Tuesday, February 08, 2011

My Favourite Chinese New Year Snacks

Chinese New Year is always about feasting and snacking.

It's that one time of the year when you can really tell yourself, "I'll exercise more when CNY is over!" It's hard to resist traditional snacks and biscuits especially when you only get to eat them once a year.

I wrote a post about my favourite snacks for Chinese New Year once but I think the list needs updating.

Biscuits are in big demand in Penang during this time of the year because many women do not have time to make their own cookies or biscuits (how Americanized we've become - we used to call them biscuits but now they're cookies!).

Chinese New Year cookie business is a lucrative business for many homemakers who are good at baking. I am not big on making cookies so I usually order from my aunt (who makes such scrumptious pineapple tarts) and my neighbour. I get cookies from my sister too - she makes good stuff!

The most sought after cookies and traditional-style biscuits are the ones we associate with Chinese New Year.

KUIH KAPIT

It's unthinkable to not have kuih kapit (love letters) in your home during this time of the year. They're paper-thin, crispy and melt in the mouth. The right kuih kapit is flavoursome - made with eggs, flour, sugar and coconut cream.

When I was a child, we used to have kuih kapit making sessions in my Grandma's home. It would be a whole day affair - we'd start early in the morning and work till evening. It was hot work. We'd sit in a row with specific duties.

The main cook's job was to pour the batter into kuih kapit moulds and quickly put them on the charcoal-lined pits (like BBQ pits). The main person doing this has to be quick and nimble; the batter cooked fast. When the batter was almost done, the expert would peel it off the mould. The person sitting next to her would fold the circle into half, and fold the half into a quarter. As the batter would be hot, it takes a pair of seasoned fingers to do this work without the batter hardening first! Cooled kuih kapit would be stored in airtight Milo tins.

The Thai people have put an innovative twist into the ordinary kuih kapit (which is really a Nyonya biscuit). In Hadyai, you can buy kuih kapit with pork floss. The pork floss makes for chewy and savoury accompaniment to the crunchy and mildly sweet kuih kapit. The combination of flavours is excellent and this makes it an unstoppable snack!

JAM TARTS

Pineapple jam tarts are another favourite. A jam tart is usually a rich, buttery pastry with a dollop of homemade pineapple jam on top. The cookie pastry must be of a melt-in-the-mouth texture and the jam mustn't be too sweet or it gets too cloying after one too many jam tarts.

Again, I've made these tarts before when I was young. I used to help my mom grate fresh pineapple for the jam-making. That's the most tedious and time-consuming task. Mom would remove all the juice from the grated pineapple before she cooked the pineapple mush in a pot. The upside is, I got to drink lots of fresh pineapple juice!The downside is, I had to stand at the stove, stirring the jam so that it wouldn't stick to the bottom of the pot. Now that was backbreaking work indeed.

In the 1980s, a pineapple tart was one which looked like a flower with the jam as its centre. Nowadays, a pineapple tart was a roll of pastry with the jam inserted inside this roll. The secret to the pastry is using the best butter you can find. My aunt makes the yummiest and largest-looking jam tarts ever. She makes each tart by hand so you can imagine how much time she takes to make these Chinese New Year must-have.

Besides their tastiness factor, Chinese folks love pineapple tarts for their symbolism. The pineapple is called "wong lai" (Cantonese) or "ong lai" (Hokkien) depending on what dialect you speak. No matter what dialect you use, it sounds like "luck is arriving". So it is imperative to have jam tarts during Chinese New  Year because we Chinese are big on abundance, luck, prosperity and wealth.

To be continued in the next post......






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