Chinese New Year is one of the most widely celebrated festivals in Singapore. Almost everyone celebrates in one or more ways. Even our non-Chinese friends often take part by joining lo heis or partaking in the inevitable feasting. It also happens to be one of the most stressful festivals. There are so many rituals, from mastering all the essential Chinese New Year recipes to making sure you’ve bought all the auspicious steamboat ingredients. How do you make sure you have a meaningful Chinese New Year, while having plenty of fun along the way?
We thought we’d ask some of our Giant shoppers to get ideas on how they celebrate Chinese New Year. Inspired by what they shared, we’ve put together an ultimate guide for celebrating Chinese New Year 2017 in Singapore.
How Fellow Singaporeans Plan to Celebrate Chinese New Year 2017
“Eat more lorh”.
That’s the quip we got from a shopper when we asked her about her Chinese New Year plans. “Every New Year is like that one.”
Her response was typical of most of the shoppers we spoke to at the Giant Hypermart in Suntec City. Nearly all the 22 shoppers we straw polled talked about the New Year food they looked forward to indulging in. Not surprising for a nation that counts eating as one of its national hobbies.
We were interested to find out what New Year foods were particularly popular. Here are the top three most popular Chinese New Year snacks, starting with the most popular:
- Bak Kwa
- Pineapple Tarts
- Love Letters
Snacks aside, another popular food item that kept being mentioned again and again was steamboat. Steamboat was voted the second most popular Chinese New Year activity among the shoppers we spoke to (the most popular is the hongbao exchange).
Even non-Singaporeans love steamboat, too. Chedia from France loves it so much that she organises steamboat at her place every Chinese New Year. It’s good communal fun, and healthy to boot, she explained. “All the money in the world is not important if you’re not healthy”, said Chedia. “I hope for everyone to be healthy and happy this Year of the Rooster.”
Now that we’ve established the three most popular Chinese New Year snacks among our polled shoppers and discovered their most awaited CNY activity, let’s proceed to useful food prepping tips that would surely help everyone celebrate this big event in a fun and healthy way.
Onward to the guide!
Preparing for your Feast: Picking your Favourite Chinese New Year Recipe
Most people buy readymade traditional Chinese New Year snacks and candies to serve during the festivities. Unfortunately, those tend to be full of undesirable preservatives and have high fat and calorie content.
Why not make them yourself at home? Aside from giving your snacks and candies a homemade touch that your guests will appreciate, you can control the sugar and fat levels. Check out our blog post for some ideas on guilt-free Chinese New Year snacks that you can prepare at home.
When it comes to the top three favourites—Bak Kwa, Pineapple Tarts, and Love Letters—no healthy alternatives can beat the taste of the traditionally prepared ones. But we’ve managed to find three healthy alternatives (less than 250 calories per serving) that you and your loved ones will still enjoy. Here are 3 recipes:
1. Honey Grilled Chicken Bak Kwa
Makes: 12 servings | Preparation time: Approx. 30 minutes| One serving contains: 60 calories
The meat mixture:
- 300 grams chicken breast
- 30 grams caster sugar
- 15 ml rice wine
- 30 ml fish sauce
- 30 ml sweet soy sauce
- 5 grams of ground black pepper
- 15 grams corn flour
The basting sauce:
- Place the meat mixture ingredients inside a food processor. Process on low until the chicken is finely minced and all ingredients are combined evenly.
- Remove the meat mixture from food processor and put in a bowl. Cover and place in the refrigerator for a minimum of two hours.
- Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees C.
- Lightly oil a baking sheet. Place the chilled mixture onto the baking sheet.
- Cover with plastic wrap, and press to form a thin, even layer.
- Mix the basting sauce ingredients in a bowl.
- Remove the plastic wrap from the meat mixture. Brush the meat with a thin coating of basting sauce.
- Bake for 10 minutes.
- Remove from the oven. Carefully turn over the chicken bak kwa, then lightly brush on more basting sauce.
- Return to the oven for 10 minutes.
- Let the chicken bak kwa completely cool on a wire rack.
- Slice into serving pieces.
Store inside an airtight container in the refrigerator.
2. Candied Pineapple Chunks
Makes: 20 servings| Preparation time: Approx. 1 hour & 15 minutes | One serving contains: 105 calories
- Peel the pineapple. Remove and dispose of the core.
- Cut the pineapple into 3 cm cubes.
- Bring the water and light corn syrup to a boil in a saucepan.
- Carefully add the cubes of pineapple to the saucepan. Adjust the heat to avoid splattering. Stir frequently and cook until the pineapple chunks are translucent.
- Strain the pineapple cubes.
- Cool and dry on a wire rack.
Store in an airtight container.
3. Love letters
Makes: 33 servings| Preparation time: 30 minutes | One serving contains: 210 calories for four pieces
- Mix the eggs and flour, then add the coconut milk and both types of flour. Strain the batter and let it sit for an hour.
- Preheat the love letter mould. Add two tablespoons of batter into each mould and bake for about 35 minutes.
- As soon as the dough is baked, remove it, fold it in half and then half again, pressing down lightly as you fold. Let the love letters to cool before you serve them.
The Day Before the Festivities: Rocking your Steamboat Reunion Dinner
The great thing about steamboats is that you can use any soup base or ingredients you want.
When it comes to soup bases, we’ve got you covered! Over at our blog post on all things steamboat, we’ve got recipes for popular soup bases like Chicken soup, Miso, and even Bak Kut Teh.
Chinese New Year Dinner: Which does each Steamboat Ingredient Symbolise?
Taken from our comprehensive guide on how to prepare the reunion dinner, here is a list of key ingredients and their symbolisms for reference. These can be cooked in your pot of steamboat soup, or served on the side:
|Black mushroom||Make all your wishes come true|
|Sea moss, bok choy, and pineapple||Prosperity|
|Whole fish (including head and tail)||Abundance. It’s important that some of the fish is left over, so there is enough abundance to go on for the whole year.|
|Leafy greens, long grain rice, peaches, peanuts, and noodles||Longevity. It’s especially important that the noodles aren’t cut; that’s tantamount to cutting a long life short|
|Shrimp||Happiness and good fortune|
|Oysters||Promote success in business|
|Red dates||Success in all endeavours|
|Red Pomegranates||More Children|
|Tangerines/anything red cooked||Good luck|
|A sweet end to the meal||So you can enjoy a sweet life next year!|
Finally, don’t forget to prepare some sauces to accompany your food! We suggest having a station of ingredients where everyone can concoct their own unique dipping sauces. You can include:
- Sauces: Light soya sauce, dark soya sauce
- Oils: Sesame oil, chili oil
- Garnishes: Chili flakes, chopped spring onions, fried onions, sesame seeds, sliced chillies, parsley
Steamboat Equipment Checklist
When it comes to a successful the steamboat dinner, having the right ingredients is just half the battle.
You need to make sure you’ve got the right equipment, too. Missing an item may cause awkward straining, double-dipping, or melted equipment. Be on the safe side and make sure you have these steamboat equipment and utensils ready:
- A hot pot: Choose a pot that’s wider than its depth so that it’s easier for people to cook. Opt for something that can contain at least 2 liters of broth if possible. Have a divider if you wish to have two kinds of soup flavours. A lid is optional.
- Stove: Choose an electric or induction cooker, or a portable butane burner.
- Long chopsticks: For transferring ingredients (Preferably 1 pair for 2 guests)
- Personal ladles: For soup (Preferably 1 pair for 2 guests)
- Personal strainers: For ingredients (Preferably 1 pair for 2 guests)
- Personal tongs: For ingredients (Preferably 1 pair for 2 guests)
- One set of steamboat dipping sauce bowl, main bowl, plate and cutleries for each guest.
You’ll also require a separate pot (or a kettle) to keep extra broth for replenishing, and plenty of plates and bowls for each of the steamboat ingredients.
Let the Festivities Begin: Visiting and Receiving Guests
What to wear
One of the best things about Chinese New Year is getting to dress up a little and wear new clothes. It is believed that wearing new clothes from head to toe symbolises a new start and fresh hopes. Since the first few days of the New Year sets the tone for the rest of the year, everyone makes effort to dress well.
Red, the lucky colour, is the obvious choice. You can be more creative than that, though, and still exude festive vibes! Here are some ideas for looking your Chinese New Year best:
- Consider wearing other bright hues like yellow, orange, and pink.
- Plum and cherry blossoms are a common Chinese New Year symbol. Why not wear clothes with floral patterns, or wear floral accessories?
- Ladies who want to wear qipaos but are afraid of looking too dated can consider qipaos with modern twists. Think funky patterns like large and colourful polka dots, or non-traditional styles like drop waist or A-line skirts.
- Traditionally, it is taboo to wear black and white during Chinese New Year. That does not mean you should never allow either of these colours to touch your skin. You can usually get away with wearing one black or white piece. Just avoid dressing in black or white from head to toe!
Hongbao etiquette you should know
The number one activity most of our shoppers looked forward to each Chinese New Year is giving/receiving hongbaos. We’re guessing those shoppers who enjoy this the most are the ones on the receiving end!
Chinese New Year is a time for showing appreciation and gratitude to our loved ones, usually in the form of hongbaos filled with money. But remember: even the most generous sums of money mean little if you display bad etiquette when giving or receiving hongbaos. Here are some rules that you should remember:
- Receive the hongbao with both hands.
- Don’t open the hongbao in front of the giver. Just put it aside and open it later.
- Give amounts in even numbers, but avoid the number four, as the pronunciation of four in Chinese is very similar to death.
- The luckiest number to give is eight, as it sounds like the word for prosperity in Chinese.
- Ensure that the money you give is crisp and new.
Your 2017 Chinese New Year Celebrations, in a Wrap
A couple of themes kept cropping up in our conversations with shoppers about how they plan to celebrate Chinese New Year in 2017.
Health is one. Chinese New Year may be a good excuse to indulge in traditional goodies, but many shoppers (particularly ladies) were still conscious about staying healthy. Community is something else that is close to the hearts of shoppers. Many of them profess a love for steamboat, a communal eating activity. They also look forward to visiting and receiving guests, and the hongbao ritual that is an essential part of these visits.
Hence, we were sure to include healthy foods, as well as community-focused activities, in our ultimate guide to Chinese New Year. We hope you found it useful! Check out Chinese New Year recipes for easy traditional Chinese New Year Recipes for a special 2017.
Gong Xi Fa Cai!