This year marks our second Chinese New Year since we moved to Malaysia. Last year, we spent it in Penang with Annie’s relatives. This year though, we went back to Penang before CNY to enjoy all the great food while the shops were still open. So we’re spending our second Chinese New Year right here in Kuching!
Already, we’ve seen some interesting differences between how Kuchingites celebrate Chinese New Year, and how folks on Peninsular Malaysia celebrate it.
First off, Kuchingites are serious about Spring cleaning. People around here started cleaning a month before CNY – replacing fences, eaves, carport tiles, almost anything that needed repairing. Almost every house has a high-pressure washer that gets quite a workout on the weekends. (Not to mention the paint brushes and paint rollers!) By the time Chinese New Year rolls around, most of the houses are sparkling.
Second, Kuchingites are absolutely nuts about burning firecrackers and setting off illegal aerial explosives. I thought Chinese New Years Eve in Penang was loud, but Kuching was like a war zone as midnight approached. The smoke was so thick over the city as every neighborhood seemed to be in competition with the next for who could throw up the loudest, most colorful fireworks. Thankfully, the explosions died down enough by 12:30 AM so that we could get back to sleep.
Third, Kuchingites are very generous when it comes to celebrating together. Everywhere in Malaysia during major holidays, people open their homes to family, friends and coworkers to come visit and have a bite to eat. But Kuchingites are different. If they tell you they’re having an open house, it doesn’t just mean tea and cookies. Expect to be well fed.
And it isn’t just Chinese food being served, either. Sarawakians of all races come, so the food has to reflect the diversity of this great state. Rice and curry or rendang, fried chicken, satays…anything is possible (as long as it’s halal in respect to Muslim guests).
One dish that we were introduced to today was keropok topped with acar. Keropok is fried shrimp chips or prawn crackers. Acar (“ah-CHAR”) is a kind of salad made with sweet pickled vegetables. People over in Peninsular Malaysia know these two ingredients separately but it’s only here in Kuching that they’ve been combined into one dish – and it is excellent! The sweet-sour crunchiness of the pickle works really well with the salty-crispiness of the cracker…wonderful.
Keropok with Acar
So, while we may not be spending Chinese New Year with our families this year, we are still having a good time, enjoying the new experiences of being in a familiar-but-different culture. We hope you are enjoying Chinese New Year wherever you are.
How do you celebrate CNY? What’s your favorite dish? Leave a comment and tell us about it!
We wish you a healthy and abundant New Year.
Cheers and Aloha, Annie and Nate