For the second time this year, we find ourselves in fantastically delicious Penang. The first time, we came for a short trip to eat, visit family, and eat some more before the Chinese New Year holidays. This time, we’re here to celebrate the wedding of one of Annie’s cousins.
Let the Eating Begin
As soon as the kids got out of school here in Kuching, we hopped on a plane to KL, then drove with Mum and Dad up to Penang. What was the first thing we did when we arrived at Annie’s uncle’s place? Go out to eat, of course! Assam Laksa and Char Kway Teow, right off the bat!
After a brief rest, we all bundled off to another relative’s house for the evening’s festivities. They had set up a big tent, tables and chairs in the front yard – all colored in festive red. As guests arrived, they pulled up a chair and sat down to a meal of traditional Penang Chinese wedding dishes.
From back to front: Steamed veggies, loh bak – minced pork wrapped in tofu skin and deep fried, curry chicken, egg fu yong, and acar – pickled veggies with crushed peanuts. (Not seen: a restorative bowl of pig stomach soup with white pepper – yum!) As the serving plates were emptied, they would be refilled with more food. The homemade acar was delicious – sweet and crunchy and full of Nyonya flavors. It was the first dish to run out!
The bride and groom arrived and they made way around the tables, greeting family and friends. They didn’t have too much time to eat, though, as the tea ceremony would soon begin. As the implements were set up, everyone began to migrate inside the house.
The Chinese wedding tea ceremony serves as the “formal” introduction of the groom to the bride’s family and vice versa. The couple serves a small cup of sweet longan and red date tea to their parents, grandparents, and family elders in turns, while addressing them with the proper honorific title. After the tea is served, the couple receives a gift of money enclosed in an ang pow (red packet) or jewelry, often with a word of blessing or advice.
(More information on the Chinese Wedding Tea Ceremony here.)
It’s a fun exercise, especially when the groom (like me) comes from another culture and is just learning how to call all the uncles and aunties for the first time. There is much laughter involved, as the groom is gently teased for stumbling or mis-pronouncing a name. Sometimes, the elders will just dispose of tradition and hand over the red packet without sitting for the tea. The tea ceremony can be quite lucrative for the couple, especially if they have a very large extended family!
After the uncles and aunts are served, next come the elder married siblings and cousins. Annie and I had the most fun here, because we not only represented ourselves but her two brothers as well who couldn’t make the trip to Penang.
Here’s the blogger’s eye view of things:
Finally, the younger and unmarried cousins get to participate when they receive a red packet gift from the wedding couple. In such way, the tradition is passed down from generation to generation.
Large extended families are becoming rarer these days, as the younger generations choose not to have as many children as their parents did. Chinese tea ceremonies may not be such big affairs in the future. So I am grateful that I got to participate in them, both with our own wedding as well as this cousin’s wedding.
After most of the guests had gone, the aunties and uncles gathered around the table to drink, chit-chat, and eat some more. Even we cousins also took the opportunity to head out for some supper and drinks outside. It was 1 am before we all crawled into bed. Hey, when in Penang, do as the Penang-ites do!
The bride and groom went back to their hotel to get some rest. The next morning, the groom and his party would play “fetch the bride”. More fun, which we will cover in our next post…
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