Chinese New Year (CNY) is celebrated in different ways — depending on clans, family traditions and locations. StarMetro takes a look at how CNY is celebrated in two rural areas in Selangor.
Reunion dinners are traditionally observed on the eve of Chinese New Year, but for matriarch Heng Huan Chen’s family, they gather on the first day of the new year.
Heng, 62, hosts the dinner at her husband’s family home for her children and husband’s siblings, who return to Bagan Teluk Rhu, Sabak Bernam to celebrate the special occasion.
Heng’s husband, Sia Kiyok Chuaa, 60, is the oldest in the family and has nine siblings.
During the first day of Chinese New Year, four of Sia’s siblings as well as his six children and eight grandchildren from Ipoh and Kuala Lumpur return to the family home for a steamboat dinner.
With Bagan Teluk Rhu being a fishing village and Sia himself a fisherman, fresh seafood is served in abundance at dinner.
Among the ingredients for the steamboat are a variety of fish as well as prawns and crab.
On the first day of the new year, Heng’s family and other villagers offer prayers to welcome the gods to their village and houses.
“On the fifth day, the entire village will get together to offer prayers to seek blessings and to commemorate the Fa Se Gong Temple’s anniversary. The temple is now more than 40 years old,” said Heng.
“The prayers include offerings. We used to offer a goat but when that became too difficult to source, we switched to offering two whole roast pigs. The meat from the offerings are then distributed among the villagers.”
Another tradition that is observed by the Teochew villagers of Bagan Teluk Rhu is an annual opera performance.
“The entire village contributes to a common fund to purchase the offerings and hire a Teochew opera troupe from Thailand for the show,” said Heng.
“The opera performance also serves as a thanksgiving gesture and to bless the villagers with a bountiful catch.”
The Teochew kuih is another must-have.
It is a delicacy that is often prepared by the village’s Teochew folk.
The savoury kuih is made from glutinous rice flour and stuffed with a filling made from glutinous rice, dried shrimps and mushrooms as well as shallots.
The Heng family fills their kuih with red bean paste for a touch of sweetness.
The kuih, made using a leaf-shaped mould and placed on banana leaves, is then steamed.
They are unlike the Hokkien clan’s ang koo kuih (red tortoise cake), as these are filled with sweet mung bean.
“The Teochew kuih is made by the Teochew community in Bagan Teluk Rhu during main Chinese festivals, or for important prayers and ceremonies, including Chinese New Year,” said Heng.
According to Heng, Bagan Teluk Rhu, located about 140km north-west of Kuala Lumpur, has a population of about 20 households and 80 residents. Many have left the village to seek a better life in other towns or the city centre.
The Wong family of Taman Tanjong, Tanjung Sepat observes a unique tradition every Chinese New Year — the making and partaking of a sweet soup-based dessert.
“We believe that by consuming this soup, we will be blessed with a sweet and blissful year ahead,” said Wong Hui Fen.
“My mother, Chia Lee Peng, will prepare the soup using a traditional recipe, but adds her personal touch based on whatever inspires her. Some of the herbs or ingredients she has incorporated include lily bulbs, lotus seeds and wolfberries,” said Hui Fen.
She said that her family had been practising this tradition on the second day of Chinese New Year since the days of her paternal great-grandparents.
“We start the day by praying to our ancestors and then have breakfast as a family, followed by a helping of the sweet dessert.
“On the first day of Chinese New Year, we visit the famous Dong Zen Temple in Banting to watch the performances and cultural activities.
“The celebrations in Tanjung Sepat begin shortly after the reunion dinner on Chinese New Year eve. Most residents offer the first round of prayers at midnight,” she explained.
She added that depending on the families, prayers could continue over the next few days, as there were many small and medium-sized temples in the small town located near Sepang.
“The temples represent different gods, such as the Jade Emperor and Guan Yu. There are also three temples for the Lim, Tan and Chia family clans.
“There will be lion dances starting from the eve and throughout the festive period. The lion dance styles are different as the troupes come from different groups and states,” said Hui Fen.
Her family runs a home-based business to make kuih sarong, also known as honeycomb cookies, kuih loyang or kuih ros.
Hui Fen said it was locally known as kuih sarong due to the technique used to make the cookies, which is to coat or wrap (sarong) the cookie mould with batter before it is deep-fried.
The business was initiated by Chia, 50, as a continuation of her family’s cookie-making business.
Chia’s husband, Wong Kwee Ang, eventually took over and even innovated some of the tools to speed up production and make the cooking process more convenient.
The seafood trader took over his wife’s family business as the cooking process became too physically demanding for Chia, who suffers from diabetes.
Even the recipe for their kuih sarong was modified slightly to make the snack less sweet, with the basic ingredients comprising flour, eggs and coconut milk.
“Production greatly increased when my father took over eight years after my mother got involved in the business,” said Hui Fen.
“He was able to produce 800 to 1,000 pieces of cookies per hour, compared to the 200 to 300 pieces my mother was able to make during the same period.
“My mother and younger sister, Hwee Ling, help him with the cookie production throughout the year. But when orders increase for Chinese New Year, my older sister, Hui Chien, and I help out as well.”
The Wong family is able to produce 30 tins per day, with each tin containing 150 pieces of cookies. They are sold at RM40 per tin.
The increase in production has enabled the Wong family to sell their cookies beyond Tanjung Sepat and its surrounding villages.
“For the past two years, a distributor in Cheras has been making it available nationwide, as well as Singapore and Brunei. We also have some distributors who sell the cookies in Kuala Lumpur, Klang and Seremban,” said Hui Fen.
Kwee Ang, 56, said he derived great pleasure from seeing people enjoying the kuih sarong made by his family.
The cookies, which can last for up to three months, are also presented to family and friends who visit during Chinese New Year.