Category Archives: customs

Stick ‘Em Up

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.

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Rice To The Occasion Of The Full Moon

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.

Playing Chicken In The Bridal Chamber

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.

Paste The Red Patterns !

Long before Gong Li raised 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.  (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 human fingers can produce.