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Eat & Drink

Tuesday February 5, 2008

What not to serve

JUST as much emphasis is placed on serving food with auspicious names during Chinese New Year, much care is also taken to avoid dishes with "unlucky" names.

Executive chef Chan Chan Ming said he usually avoids using cucumber, or wong kua as kua also means "death".

The same goes for fu kua or bitter gourd, which is a double whammy because fu also means "hardship".

Chief chef Jacky Lim Bee Lin said these items, if used, would not feature prominently in a dish.

"For example, we will not serve old cucumber soup during Chinese New Year as it will contain huge chunks of cucumber. It is not auspicious when the first thing customers see in a dish is the lou wong kua," he said.

However, Lim feels that certain ingredients cannot be avoided sometimes. For example, he still uses pumpkin or kam kua in his dishes, mainly to decorate the main meal.

One of the ways Lim gets around the problem is to hollow out the pumpkin and call it kam wan or "golden ring".

Meanwhile, if mandarin oranges are a must during the New Year, its citrus cousin, the orange, is less appreciated. "Oranges are not auspicious as they sound similar to ‘bad luck'," said Tan. Cuttlefish is an ingredient that has to be handled with care. Known as yau yue, it means "having more than enough" but people stay clear of serving stirfried cuttlefish, which means cau yau yue or "getting fired"!

The same goes with mushrooms, which connote prosperity but not when they are steamed or double-boiled (tan tong ku), as it also means "getting fired".

Chan, who is from Hong Kong, said it is not auspicious in the city-state to serve dried beef noodles during the New Year. "The name in Cantonese is kon chau ngau hor and kon means ‘dry' which signifies ‘having nothing'," he said.

"Instead, a more auspicious dish is crab meat yee mee or hong tau yee mee, with hong meaning "red" and yee sounding like yue."

Food and dishes that carry the word pak or "white" are theoretically inauspicious because the colour white is associated with death in the Chinese culture.

Two examples are pak cheok ha, a steamed prawn dish, and pak cam kai, or steamed chicken.

"If we serve pak cham kai, we will call it kwai fei kai as kwai is part of fu kwai, which means ‘prosperity'," said Chan.

In the end, it boils down to eating our food with a pinch of salt.

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