Food is an essential element of Chinese New Year, with many families investing great time and effort to prepare and serve traditional dishes. The New Year is meant to mark new beginnings, so it’s important to many Chinese that they eat foods considered to be auspicious. From meat and sweet treats to salads and fruit, these are some of the foods widely believed to bring prosperity, wealth, good luck and longevity.
Yee sang is a uniquely Malaysian-Singaporean salad served cold and enjoyed before the Chinese family gathers for a reunion dinner. These days it’s considered lucky to have this salad with colleagues and friends – regardless of their ethnic background – all ethnic groups to bring prosperity to the workplace, school or foster closer friendships. In 2014, CNN listed yee sang – also known as yu sheng – as one of the world’s seven “fiercest food feuds” because it is claimed by both Malaysia and Singapore. So what are the dish’s origins? Probably based on a type of raw fish dish eaten in coastal parts of China, its modern form can be traced to a man in the town of Seremban, in Negeri Sembilan, Malaysia. According to the book A Toss of Yee Sang, a Chinese immigrant named Loke Ching Fatt and his family had a restaurant business that was going through tough times after the Japanese occupation of Malaya during World War II. Faced with the closure of his business, he came up with a fun dish, originally with 30 ingredients, topped with slices of raw fish and mixed with a sweet and tangy sauce made up of vegetable oil, sesame oil and honey. The vegetables including turnip, cabbage and carrots, and to add texture to the salad he threw in raw pomelo, peanuts and fried batter bits. The name yee sang loosely translates to “fish” and “life”. Fish is a symbol of abundance, while life points to youthfulness and vitality. From these humble beginnings, yee sang has become a dining ritual in the month or so leading up to Chinese New Year. Everyone sits around
Also known as the Red Tortoise Cake in direct translation – these little tortoises are perfect with an afternoon tea. Ang Ku Kueh is a traditional Chinese snack with its origin from Fujian, China. These little kuehs are shaped to look like tortoise shells with the Chinese character “shou” or “longevity” imprinted in the centre, especially because tortoises are a Chinese symbol long associated with long life. Think about it - tortoises live for rather long, don't they! They are often used as temple offerings particularly during Hungry Ghost and Ching Ming Festivals. It is also presented as an auspicious gift during a baby’s full month celebration. A good kueh is soft and pleasantly chewy, with a smooth, slightly oiled, delicate skin made of glutinous rice flour. Fillings you can find inside range from traditional sweet mung bean - which is what we're making today - to peanut, yam and coconut! Making the mung bean filling is easy this time round, because of the Kenwood Handblender, a nifty little device that can help you mix the paste.
A delicious, savoury breakfast food (or anytime of the day, actually), Soon Kueh is a dumpling-like kueh, with traditional handmade rice skin stuffed with stir-fried bamboo shoots, turnip, dried prawns and mushrooms. What makes a good local kueh? A good kueh has translucent skin that gives a slight chewy pull when you bite into it, revealing its steamy, turnip-filled (hello Popiah!), gravy-soaked insides. It's an old-school snack, but it's not difficult to find, and it's popular with old folks and young children too! Great with some spicy chili, dark sweet sauce, fried shallots and spring onions on top. Today we have a Teochew Soon Kueh recipe shared by Eddie Tan over at Sharefood.sg, who loves creating his favourite dishes and sharing his recipe with others. This recipe has two parts - making the traditional rice skin is first. You'll need a lot of strength to mix the dough when it changes to a semi-solid texture. To achieve a well-blended dough without scalding our hands (because the recipe uses hot water), we used the powerful Kenwood's Cooking Chef Stand Mixer and the bread hook. Then, it's as simple as watching the dough come together. The second part is cooking the filling and steaming it. Steaming only takes 10 minutes though, so you can split this recipe up into a 2-day project.
A true ode to delicious home cooked food, traditional popiah is a favourite at potlucks and family get-togethers. Today we have a traditional hokkien popiah recipe for you, with each ingredient lovingly prepared – from the delicious turnip filling, to the fresh vegetable, and strips of fried omelette. It’s a labour of love for sure, but so worth it when you sink your teeth into a juicy, freshly made popiah!
Legend has it that these sweet confections were used to hide messages exchanged by secret lovers. Heads up, though, that you will need an electrical mould or Love Letter Plates from your local bakery supplier. The effort will be worth it - these crispy, fragrant, slightly coconut-y snacks smell and taste even better when freshly made. The list of ingredients are deceptively simple, as you can tell, but fresh coconut milk is essential. To roll the pliant love letters, use a thick wooden chopstick that's spherical - this will ensure a good tight roll! Your fresh love letters can be stored in air tight containers, and eaten in 3 weeks. Tips: – Moulds should only be greased at the start of the session and only once. – If you place batter on the mould and it spills out too fast, this will mean the moulds are not fully heated up yet. The batter should readily stick to the moulds as an indication that the optimum heat has been reached for baking. – Airtight containers are a must to store the love Letters or they’ll go soft quickly.