Growing The Roots Of Tradition And Custom

It’s the 7th day of Chinese New Year (CNY). The Chinese called it Renri and it is said to be everyone’s birthday. It is the day for Yusheng (Prosperity Toss) and Tang Yuan (Dumplings).

I used to chide at my mom for kicking up a big fuss over Chinese New Year, only to find myself just as anal as her when it comes to preparing for this occasion. Why? So that it feels like Chinese New Year.

There probably isn’t any logical or scientific explanation for the many things we do during CNY such as the incessant cleaning and obsession of having new things. New clothes, new shoes, new bedsheets etc.

Reading through my old CNY posts reminded me that I struggled with some sort of identity crisis every year during this time. Yes, I believe that a troubled and confused mind is the reason behind these posts, much like troubled times create poets.

By now, I should have written everything I wanted to say about Chinese New Year.

Or maybe not.

This year, I relearned some of these old lessons, which reminded me that I should just make it a point to read through some of these posts every year!

It struck me again that there isn’t such thing as advance spring cleaning. An earlier start just leads to a longer torment. Things start to get dusty again after 1 week. There is always more things to clean! The grout in your kitchen tiles and the metal parts around the house that were screaming out for Brasso!

Each year, apart from all the incessant cleaning, I couldn’t resist making something.

It wasn’t due to a lack of choice when it comes to pineapple tarts or Kueh Lapis, unlike when we were living overseas. I learned that rational and logical thinking can’t win the deep roots of customs and traditions our mothers, grandmothers and great grandmothers growed.

I am lucky to have 2 great chefs in my life, my mother and my mother-in-law. Both of them have very different styles of cooking. I shall call them the Agaration Chef and the Precision Chef.

The Agaration Chef will steam her yam cake every year but can’t tell you exactly how much of each ingredient she used. The Precision Chef knows the exact amount, right down to how many grams of Bee Hoon she needs to feed each person. She keeps an old industrial size weighing machine in her kitchen and she weighs everything.

After many years of nagging, the Agaration Chef finally sees the light, that precise measurement has its place when it comes to cooking certain food. And through the years, the Precision Chef has lost some of her ability to remember precise measurement due to an aging brain.

This year, I made something that were Chinese New Year Signature food from each chef. They were signature because these are the food that make us think of them.

I made Agaration Chef’s Yam Cake and Precision Chef’s Ah Zhar through a mix of agaration, precise measurement and some trial and errors. My boys thought they were the best yam cake and Ah Zhar.

The fact is, every household will probably have their best yam cake, Ah Zhar, pineapple tarts or Kueh Lapis. It is like my boys may think that I am the BEST cook but my nephews may cringe at the food I cooked.

The truth is, I am far from being the best. My boys are biased. They grew up eating what I cooked and have grown accustomed to my cooking. Any other ways of preparing the same food can only come second best.

So even if I can’t make the best Kueh Lapis, it’s ok. My boys will probably grow up thinking that Kueh Lapis should taste a little charred and a little chewy just like Mom’s. That is to them, the Best Kueh Lapis, the kind that they will miss because in the midst of feeding them these food, I have grown the roots, of tradition and custom, things that they will remember and hopefully carry on even long after I am gone.

 
 

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