Wednesday, February 09, 2011


As part of the ongoing celebration of Chinese New Year, I beg to inform you that today is the very best day to toss your crackers.
Or play with your fish. There are crackers involved, but they aren't the main focus.

Surplus (wealth) ascending.

In an ancient Chinese ritual invented 47 years ago in Singapore, a salad made of raw fish and various other ingredients is mixed and eaten by diners hollering auspicious wishes for the coming year. Raw fish, as you remember from a previous posting, is a homonym in Chinese for surplus and hence prosperity. This is often done on the first or second day that everybody is back in the office as a festive way of starting the business year.

It's still primarily a Singaporean thing (based on lucky puns that don't really work in Cantonese), but just like Christmas and Valentine's day, it is one of those foreign festival things which Chinese people have no problem adopting.

Baruch Hashem they aren't into green beer and river-dancing. Yet.

[No, I will NOT be explaining Saint Paddy's Day to my Chinese readers in another month. There are just some things which shouldn't spread any further.]

Lucky raw fish.

Sashimi grade salmon.
Daikon radish.
Pomelo or sweet grapefruit.
Japanese red pickled ginger.
Red bell pepper.
Green bell pepper.

Pok cheui crackers.
Roasted or fried peanuts.
Toasted sesame seeds.
Lime wedges.
Freshly ground white pepper.
Pinches five spice and cinnamon powders.

For the dressing:
Quarter cup plum sauce.
Quarter cup olive oil or other mild cooking oil.
Two TBS vinegar.
One TBS sesame oil.
A little hot water.
[Double the dressing recipe as appropriate]

Slice the salmon thinly, and shred the vegetables. Peel, segment, and de-sac the pomelo.
You need roughly equal amounts of the various salad ingredients - the quantity of carrot is variable, so also obviously the pickled ginger and the pomelo.
Place the salad ingredients on a platter with the fish in the centre for the simple version, or on separate plates around a large mixing bowl for the more involved version.

Put the pok cheui crackers, peanuts, and sesame seeds in separate bowls.
Whisk the dressing ingredients, adding a little hot water to make it pourable.

撈起 LO HEI!
Tossing the fish.

The simple form is to assemble everyone around the table. Squeeze a little lime onto the salad ingredients for a fresh taste.
Mix the various components together, add the ground pepper, and cinnamon.
Then have everybody use their chopsticks to help toss the salad and incorporate the dressing while uttering good wishes.
Add the pok cheui crackers, peanuts, and sesame seeds last.

The more involved version has the 'master of ceremonies' present each ingredient to view before adding it to the platter in a particular order, with the other diners chanting the appropriate propitious phrase at every addition.

[Phrases: Carrot: 鴻運當頭 ('hong wan dong tau' - "great luck will be yours"). Daikon: 步步高升 ('bou bou gou sing' - "steady increases"). Cucumber: 青春常駐 ('cheng chun seung chu' - "enjoy permanent youth"). Ground Pepper: 大吉大利 ('taai kat taai lei' - "great luck and great profit"). Cinnamon Powder: 招財進寶 ('chiu choi jeun bou' - "beckon wealth and invite precious things"). Oil: 多多油水 ('doh doh yau soei' - "much more funds"). Peanut: 金銀满屋 ('kam ngaan mun ok' - "gold and silver fill the house"). Sesame: 生意興隆 ('sang yi hing lung' - "business prosperous and thriving"). Pok cheui crackers: 翩地黄金 ('pin dei wong kam' - "expeditious arrival of money"). Fish slices: 年年有餘 ('nien nien yau yü' - "surplus year after year"). Plum Sauce: 甜甜蜜蜜 ('tim tim mat mat' - "may everything be sweet and good"). Pomelo: 越碌越有 ('yuet lok yuet yau' - "more work more wealth").]

Then everyone uses their chopsticks to toss the salad as high as possible.

The more involved version really is a recipe for disaster. Might make you want to rethink the ancient tradition.
Perhaps next year, ceviche!
You'd have to give up on the auspicious puns and wordplays of the lucky phrases above, but you wouldn't be cleaning dried fish out of the chandelier for the next several months either.
And there's less chance of someone's chopsticks accidentally going up your nose, too.
It seems a small price to pay.

At this point, having digested the various possibilities, you may decide to do a simple version of this. After all, everyone needs prosperity, your business could use a bit of surplus, and communal totemic activities are both fun, and in some ways, sacramental.
Who knows, it might actually bring luck. It's festive!

Then it hits you.

What the heck are pok cheui crackers?!?

Well, they're similar to fried wonton skins.....

Brittle crispy biscuits.

Three cups all purpose flour.
[Or 1½ cups semolina flour and 1½ cups white whole wheat flour. ]
One cube red fermented beancurd (南乳 naam yu).
Half teaspoon salt.
Half teaspoon baking powder.
Half cup water, plus two tablespoons.

Put the flour in a large bowl, make a well in the flour, and add the red fermented beancurd, salt, baking powder and water. Mix in a circular motion to a smooth dough. Cover with a damp cloth and let rest for two hours or so.
Then dust your working surface with cornstarch, and roll out the dough to a flat sheet. Fold over, roll out again. Repeat once or twice more, rolling out very thin the final time. Cut the dough crosswise into thumb-size rectangles. Deep fry till crisp. Drain on paper towels.
They will keep for a couple of weeks in a tight tin.

As you will have noted, pok cheui crackers are like cow's ears.
Just better.


Glossary .

As an aide to those wishing to learn Cantonese, here are definitions of the characters in this post in the order in which they occur:

Yü: Surplus, excess. Enough. Left over. Remainder.
Sing: To rise, ascend.
Yü: Fish.
Sang: Alive. Living. To give birth to. Activity.
Lo: To haul up, dredge.
Hei: Rise, raise; begin, start; risen; one of a class.
Hong: Goose; great, large; enormously.
Wan: Move, transport; fortunate, lucky.
Dong: Suitable, fitting, proper; should, ought.
Tau: Head, first.
Bou: Step, pace; advance.
Gou: High, lofty, elevated.
Sing: To rise, ascend (same as 陞).
Cheng: Blue, green, black, young, fresh.
Chun: Spring.
青春 Cheng chun: youth.
Seung: Common, normal.
Chu: Reside, occupy; to halt.
常駐 Seung chu: Resident, to be stationed.
Taai: Great, big, vast.
Kat: Auspicious, propitious.
Lei: Gain, advantage, profit.
Chiew: Beckon, summon, invite.
Choi: Wealth, richness.
Jeun: progress towards, advance.
Bou: Treasure, jewels: precious.
Do: Many, much; again.
Yau: Oil.
Soei: Water, liquid; money flowing, homonym for payments.
Kam: Gold; funds.
Ngaan: Silver.
Mun: To fill, to be full up, replete.
Ok: Residence, house.
Sang: Alive. Living. To give birth to. Activity.
Yi: Idea, meaning, thought; intend, anticipate.
生意 Sang yi: Doing business, engaged in commerce.
Hing: Flourish, prosper; excited.
Lung: Prosperous, grand, intensive.
興隆 Hing lung: Prosperous, thriving.
Pin: Speed aloft, fly fast.
Dei: Earth, land; intensifying particle.
Wong: Yellow, golden hued.
Kam: Gold; funds.
Nien: Year.
Yau: To have; there is, there are.
Yü: Surplus, excess. Enough. Left over. Remainder.
Tim: Sweet.
Mat: Honey.
Yuet: Exceed, over, surpassed; Vietnam and Canton, etcetera.
Lok: Record, write down; employ, utilize, hire.
Yuet: Exceed, over, surpassed; Vietnam and Canton, etcetera.
Yau: To have; there is, there are.

Pok: Thin, slight, weak, stingy, poor.
Cheui: Crisp, fragile, brittle.
薄脆 Po cheui: Thin and crispy.
Beng: Cookie, cracker, biscuit, pastry.
Gon: Dry; penetrating, generative principle.
餅乾 Beng gon: Biscuit, cracker.
Ji: Character, letter; word.
Woei: Collect, compile; assembly; hedgehog. Also written 匯 and 滙.
字彙 Ji woei: Glossary, lexicon; vocabulary.
Naam: South, southern.
Yü: Breast, teat, milk; dairy product; creamlike substances, tofu products.
南乳: Naam yü: Red fermented tofu; tofu matured with rice-wine yeast.
Chun: Spring.
Jit: Festival, holiday; node, joint, section; classifier for segmented things.
春節 Chun jit: Spring festival, Chinese New Year.

NOTE: Readers may contact me directly:

All correspondence will be kept in confidence.

Please note the two clickable links: 南乳 (red fermented bean curd) and 春節 (spring festival).

1 comment:

Search This Blog


Several years ago I had a coworker down the peninsula who would leave work related voicemails on people's answering machines all weekend...