As Singapore is a multi-racial society, important festivals from the 3 major racial groups – Chinese, Malay and Indian are gazetted as public holidays and in some of these festivals there are unique food items that are served. Being Chinese, I am mostly familiar with the Chinese festivals and will introduce you to the food served during Chinese New Year and Dragon Boat Festival.
1. Chinese New Year
Chinese New Year marks the beginning of a new year in the lunar calendar and the Chinese and Koreans celebrate it as well. Some of these food items are unique to the festival and they carry a special symbolism to it. First up, the dish that is served during the Chinese New Year season in Singapore is ‘yusheng’.
This is a salad made out of various kind of coloured vegetables and it is seasoned with spices like peppers, five spice powder, peanuts, jellyfish, raw fish amongst other ingredients. With the addition of each ingredient, an auspicious saying is normally uttered to symbolise prosperity and wealth. After all the ingredients have been added, people around the dinner table would use their chopstick and toss the vegetables and the ingredients together, with the higher you toss meaning more prosperity to befall upon you, though normally this tossing would turn out into a messy affair.
Another food item, or rather fruit that is served during Chinese New Year is mandarin oranges.
During Chinese New Year, we would go around visiting friends’ and family’s houses and when we enter the homes, we would present the owner of the house two mandarin oranges each. The symbolism of presenting oranges is to represent the giving of gold ingots, which would represent wealth. Along with presenting the oranges to our elders, we would also couple with saying auspicious words to wish them well for the New Year.
2. Dragon Boat Festival
Another Chinese festival that is commemorated in Singapore is called the Dragon Boat Festival, even though it is not gazetted as a public holiday. During the festival, people would normally eat Chinese dumplings known as ‘zongzi’.
This food item is made from glutinous rice and is stuffed with meat fillings, though the filling can differ according to the different geographical origin of the dumpling. Legend has it that people eat ‘zongzi’ to commemorate the death of a famous Chinese poet, Qu Yuan and it was recorded that he drowned himself after becoming overcome with grief. According to this story, people threw packs of rice into the river to prevent fishes from feeding on his body and thus, this evolved into the dumpling we know today.
It is interesting how one’s culture and history can shape the food that we eat today and through the food that people from our neighbouring countries consume, we can get to know different backgrounds that all of us come from!
By Tan LiJia Gloria, ASEAN Correspondent from Singapore