat!
This was my take away, the giant abalone..mom told me to bring home and snack with my wine..well…ok!
CNY, the only window of a a slow languid life of this hustle and hurry world and the food to rush home to year after year.