Chap Goh Meh is the last day of the Chinese New Year celebration. We celebrate it for 15 days, and Chap Goh Meh means the 15th night. So after the clock strikes midnight no more ang pows for you young /single folks when you visit your friends’ or relatives’ households. This year it is falls on 28th February.
The night, amongst the Taoist, involves prayers as it coincides with the first full moon of the New Year. You must all go out and look at the moon, very nice and big. In my hometown Penang, it is also a night where single ladies will cast mandarin oranges into the sea with the hope it will be scooped up by a prospective husband. However today, it is not really practised for that reason, although the tradition is upkept with a mandarin orange throwing competition, with food bazaars and concerts. Everybody (I do mean everybody – married people , kids, single or not) will do this throwing of oranges into the sea at Esplanade.
In the old days, (mainly a peranakan tradition) – young maidens will dress up in their beautiful kebayas and being accompanied by their parents, they will stroll around Esplanade, and young eligible men can get an eyeful. Should there be any interest from either parties, the matchmaker at that time will do their job of investigating each other’s backgrounds and reporting back to each side with the hope a marriage will ensue after that, if all goes well.
There used to be also a performance by the nyonyas at that time (instead of today’s modern pop concert), on a bus called the Dondang Sayang, crooning love songs and pantuns in Malay (poetry) and doing a little dance – the joget. I have not been back for a long time now for Chap Goh Meh so I can’t report much what else goes on there except what the Penang Tourism Board is planning for the celebrations. I do know though this musical event still goes on albeit with a little more commercial/tourist flavour to it.
For more on Chap Goh Meh in Penang :
In my family, my mom (100% nyonya mah) will make ‘pengat’ – it is bananas, yam and sweet potatoes of various kinds, stewed in sweet, creamy coconut sauce flavoured with a pandan leave. I love it. I will certainly make them here in SG although I do not know any Dondang Sayang songs to hum to.. how sad!
Recipe for Pengat (4 people)
- 1 large banana (pisang raja – best choice) or any firm large banana- cut into chunks
- 1 cup of yam (peeled and cut into cubes 1 inch by 1 inch)
- 1 cup of red sweet potato (peeled and cut into cubes 1 inch by 1 inch)
- 1 cup of yellow or purple sweet potato (peeled and cut into cubes 1 inch by 1 inch)
- 1 large pandan leave (washed and tied into a knot)
- 250 ml coconut cream* (santan ‘tau’) + 100-200 ml water
- 1 cup of water
- 1/2 cup sugar
- pinch of salt
Steam the yam and the potatoes, until cooked , they may cook at different stages so check on them. Some cook faster than others, as yam is harder, so it goes in first on the steamer for about 5 minutes before the rest. Steaming is the best as the potatoes remain in their nice shape rather than getting too mushy.
But if you don’t have a steamer, you can use the microwave. Put the cubed yam and potatoes in a single layer on a shallow dish, sprinkle with 4 tsp of water. Switch the microwave to 600 watts for 10-11 minutes. Becareful, the plate would be hot.
In the meantime, bring to boil and leave to simmer , banana (pisang raja) , 1 cup water with the 1/2 cup sugar and pandan leave till it becomes syrupy. Then pour in the coconut milk and a pinch of salt, continue to let it simmer for another 4 minutes.
Do not boil, otherwise the coconut cream will separate from the liquid.. simmer gently. Should the coconut milk feels too thick , more like clotted cream, add in the bit by bit, 100-200ml water, adjust accordingly if the consistency appears still too thick . It should be creamy with a slightly viscous consistency but not thick.
Give the coconut syrup a stir now and then.
Finally add in the cooked potatoes and simmer for another minute and switch off the fire.
Let it cool slightly, serve warm – I like it best this way. Some like it chilled.
Certain families add in black eye peas, sago or tapioca jelly. This is my family’s version. My mom tells me that people sometimes confuse pengat with bubur cha cha. Pengat has a creamier coconut gravy while bubur cha cha is very watery. Think of pengat as potatoes and bananas coated with creamy coconut syrup, rather than ‘soup’.
* note on coconut, depending where you are in the world, if you use KARA (Indonesian brand) coconut cream or local market coconut milk which tends to be thicker and creamier, follow above recipe as it is. But if it is coconut milk – more watery kind, omit the additional water (100-200 ml) and reduce the 1 cup water to make the syrup to 1/2 cup.