The familiar sights, sounds, smells and tastes of Chinese New Year 2019 in Petaling Jaya

Wednesday, February 06, 2019

For the Wongs, undoubtedly, the Chinese New Year period is our most wonderful time of the year.

We are gathered again in the place which houses so many generations of memories.

It has the same cold floor made from a terrazzo tiles design which my grandparents and parents have paced, sat and occasionally slipped on.

The wooden ceiling boards seem to have lasted many human lifespans. These boards were also floors for many generations of scurrying mice. Heard but not seen, they kept you awake in the middle of the night when the house was silent and still.

The lights have not changed: the long and bright fluorescent tubes. “All or none”, it seem like led lights will not see the light of day here.

The toilet and kitchen floors are perpetually damped, with water trapped in the mozaic tiles, a retro design which is coming back in recent years.

Like “a river that runs through it”, it is the same place with so many generations and conversations passing through it. Relatives with grown up children in tow visit and chatter about the past. Some stories were repeated but there are always new tidbits which filled up the gaps in our family history.

This year, the authorities have allowed the burning of certian types of fire crackers. I don’t know what is permitted but they are just a loud as those I heard in my childhood days. With a smokey aftermath, it is a familiar CNY atmosphere which you can hear, see and smell.  
For the familiar CNY taste, many of the Wong dishes remains the same.

On the Reunion table, Chai Choy is mandatory and my mother’s version is always made from fuyi  (white fermented beancurd) and wongbok (white cabbage). Mushrooms, bean curd sticks and meen kan is meat for vegetarians. Adding dried oysters lift it to another level though it ceases to be a vegetarian dish.

Har Lok, stir fry river prawns with black bean, ginger, garlic and chili is another favorite. The size of the prawns seem to have shrunk with the years. The large wild caught one are very expensive and are normally booked by restaurants. The ones we have are of small to medium size and one tell tale sign of farmed ones is that they all came in the same size. Still, it is a familiar taste, especially when the heads are rich with eggs.

Wok-cooked Char Siew  was considered too “biasa” for Reunion. We cook it this year to welcome the Year of the Pig.  

Steamed Chicken is another staple, to be eaten with my Mum’s ginger sauce. I can recall how huge, yellow and fatty this “choi yim kai” (as my Mum will call it) but I can imagine some cruelty must have been done to those poor overgrown chicken. I heard in that in their last days, their legs and feet could barely support their weight. Nowadays, we use the large kampung chicken and they taste great too. At least we can enjoy it with a better conscience.

As for the first day of CNY, my Mum will usually serve curry chicken and beef rendang. That is the nonya side of her. These days, we serve noodles like Assam Laksa or Ipoh Hor Fun, the latter quickly becoming my niece’s specialty (Janna Wong). Hakka Char Yoke accompanied the Hor Fun.

Choi Keok (Chai Buay) normally appeared on the third day, using all the leftovers that have gathered over the three days. These days, we are impatient and it appears on the second. As we have the means now, we just use fresh roast pork and roast duck along with some leftovers.

Getting the leafy Kai Choy is a challenge during CNY but my wonderful vegetable seller reserved 5 kgs of it, all grown in Singapore. I packed it in sealed bags and fridges it all the way. This hardy vegetables look just as fresh 6 day later. I have to wake up really early (5.30 am) to queue up for the roast pork and duck stall which is the lone stall opened only in the morning. He said he will sell till 12 pm but judging by the queue, I think by 7 am he can go home for his breakfast. I bought two kilos of pork and one duck. Along with some roast suckling pig parts kept in the freezer, I know two very good pots of Choi Keok is almost guaranteed.

There you go. Our most wonder time of the year is almost over. At least for the Singaporeans anyway, who have to keep our economy going. The Malaysians will go on holidaying, eating and burning fire crackers till the end of the week.

A very blessed and happy Chinese New Year to all of you!

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