Thursday, February 03, 2011

Once Upon a Lunar New Year

It was one of those long ago lunar new years and the first time I spent it as an out-law. I know what you’re thinking but so sorry to disappoint you. I wasn’t a criminal nor a guest of the state at Kepayan or any of the jails in this beautiful country.

I was spending the CNY at Mr. Hubby’s family home. Since his family are the in-laws then I must be the out-law. Unless they come as guests to my house when it’s the other way round!

Anyway, it was the first time I was in the middle of this mad preparation that took place on new year eve. Naturally, I was interested in every little thing especially the food. (More about that later.)

Apparently, on the eve of every lunar new year FIL distributed new face towels to everyone in the family. They’d discard their old, discoloured ones, along with cracked crockery and such stuff. They used the  brand new towels and bathed with water in which pomelo leaves and lemon grass had been boiled. And during this particular time when I was their guest, FIL personally handed a towel to everyone—except me! Nobody seemed to care that FIL had left me out. Everyone pretended not to notice that my hand was half out to catch the last towel in FIL’s hand. Ooops, that’s was for the patriarch!

Instead of retiring to a corner to nurse my bruised ego, I promised myself I’d buy me the nicest, fluffiest, baby-pink towel as soon as the shops re-opened for business. Maybe FIL didn’t have enough cash for an extra ‘good morning’ towel. Maybe.

The in-laws spent the whole day cooking and preparing the evening meal. Actually, FIL did most of the cooking after shooing his family out of the kitchen. The ladies-in-law adopted the role of assistant cooks in the back porch. I suspect FIL didn’t want anyone to know how to prepare his special dishes and risk losing his position as the ‘greatest cook from China’.

Nobody minded me minding my own business so I sat and waited for the heavenly smells to waft out from the kitchen while dreaming of the day when Mr. Hubby would inherit his father’s culinary expertise! (I was building castles in the air then and continued to build them for a good ten years before I came to my senses and decided that a decade was a long time to waste my creativity on nothing.)

But back to my story. FIL took the stuff that had been peeled and chopped and sliced and cut by his able assistants. Chunks of meat, soaked mushrooms, handfuls of garlic and star anise and un-named spices were put in a cauldron and some magic words whispered and eight hours later a bowl of yam pork and other delightful things emerged and were placed at the centre of the round dinner table.

Every square inch of the table was covered with food. Besides the yam pork, there was a  roasted duck, a steamed chicken sprinkled with coriander, a plate of sliced roasted pork, stuffed mushrooms, deep fried prawns, egg rolls, stuffed bean curd cubes and salad greens. And of course soup.

There was hardly any place for the rice bowls. I think I could have enjoyed the meal if I wasn’t terrified that my bowl could slip off the edge of the table and make a spectacle of itself by disgorging my rice onto everybody’s pomelo-scented feet.

At seven o’clock sharp everyone (except eldest BIL) was seated at the round table. I took my chopsticks and eagerly eyed the display before me, anxious to start and show my appreciation. But wait! No one was lifting no chopsticks. Oh? Grace before meal?

Suddenly I was in danger of going deaf. BIL had just burnt a string of fire-crackers two miles long. The deafening sounds echoed around the room and chased away stubborn resident ghosts. Everyone smiled. That was the signal to start dinner—the firecrackers, not the smiles.

After dinner, all the unmarried kids-in-law (some older than me!) received their angpows. This time I knew better than to ‘ready’ my hand. The in-laws retired to count their angpow windfall and I to decide how many face towels I’d bring the following year: one or ten? It was a fitting end to a long day.

Gong Xi Fa Cai! Wishing you health and prosperity. May your money multiply like rabbits!

Pictures from Google Images


  1. Wow, I enjoyed reading this post! May your money multiply like rabbits? LOL

    I never thought that I was ever to dine fine Chinese food with in-laws on CNY eves, but lucky me my FIL is a Chinese with really good culinary skills, which I also hope my wife would inherit. This is my first such experience.

    Wishing you health and prosperity too! Happe Chinese New Year!

  2. Hi Angel and Rick! Happy new year to you both.

    Rick, an Indian friend told me, 'During CNY you wish you were married to a Chinese'!

    It's good to learn to cook a few special dishes. None of my in-laws learnt the old man's cooking skills. Such a pity!

  3. Poor you never get that towel at all. Well, did get your pink towel from your own purse? The dishes laid on the round table looked yummy and made me feel hungry. Any of the dishes you managed to inherit from your FIL cooking skill? I like the yam pork - one of my favorites.