And so… despite jet lag and prickling nerves, Sunday night’s family reunion dinner was a success!
Thank the heavens.
It was my first culinary challenge in Singapore, to be served up to a board of highly critical judges – my extended family members, who by the way, gave very constructive feedback on how some things could be improved.
Of course, most of it was said in jest, and overall we enjoyed ourselves tremendously, as we always do among each other.
Cooking reunion dinner for my family was really quite fulfilling.
The “Reunion dinner” is a tradition that most Chinese families keep during Chinese New Year – where the extended family gathers together on Chinese New Year’s Eve to feast on plenty of home-cooked food, usually involving a steamboat (where meats and vegetables are cooked in a hot pot of soup stock) and to eat “Yu Sheng” (or “Prosperity Toss”). Yu Sheng usually consists of strips of raw fish (most commonly salmon), mixed with shredded vegetables and a variety of sauces and condiments, among other ingredients, and Yu sheng is considered a symbol of abundance, prosperity and vigor – a must for all Chinese New Year gatherings.
Because of the importance of the reunion dinner, where loved ones and family members gather after a long year of being away from each other, this tradition holds a special significance in our hearts. Hence, my nervousness and excitement to be helping out for the first time is completely normal. I wanted it to be good, for my family members to enjoy the meal, and to finally put my cooking skills to use in Singapore, my homeland.
Jet lag led me to wake up at 6am on Sunday morning, after which I decided to get started baking carrot cake with cream cheese frosting for dessert. Once the cake was baked, the next few hours flew by in a flurry – church, lunch, and then back home to continue preparations for dinner. After cooking rosti to complement the steamboat, and preparing a tropical fruit salad, I helped my mum and my grandmother to prepare a traditional dish made of stir-fried leek, mushrooms, pork and fish maw, among other dishes that she had cooked.
And one by one, the guests started to arrive.
Among them, my favorite guest of the night was my 2 year-old baby cousin, En Tong.
With her chubby cheeks and angelic face, she charmed us all with her dancing antics, the most adorable smile ever seen, and her rendition of PSY’s “Gangnam Style” dance.
And then En Tong charmed us all over again, when she picked up her hat and suitcase, and then played us an improvised song on the piano.
Now that I’ve raved about my cutest cousin ever, I can move on to the food.
It was an amazingly colorful dinner table crammed to the brim with tons of food – chopped ingredients for the steamboat, steamed Hainanese chicken, roasted duck, and soya sauce pig trotters.
(Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to capture pictures of the carrot cake, rosti or fruit salad, but they turned out well enough).
Mostly, the table was filled with bright colors from ingredients of the Yu Sheng, which we tossed with frenzy and enthusiasm, all of us hoping for a good 2013 filled with abundance and prosperity.
According to Wikipedia, when tossing the Yu Sheng, these are the following New Year greetings which are offered by the person who prepares the Yu Sheng:
- “Gong Xi Fa Cai” and “Wan Shi Ru Yi” are greetings said right at the beginning, meaning “Congratulations for your wealth” and “May all your wishes be fulfilled”.
- Raw fish is then added, symbolizing abundance and excess through the year. (“Nian Nian You Yu” means “Abundance through the year”, as the word “fish” in Mandarin also sounds like “Abundance”.)
- Pomelo or lime is added to the fish, adding luck and auspicious value. “(“Da Ji Da Li” means “Good luck and smooth sailing”.)
- Pepper is then dashed over in the hope of attracting more money and valuables. (“Zhao Cai Jin Bao” means “Attract wealth and treasures”.)
- Later oil is poured over, circling the ingredients and encouraging money to flow in from all directions. (“Yi Ben Wan Li” means “Make 10,000 times of profit with your capital” and “Cai Yuan Guang Jin” means “Numerous sources of wealth”).
- Carrots are added indicating blessings of good luck. (“Hong Yun Dang Tou” means “Good luck is approaching”.)
- Then the shredded green radish is placed symbolising eternal youth. (“Qing Chun Chang Zhu” means “Forever young”.)
- After which the shredded white radish is added – prosperity in business and promotion at work. (“Feng Sheng Shui Qi” meaning “Progress at a fast pace” and “Bu Bu Gao Sheng” means “Reaching higher level with each step”.)
- The condiments are finally added.First, peanut crumbs are dusted on the dish, symbolizing a household filled with gold and silver. (“Jin Yin Man Wu” means “Household filled with gold and silver”.)
- Sesame seeds quickly follow symbolising a flourishing business. (“Sheng Yi Xing Long” meaning “Prosperity for the business”.)
- Deep-fried flour crisps in the shape of golden pillows are then added with wishes that literally the whole floor would be filled with gold. (“Man Di Huang Jin” means “Floor full of gold”.)
Happy Chinese New Year of the Snake everyone!