Happy New Year! 新年快乐! (Pronounced: “Xīnnián kuàilè” or to my American ear, “SING nee-en KWAI-leh”) As my previous post mentioned, Junwen and I are currently in Singapore! We’ve been visiting family and friends, just taking the time to be together and to enjoy the holidays. We had considered visiting for the Chinese New Year, but the way recent life events unfolded, we decided to visit over the Christmas season.
Today is the first day of 2015 (though back in the States, friends and family are still hours away from the New Year’s countdown)! This morning my mum offered me a delicious treat to try: 粿 (Hokkien) or “kueh”, pronounced like “kway” or “gway”. (I’ve noticed that the “k” and “g” sounds in Chinese/Hokkien are very close in sound, similar to the way “p” and “b” are similar in Chinese/Hokkien.) You may also find it spelled, “kuih”. She picked it up from a famous stall in Outram Park, Ji Xiang Confectionary. (The link takes you to their Facebook page, where you can see more pictures of the aunties preparing the cakes.)
The kueh are cakes with an outer skin of mochi, or rice flour, with what could be a sweet or savory filling. In this case, it was a sweet yellow bean filling that was very delicious! Similar to the mooncakes we posted about earlier, the kueh are put into a mold to give it the beautiful design on the outside. They are then served on top of a banana leaf.
According to Wikipedia, it appears that the type of kueh we had is “Ang koo kue (紅龜粿) or “ang ku kueh” – a small round or oval shaped Chinese pastry with typically a red-colored soft sticky glutinous rice flour skin wrapped around a sweet filling in the center.” The mold is to make the cake look like a tortoise shell. Mum was explaining to me that usually people will eat these at a party when a baby turns one-month old. In fact, one of Ah Ma’s aunties baked these for Junwen when he turned one month! (Ah Ma is Junwen’s paternal grandmother.) They had to wake up in the middle of the night in order to prepare them for the big celebration. Eating these are supposed to bring blessings to the baby and long life to the elderly.
I was reading that the ang ku kueh is considered auspicious, and as such are often prepared for the New Year celebrations. Eating tortoise is believed to bring long life, good fortune and prosperity—so, eating these on New Year’s Day was quite appropriate and festive! As you may know, we’re always super excited when we discover surprise Dutchinese connections, and the kueh happens to be one of them! In researching the kueh, I discovered that not only are they a popular cake in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Southern China, they are *also* popular in the Netherlands due to its colonization of Indonesia! I’d never eaten anything like this growing up, so if any of my Dutch friends or family have experienced this type of food please let us know in the comments!
There IS however an additional link to this treat and the New Year’s that I *have* experienced, and that is the Dutch oliebollen. Oliebollen are the precursor to today’s donut eaten around the world (due to the Dutch explorers, tradesmen, and colonization which spread Dutch influence globally). Since I can’t quickly cook up a batch away from my own kitchen to show you an example, allow me to link you to another blog with this beautiful picture of the Dutch classic:
You may be wondering how this powdered-sugar-coated, deep-fried dough (oliebollen literally translates to “oil spheres”) relates to kueh. Again, due to the global travels of the Dutch, not only was the Netherlands influenced by Southeast Asia, but Southeast Asia was influenced by the Netherlands. One type of kueh is the “Kue bolen”, which is a flour pastry baked with butter or margarine crust layers similar to those of a croissant, filled with cheese, banana, or durian. (Also thanks to Wikipedia for this info!) Finally, just like the ang ku kueh is eaten at the New Year, so is the oliebollen. In fact, although donuts are eaten all-year-round worldwide, and in the States I’ve eaten oliebollen at all times of the year, traditionally in the Netherlands oliebollen is eaten as a New Year’s Eve treat.
Anyways, I had fun learning more about New Year’s traditions through the simple sharing of the ang ku kueh that mum brought back. Of course, the complete set of traditions is much more extensive, but sometimes it’s great learning new things in small bites—in this case, the bite was quite delicious! It seems that all cultures around the world have special foods to celebrate the passing of the old year and the coming of the new…What are some of yours?