Chinese New Year is around the corner once again! If you get invited to a friend’s house for a CNY gathering, here’s what you can expect!
1. Having a steamboat dinner
Singaporeans love steamboat. It’s probably one of the easiest kind of meals to prepare for a group of people without messing up the kitchen too much. It’s difficult to go too wrong with a steamboat too because you just have to ensure a good soup base and fresh ingredients. Ta-dah!
The soup base is usually made using chicken or pork bones and some herbs like goji berries and red dates thrown in. Since Singaporeans are into spicy food, some families also prepare a tomyum or mala soup base. The food for steamboat is pretty standard – prawns, fishballs, cabbage, chicken, dumplings, enoki mushrooms, thinly sliced meat Since it’s CNY, more expensive ingredients like scallops, flower crabs and the prized abalone might be on the menu too.
Everyone sits around a table with 2 pots of soup sitting on a portable electric stove. Plates of raw food surround the pots and you basically throw in whatever you feel like having. There are ladles to scoop food in and out of the pot, but usually people just use their own pair of chopsticks to do it as well. Might be yucky for some but we guess it kind of makes everyone feel more like family. Lol~ (Any bacteria dies in the hot soup anyway right?)
When the food runs out, the host normally refills the raw food and you feel like you’re having a buffet because the food never seems to run out.
(Watch how a home-cooked reunion meal is prepared!)
2. Watching movies together on TV
Somehow it seems like the same movies are screened on free-to-air TV every year, but people still enjoy them – especially the evergreen slapstick Stephen Chow or kick-ass Jackie Chan movies. People bond over munching CNY snacks and watching a movie together. Other than movies, the typical programmes aired are CNY countdown events from Taiwan or China and music award ceremonies.
3. Playing mahjong and blackjack
This is the time when the mahjong table is left open so guests who come in can take turns to play. If you don’t know how it works, just ask and people are often willing to teach you if it is a casual I-don’t-mind-if-I-lose-a-little low stakes game. In fact many people play the tiled game only once a year during CNY just for fun. Blackjack is also pretty common among friends and family. The person on a winning streak normally volunteers to be the banker.
4. Catching up (aka questioning)
For most, visiting friends and relatives is a yearly affair – during CNY, so it’s a time to catch up. The older relatives tend to ask the same set of questions:
– If you are single: Do you have a boyfriend yet? (Reply: No.) Why not? You are so handsome/pretty. Don’t have too high expectations.
– If you are attached: So when are you getting married? (Reply: We are just taking things slow.) Quickly get married I can’t wait to attend your wedding.
– If you are married: No children yet? (Reply: Maybe in the next few years.) Why wait so long you have been married for some time already.
– If you have kids: Are you planning to have another one? (Reply: We’re still thinking about it.) It’s always good to have more kids.
Be prepared with the right answers! The best response when you don’t know how to respond? Just nod, smile and agree.
Watch us answer typical questions asked during CNY!
5. Giving/Receiving ang pows (red packets)
If you are single, bring a couple of mandarin oranges. You will need to give two (good things come in pairs!) mandarin oranges to those married and older than you and say a word of blessing, such as good health, prosperity or success to them in the new year. If you are married, prepare some cash with you spouse in ang pows and distribute them to both the married and unmarried. If you are giving an ang pow to someone older and important (like your mother-in-law :D), then give two oranges as well and wish them well for the new year. If you are not Chinese, you don’t have feel obligated to give ang pows especially when people give you one. 🙂 There is no rule as to how much to give, except that the amount should be an even number. The closer you are to certain relatives and friends, the more people tend to give. The winners: Kids.
6. Playing with sparkles
Firecrackers are banned in Singapore, so sparkle sticks are the best you can get in this land. You can buy sparkles from stores selling miscellaneous items in the housing estates or from night markets (a huge night market is open in Chinatown 3 weeks before CNY). The kids play outdoors in the playgrounds or in the yard.
We visited Chinatown during CNY!
90% of the people fall into this trap so don’t feel guilty. The CNY snacks only appear once a year so give yourself a break. Every house that you visit will definitely have a jar of pineapple tarts, love letters, cashew cookies, bak kwa (barbecued meat), and the list goes on. The host serves the packet or canned beverages (standard flavours: chrysanthemum tea, lemon barley, winter melon, green tea, coke, F&N orange, grape…..). Cooking seems to be perpetual in almost every house too. When you visit, the host will serve what they have on the menu even if you just had lunch at someone else’s place. The common food items are fried bee hoon (vermicelli), a pot of curry chicken and fried nian gao (glutinous rice cake). Since it is not so nice so reject an offer, you end up eating a little. This is why people never hungry and always put on weight over CNY. *Yikes*
Happy new year everyone! HUAT ah~!
Click here to learn the dos and don’ts during CNY visiting.