IPOH: The lotus root may symbolise everlasting abundance but the roots themselves are in short supply this Chinese New Year.
Rain over the last few months has affected production, according to Poh Lai Hai, 62, who makes a living harvesting the roots.
Poh expects to harvest about seven tonnes for this Chinese New Year season, down from about nine tonnes in previous years.
“The rainy spell has affected the yield and with higher demand for the local variety during the festival, prices too will increase,” he said, adding that wholesale price had increased from RM2.20 a kilo last year to RM3 this year due to the shortage.
Called lin ngau in Cantonese, the lotus root is often associated with abundant wealth as in the saying lin ngau, lin lin yau, which means to have plenty every year.
The roots, commonly stir-fried or used in soup, are also placed on altars for prayers during the festival.
When broken into two, there are fine strands connecting the lotus root, symbolising strong and unbreakable family ties – hence, earning its place at reunion dinners on the eve of Chinese New Year.
Harvesting the root is a laborious task that involves standing in waist-deep water for hours on end.
Poh, his wife Leong Mooi, 55, son Seng Loong, 29, and a dozen temporary workers, pull out mature roots one by one and clean them in the pond.
Lai Hai, who is busy working at his 1.2ha ex-mining pond in Kanthan, about 17km from here, says that the roots take about three months to grow before they are harvested.
At the Canning Garden market, vegetable seller Ng Swee Khee, 40, said the local variety was preferred during Chinese New Year as it was “younger” and crunchier which made it suitable for stir-frying.
“The ones from China are hard and powdery and are only used in soup,” he said.
Meanwhile, a restaurant here has come up with some special lotus root dishes for the coming festival.
Yishen Vegetarian Food Restaurant at Bandar Baru Medan is promoting its “White Lotus Happiness” or lotus roots stir-fried with nine other types of vegetables. Another dish is deep-fried lotus roots with buttermilk.