Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Chinese New Year @ Petaling Street

I better start posting about Chinese New Year as it's just round the corner! The post is also early so all of you will know what to shop for these few days before the celebrations. I decided to start out with THE place everyone will go to do their Chinese New Year shopping, i.e. Petaling Street or Chinatown. You will note that everything related to Chinese New Year has it's significance that is said to bring prosperity and good luck which every Chinese desires. Even though it may not have any particular significance, some traders will devise new names that signify prosperity for items to entice customers to purchase them.

Most areas in town have put up red lanterns that are lit up at night which look really impressive especially when there are rows and rows of them. I didn't realise the lamp posts within Chinatown come with a dragon's head until I took this picture of the lanterns - it looks pretty impressive. Some homes will also put up these red lanterns with the hope that prosperity will come their way for the new year.

The Chinese love to decorate their homes to usher in the new year. Not only does it look good, it's a sign of Spring is here. Usually living plants are used as they symbolise growth ("sang" in Cantonese means alive) and flowers represent wealth and prosperity which every Chinese wishes for the new year.

An essential decoration in most Chinese homes are the tall branches of the pussy willow that you can decorate with red ribbons, angpow packets and ornaments. Some say the pussy willow means silver or coins in Chinese that will bring wealth to you in the new year. I used to help my mother pick the skins out from the pussy willows and it was such tedious work with a needle. You need to be super careful that the white bit does not come out or else your pussy willows will just be branches of wood! Usually they can last a long time if you keep them dry and if you place them in water, small flowers will bloom.

You can also get these coloured pussy willows nowadays which are basically the normal pussy willows painted with different colours. I am a total tradionalist as I prefer the white ones.

If you don't like the pussy willow, you can instead put up these plum blossoms as a decoration that thoroughly signify spring is here. You can also mix and match them with your pussy willows to give your vase some colour. The plum blossoms are said to signify courage and hope as these tiny delicate flowers blossom from lifeless looking branches during springtime.

Hanging decorations around your house is essential and they all come in different motifs and various shades of red and gold. I liked this particular decoration as it featured a bunch of red chillies which is so cute. You can even make your own hanging decorations if you are deft with your fingers by folding angpow packets into lanterns or animal shapes.

Kumquat or lime trees also feature heavily also in Chinese New Year decorations and look good at home or even in the office. In Chinese, they are known as Kam Gat Shu which means gold (Kam) and luck(Gat). The green leaves on the plant is also said to symbolise wealth as Luk rhymes with wealth in Chinese. This particular tree is a fake one though but it looks as though it will last through time as most kumquat trees only last during the festive season.

Peonies are also a popular flower to display during Chinese New Year. In Chinese, it's known as the flower of riches and honour. These ones come in bright colours that will definitely light up your house. The red peony is said to have special significance and brings good luck and fortune to whoever displays it.

These lucky bamboos have become a staple during recent Chinese New Years. Incidentally, it seems they are not really bamboos as they don't belong to the same plant family but the moniker of bamboo has stuck through marketing efforts. These twisted or curled bamboos sometimes come with red ribbons tied on them. You are to display them in odd numbers in vases with water. The best thing about them is they keep well so little work is needed to maintain it.

This is another variety where sticks of them are tied in a towerlike structure and placed in a shallow vase with stones and water. The stones are said to help prevent mosquitoes from breeding. They can come with a few tiers of bamboos.

I am partial to decorating the house with plants during Chinese New Year and one of my favourite plants are these adorable cherry tomato plants. They don't last long but look so adorable that I can never resist them. The other plant I like are the ones with large bunches of chillies. Will try and look for a picture of the plant as it's really cute.

Every year, the traders will always introduce some new plant that may or may not be the trend of the season. This year, it seems to be this little plant called a happy plant. Not sure what it's botanical name is but it looks pretty cute with the shoot coming out from the green bulb. These plants and flowers can be obtained along Jalan Tun HS Lee and Jalan Hang Lekir. Walk around the numerous florists and wholesale shops to choose what you want and remember that prices will differ from each area i.e. Petaling Jaya prices are always different from Kuala Lumpur prices.

I am sure you are sick of decorations so let's talk about food. In Chinese homes, there will always be a circular candy tray filled with dried fruits, sweets and candies that are for visiting guests. This is known as Chuen Hop or the tray of togetherness. Each fruit is said to have different significance; coconut for togetherness, candied melon for good health and etc. You can get the different varieties from stalls along Petaling Street and one stall has them all labeled in English for easy reference. My favourites are the long coconut strips.

Chinese New Year means great feasts and everyone will flock to dried goods shops like Chai Huat Hin which is along Jalan Tun HS Lee. You stock up all the goodies like sea cucumbers, dried oysters, abalones, chinese mushrooms, fish maw, sharks fin, waxed meats, dried scallops and etc.

Waxed meats are a delicacy you enjoy during the new year and will find it's way to most dishes during the festive season. A popular dish is the Lap Mei Fan which has the different varieties of waxed meats that are steamed with rice and arrowhead (nga ku) slices. The rice is full of the flavours and the oil from the waxed meat which gives it a lovely aroma. There are two stalls selling waxed meats in Petaling Street and I managed to capture this stall owner having some quiet time to reflect before the rush starts on his waxed meats. Besides these stalls you can also get your waxed meats from dried goods stalls like Chai Huat Hin.

These are the different varieties you can get, there are more but I am not too sure what they were in some of the stalls. These pictures feature lap arp (waxed duck), lap cheong (waxed sausage) and liver sausages which are bound in plastic strings. All these preserved meats are smoked and seasoned in China.

Another must have during Chinese New Year is bak kwa that are barbequed meats especially among Hokkiens. They originate from Fujian in China where meat was rare and only eaten during festive occasions. To make the meat last longer, the Chinese sliced the meat to thin slices, marinated it with sugar and spices and air dried it. Once dried, it is grilled over a barbeque just like the picture to give it a smoky flavour.

Usually bak kwa comes in square pieces but nowadays there are different varieties like these thin strips with more fats making it less tough to chew. The bak kwa is hugely popular in Singapore and you see legendary long queues in Chinatown during Chinese New Year. No long queues in Kuala Lumpur yet so it may be wise to stock them up before the rush starts.

Hope you enjoy my walkabout around Petaling Street. More Chinese New Year items to come tomorrow.

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Gigolo Kitty said...

The Gigolo Kitty is very excited about the Chinese New Year and we are working on a pretty red outfit for him. This weekend we will be visiting the Manhattan China Town to pick up his accessories.

*kel said...

hi boo, 8 yrs without CNY is quite sad huh? I vowed to be there for 2007's CNY. Thanks for all the photojournalism! Check out my french experience with the new year holidays if you haven't.

Xin Nian Kuai Le and speak soon.

kel @ Green Olive Tree

boo_licious said...

Gigolo Kitty - can't wait to see your outfit. I bet it will be super sexy!

kel - oh no! 8 years is long time. Hope you make it for 2007. France -oh la la! Sounds good and will drop later tnite. said...

boo- Tks for showing so many stuffs I have never seen before like the coconut strips and the happy plant. I got my pussy willow for RM25 for 6 feet tall branches. How much does it costs in KL? I am so excited for CNY!

fatboybakes said...

you are either one heck of a photographer, or you have one dammmmn good camera. its like a pavlov experiment, looking at your pics. automatically start drooling. i hope you dont mind, i've linked ur blog to mine.

Bao Hui said...

plz allow me to link ur blog~~~ I LOVE UR BLOG!

boo_licious said...

5xmom - the price is about the same but ikea is selling them for RM16! Not sure what's the height though. Happy Plant is new, coconut strips are not and yummy!

fatboybakes - link away! Er, thanks for the compliment - I ain't such a fantastic photographer as I have my fair share of flops.

rach-baohui - no worries, link ahead and thanks for the sweet compliment.

Unknown said...

The cherry tomato can be eaten or not?

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