Last year in Singapore my sister and I were able to partake in some of the family Chinese New Year traditions. I had two days off from work, and my sister and I attended reunion dinner with our relatives. We received ang pows (red packets enclosed with money) and ate everything. We also partook in the recent Singapore tradition of yusheng (twice!); everyone stands around a dish of shredded vegetables and raw fish and tosses it with chopsticks at the same time. It is messy and loud and meant to symbolize wishes for prosperity. My sister illustrated the ingredients below. Traditionally (and still done), all relatives gather for a huge reunion dinner the night before and then visit older or more distant relatives during the following days, bringing oranges, snacks, ang pows and good wishes.
One of the best Singaporean desserts is onde-onde, which is a ball of coconut, pandan and gula melaka (sugar from a coconut tree). It tastes like everything good bursting in your mouth at once. I’m not sure if it is a traditional CNY dessert, but my aunt made some from scratch for our reunion dinner. Pictured above is my sister’s rendition of my aunt’s amazing onde-onde. Other common Chinese Year treats are pineapple tarts, love letters, egg custard tarts, almond cookies and kuih bahulu, among countless others. I am still on the lookout for Singaporean (preferably Peranakan) dessert places in New York (so please tell me!).
Having grown up in a mixed family far away from my ethnically Chinese relatives, my understanding of Chinese New Year is a bit fragmentary. However I have experienced it as a time of giving, eating, honoring older relatives and spending time with close family. It also doesn’t hurt that my parents give me an ang pow every year - one of the benefits of being young and unmarried!