Last year I recorded some images of the food of Chinese New Year as celebrated here in Seremban, Malaysia. This year, I thought it would be interesting to have a look at the work that goes into preparing these dishes. This is in no way a collection of recipes, as having an ang moh buzzing around snapping pictures while you’re cooking your tenth dish for the day in 40 degree kitchen air isn’t a lot of fun, but it will hopefully give you a little more insight into Chinese New Year than you get from seeing finished meals.
The first few pictures show the making of acar, a mix of cut vegetables soaked in vinegar. The vegetables have to be squeezed to remove excess vinegar, a very manual process. The next images show pouring jelly into moulds containing longan fruits, as well as various raw ingredients. Not all dishes are for human consumption – some of the ingredients shown here, such as the whole duck, are destined for the house shrine.
A popular soup includes large mushrooms and sea cucumbers, both of which are purchased dried and must be soaked before they return to an edible state. The sea cucumbers are also used in a pork stew, which lead to an unfortunate faux pas on my part: I was avoiding the pork fat and skin, leaving them on the side of my plate, when the conversation turned to how expensive the sea cucumbers are – over RM 200 ($75 AUD) worth were used for the meal we were eating. Suddenly someone realized that the “pork skin” I thought I was healthily discarding was in fact a large piece of expensive sea cucumber coloured by the stew’s stock, and a storm of scolding commenced!
After a few more dishes, including my favourite loh bak (not the spicy pork rolls that everyone else calls by that name), we have some colourful jelly dessert – I don’t like to think about how long it must have taken to create all those different layers.