What I miss about the Chinese New Year while growing up in Kuching…

Posted: February 9, 2011 in Chinese New Year, Family, Feel-Good, Food, Nostalgia

Chinese New Year starts with the New Moon on the first day of the new year and ends on the full moon 15 days later (Chap Goh Meh). This year, the Chinese Lunar New Year began on Thursday, 3rd February, 2011. According to the Chinese traditional calendar, Chinese New Year 2011 is the year of the metal Rabbit (Xin Mao).

Based on the Chinese Horoscope, Quote: “the Xin Mao 2011 year symbolizes sensitivity, prudence and wealth earned with hard work. 2011 year is a dutiful, family oriented and dependable year. The metal Rabbit may show his/her love in terms of how hard he/she can work for the loved ones. Now in 2011 year of the metal Rabbit you may not express your feelings in words but make it up by deeds”.  Unquote: Hmmm…. Actions speak louder than words? We’ll see…. 😉

Well, since Chinese New Year is still NOT over yet, I want to wish my readers Xin Nián Kuài Lè. Wan Shi Ru Yi. Gong Xi Fa Cai! Better late than never.

Carrying at slighltly more than 50% of the Chinese heritage in my bloodstream, Chinese New Year is one of the joyous festive seasons besides Christmas and Easter in our family. 

Guess what?  When my sister sent through the pictures of this year’s Chinese New Year’s Eve (Sa Chap Meh) dinner in Kuching, my jaw dropped! OMG…the food!! All of a sudden, I felt a sense of nostalgia for my youthful memory.

Since I moved to Belgium in the autumn of 1995, I have not been back in Kuching to celebrate Chinese New Year with my family. Not once. Shame on me 😦 

While drooling looking at all the pictures my youngest sister sent through, here are what I wanted to share with you all – what I miss about the Chinese New Year I knew while growing up in Kuching.

Keropok and Acar (Prawn or Fish Crackers with pickled cucumbers)

This was a MUST at Chinese New Year.  My favourite snack – Keropok and acar, a marriage made in heaven!  When I get the time, I will blog about this and post the recipe of  acar timun.  Mmmmm….finger-lickin’ good.


These were SO addictive! I could crack these between my teeth for hours on end.  It didn’t matter if it was sunflower seed or watermelon seed or pumpkin seed, this was part and parcel of the festive mood.  We called these, Kwa(y) chee, and boy were they cracking good!

Pineapple Jam Tart

These cookies were to die for (at least to me, it was)!  One of my favourite festive cookies – the pineapple jam tart. And the jam MUST be made from pineapple. I remembered my mum making lots of these cookies, with a generous dollop of the pineapple jam.  It was hard work, but it was worth the while, I mean the end result 🙂

Love Letters (Kueh Sepit or Kuih Kapit)

I’m not sure why they are called love letters, but I believe it must be the effect of the mould which left the beautiful floral prints on the cookie, folded to one forth of the circled dough.  While not folded in a quarter, another way of presenting this cookie is by rolling it up in the form of a cigar. These crisp wafers are synonyms to the Peranakan Chinese , which I believe were Dutch influenced. Simply divine!

Bak Kwa (Sweet Dried Meat or similar to jerky)

My old time favourite! This was probably the most enticing of all snacks, loved and adored by both the young and not so young. Although on the high-end in terms of expensing, but who cares, when your tummy knows no bounds! Dreamy…

Nián gāo (Chinese New Year’s cake or sticky glutinous rice cake)

While this cake can be eaten all year round, traditionally it is most popular during the Chinese New Year.  For me, the best way to eat this cake is to refrigerate it overnight, take it out the next morning and then slice them up in squares or rectangles.  Beat an egg or two with a pinch of salt. Then coat the sliced nián gāo with the beaten egg and thereafter, pan fry until golden brown.  As far as I could remember, this was one of the best things to have for breakfast on the second day of Chinese New Year!

Spicy mini spring rolls

These mini rolls are becoming more and more popular during the festive seasons in Malaysia. I remembered the mini spring roll started its debut with either the pork or chicken floss filling, which was not spicy.  Because of the rich multi-cultural background of the people of Malaysia, a touch of spiciness has become the norm on everyone’s palate.

I just LOVE the spicy mini spring rolls with the sambal filling, and they were SO addictive. 

Ngo Hiang (Sausage rolls seasoned with 5-spice powder)

This is typically a Teochew dish.  I grew up having this platter every year during Chinese New Year.  A must in our household. That’s right, mum is a Teochew!


Pah Lo Ark (Teochew  Braised Duck)

This is another Teochew favourite dish of mine. It is SO aromatic. I know there are a few versions of this recipe, but I’m sticking to my guns that my mum’s pah lo ark was and is the best!

Steamed Fish (whole)

To me, nothing is complete without the steamed fish in the centre of the dinner table on Sa Chap MehHere’s THE most expensive fish I have ever eaten (for not less than RM500), the Empurau fish.  I had this at my brother’s place in 2008 (not on CNY day), prepared by my sister-in-law.  It was oh so delectable.  Can you imagine this?  The scales of the Empurau are edible. They’re crispy, akin to munching raw carrots. LOL!

Steamboat/ Hotpot (Chinese Fondue)

This is probably the most ideal meal for Chinese New Year and social gatherings.  I remembered my mother had a charcoal steamboat.  I’m not sure if it is still being used today. It tasted authentically smoky and tasty, a far cry from the modern electrical steamboats.  This is such a healthy and wholesome meal, which is a fantastic lunch or dinner idea during the cold winter period.  I am so thankful to my eldest sister who presented me with the hotpot when I came to Belgium.  Big sis, I am still using your steamboat after 15 years!  Here are some pictures of the steamboat feast we had during my mother and youngest sister’s visit last summer.

Ang Pow (Red Packet/ Red Envelope)

I called this the jackpot of the Chinese New Year day!  The only reason we kids loved visiting our relatives’ open house on Chinese New Year day was to receive the ang pow.  The cash in the ang pow varied. When I was much younger, I remembered getting RM1.10. I was (and am still) not sure why One Ringgit and Ten Sen.  As years went by, which I believe was due to the inflation, the amount increased to RM2 and then we saw a yearly indexation until to the point of us kids getting RM10 per ang pow. That was the maximum I ever got in the red packet during my teen years, but alas, it was short-lived. Nowadays, kids are getting at least RM20 to RM50 per ang pow! A serious jackpot, I must say.


“The family that eats together stays together”. This idiom befits the definition of my family, that’s for sure.

Here are some “antique” pictures of my family taken many moons ago, for once or twice, not eating 😀

And here’s one with some of my cousins. Can you spot me ?


These are not exhaustive list which are reminiscence of the Chinese New Year I knew. There were many other things including the deafening fire works, the ill-scented juhu, the mesmeric lion dances, my favourite chai kueh, the irresistible fried ikan bilis and roasted peanuts – another marriage made in heaven and the list goes on and on.

Oh by the way, I hope you had a fantastic CNY filled with good health, wealth, prosperity and happiness. 

ShalomXin Nián Ping An – Peace!

  1. dada says:

    i love ur write up che. Brings back memories of younger days during cny @ kenyalang. I’ll take more photos of our cny goodies and snacks just for u. Wish that 1 day, u and family will celebrate cny in kch. I bet ur boys will the pow and hue hwa.

  2. Nasifriet says:

    Thanks Da.
    You’re right. When I saw the pics you took? They brought sweet memories of the times we had together during the festive seasons. If you noticed, I’ve used some of your photos on my blog 🙂 Wonderful pics you took. And darn…the closed-ups of the foods!! LOL! The boys are screaming to get me make the char siu pao. Never made these b4, so will be a challenge. Will blog once I get there…

  3. Jacinta Siong says:

    Hi Cuz! Always nice to hear from you and to read your input here. After looking at all the pictures here, it made me smile. I really miss the fun and good food back home. Hugs Cinta

  4. Chris says:


    Just wanted to say thank you for dropping by my blog earlier. I love all the food pics btw – EXACTLY everything I miss (ok, except the mini spring rolls). 😀 I’m also from kuching and haven’t been back to celebrate CNY since 2001…always feel sooooo homesick around this time of the year. I checked out your intro post as well and noted that “Melanau” was mentioned and am wondering if you’re part Melanau? (let me know if I’m being too much of a busybody *grin*) I’m actually part Melanau as well…from my dad’s side…my mum is Foochow but no, I can’t speak Melanau…we all speak Hokkien at home. Oki-dok…always glad to meet another Sarawakian! Hope to “see” you again. 😀

  5. Nasifriet says:

    Hey Chris!!

    Welcome to the club. Spot on. I’m part Melanau (dad) and mum’s Teochew. I speak a smattering Melanau. I can understand the likou Mukah, but not Dalat or Oya or anywhere else. Like you, we speak Hokkien at home and our clan version of our rojak dialect 🙂
    It’s a pleasure ‘meeting’ you. Gosh, what a small world we live in!!

  6. Nasifriet says:

    Hey Cin, nice to read you again! Yep, after Dada’s pics, I drooled all over. Brings back memories. Hope all is well at your end.
    Big hug, cuz D

  7. Chris says:


    It’s a small world indeed!!! I think my grandfather was originally from Mukah (gotta confirm that with my mum…how terrible is that?) but all of us kids (my siblings and I) have never “balik kampung” before. A big part of me wish that I know more of that side of my family so I could pass it on to my son…our heritage you know. One of these days, I’ll have to “interview” my aunt and uncles (both my dad and grandfather have passed on) to learn more. Alright, glad to meet you! I hope to check back often. 😀

  8. Nasifriet says:

    That’s the sad truth about the Melanau language. It’s slowly dying a slow death. More and more Melanaus move to the cities and marry other races. The majority of the Christian Melanaus (I believe your granddad and dad were Christians) ended up marrying local Chinese, just as your dad and mine 🙂 We hardly spoke Melanau until we got a little bit older. We (meaning me and my siblings) wanted to know more about our roots, our heritage. We still have relatives in Mukah, which is a plus point. Fortunately for me, too, my mum speaks Melanau, so we are slowly tyring to revive our heritage, but it is quite difficult esp so when our mother tongue (Hokkien) got the better of our “father” tongue. So infact we ended up speaking our own gibberish dialect – a potpourri of all the Sarawakian dialects in one. If you have time, check out my my post, “To lah or not to lah”. That post tells a lot about our colourful background.

    Yeah, I strongly recommend you to check out the root from your dad’s side, before it’s too late. Well, who knows, your family may know my famly. Mukah is a small town, so everyone knows everyone! Glad to ‘meet’ you, too..

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