Saturday, 16 February 2013

Getting it ready

Ghin insists that we put candles in each room...he
also has a full scale plan for doing stuff during the party

I found pussy willow in the florists - Ghin's finger knitting holds it up

Snack box

Soaking the mushrooms and fatt choy


Lanterns are going to be a big feature
It's a funny sort of celebration. My mother tells me it is also the Kitchen God's birthday. He comes down and spies on us and then goes back to Heaven to give a report. He leaves no presents. Some mouldy kueh bakul which is supposed to make his mouth so sticky he can't speak and tell tales. Chinese people are plagued with regular visitations from the unseen world. Everything is alive, has its own numinous reason for being here. Everything has a spirit. A presence, a being. A friend recently said to me, Epicurious said there were multiverses because of the existence of atoms, isn't it amazing that they thought this in Whatever BC... but, i replied, multiverses are really a common fact of life in most other cultures than the Western one. Sure i've lived with several of them when i was growing up - Hinduism, Taoism, even the Malays, being animists at heart, have them. These uncertain, insecure, unseen worlds that need constant reassurance or else they will breakthrough into this one and make life a mess for you.

Perhaps that is what i've not been doing - obeisence to the unseen, the spirit. I may say i respect it, but perhaps i should start little altars with flowers and fruits, candles, pictures to show it. Devotional verses recited daily with reverence. Perhaps they will stop throwing little firecrackers in my life's path and leave me alone then. Stop demanding my attention like neglected children. Be sated by the sticky cakes and melted wax. I love altars in Asia. You could so easily get a statuette of Mary, Shiva, a piece of Arabic calligraphy and lots of candles, scraps of yellow cloth, the Laughing Bhudda... and that would be ok. All those inhabitants of the unseen, all hanging out beneath a banyan tree in a red light district, chatting to themselves about us - human beings.

I've given myself till 9 to stop farting about. So now i will get changed and start cleaning the conservatory. Steamboat is a miracle of efficiency. It is diametrically opposed to the Christmas dinner in preparation and importance. The steamboat is absolutely critical to the New Year. The significance is monumental. You dip your food in the same pot to cook - symbolic of how we are all a community. Sometimes my food ends up in your ladle, that's ok. After much shouting and good natured ribbing often the morsel is then given away freely - or returned of the fisherman doesn't feel like some shitake mushroom. Sometimes it is annoying. That piece of beef is now being cooked a fourth time and someone else has got it. But then you got someone else's chicken - and that is life. Sometimes people will give you their food if they notice you have been waiting too long. All the food on the table has symbolic meaning too. Noodles are long life. Fish are good luck. Pork belly is just plain yummy... etc.

It is zero prep time. You boil the stock and people cook the food themselves. You can eat as much or as little and the longer the soup boils the better it tastes. If you wanted to put some effort into anything, it would be the dim sum which would make things fiddly, but dim sum is not a must at the steamboat. And actually dim sum is not only easy but great fun to make as well.

It is cheerful, happy, easy going food. Beyond shopping there really isn't much else to do.

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