During my pre-teen days, I used to accompany my late Granny on her bi-monthly trips from Butterworth to a small town called Padang Serai in Kedah, to visit her eldest daughter. We would wait at the bus stop nearby for the red-and-yellow liveried Central Province Wellesley bus to take us on the 90-minute journey.
On each visit, Granny would pack at least one chicken (sometimes a duck as well) from her own hand-raised “broods” in our backyard, for my Big Aunty and her family.
Usually, the chicken was quite cooperative (legs tied, no doubt), but the ducky fellow could be quite an embarrassing nuisance with its non-stop quacking all the way. Well, in those days, no one in the bus complained or made a hoo-hah. It was an accepted way of life. (In these days of smartphones, the saga would have gone viral).
My heart goes Boom-Bang-A-Bang when they are near, Boom-Bang-A-Bang loud in my ears.
Honestly I hate firecrackers and the din they make, except for the time when I was playing with them in my kiddy days. And it was a hazard travelling on trishaws during CNY season, as unsavoury characters would throw packs of lit crackers at the passengers.
I remember in Penang, banks along Beach Road used to “challenge” one another with strings of firecrackers as long as 3 storeys tall. And afterwards, the streets were carpeted in a sea of red paper “shrapnels”.
For centuries, the Chinese have exploded huge fortunes in setting off firecrackers, celebrating the Lunar New Year, weddings, etc.
Other communities in Malaysia now too have keenly adopted this noisy practice for festive occasions such as Deepavali and the Hari Rayas, though it is unlawful.
Folkore has it that this sticky kuih was offered to the Kitchen Gods before they were sent off to heaven for CNY, ensuring that their mouths were “glued” shut, preventing bad reports from being heard “up there”.
Traditionally, small bamboo baskets lined with heat-treated banana leaves were used to hold the gooey slurry, before being put into a steamer to cook the contents.
There were a lot of “pantangs” or taboos to be avoided during the making, otherwise the results would be “disastrous”
This “Kuih Bakul” as it is also known, can be eaten in several ways. Cut into smaller slices and sandwiched between pieces of yam and/or sweet potato and deep-fried was one yummy way. Another was to coat softened slices with finely grated coconut.
I preferred those that had hardened over several months — just ate the slices without further ado.
Make it yellow, sticky and lemak. And don’t forget the Curry Chicken, please. Folks, remember the Nasi Kunyit of old?
Long before pathetic western cakes became incomprehensibly (to me, at least) fashionable, the successful completion of the first month on Earth for a baby was celebrated with the preparation and serving of Nasi Kunyit – which is steamed glutinous rice, laced with santan and colored with turmeric, and stuffed with some pepper corns.
When eaten with thick Chicken Curry ( I preferred to add a little fine sugar), it was scrumptiously yummy yum yum! Of course at that time carbophobia was not yet invented, so no one was worried nor had any guilt-hangovers!
I remember that Nasi Kunyit was also a favorite serving on other festive occasions – as and when there was reason to get “high” other than Full Moons.
Decades ago, it was a tradition among the Chinese to engage in fowl play as part of the wedding ceremony for a newly-married couple.
After the formalities were done at the groom’s place, the wedding party would go to the bride’s home for the rituals at the maternal side. Accompanying their return to their matrimonial home would be a rooster and a hen, which would then be released under the newly-weds’ nuptial bed. If the rooster emerged first, that “augured” the first-born child would be a son, if the hen came out first, then a daughter.
In Chinese these are called 带路鸡 (or ‘chua lor kay’ in Penang Hokkien)
These days I believe most couples would chicken out at the prospect of having two live specimens foul up their love nest; don’t worry there are lots of mock ones available.
Long before the actress Gong Li tried to Raise The Red Lantern in 1991, the Chinese folks already have a custom for Chinese New Year, which caused everyone to see red.
Don’t get me wrong — am talking about the tradition of making intricate cuttings using red paper, and then pasting these patterns onto all kinds of fruits, cookies & goodies, sugar-cane, nian gao (kueh bakul) in preparation for the Lunar New Year.
As kids, we loved to participate in this red-hot activity, using our imaginations to challenge one another to see who could produce the most intricate patterns. I had always looked forward to this ‘fun’. (Sometimes our fingers blistered through excessive friction with the handles of the scissors).
Of course now, with computer-aided technology, such paper-cuttings have become very cheap and far more complex than what human fingers can produce.