My Favourite Chinese New Year Foods

Remember this song?
Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens
Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens
Brown paper packages tied up with strings
These are a few of my favorite things

If you are a die-hard Sound of Music fan, you will remember Julie Andrews’ singing this. And I do so love it! And you will now know which era I was born in!
Anyways, with the Chinese New Year celebration this week, I’m compiling my favourite things because frankly, Chinese New Year is about food.
We Chinese cannot live without food. We celebrate all occasions with food. We drown our sorrows with food (recall that post-funeral makan is often lavish, sometimes a bit overly so. Perhaps we’re celebrating the life of the dead person with food too!). We celebrate baby’s full moon with passing around food.
Heck, any occasion is a FOOD binge.
So my favourite things of Chinese New Year is about food. Pardon me if I sound like a glutton. I probably am!
1. Ngar-ku chips (Arrowhead chips)
Think potato chips or crisps (to those who wish to be precise) but triple the addictiveness and you will get ngar-ku chips. Ngar-ku or arrowhead is a tuber about the size of a small potato, with a stem sticking out. It’s from China. Normally, it’s washed, peeled and sliced before it’s steamed with Chinese wax duck or wax sausages.
These days, the hip thing is to buy ngar-ku by the bucketload, peel them, slice them thinly and deepfry. My aunt does it. It’s back-breakingly hot work. Peeling the ngar-ku is one matter but slicing them using a mandolin right over hot oil in a wok is not something to cherish. And you have to be careful while frying them. They burn easily. So you have to be quick and nimble or you will end up with scorched (bitter) chips.
I usually have no time for such delicate things in the kitchen so I go out to the Lip Sin wet market and buy them (RM15 per canister). One tub is never enough. Sure it’s expensive (far more expensive than Lay’s Potato Chips) but it’s crispy, crunchy and so reminiscent of Chinese New Year!
(The ngar-ku is also called see-ku. The symbolism of this tuber is that if you plant some, you have a high likelihood of producing a male offspring as the stem of this tuber represents the boy’s you know what. Chinese traditions are all about symbolisms like this.)
2. Nin-koh (Glutinuous Rice Cake)
I get my nin-koh (Cantonese) or nian gao to Mandarin speakers from my favourite curry mee auntie. She makes the nin-koh herself and they’re made and wrapped the old fashion way, with banana leaves. Hers can be left unrefrigerated for 2 whole months. Her guarantee.
Of course you won’t be able to keep it for 2 months because you will want to eat it as it is so fragrant! Nin-koh can be cut into bite-size pieces, steamed and eaten with freshly grated coconut OR it can be sliced, dipped into beaten egg and pan-fried.
I’ve heard stories about making nin-koh. It is usually made well after midnight when everyone’s fast asleep because any uncalled for remark about the nin-koh and it would not set or turn out right. Kids usually are kept far away or out of sight when the nin-koh is about to be made.
Superstitious? You bet. Despite it being made out of everyday ingredients like glutinous rice flour, sugar, oil and water.
I’ve also tasted Filipino nin-koh or tnee koay which is a flat, white disc of a cake. When Nic’s friend gave it to us, I didn’t know what to do with it. Eventually we cooked it the same way as our regular nin-koh – dip in egg and pan-fry. It tasted absolutely like our own nin-koh, except that it was of a different colour!
3. Love letters or Kuih Kapit
It’s almost a must snack on love letters or kuih kapit during CNY. Everyone has a secret supplier who makes super crispy, super fragrant kuih kapit. I’ve actually made them before but like all delicious biscuits, it takes time!
The traditional way is to use charcoal fire to cook them. Charcoal retains an even heat throughout but it also means you get really warm as you sit and fold the soft kuih kapit slices fresh. You need to be fast enough or you will not fold them properly. Plus if you are ladling the batter over the kuih kapit mold, you need to have a good turn of the wrist or your kuih kapit will be too thick!
Nowadays, the kuih kapit is modified. As with all things Chinese, we love adding our creative touches to food. The modern kuih kapit is rolled instead of folded. Inside the roll you would find chicken or pork floss, a savoury and yummy contrast to the crispiness of the kuih kapit.
4. Dried Longan
I know this is rare but I used to love eating dried longan, the type served during CNY – the whole fruit, shell and all. There’s a kind of yellowish dye on the shell which stains my fingers golden. The shell is crisp and fragile and one can easily break it open to get at the dried longan flesh inside. A sweet, succulent longan!
5. Dried Barbecued Meat or Yuk Korn
Who can resist dried barbecued meat slices or yuk korn? It goes without saying that CNY isn’t CNY until you have your fair share of yuk korn. I can eat yuk korn on its own (horribly indulgent to say the least) or sandwiched between white bread. While I have no particular favourites, I usually buy Bee Cheng Hiang because it’s easily available in the malls.
6. Kuih Makmur
This is a melt in the mouth biscuit. They’re white balls of sweet, milky dough, the size of marbles and covered with powdered sugar. I have a fondness for kuih makmur because it’s so creamy and easy to eat (my brother-in-law shares the same love for this kuih). I can’t find this here so I usually get my supply when I go to Kuching. It’s something like the ghee balls made by Hindus for Deepavali. Kuih makmur is less rich but no less delicious!
7. Old Style Prosperity dishes
While we had an OK reunion dinner at City Bayview Hotel this year, I didn’t find my favourite prosperity dishes on the table. Dishes like hou see fatt choy (dried oysters with fungus) were missing. Luckily my aunt made a pot of it at home and I had that for lunch on the first day of CNY. The other traditional dish I missed was the too thor thng or pig stomach soup! This soup is peppery, a lovely warm accompaniment to the other dishes. It takes some sort of expertise to clean out the pig’s stomach too. (The soup contains pig stomach, button mushrooms, water chestnuts and lots of peppercorn.)
8. Vegetarian Luncheon Meat
If I am in Kuching for CNY, my mom-in-law observes a full day of vegetarian food on the 1st day of CNY. So this means there’s no meat. But there’s vegetarian luncheon meat which she buys from the market. She slices and fries them and they taste so damn close like the real thing! I know it’s made from mushroom and soya bean but it’s one of my favourite foods for CNY. It’s pleasure without guilt!
9. Fried crab filament snack
This is junk food. But essential for CNY. Great when you are playing card games or mah jong and want something to snack on which makes a great deal of crunching sound. Fried crab filament is a no brainer. Buy the crab filament (fake crab meat stick), unroll them and cut them up into 1 inch length. Deep fry and drain on paper towels. Store in air tight containers. Snack on them as you please. It’s bloody addictive, like ngar-ku chips. It’s damn heaty too. But tastes so good!
10. Mini Spring Rolls
You can learn more why this snack is madly addictive at CokeWorld Citizen’s blog (plus how you can order this snack all year round).
So what’s your favourite food during CNY? 😉

How To Be Happy Video

I first heard about Nick Vujicic through a friend whose 2 year old daughter started sobbing upon seeing the video of this incredible person.
Even at 2 years old, she understood.
Lots of people are worried, angry, disappointed particularly if they don’t get what they want. And failure can be bitter. It often is.
But what makes failure permanent is the acceptance of failure.
If you’re going through a bad hair day or thinking of wallowing in desperate self-pity, watch this video of Nick Vujicic again and again to remind yourself that you can choose to be happy, you can choose to take pleasure in what you have and you can be the best you want to be.

How To Piss Margaret Off

This is a post about vets. About boarding animals. About having good employees.
Actually it’s about Margaret.

Nothing like a good roll-around!
Nothing like a good roll-around!

Margaret went to a local vet around the corner when we flew to Kuching. We had to put her there for a week of boarding (or cat and dog hotel to you and me).
To tell you the truth, I dislike this vet’s clinic though it’s so near to us.
The clinic is small and cramped. Customers and their pets either sit in a sad, dismal row or if you have a big dog like a Labrador, you’d better wait outside the clinic. You have so little space to maneouvre yourself around, not to mention a huge canine.
But we go to this place because of sheer convenience. Travelling in a moving car is not Margaret’s idea of fun – she wails and mews all the way. Car journeys make her woozy. This is the shortest journey for her – 5 minutes and she’s there.
Don't look at my fat tummy you!
Don't look at my fat tummy you!

The problem started when we went to pick her up on Monday morning.
The receptionist looked sleepy and grumpy. Funnily, she asked what colour our cat was.
Give me Margaret and let me get out of this place.
We pass the pet carrier to the young guy who disappears upstairs (where the ‘hotel’ is). A couple of minutes later, he reappears with the carrier and like a magic show, there’s a Persian cat inside it!
That’s not Margaret!
He’s sheepish but unfazed. He nods and goes upstairs again.
Now what if I wanted to catnap a cat? Easy. Just walk into this vet’s clinic, pass the assistant a carrier and pretend I’m here to collect my cat and then run away with a prized Persian!
Minutes later, he comes down again, looking worried. Without the pet carrier. With a glove in hand.
He whispers and asks us to follow him upstairs. Apparently, Margaret scratched him and refuses to get into her pet carrier.
So we go up with him to investigate. Margaret is a docile and fat tabby. She runs and hides when our newspaper man comes around to collect newspaper money. She won’t even attack if provoked. She’ll just hiss and look pissed but she really is a big wuss.
He leads us to a small room where cages are lined up on shelves against the wall. Other cats look freaked out too. Margaret is in a corner, hackles raised, fear in her eyes.
We had to pet her and calm her down before she was willing to get into her carrier.
And then we realized why the stupid boy was scratched.
The Persian cat had urinated in Margaret’s carrier! With such a stink, it was no wonder Margaret refused to get into her carrier. You see, cats are highly territorial and any alien smell is as good as being attacked! She must’ve thought there was another cat in the carrier and so freaked out completely.
Now tell me, is that something a vet clinic’s assistant does not know? You bloody work with animals and YOU DON’T KNOW simple animal psychology?
In the end, Nic had to rinse out the pet carrier and wipe it before Margaret could be coaxed into it.
I had wanted to let her get her shots done at this clinic too but after this stupid incident, we just couldn’t wait to get out of the clinic.
We drove to GS Gill’s vet clinic at Gottlieb Road (yes it’s far and yes it was a bit of a wait for Margaret) after that so she could be checked and given her shots. What a huge difference at GS Gill’s. Dr Gill is always cool and patient with animals; Margaret is always calm at his examining table and before she knew it, he had examined her and given her a dose of injection. That’s what I call a true vet.
I also go in armed with questions and he patiently answers them all, without batting an eye.
Margaret’s now back to normal and eating healthily though her Monday was truly awful and traumatizing.
Lessons to be learnt here: if you’re a vet, hire people who love animals to work with animals. Not morons who don’t know the first thing about animals and traumatize them!
I don’t think I’m going back to this vet on Jalan Sungai Dua!

Rainy Days Ahead

I am blogging this from Kuching as Nic and I just got in on Saturday night.
It was raining all day on Sunday which made me think, 2 businesses which can do a roaring trade here are those selling water heaters and those in laundry services.
Water heaters are needed because it’s freaking cold to bathe in regular water as the weather dips to 23C; laundry services are needed because your clothes won’t dry in this wet weather and you’ll smell like a damp Alsation.
Finally the skies cleared yesterday and we were able to get out of the house.
Parents-in-law were worried that the water level would rise abominably (the drains overflowed and the roads became rivers!). The drain outside the house did overflow and the water reached the gate. Added to this, I heard about King Tides for the first time in my life.
It made me realize how urban I was.
People here live by the rising and falling of tides and nature features a lot in their lives. Flipping open the local newspaper, I saw a listing of the ships’ schedule – when they were arriving and berthing at the Kuching port. I take for granted that we can go anywhere by car in Peninsula Malaysia.
Here, I heard they need to know when the tide is rising so people can easily transport goods along rivers! Or at least reach their kampung easily!

MayaKirana Gets a Mention

Thanks to Robert who gave me a heads-up yesterday.
He was nicely profiled in The Malay Mail’s Cyberspot (5 January 2009) page and Mayakirana was mentioned. People will be wondering, who the heck is MayaKirana?
Anyway, it’s a good start to 2009.
Thanks, Robert! You have a sexy new year too.

Island Hopping

I will be off to Langkawi for the next three days for ‘work’ but everyone I tell this to always give me this ‘are you sure’ look.
Yes, I am going for work!
First off, a big warm shout out to Michelle Quah whom I met on the last day of the year, thanks to Derek. I think I am going to enjoy having coffee with Michelle.(Michelle, if you read this – I will call you when I get back from Langkawi and Kuching.)
She’s a yoga instructor with Celebrity Fitness where Derek goes to almost daily for his gym and yoga.
This pretty, young lass also has her own yoga place called NirMaya Yoga… sounds almost Maya-like! She told me she agreed with me on this post about finding men.
My good pal Derek actually forwarded that post to 20 of his pals. Thanks Derek for the publicity. It was more of a heartfelt rant because good women and good men aren’t meeting up!
Michelle echoes that it is damn damn difficult to find men. But let me tell you, Michelle is gorgeous okay. And judging from her blog, also a wise old thing with plenty of gumption to follow her heart.
If she finds it tough to find a nice gentleman, wow, I can imagine how hard it is for other women. Men are visual creatures, ok? I repeat…visual. I am also quite visual myself – why else would I go watch Ip Man again if not to ogle at Donnie Yen and that hunk of a Japanese baddie?
(Speaking of single men, my friend, the Cooking Engineer, the one who was featured in The Star not too long ago, well, that man is officially married! He sends a note that Maya does not need to advertise his bachelorhood to all coz he’s nicely hooked up, thank you very much.)
But I shan’t make this into too much of a rant – it will be fun and work on Langkawi. So hang on to your horses folks. More updates when I get back… till then, have a fab week! It is the first week of the year…