Gong Hei Fat Choi!
Celebrate Chinese New Year
See my Spicy Sweet Shrimp recipe on Sample Recipes webpage.
From Chaper 11, Festivals and Feasts of Malaysia:
Chinese New Year
Chinese New Year, also referred to as Lunar New Year, is the most important celebration for the Chinese and Chinese Peranakans. It begins on the first day of the first lunar month in the Chinese calendar and ends on the fifteenth day, so is usually observed in January or February. On the eve, there is a family reunion dinner when spirits are appeased and food offerings are made to gods, including Kuan Yin, the goddess of Mercy. The married and family elders give unmarried youngsters ang pow, red packets that hold gifts of money. Homes are decorated with oranges, plum blossoms, and kumquat trees for good luck. Firecrackers are exploded to ward off evil spirits. Non-Chinese friends often pay a visit and offer greetings of gong hee fatt choy. On the fifteenth night of Chinese New Year, which is called Chap Goh Meh, unmarried women throw oranges into the sea to wish for prospective good husbands and celebrate by eating rice dumplings. New Year celebrations end on the fifteenth day with Shang Yuan Jie, the festival that honors the Lords of Heaven, Earth, and Water.
On New Years’ Eve, foods that symbolize long life, joy, togetherness, children, and prosperity are served. Buddha’s Delight (vegetarian dish), steamed whole fish (signifying abundance), curried noodles (for longevity), sticky rice (signifying sustenance), egg rolls (for wealth), eggs (for fertility), sweet sesame seed balls, turnip cakes, and fruits are served. Vegetarian and fish dishes are prepared on the first day of the New Year as slaughtering animals is considered bad luck. So spicy sweet shrimp (symbolizing happiness, page 286) and fish dishes are popular.
Depending on the homes, New Year’s day meal may consist of popiah, shark fin soup, fried rice in lotus leaf, roast chicken, sesame and honey chicken, fragrant duck, braised Chinese mustard greens with seaweed, kailan with crabmeat sauce, and boiled dumplings. Hainanese chicken rice (page 126) served with a light chicken broth, sesame-scented rice, and a chile ginger dip (page 106) is a traditional meal served in many homes.
Sweets and cakes are essential for the New Year, including almond cookies, pineapple tarts, water chestnut cake, semolina cake, peanut puffs, and butter cookies. Also during this time, a traditional household offers candy, honey, and sticky rice cake to the House Gods or Deities (protectors of the home) and ancestors.
Chinese Peranakans (Baba-Nonyas) also celebrate the Lunar New Year. Although of a mixed Chinese and Malay heritage, they identify themselves as Chinese, observing their many festivities and religious and ancestral rites. They speak Malay and the women dress in Malay attire, but they have remained Chinese, retaining their “traditional” Hokkien customs. But unlike the Chinese, their foods have a strong Malay influence, prepared with chilies, rempah (spice pastes), spices, lemongrass, coconut milk, and belacan (dried shrimp paste). Following their Chinese identity, they prepare and serve foods based on their symbolism. Their choice of ingredients and dishes for festivities derives from Chinese traditions and the concept of yin and yang. Some of their festive dishes include chicken curry (page 171); chap chye (mixed vegetables with mung bean noodles); inchee kabin (similar to the spicy fried chicken on page 165); ayam sioh (tamarind coriander chicken, page 164); nasi lemak (coconut-infused rice, page 117); and spicy laksas (pages 151 and 153) with fiery sambal condiments. Every Nonya household offers a great variety of delectable kuehs and sweets. Kueh kapit (love letters), seri muka (glutinous rice custard), kueh lapis (layered custard), kueh kosui (steamed rice custard), and kueh bangkit (snow-white arrowroot flour cookies) are some they enjoy. For Chap Goh Meh, the fifteenth and final day of the Lunar New Year period, Nonyas enjoy pengat (page 253), a sweet porridge prepared with sweet potatoes, taro, and/or bananas flavored with coconut milk and pandan leaf, a true reflection of their mixed heritage.