We usually gather at one of my uncle's who has taken on the huge task of cooking up THE slap up meal to set the next lunar year off. My family are also fierce food lovers whose commentary would make Simon Cowell look like a pussycat. However, this year we break tradition and go to the Overseas Chinese Restaurant on Jalan Imbi. Let the restaurant take the heat! Here were the highlights...
Low Hei! Low Hei! (Toss Higher!) A raw fish salad with various vegetables, fruits with a sweet and sour dressing and little fried crackers is always the first course of the marathon meal. Each ingredient is neatly arranged on a large platter, waiting to be tossed with vigour. Whilst tossing, diners yell happy wishes for the coming year, and higher and more vigorous the salad is tossed, the greater the chance of these wishes materialising.
Braised Chinese Mushrooms, Black Hair Fungus, Sea Cucumber with Dried Oysters in soy sauce. None of those things sound remotely enticing, and what a brown pile of flavours and textures that really alien to most palates. Oysters impart a deep smokiness, earthy mushrooms, slight crunch from the Black Hair Fungus and the absorbent Sea Cucumber make it intriguingly weird. The Chinese love wild and hard-to-get ingredients to signify wealth and prosperity.
Now something less intimidating: a favourite celebration dish you'll find across many Chinese special occasions is the steamed fish. Usually a seabass, we enjoyed a plump, silky promfret with white flesh that just loves the classic groundnut oil and soy sauce combo.
My personal favourite, Butter Prawns! Prawns are fried whole in a wok, and a blend of evaporated milk and butter is whirled around slowly. This somehow creates hair-like and crispy strands to coat the prawns. Curry leaves are added for extra kick and I'd need handcuffs to stop me eating up that sinful crispy butter.
*Ang Pows or Red Packets are given from older to younger during this festive period, it's a bit like downward-only only Christmas presents. It's meant to be good luck for both giver and receiver, and one qualifies to give only when married. So if you're nearly 30 and still receiving, take the hint!