Monday, February 15, 2010


I am not quite sure why the Chinese place great emphasis on homonyms or even how or when this came about. A word is not just a word to the Chinese cos' it can mean something quite different when its pronuciation "sounds like" another word. This is especially important during the Chinese New Year Reunion dinner.
The Reunion Dinner is like Christmas/Thanksgiving dinners where families meet for the one big annual gathering. Flight, bus and train tickets are booked one year in advance for the exodus from the cities back home. Even schools close for a one week holiday and there is a national two-day holiday for the occassion. The Reunion dinner is at our parents' home. If our parents are no longer living, the honour goes to the eldest son. In my family, we take turns to hold the dinner as it involves a lot of cooking. It is not fair to my eldest sister-in-law to be bestowed with this "honour" every year.

WHAT FOOD must be served to ensure a New Year filled with prosperity and good fortune? PLENTY and they are all dictated by homonyms.
FISH - a silver white pompret. Fish is "yue" which has the same sound as "excess." Serving fish measn to have excess/abundance every year. Never serve a BLACK fish.

Arrowheads - Not the arrow heads for archery but a bulb that is only available during the New Year period. In Chinese it is called "nga ku." They are sliced and added to other dishes or more popularly deep fried into chips. Symbolically, "nga ku" has a tiny shoot at the tip and as all plants grow towards sunlight, it signifies a bright new start. I am not particular fond of "nga ku" in my food so I have planted them in water and in earthern pots for my family's shinny New Year.

Mandarin oranges ("kam" - gold) - treasure boxes of gold Waxed meat - Waxed duck, chicken and sausages bring abundance for the year and they are specially imported from China. The meats are hung and dried by the winter winds, after which they are preserved in wax in hugh drums for export. We steam them to melt the wax and eat the meat which is quite tough but it has lovely salty flavours. Waxed duck was my dad's favourite and he always got the drumstick but, we kids did not mind at all as none of us wanted dried tough and chewy meat.

Reddish pork sausages and dark brown liver sausages

Leeks - I hate leeks as much as President Bush hates brocholli. I believe it must be an acquired taste. But leeks in Chinese is " shuen" and this sounds like "counting." "Counting what?" Money, of course, thus leeks are associated with wealth. I absolutely never eat this and maybe that's why I am just "cukup" (enough, not rich or poor).

Lotus root - Haa... I love this. "Lin ngau" rhymes with "every year got" in Chinese and this means the year will bring everything that is needed. I reckon it is true as I am not counting money but I got everything in life - happiness and good health.
And it is a noisy affair right from the start. Respect and filial piety like all other cultures is practised. No seating at the table until the elders have sat down, no picking any food until the eldest has taken and the most fun is calling every elder to eat. We have to call the elders (all grand parents, uncles, aunties and parents) to eat before us.

So it goes like this, "Yeye, seet fun (paternal grand father, eat rice); "mama, seet" fan (paternal grandma eat rice), pak-pak (paternal uncle); ah ku (paternal aunty); mummy and papa, "seet fan." Just think the table is filled with children and grand children all wishing the same words at the same time. The elders reply "seet, seet..." which means "eat, eat...'


  1. I enjoy learning new things from your blog. You are making me so much smarter!