“The Jade Emperor is like the big poobah of Heaven. The Kitchen God is like the snitch.” -KMN
That pretty much sums it up, folks. In traditional Chinese religions, the Jade Emperor is the ruler of Heaven, and the Kitchen God…well, the Kitchen God sits in the kitchen (surprise!) and watches over the daily activities of the family. Each year, he reports to the Jade Emperor, who then decides whether the family should be rewarded or punished in the coming year.
The eighth day of the Chinese New Year is the eve of the Jade Emperor’s birthday. At midnight on this day (going into the ninth day), many people celebrate by burning incense and offerings to the Jade Emperor. KMN and I live across the street from a large housing estate, and on this particular night, we saw at least 10 different groups of people in the small parking lot outside, lighting fires and burning incense and offerings. Celebrations of the Jade Emperor’s birthday continue through the ninth and tenth days (details depend on heritage and religion), but in Singapore, they pass without much public recognition.
Apparently, on the thirteenth day of the new year, people eat vegetarian food, to cleanse their stomachs after nearly two weeks of eating and celebrating. However, this isn’t a practice that I know from experience – it’s one that I read about during my CNY research, and I don’t think we actually ate vegetarian that day. Ooops?
The holiday draws to a close with the celebration of Chap Goh Mei (literally, “the fifteen night”) on – you guessed it – the fifteenth day of Chinese New Year. So maybe I lied when I said it was a two week holiday….it’s actually two weeks + 1 day. Chap Goh Mei is also called a Lantern Festival (there is a different Lantern Festival in the fall), when people parade with lanterns, and hang them outside their homes to help guide wayward spirits home.
In some places -particularly Malaysia and Singapore, Chap Goh Mei is considered a kind of Chinese Valentine’s Day. Apparently, long ago, this was the one time that young maidens were permitted to dress up and walk outside their homes (with chaperones). Today, (supposedly) single women write their phone number on mandarin oranges, and throw them in a river or lake, while single men fish them out and eat them. I don’t know what they do with the number. I haven’t actually seen this happen in Singapore – and I somehow think that people would get arrested for littering, if they were caught throwing oranges into the Singapore River – but heck, Singaporeans, correct me if I’m wrong!
Sometimes, one branch of KMN’s family celebrates Chap Goh Mei with a big family dinner, but that didn’t happen this year. Instead, KMN and I participated in URun 2013 in the early morning, did church/errands in the late morning, then relaxed and worked in the afternoon. Then, KMN prepared us a two-person Chap Goh Mei dinner (not really, it was just regular dinner).
For weeks now, KMN has been talking about cooking a fish. Like, not a pretty little fillet, but a genuine whole fish. Now, I have no problem eating a whole steamed fish – this is a common preparation/serving style here. I’ll discuss how to tackle that in another post one day. But I’ll admit that I was feeling a bit leery of actually cooking a whole fish. Growing up, my Mom cooked fillets. But KMN’s Mom cooked a whole fish. So I let him take charge – with a little help from Irene Kuo’s The Key to Chinese Cooking (which I’ve written about before, here).
In a pan large enough to fit the fish – good thing we got a small fish (Note to self: Buy bigger pan!) – he brought some water to a boil, and added fresh ginger and a chopped onion. Once the water reached a solid boil, he slid the fish in:
He immediately turned the flame as low as it would go and covered the pan. We let the fish cook for about 15-20 minutes (Kuo suggests cooking until a knife “goes in easily and no pinkish liquid seeps out”), then slid it onto a serving plate. KMN served the fish with rice and blanched greens, and a selection of dipping sauces: soy sauce, chili sauce, and vinegar.
The fish came out really, really well – very soft and tender. Pomfret isn’t a very fishy-tasting fish, and admittedly – most of the flavoring came from the sauces. But this was an incredibly simple and nutritious way to prepare fish – I’m glad KMN headed the effort to try it. I’ll definitely be preparing fish for us this way again soon!
And that, my friends, is the end of the Chinese New Year series of posts. If you missed the earlier ones, click to read about Chinese New Year Preparations, Reunion Dinner, Visiting Days 1 and 2, Chinese New Year Treats, and Chinese New Year Days 3-7. And with that, we’ll return to non-CNY posting. But don’t worry, I have plenty to share. [I know you were really nervous about that, right?]
Have you ever thrown a mandarin orange into a body of water on Chap Goh Mei?
Have you ever cooked a whole fish? How?