CHINESE NEW YEAR CELEBRITY CRUISE

It’s the seventh day of Chinese New Year and also Valentine’s Day today.

恭祝大家 猴年 好事连年、如意安康!

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Hubby and I ushered in the Year of the Monkey on board cruise ship Celebrity Millennium.

Celebrity Mellennium docking at Laem Cha Bang (8 Feb, first day of CNY)

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We had been spending most part of our Chinese New Year (CNY) away from home in the last few years (mainly in Japan) and for a change this year, we decided to just have a short trip instead.  We jumped to the opportunity to sail with Celebrity Millennium once again when we learned about this 5-night chartered cruise trip to Ko Samui and Laem Cha Bang (Thailand), departing on 5 February. Both of us like sailing on a big cruise ship (this was our fifth time), out in an open sea and we are so blessed that we have never had any seasick problems even at times when the ship was a little rocky due to rough sea conditions.  For us, a cruise trip is always very relaxed but yet there was never a moment of dullness as what many would think so.  There are many programmes and activities lined up for us each day but it is up to us to pick our choices.   We love chilling out at Al Bacio (a cafe on board) over a cup of coffee and a book, or sitting in the balcony of our room looking at the sea and listening to the sound of the waves. In fact, just less than four months ago, we sailed on the same ship for 8 nights in Japan and Busan, South Korea.  It was something very memorable and enjoyable.

On board Celebrity Millennium, the mood of CNY celebration was vibrant.  The ship was decorated for the occasion and the climax was on the eve of CNY. There was a Chinese menu for re-union dinner with Pen Cai (盆菜) specially prepared by a chef and his team of assistants from a Hong Kong restaurant.  In normal time, only western food, buffet and fusion food are served.  Abalone Yusheng was available too at additional costs.  There were also God of Fortune, countdown party etc.   We even had fire-crackers!  I mean the electronic ones! 😀

Abalone Yusheng

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Little surprises found in our room on the eve of CNY

Pen Cai

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This dish was actually served in a pumpkin and each serving was for a minimum of four people.  Since there were just two of us, we were served this mini portion in a bowl instead and it was in addition to the western meal we opted for.  The Pen Cai was really good!

God of Fortune who is actually the chief engineer of the cruise.  He was accompanied by the Hotel Director.

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God of Fortune made his first appearance at 7:30pm to distribute Hong Baos (red packets with money in them, a CNY tradition) to young children and we also had the opportunity to take photo with him.  He made his second appearance at the Grand Foyer where we had the party, just before midnight for the countdown.  By the way, the God of Fortune is a handsome Caucasian man! 🙂

Another surprise for the night!

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This ice-carving of a Monkey holding a peach was unveiled right after we ushered in the Year of the Monkey, by the captain of the cruise.  It was just so attractive that many rushed to take a photo with it.  Some even touched it as if they would receive some good luck by doing so, just like many did so with the God of Fortune!

Video of CNY Countdown Party (7 Feb)

So we really had a great time that night and it is definitely another precious travel memory to be cherished for the rest of our lives.  It has been so many years since we last actually had so much fun celebrating CNY!

The cruise trip would had been perfect if not for the adverse weather/sea condition at Ko Samui that prevented all of us who had signed up for shore excursion to proceed with our plans that day.  Hubby and I were all excited about exploring Ko Samui as it was our first time there but it was not meant to be 😦  While we appreciate that our safety was of utmost concern of the captain, the compensation (US$50 per room) was almost next to nothing and it came too late (after I had done my shopping on board and settled my bills at the front desk!).  So we decided to use it to try out luck on roulette at the casino.  No luck though! 😀

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Back in Singapore since the third day of CNY, we are getting into the mood of CNY celebration after a few years’ of break.  Today, I was all happy and excited to see lion and dragon dances, one of CNY rituals, at the places that I went to.  That’s a bonus for being home in this time of the year!  I like lion dances a lot since young and I remember my parents had paid for the troupe to perform at our home then.

Video of Lion and Dragon Dances seen on 14 Feb

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TENDON GINZA ITSUKI

A less palatable dine-out meal tends to disappoint me but a delicious one sure brightens up my day.

When I was in Tanjong Pagar last week, I came across Tendon Ginza Itsuki, a Japanese tendon specialty restaurant. Tendon (天丼) consists of tempura served on a bowl of rice.  The word tendon is an abbreviation of two words – tempura and donburi.

What actually attracted me was the long queue by the side lane of the restaurant, even slightly before the normal lunch hour of 12 noon for people working in offices in that area.  Since I rarely come to this part of Singapore, I have not eaten a Japanese meal in Singapore for a while now and could afford some time to wait, I decided to check it out.  Of course, I was driven by curiosity too.  So I had all the justifications not to miss it.

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There were around 20 people in front me.  Fortunately it was not too hot the weather, and the restaurant was thoughtful enough to provide huge red umbrellas for shelters.  Customers in queue could also help themselves with free-flow of water available at the front of the queue.

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There was information about PSI readings in view of the haze condition and a gentle reminder for customers to take care during the haze season. The restaurant even offered free masks!  Sometimes, it is small gestures like these that enhance the dining experience of the customers.  Unfortunately, not many restaurants make such conscientious effort though.

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My wait turned out to be 45 minutes.  That’s really long considering that I don’t normally like the idea of queuing this long for food. 5 to 10 minutes are still acceptable to me if I was really craving for a particular food, or a particular restaurant.

It is a very small restaurant but comfortable and cozy enough, with about 14 to 15 counter seats, and another 2 to 3 small tables.  I think it probably can accommodate a capacity of about 25 people.

Two chefs responsible for the frying of the tempura and one in preparing the rice

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There are only two choices on the menu : (1) Special Tendon which comes with prawn, chicken and vegetable tempura or Yasai (野菜) Tendon which is served with only vegetable tempura.

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Soon after I sat down, I was served chawanmushi (steamed egg in a tea bowl) and miso soup.    The chawanmushi has a seaweed flavour and it was certainly a nice starter for the meal.

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Guess what is in this bowl?

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Pickled vegetables!  It’s free-flow!Tendon07

This sign on the wall says that the restaurant uses carefully selected Japan-produced rice

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I ordered the Special Tendon which came with 2 pieces of prawns (pretty big ones), 2 pieces of chicken, mushroom, long beans, pumpkin and baby corn and a little pleasant surprise as well!  The ingredients were really fresh and good, and the tempura were fried just right.  I never knew baby corn can be this delicious!

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The little surprise –  a fried egg hidden under the tempura!  Oh, I love fried egg with the egg yolk uncooked!

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I thoroughly enjoyed my meal!  It actually took me half an hour to savour every bite of it!  It was definitely worth the long wait. For the price of S$13.95 for the Special Tendon, and S$12.95 for the Yasai Tendon, I think it it pretty good value for money, especially for the quality of the food!

After the meal, I spoke briefly with the service staff who was also manning the cash register.  I found out that this restaurant has been opened for about 3 months and the two chefs frying at the counter are from Malaysia.  One of them has worked in Japan for 8 years.

If I really had to pick on this restaurant, then I think it will have to be the loud music.  I like the fact that it was playing Japanese music but something more soothing will be pleasant for the diners.

Walking out of the restaurant, I texted hubby to tell him how satisfied I was with the meal.  I will go with him the next time, and I will have the yasai tendon instead.

On my way walking to the MRT station, still feeling happy with the meal, I saw pale blue sky and some white clouds.  At last, after many weeks of hazy condition.  What a bonus for the day!

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More Japanese food awaits me in the Land of the Rising Sun.  Hopefully by the time I return to Singapore  in two weeks’ time, there will be no more haze.

A GLIMPSE OF SG50 NDP PREVIEW AT MARINA BAY

If I have to pick a place in Singapore that I like the most, it would be none other than the Marina Bay area.  I love the beautiful skyline of the Marina Bay area and have always been impressed with the transformation of this part of Singapore in the last 10 years.  The credit goes to the government of Singapore.  In my humble opinion, this is a place that we Singaporeans can be proud of and also should be thankful to our government for what they have done, even though as a matter of fact, many of us have been feeling uncomfortable and even unhappy with some of the issues very close to our hearts, in particular population, housing and transportation, in the recent years.

Marina Bay Sand (MBS) with its SkyPark and ArtScience Museum (the lotus-look-alike building on the left)

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Beautiful skyline aside, the Marina Bay area has also been the favourite venue of NDP (National Day Parade) crowds for watching some of the actions in the event, such as aerial flypast, Presidential Gun Salute and fireworks.

This year being the Golden Jubilee or SG50 celebration year, the NDP is surely going to be very special and even more spectacular than ever.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have the luck to win two tickets to watch the Parade at the Padang.  Not wanting to miss the opportunity to be part of this celebration, hubby and I decided to join the crowds at Marina Bay instead, to catch glimpses of the event preview last Saturday (1 Aug).

(If you are a foreigner reading this, you may want to visit the SG50 or Singapore50 Website to find out more about SG50).

Oops, we were not kiasu (a local word meaning afraid to lose) enough!  By the time we got down to the Marina Bay area at about 6pm, the entire bay area was already swarmed with spectators that packed like sardines!

We managed to squeeze into a spot facing the MBS which turned out to be a pretty good spot.  Spectators on my left.

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Spectators on my right

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Spectators in front of MBS (opposite where we were) and…

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… up on the SkyPark

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It took a lot of patience though, to wait for the “actions” to take place at different stages of the NDP.  We were in a spot further away from the big LED screen showing live-streaming of the NDP at the Padang, so we couldn’t see what was actually going on over there except some of the commentaries amid the noises from the spectators.

The aerial display this year is indeed very spectacular, featuring a total of 50 aircraft from the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF).  An A380 flight adorned with our national flag from the Singapore Airlines was part of this segment too.

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State Flag Flypast

Salute-to-Nation : formation of the number “50” by 20 F-16.  This won a lot of cheers!

Impressive aerial manoeuvers

Getting ready for the Presidential Gun Salute

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21-Gun Salute during the inspection of the Parade by the “President”.  My first-time seeing a Gun Salute so up-close, and it was really loud.

After dark, as we were still waiting for the fireworks

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ArtScience Museum with its SG50 light projection

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Here’s a video that I have put together for the aerial display and fireworks.  Watching the fireworks so close for the first time was a breathtaking experience but it was too close to capture them well even with my wide-angle camera.  Alas, I also forget to use the manual-focus function. 😦 So, I am not very satisfied with the recording quality of the fireworks.

It was past 8:20pm when the fireworks ended.  Spectators began to disperse and restaurants there were getting even more crowded.  We had to wait for a while to get our table even with an advanced booking!  Fortunately the food was satisfactory (though a bit pricey), or it would have spoilt our night!

Palm Beach seafood restaurant

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While in the restaurant, we observed that there were a number of tables with diners wearing red tops.  Many came from the NDP Preview (as they were carrying the Fun Packs).  I have observed that majority of the NDP attendees would automatically wear red for the occasion, even without being told to do so.  I think this is something rather uniquely Singapore.  Perhaps this is a kind of Singapore Spirit we have at this time of the year.  I actually like it!

We had about half an hour to spare after dinner and before the next event at 11pm.  We took a stroll around the Merlion Park to enjoy the beauty of the night.  There were still many people hanging around there, many of whom were tourists.

Our national icon and also a popular tourist icon, this 8.6m-tall Merlion spouts water all day long

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The 2m-tall Merlion cub.  This doesn’t spout water

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The 260m-long Esplanade Bridge (left) and the newly completed 220m-long Jubilee Bridge with Esplanade Theatres by the Bay at the background.  The Jubilee Bridge was the brainchild of the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew, first Prime Minister of Singapore.  It is a bridge with no steps and provides barrier-free access.

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And the finale for the night – a music and light display by The Fullerton Hotel, as a tribute to SG50.

A Celebration of Our Heritage

“A Celebration of Our Heritage” showcases the iconic moments that took place at the Fullerton Square, including scenes from the election rallies in Singapore.   It is showing until 9 August, 2015 at the following timings.

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Majulah Singapura!

  • Aug 1 – 8pm, 9pm, 10pm, 11pm
  • Aug 2 – 8pm, 9pm, 10pm, 11pm
  • Aug 3 to 7 – 8pm, 9pm, 10pm
  • Aug 8 – 8pm, 9pm, 10pm, 11pm
  • Aug 9 – 8pm, 9pm, 10pm, 11pm

This is the second time The Fullerton Hotel has put up such a display in celebration of Singapore’s 50th year of Independence this year.  The first was “Journey of Singapore”, a 2-minute montage of sketches and graphics on the milestones of Singapore, shown at the end of 2014.

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Six more days to Singapore’s 50th Birthday!  Although we have no interesting arrangement planned for the coming Jubilee weekend yet, we are surely looking forward to the 4-day break (7-10 Aug).  It’s a rare treat to have one extra holiday declared this year, in celebration of SG50! 🙂

IPOH FOOD HAVEN

Hubby and I went on a week-long break in Ipoh (Malaysia) during the Hari Raya festive holiday earlier this month.  This was my third trip to Ipoh in slightly over 3 years.   We were there to visit my uncle and his family.  It was more of a trip to spend time with the young children of my cousins who seem to like us a lot, but not so much about sightseeing.

The first thing we did after arrival was to pick up my cousin niece from her school.  It was the last day of school (15 Jul) before Hari Raya.  In Malaysia, schools dismiss early every day during the Ramadan month and are typically closed for a week or longer for the Hari Raya festival.  In Singapore, our children never have such “treats”! 😦

Many parents waiting at the entrance of the school to pick up their children.  For afternoon session (primary 1 to 3 pupils), school dismissed at 5pm

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Mobile hawkers selling a variety of kachang (nuts), ice cream and even Yakult outside the school.  This is so nostalgic!

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We were received with great hospitality, as always,  and were pampered with lots of good local food every day and of course, that include a few vegetarian meals and tubs of durians which my aunty bought.  My uncle and aunty are vegetarians.

Whenever we were in Ipoh, we were not so keen on their restaurant food.  It was the local hawker food that we looked forward to.  I think it is not an overstatement to say that Ipoh is a haven for food!  Thanks to our hosts (my uncle and aunty, cousin and her hubby) who drove us around every day to savour a variety of yummy local food in some of the very popular stalls that the locals go to.

Moon De Moon (满中满) is famous for Curry Mee (咖喱面) and Gai Si (shredded chicken) Hor Fun (鸡丝河粉).  All tables were already taken up by the time we arrived at 845am.

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Just look at all the amount of bowls stacked up at the Gai Si Hor Fun stall.  They were customer orders waiting to be served.  We waited for almost an hour to get our food but it was worth doing so.

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Dry chicken curry mee which we ate for the first time.

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Gai Si Hor Fun in chicken and prawn soup.  The portion was not big, so it was in addition to the dry chicken curry mee!

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Spotted this very old car in front of the coffee shop when we left.  Some parts of the car have already rusted.  Unlike Singapore, there is no age limit for cars in Malaysia.  One can drive his car as long as he wants.  I remember one of my aunties in Johor used to drive a Volkswagen for over 40 years!

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Lei Ching coffee shop (丽晶) is famous for beef brisket noodles/Hor Fun (牛腩面/河粉) and Mee Rebus (爪哇面)

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This Mee Rebus is different from what we have in Singapore.  It has a tinge of sour taste that I found it rather refreshing, and the gravy is orangey in colour.

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The Hor Fun was served separately from the bowl of stewed beef briskets in tasty broth

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Chee Cheong Fun (猪肠粉) in curry gravy from a stall in the foodcourt of Parkson shopping mall.  In Ipoh, Chee Cheong Fun is typically served in minced pork and mushroom sauce with deep-fried shallots but some stalls serve the curry version too.  Shiok!

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Some fried stuff like fish cakes to go with the Chee Cheong Fun.  Very nicely fried, fresh and crispy

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Kedai Kopi Ah Chow looks a bit rundown but the food is definitely good

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Another version of curry Hor Fun served with shredded chicken and Char Siew.  Customers can opt for dry or soupy version.  Love it!

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Seaweed Mianxian (紫菜粉).  In Ipoh, the word 粉 (meaning powder in English) means any kind of noodles such as Kway Teow, noodles, Mianxian etc.

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This gives you an idea of the price of the food. I would say very reasonable for such delicious food

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Kedai Makan Canning Garden (桂和园) sells Chap Fun (or economy rice). See the queue?  So, what’s so good here?

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It’s the fried chicken!  My cousin said it is better than KFC’s and I can agree with her.  Unlike the rest of the dishes which were already cooked in advance, these fried chickens were freshly fried at the back of the shop and brought out in batches.  The stall opens from 10:30am but the fried chicken would be sold out by around 1-2pm.

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Fresh and tasty. Soft and crispy in the outer layer and tender inside even for the breast meat

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I don’t have a record on where I ate this fried Kway Teow which has very good wok hei (charred wok flavour).   Freshly fried Kway Teow & noodles (commonly known as Cao Fun 炒粉 in Ipoh)  is another common local breakfast food.  The Ipoh version of Char Kway Teow seems to have a sourish flavour that makes it rather special.

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Another not-to-miss food in Ipoh – Salt-baked chicken (盐焗鸡).  There are quite a number of shops selling salt-baked chickens but my cousin considers Aun Keng Lim (宴琼林)’s is the best and this brand is available only in Ipoh.

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The salt-baked chicken is generally not big in size, and best eaten when it is still warm

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One very popular biscuit shop downtown, in an area with many other eateries frequented by tourists.  See that long queue extending out of the shop?

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Sin Eng Heong sells a variety of biscuits but these kaya puffs are the most popular.  They got snatched up immediately after they were taken out of the oven!

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What’s selling here?  Funny Mountain (奇峰) soya milk and soya beancurd.  It is  very popular not just amongst the locals, but also tourists.  We actually had to queue (in the car) for our take-away.

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See that man wearing a blue cap and white shirt, with an apron?  He is the staff who runs to the customers queuing in the car to take and deliver their orders.  That saves the customers the trouble of finding a parking lot and getting out of their cars.  That’s how thoughtful the service is despite its good business!

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In Ipoh, one is spoilt with choices for vegetarian food too.

Shi Fang Zhai (十方斋) vegetarian restaurant is located at Menglembu (a town within Ipoh City, about 15 to 20 minutes drive away from Ipoh downtown)。  It serves pretty good vegetarian food and it was our second time there.

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This coffee shop (随缘素食店) sells vegetarian Char Siew and chicken rice and some other vegetarian dishes.  The owner runs a real chicken rice stall in another location during the day, and operates this vegetarian stall from late afternoon.  He is surely one very hardworking man!  I heard that it is also popular.

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Don’t they look like real Char Siew?  Nice!

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Vegetarian chicken rice

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Jiu Jiu Fu (99福) offers a good variety of Taiwanese, local and even Japanese vegetarian dishes.

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Vegetarian Unagi Temaki (hand rolls)

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Vegetarian salmon Makizushi

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Vegetarian mee goreng

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Above are just some but not all of the food we have savoured during the week.

I noticed that almost all the food stalls that we went to are owned/manned by middle-aged and older locals.  This probably speaks of the authenticity of the food.  I wonder given another 10 or 20 years, will they also be faced with the issue of losing their local food heritage just like what we are facing with the hawker food here in Singapore.  Hopefully not or it will be a sad thing.

It’s really very convenient now to travel between Singapore and Ipoh with up to three airlines serving this sector.  Firefly (a community airline wholly-owned by Malaysian Airlines) was the sole player when it started flying between these two cities in June 2009.  Just in the middle of this year, Tiger Airways and Malindo Air (a hybrid airlines between Malaysia and Indonesia which was established in 2013) started flights between Singapore and Ipoh too.  We still flew on Firefly (for the third time now) which has been reliable in terms of its services based on our experience, although its airfares were more expensive than the other two budget airlines.

This propeller aircraft has a capacity of only less than 80 passengers.

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Malaysia is one favourite travel destination of Singaporeans, when it comes to short and affordable (or even cheap) getaway holidays.  This is mainly due to the great advantage of our currency exchange rate against RM (Ringgit Malaysia).  This aside, I actually think that Malaysia has not only been blessed with rich natural resources which is total lacking in Singapore, it can also be an even better destination for tourism (not just for Singaporeans),  be it for sightseeing, food, shopping, history and culture, relaxation etc., if the country is better managed, and more effort is put in to improve its tourism sector.  I have actually shared my thoughts with a few of my Malaysian friends, and they can’t agree with me more.

I have not travelled much in Malaysia.  Safety is always my biggest concern when it comes to holidaying in Malaysia.  There have been many reports about robbery, attack etc.  in Malaysia.  My cousin, and also my friends in KL were robbed of their handbags before. In my cousin’s case, she was approached and robbed in bright daylight, right in front of my uncle’s house!  The same had happened to her daughter’s piano teacher in front of her house. That’s scary!  Safety and stability are definitely important factors for tourism.  Unfortunately, many Malaysians are very unhappy and have even lost their confidence in their government now.

HOME-MADE CHAR SIEW

I have not been eating pork since my secondary school days.  I am not a vegetarian (as you can see from my postings on food) and I can never be one since I love seafood.  It is also not due to any religious reason but a scary story about some sort of bacteria found in pork (if not cooked properly) that my biology teacher told the class in my secondary school.  Since I trusted my teacher (and I suppose all students do), and there was no way to verify the truth of that story then (internet was not available yet), I became paranoid and kiasi (a Hokkien word meaning afraid to die).  So I stopped eating pork completely.

Many years later, I did try to eat a bit of pork again but I have somehow become very sensitive to its smell, and still don’t feel comfortable eating it.  Memory of that scary story can’t seem to go away too, even after such a long time.  So, you can imagine that my hubby has been deprived of pork at our dining table but I am trying to make a change, though not a drastic one.  I began to cook pork in recent years but only very occasionally, so that hubby can have some rare treats.  I had been able to do only two pork dishes – Lor Bak (Chinese braised pork) and Bak Kut Teh (pork ribs soup with herbs and spices).  A few months ago, I expanded my list of pork dishes a little bit by adding Char Siew onto it.  It was my third time making Char Siew yesterday, so we had Char Siew rice with braised beancurd for dinner.  I could see that hubby was satisfied with it, and of course, that made my day.

Hubby’s portion with a lot more Char Siew. 

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My Char Siew was prepared with reference to the recipe found on this website called Guai Shu Shu (click here for the recipe and instructions).

I used fresh pork fillets which are normally lean and suitable for Char Siew, according to the butcher in the Fairprice Finest outlet that I went to.  About 250g only.

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Pork was marinated with lots of ingredients as per the recipe with quantity adjusted to fit the amount of pork used.  I also used less five-spice powder and sugar but more honey, and I did not use the red fermented beancurd since that’s more for colouring effect.

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The meat was kept in the chiller for 3 days.  I took it out every day to toss it around in order to get a more even marination.

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I used a different method to cook it.  It was a two-step method which I came across somewhere on the internet.

Firstly, it was cooked in a wok, using small fire, until the gravy turned thick (see next photo), and then it was roasted

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Since I didn’t have skewers, I used bamboo sticks instead.  A cake tray lined with aluminium foil was used to hold the sticks.  The cooked meat was brushed with honey before being put into the oven.

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It was roasted at 180 degree Celsius for about 8 mins, brushed with another layer of honey, and put back in the oven for another 7 mins. 

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You would probably wonder why I put a layer of aluminium each in the baking tray and also on the chopping board (above).  That was just to make it easy for my cleaning.  Just see how dirty the base of the tray was after the Char Siew was removed.  It would be a chore to scrub the dirt off.

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The Char Siew tasted great but I would say it didn’t have the same exact taste as the Char Siew bought from stalls.  The missing reddish look did not really matter.  So, it was nice to be able to have home made Char Siew this way.

ZHAI CAI 斋菜

A friend of mine has been somewhat troubled over what to prepare for an upcoming gathering on Chinese New Year.  It is good to see that members of her family and extended families are still keeping up with the tradition of a big family gathering on this special occasion, and this year, her mum is playing host for the first time.  What makes it difficult is that some of her relatives are vegetarians, thus a need to take their diet choice into consideration when preparing the food.

I suggested a couple of dishes to her. One of them is a simple stir-fry mixture of mushrooms (such as Shiitake, Buna-shimeji, Enokitake & Bunapi-shimeji) with mushroom sauce.

Mixed Mushrooms

The other is none other than Zhai Cai (斋菜), a Cantonese dish which my family eats on the first day of Chinese New Year.  This is like a family tradition since I was a kid. I have written about this (斋菜) in 2009.  My mum is still keeping this tradition till this day, and I had been doing the same (since I don’t live with her) until very recent years when hubby and I began to spend Chinese New Year outside Singapore.

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It happened that I was already planning to savour some Zhai Cai before hubby and I leave for our holiday early next week.  So, I decided to come out with this video to share with my friend, and of course anyone who is interested in it, on how I cook this dish.

It is just one week to Chinese New Year now.  Hope you find my video helpful.

TANGYUAN

Today is Winter Solstice Festival or Dongzhi (冬至) Festival.  This is a festival observed by Chinese, and other East Asians like Koreans, Japanese and Vietnamese.

For the first time since I left my birthplace, I made some tangyuan (glutinuous rice balls) for this occasion.  In the past I used to just pick up a packet of ready-made ones from the supermarket near where I live.

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When I was a young kid, there was no supermarket in my small hometown (but there are a few now).  Neither was there ready-made tangyuan available for sales.  So, it was mostly a once-a-year affair when it came to eating tangyuan.

These days, tangyuan can be easily made using dry glutinuous rice flour.  I remember in my late grandma’s time, she used to make them using wet dough available only from the wet market.  The dough had to be put in a bag made of cloth, be pressed for many hours (at times, overnight) using heavy-weight materials such as stone mortar and pestel to drain out the water, before kneading and shaping it into small balls.  Now, I wonder why she (and most people) didn’t use dry glutinuous rice flour then.  Typically, tangyuan was plain, i.e. without any filling like ground peanuts or black sesame, and consisted of white and pink colours (by use of colouring).  Sweet ginger soup made using white or palm sugar, was used to cook the Tangyuan.

These days, with so much of creativity out there, there are many variations of tangyuan, like those in the two photos below which I received from a friend.

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I think these are too cute to be eaten!

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I know I am far from having the needed skills for such creativity. So it is only practical to keep to the typical plain tangyuan (i.e. without any filling)  but with a bit of twist in terms of the colours.  Instead of using 100% glutinuous rice flour, I decided to use a mixture of flour and other ingredients – purple sweet potatoes, pumpkin, huaishan (nagaimo in Japanese), and green tea powder.  This explains my bowl of colourful tangyuan, all from natural colours. 🙂

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I made sweet red dates soup to suit DS’s preference.

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Instead of cooking the tangyuan directly in the red dates soup which would make the soup look cloudy, I first cooked them in plain water in a separate pot, let them cool in a bowl of ice water, then only transferred them to the soup and bring to boil.

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Tangyuan in clear red dates soup

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Chinese has this saying, 吃了汤圆又长一岁,meaning one year older after eating tangyuan on Dongzhi.  Oh dear, I am another year older now!

Anyway, happy Dongzhi Festival!