Pigs Have Years

The ReUnion Dinner Menu
双 喜 齐 捞 生Double Happiness Yee Sang
菜 胆 鳳 展 翅Double-Boiled Shark’s Fin in Chicken Wing
港 式 沙 皮 乳 豬BBQ Suckling Pig Hong Kong Style
虾 子 酿 脱 参Braised Stuffed Sea Cucumber with Prawns Roe
鲜 竹 云 耳 蒸 龙 趸Steamed Deep-Sea Garoupa with Fresh Beancurd Skin
Black Pepper Beef
Rice Seasoned with Preserved Meats And Chinese Sausages
贵 妃 金 沙 露Sweetened Pumpkin with Yam
酥 皮 窝 餅Chinese Pancake
Gong Xi Fa Cai. May I wish one and all a happy and prosperous Year of the Pig. To commemorate this event which was on the 18th of February, I had intended to write about the Family Reunion dinner which occurs on the eve of the New Year. The reason this post is late, was because I was rather embarrassed. I had intended to take a photo of each and every one of the dishes of a Chinese nine course meal. My good intentions was frustrated as there was a long delay between courses as there were just too many patrons at the restaurant and the staff were unable to cope with the numbers. As a result, I forgot to take the photos the minute the food arrived and suffice to say it disappeared very quickly. There. With my confession out of the way, let me tell you more about the reunion dinner.

The menu is given for your perusal. We took the chef’s recommended menu and made two alterations. In Malaysia, the chef will normally prepare three menus of increasing prices but the number “8” must appear prominently. This is because the words for “8” and for “prosperity” are very similar phonetically and it is considered good luck. Hence, our basic menu cost RM 888/- per table and other menus cost RM 788 and RM 1088. This incidentally is my 88th post.

This year it was just my parents, myself and my wife and my eldest brother and his family attending the dinner. Things have changed within my lifetime. The reunion dinner was something that no one missed. However, the realities of modern living has made that tradition increasingly difficult to observe. I have two other siblings but they and their families no longer live in Malaysia.My eldest brother is an architect. His eldest daughter is working as a personal assistant to the Director of a manufacturers association. His youngest (son) is studying Mass Communications. One other daughter married last year and so will spend the reunion dinner with her in-laws.

As I said, times and traditions have changed in my lifetime. When I was young, no one works on reunion dinner night and that includes restaurants. In fact many businesses close for at least a week and some for as long as 15 days. Everyone expected to be with their families and have a home cooked meal for New Year’s Eve. Some very traditional families still observe this and even the choice of dishes is predetermined to represent some form of good luck for the coming year. As time moved on in the 1970’s, some restaurant owners tried to stay open during the Chinese New Year period but they had to pay their staff triple salary and the returns were poor as most people continued to eat at home. Today, most families have their reunion dinner at restaurants and the staff are expected to work without extra compensation. This change has been driven by a weakened economy.

I miss the old days. The celebrations and the family gathering were given a higher level of importance and priority which is sadly lacking today.

Here are some of other customs that are also observed but less frequently within the Malaysian Chinese population. Chinese New Year is not just about the day itself but here are 15 days of celebrations and observations. Likewise, one is also expected to carry out certain observances before in preparation for the New Year. The first is the ceremony for the Kitchen God. According to Chinese traditional beliefs, the Kitchen God is like an official sent from Heaven to oversee the well being of the family (he is often represented by an altar in the kitchen). However, a week before the New Year, the Kitchen God returns to Heaven to give a report on the family. Therefore it is important to offer the Kitchen God specially made sticky cakes made from lotus root and other sweets. It symbolizes sealing the mouth of the Kitchen God to prevent him from giving a bad report and if that failed, sweetening his words. It’s implied that the Kitchen God will keep his mouth shut in return for such offerings. In fact, it is a form of theologically inspired bribery.

Another belief which is held strongly by the older generation is that from the eve of the New Year for at least 24 hours, you should not use a broom to sweep the floor because it signifies sweeping all the good luck out of the house.

Firecrackers, which were a Chinese invention, are meant to scare demons away and to usher in prosperity. In Malaysia today, there is a ban on firecrackers for safety as well as noise control reasons. So like it or not the traditions are changing.

One final thought, for many Chinese, the Year of the Pig is generally an auspicious year for having babies. So watch out for a baby boom.

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