Below post was supposed to be uploaded during Chinese New Year – got delayed and I supposed it is never too late.
Posts Tagged ‘Chinese New Year’
Sugee cake is a semolina buttery cake infused with rosewater (or rose essence) , brandy and almonds which originates from another sub-ethnic group in Malaysia – the Eurasians – a mix of Indian, local, Portuguese or Dutch blood, some may trace their ancestries to Spain (and the mixed bloodline with the Moors). The word ‘sugee’ is in fact in Hindi for semolina.
This cake is so popular, it has been adopted by many Malaysians especially the peranakan (nyonya) households adapting it to their own taste – you will see the addition of candied kumquats and melons – your typical sweetener for the chinese ‘tong sooi’ – sweet soups.
This cake is unique as it has rosewater (or rose essence included) besides sugee, no doubt there is a strong influence from the Middle Eastern /South Mediterranean region. This cake is rather popular with the locals hence you can find these exotic ingredients available easily in most stores in Malaysia or Singapore.
As this cake is quite heavy so a small piece each is sufficient for most people, normally made for very very vspecial occasion or festivities.
For more on Eurasian ethnic group please see my post on Pineapple Tarts or on Eurasians in Malacca (specifically the Cristang people ) please read Celine Marbeck’s website on their culture and food heritage.
The flipside with a multicultural society is , sometimes the blending has been so well intergrated – the origins get blurred. Each subculture starts adopting one another’s cuisine heritage, sort of like cherry picking the best from one another and incorporating into their own repertoire. And the result is the younger generation have no idea of its history. That is why you see sometimes local folks themselves get confused thinking sugee cake is a nyonya delicacy which may not be entirely wrong, but it definitely does not originate from them.
I find the traditional fusion of food cultures in South East Asia, parts of Africa, Mediterranean and the Middle East, to the United States – particularly California, New Orleans very fascinating. I have not travelled to South America or the Caribbean but I am quite convinced you will find a colourful blend of fusiony foods there too.
Anyways here is a home recipe of a sugee cake. You can ice it with marzipan, buttercream (but being in Singapore due to the humidty and heat, this frosting sweats too much) or in this case simply dust icing sugar over the cake and sprinkle some organic dried rose bud petals. They are very popular as wedding cakes in Singapore and Malaysia.
- 4 oz of Self Raising Flour
- 4 oz of sugee (fine semolina)
- 2 oz of tang kua teow (candied melon pieces)+ 2 oz of candied tangerines or kumquats chopped (pulsed it through the food processor) into small pieces but not fine.
- 2 oz finely chopped almonds but not ground.
- 1 tsp rose essence or 1 tbp of rose water
- 1 tbp of brandy
- 6-8oz sugar castor depending how sweet you like the cake to be
- 8oz salted regular butter soften
- 5 eggs + 1 egg yolk – beat the eggs till fluffy and pale yellow.
Cream the butter and sugar till light and fluffy. Add the egg mixture and blend well. Add the brandy, rose essence after. Fold in the flour + sugee into the butter/egg mixture carefully , followed by the candied melon + kumquats and almonds. Mix until well incorporated.
Pour the batter into an 8inch square baking tin lined with greased parchment paper.
Bake in 150 degrees preheated oven for 50mins-1hr or cake skewer comes out clean.
Tonight midnight, the Hokkien people those whom are taoists buddhists will pray to the Jade Emperor God (Thee Kong) as it is his birthday tomorrow (the 9th day of Chinese New Year). The prayers involved a very high altar table (the higher the better – hence closer to heaven) where an array of fruits, mee suah (vermicelli), fungus, huat kueh (fermented steamed rice cakes) and ang koo (red coloured glutinous rice cakes filled with sweet yellow bean paste, shaped in tortoise shells) are offered. And around the altar tables, rows of sugar canes are erected tied to the tables. Prayers are to thank Thee Kong for protection from evils and disasters, as well as for blessings and answering prayers.
Why the sugar cane? Because the hokkien people were hiding from their enemies in the large sugar cane fields, whilst praying to Thee Kong for protection. The danger passed and the hokkien people could return back to their villages safe. Feeling their prayers were answered and in gratitude since then, they offer sugar cane during their prayers on the eve of Thee Kong’s birthday for centuries until today.
Being new to Singapore, I did not know where to get nice Ang Koos – a highlight of this celebration ( I did not get the sugar cane as I do not have an altar or space to tie them anywhere , home too small-lah, but will send a quiet prayer of thanks to Thee Kong this midnight). And thanks to Facebook and helpful friends I managed to source some decent Ang Koo Kueh (Jia Xiang – at Everton Park, closest MRT Outram Park)
How to eat them? Fresh as they are or pan fried!
Pan Fried Ang Koo
For the reunion dinner on the eve of the Chinese New Year, each family would have their own traditional dishes served on this special evening. First of all you need to have enough food to stay up the whole night, at least past midnight to usher in the new year – the taoist would be offering prayers and burning papers at midnight and firecrackers where they are legal, are being set off.
The louder (the red ones particularly are a favourite) the better, because the noise will chase away the bad spirits and usher in the auspicious spirits. In Singapore as these firecrackers ARE illegal, the atmosphere past midnight was a little subdued.
Spring rolls and Stir fried vegetables
For our family, we normally would have curry chicken, spring rolls, jiu hu char (slivers of cuttlefish and sliced turnips, eaten with sambal), too toh thng (pig stomach soup – tastes better than it sounds) and chap chye (mix stir fried veges). This time I hosted the reunion, and hence there was a slight change to the usual menu – instead we had spring rolls, fish curry assam pedas, chap chye and vegetarian yee sang (from Whole Earth, at Tanjung Pagar).
Yee Sang and Fish Assam Pedas (Sour Spicy Fish Curry)
The chinese believe one must have a fish dish for Chinese New Year eve as again it symbolises abundance – the word ‘yee’ in cantonese or ‘yu’ in mandarin. Being nyonyas, here is our version of a fish dish – the quintessential Fish Curry Assam Pedas with okra
Fish Assam Pedas Recipe (for 4 people)
- 4 pieces of fish steaks (ang cho/ red garoupa) or 1 large pomfret /2 small ones or any firm white fish or stingray
- 5 pieces okras chopped into half (across width wise)
- 1 tomato (cut into wedges)
- fish assam pedas spice paste (see below)
- 3 tbp of cooking oil
- 1 pandan leave washed and tied into a knot
- 1 tablespoon of palm sugar/sugar
- Salt to taste
- 1 sprig of daun kesum (laksa leaf) – optional
* Fish Spice Paste:
- 1 clove garlic
- 2 stalks of lemon grass (white parts only)
- 6 shallots
- 8-10 dried chillies (depends how spicy you like – soaked in hot water for about 30mins)
- 1 inch long tumeric root, peeled.
- 1/2 tablespoon of belacan (prawn paste)
- 1 tbp of cooking oil or coconut oil
2 cups of water + 2 tbp of tamarind pulp
For garnish: 1/2 bunga kantan, sliced finely
Blend the spices for the fish spice paste in a blender or a food processor.
Soak the tamarind pulp in warm water for 15 minutes. Squeeze the tamarind pulp constantly to extract the flavor into the water. Drain the pulp and save the tamarind juice.
Heat oil with the pandan leave and fry the spice paste for 2 minutes or until fragrant. Slowly add the tamarind juice, while stirring it and bring to boil – once boiling, add in the tomato wedges, daun kesum and okras and let the vegetable simmer for about 10-15 minutes till okra is soft but not squidgy.
Lastly add the fish, salt, and palm sugar/sugar, give a quick stir to coat the fish with the curry. Simmer on low heat for 5 minutes or until the fish is cooked.
Serve hot (garnish with a sprinkle of the chopped bunga kantan and mint leaves if you have them). To be eaten with a bowl of white rice.
Well Chinese New Year this year was spent in Venice, unpacking boxes!! I guess a good way to start the year in a new home!
This year (Year of the Ox) – began on Jan 26th and the celebration lasts for 15 days (until Feb 9th). Last year was the Year of the Rat – we saw a lot of things unfold worldwide. Year of the Ox will symbolise the return to the basics and values such as hard work, honesty, preservarence and modesty to help us go through these tough times. The Ox is known to be dependable, calm, pragmatic and self sacrificing. The Year of the Rat – undoubtedly delivered the consequences of the past years of greed, selfishness, dishonesty and ego. All our actions have consequences – and cumulatively it got so bad that it had to go out with a big bang! What will this year hold for us? We will see , but right now it is probably most prudent to ask ourselves what have we learned and how will we live this new year.
Tradition has it that the Chinese New Year means family reunion and on the eve we have the big reunion dinner. The dinner consists of various traditional dishes of each family or a hot pot. In my family, being with Peranakan influences – we would normally have ‘jiu hu char’, ‘nyonya chicken curry’, ‘roti babi’, ‘chap choy’, ‘lor bak’, spring rolls, ‘tu toh th’ng’ and rice. Of course days before the event, my family and our relatives will also start making cookies and traditional cakes. Not to mention a major spring cleaning too.
We used to make ‘kuih kapit’ aka love letters – but now our parents generation are getting older, they don’t do it anymore. The ‘kuih kapit’ we made were awesome, and they were made the traditional way over hot coals. They are thin rice/coconut milk wafers – that crackle and melts in your mouth. It is quite hard these days to find good ones. Electric made ones are not as good!
Another traditional cookie is ‘kuih bang kek’ – which are also with coconut and tapioca flour based. They are delicious – almost like unbaked cookies as they look ‘white’. They come in various animal shapes. See photo on the left (from www.knowingfood.com). This photo shows the exact way they looked like as I know them when I was a kid. Normally my mother will also order pineapple tarts from her colleague, Aunty Jane (who unfortunately passed away) – and she made the most delicious pineapple jam tarts ever! In addition to that, we have ‘layer cake’ (kuih lapis) – similar to the Indonesian kuih lapis, ‘sugee cake’ (rosewater, almonds and sugee cake) , peanut cookies and cashewnut cookies. All these are served with dried fruits (geng geng), red dates and melon seeds aplenty to our visitors. Some families will also make ‘tong sueh’ – sweet soups with various dumplings or with dried fruits and seeds.
I love ‘tee kuih’ – caramelised, glutinous rice steamed cakes, wrapped with banana leaves. You can only find them during Chinese New Year. They are made as offering to the ‘Kitchen God’ so that he does not report any bad deeds to the Jade Emporor (Tee Kong). It is gooey when freshly steamed but taste excellent rolled with coconut shavings seasoned with a little salt. You can also fry them by sandwiching between a layer of yam and another layer of sweet potato – coated with batter and deep fried. In Penang, there is a famous stall close to Heng Ee school on Free School road. They have delicious fried bananas (pisang raja), yams and sweet potato balls too. If you are curious how Tee kuih is made – you can watch on YouTube on the making of ‘Tee Kuih – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2F59rQt3k9A
During this festive season, red packets are given out to children and unmarried members of the family or friends. These red packets or commonly known as ‘ang pows’ have money in them. For children this is extra fun, since you get the extra pocket money to buy more firecrackers or sweets! Firecrackers – yes an essential part of CNY and ‘lion dance’. This is to usher more luck and chase away evil spirits. When visiting friends or relatives we bring along mandarin oranges as they symbolises ‘gold’ or pomelos in cantonese meaning ‘abundance’. The first 2 days of CNY are dedicated to visiting relatives and friends. In Malaysia being multi ethnic, it is common for chinese families to have ‘open houses’ for friends of other ethnic groups to visit and makan together.
The 3rd day of CNY is normally regarded as not a good day to visit anyone and a day where one visit the graves of ones’ ancestors to pay respects.
Another symbolic dish only for CNY on the 7th day is Yee Sang- raw fish salad – meaning increase in abundance, prosperity and vigour. The trick is to toss it as high as possible with your chopsticks to signify ‘lo hei’ – increase in your fortune. This raw fish dish comes with a special sauce using plum sauce, rice vinegar, kumquat paste and sesame oil, and the fish (originally mackerel but today salmon is equally popular) was served with carrots, chilli, mengkuang (jicama), limes, jellyfish, red pickled ginger,etc. Today, this dish is eaten throughout the 15 days of CNY. Check this photo out by my friend Esther.
On the 8th evening (as the 9th day of CNY is the Jade Emperor’s birthday) is a big prayer day fo the the hokkiens where many live in Penang, my hometown. My maternal side is hokkien, so we have a table in front of our house – the idea again is to have a high table (so closer to heaven) – and offerings are made to Tee Kong (Jade Emperor). There will be mee koo (red buns), ang koo (tortoise cakes), huat kuih (prosperity cakes), roast duck, sugar cane, big jossticks, fruits – the whole works. Also ghim chuah (joss paper) are being folded and burned. Sugar cane is very important. The legend has it that the Hokkiens escaped persecution by a cruel general in ancient China by seeking refuge in a sugarcane plantation. They emerged unharmed on the birthday of the Jade Emperor. So in gratitude, this has become a big prayer day for the Hokkiens. Photos below are from flickr nick chan.
The final day being 15th day, fondly known as Chap Goh Meh - my family will make ‘pungat’ – tastes like bubur cha cha except with extra bananas and sweet potatoes of all kinds (sweet potatoes, yam) in creamy sweet coconut soup. It is the last day and also the chinese’ Valentine’s day where maidens throw oranges into the river or sea (as done in Penang ) in order to attract good husbands. There will be prayers too, to mark the end of the celebration.