A New Beginning

This Chinese New Year is the fourth I celebrated with Wuan’s family in Ipoh. Something is different this year. I was embraced by a sense of belonging, a sense of familiarity, a sense of festivity that I have not experienced in a long time, not since my mother’s death in 2003.

In the subsequent years after her passing, I had consciously chosen not to partake in the celebrations. I was simply too disraught to even think of making merry. Festivals were mostly spent in quiet reflections of the sacrifices she made to ensure that I was never in need.

Although the pain of losing her is still as fresh today as it was seven years ago, I realised that the grieving has to end somewhere for the living to begin. The advent of the new spring is as good a time as can be to start afresh. That was what I did and intend to do from now on.

New She Lai Ton Restaurant yee sang
Flavourful salmon yee sang from New She Lai Ton Restaurant.
Photo by Wuan.

We spent four days in Ipoh, taking along Fei Por and Cheeky with us for their vaccinations and annual check-up at the Ipoh Garden Animal Clinic. As for us, it was feasting, feasting and more feastings. Needless to say, the Chinese New Year season is the most difficult time for me to keep to my low-protein diet.

New She Lai Ton Restaurant red cooked pig trotter with black moss
Hung siew chu sau with fatt choy (Red cooked pig trotter with black moss).
Photo by Wuan.

Of all the restaurants we ate at, we liked the food most at the New She Lai Ton Restaurant. We had one half portion of salmon yee sang and three simple dishes as there were only Wuan’s parents and us for that meal. The yee sang came in a very generous serving. We had to confirm with the waitress to be sure it was indeed for us. Of all the yee sang I have eaten this year, this is the best.

New She Lai Ton Restaurant steamed fish with tau kan
Steamed king grouper fish (long tan) with tau kan.
Photo by Wuan.

The hung siew pig trotter with black moss was well marinated and tender. I actually had to stop myself from eating too much. Next up was the steamed fish fillet with tau kan (bean curd sheets). It was done just right despite the restaurant being almost full. The stir-fried lai pak with garlic looked deceivingly plain but was tasty.

New She Lai Ton Restaurant stir fried lai pak with garlic
Stir fried lai pak.
Photo by Wuan.

The food was so good that my mother-in-law is already planning the next reunion dinner and new year lunch at this restaurant. Wuan and I certainly do not have any objection. We all left the restaurant with our appetites fully satiated. Most importantly, the restaurant is accessible from the car park. We usually have a hard time selecting a restaurant that I could get into.

The joy of celebrating the Chinese New Year, the rekindling of family ties and the sitting down for a good meal together have all stirred up that warm and fuzzy feeling in me. Finally, after so many years, I have again found the reason to be happy during these auspicious occasions.

Yee Sang For Abundance And Prosperity

Yee sang
Delicious Yee Sang at Han City Restaurant in Ipoh on the first day of Chinese New Year.

Among the delicious Chinese New Year dishes, my favourites are the hou si fatt choy, fish maw soup and yee sang. Hou si fatt choy is a dish of braised dried oysters, black moss and shitake mushrooms. I cannot take too much of the hou si fatt choy because of my diet. However, I make up for that by feasting on yee sang. This dish is only available during the Chinese New Year.

Yee sang is a dish of raw fish (usually salmon slices), julienned jelly fish, chillies, raw, kaffir lime leaves, papayas, carrots turnips, pickled ginger, sesame seeds together with crispy yam and vermicelli, crushed peanuts and other ingredients. Lime juice is added to marinate fish slices. Plum sauce and sesame oil is added last after which diners use chopsticks to toss the ingredients to mix them well. The act of tossing is called “lou hei” which is the homophone of rising propserity.

Yee sang is eaten on yan yat which falls the seventh day of the first month in the Chinese calendar. This is the day when humans were created according to Chinese legends. Yee sang sounds like growing abundance and Chinese love to eat anything with an auspicious sounding name. On the other hand, I like it because it is tasty and only available this time of the year.

However, the exclusivity of eating yee sang on yan yat is lost to commercial concerns. Supermarkets were displaying packed yee sang for sale one month before Chinese New Year. Many restaurants already had yee sang in the menu two weeks before the New Year. We had yee sang during the reunion dinner (tuan yuan fan) and New Year lunch (kai nian fan) in Ipoh, and another when we celebrated the occasion on the third day with William, Cynthia and Emily in Kuala Lumpur. Nevertheless, I am going to drag Wuan to another yee sang for dinner later. Today is after all the day for yee sang.