Archive | November, 2012

Chinese Wedding Traditions

Posted on 28 November 2012 by admin

In the ancient Chinese writings, the characters 婚姻 indicate that the most auspicious time to have a wedding is during the evening as it represents love, harmony and friendship – the way marriages ought to be. Marriages only became a custom around 402 to 221BC and were traditionally performed within the same social class of society.

There are 6 rituals to a traditional Chinese marriage, founded on their tradition of “three letters and six etiquettes”, which are based on 3 distinguished ancient books called the Book of Rites, The Book of Etiquettes and Ceremonial and the Baihu Tong:
1) Proposal – the groom’s family sends gifts and reveals their intention to the bride’s family
2) Birthdate matching as well as horoscope matching, should the family of the bride accept the proposal of the groom
3) Betrothal Price (which is a gift from the groom to the bride’s family)
4) Wedding Gifts – where the groom’s family would present gifts (wedding cake, brandy, oranges, peanuts, a whole roast piglet or pork legs and dragon/ phoenix candles as well as bangles). In return, the bride’s family will replace the 2 brandy bottles with orange syrup, and return the equal goods to them along with 2 phoenix candles which are to be lit up by the groom’s family on the wedding day)
5) Wedding Date – this auspicious date is decided by the elders of the family in consultation with the astrologer
6) Wedding Ceremony

Wedding processions begins  from the bride to the groom’s home which includes the music band, maids of honor, bride’s sedan and dowry. Welcoming the bride at the site of the groom’s home is tradition. Matrimony: here is where the bridal couple pay respects to God and those deceased. The Tea Ceremony: tea is served to the family of the groom and then the bride, from the oldest to the youngest, to express gratitude to the family. In exchange, the bridal couple will be given gold or cash, often in red ang-pow packets, as a sign to wish them “good luck”. The Feast is finally thrown for all their guests, first feast for the bride’s side and thereafter one for the groom’s side of friends and family.

Before entering the nuptial chambers, the couple will exchange nuptial tea cups and perform 4 ceremonial bows as follows: to God (or to Heaven and Earth), the deceased, their parents and finally to the couple themselves.

The recurring theme that is seen is the incorporation of the bride into the groom’s family.   However, what is most beautiful of Chinese weddings is seen in its calligraphy, the Double Happiness. If you look closely at this Chinese character that originated from the Tang Dynasty, you will see 2 persons walking hand in hand (where the top squares  represent their heads and the bottom squares their feet). What better way to say, “when 2 become 1″.

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Fine Dining Thai? Just Heavenly…

Posted on 27 November 2012 by admin

My bestman and bossom friend, Ravi and his wife, were down from Kota Kinabalu – both being renowned hoteliers and food connoisseurs, I felt compelled to live up to my food reputation as well, which means that I had to impress him with a fabulous meal and where better than my favourite Thai restaurant for the season – BUSABA Heavenly Thai.

Owned by a group of companies called SEA Cuisine Group of Restaurants, who coincidentally owns many other Thai restaurants in Klang Valley including The Flying Chillies@ Gardens Midvalle, Celadon @ Pavillion, Amarin Heavenly Thai, Just Thai and Absolute Thai, this latest addition opened in Bangsar Shopping Complex in January 2011. Busaba, I am told, means “flower and grace”.

We ordered some of my favourite dishes, which included the deep fried Thai fish cakes, deep fried prawns with mango sauce, mango kerabu, asparagus with prawns, stirfried morning glory (kang-kung belachan), deep fried garoupa fish with Thai sauce, beef green curry and of course we would never miss out on the Thai Tom Yam Prawn, Thai Tom Yam Seafood. The Tom Yam here has all the right balance and mix of flavour – chilli spiciness, limey sourness, refreshing lemongrass in its fullsome broth; it is no surprise that it is one of their signature dishes.

Another signature dish here is their Pandan Chicken. I must say that I was disappointed in this dish as it lacked the fullsomeness of the pandan flavour and the succulence therein. I have certainly tasted better ones around.

Deserts however, is a must-try here, and amongst my favourite deserts are red ruby water chestnut, mango sticky rice pudding and tapioca in coconut. Naturally, as a fine dining Thai restaurant, I guess I would call the lunch a little pricey but for its value – great taste and service – I keep coming back for more.

At the end of the lunch, Ravi was certainly delighted at the choice of restaurant. I succeeded in creating the conception (or misconception) that once again, I know some of the best food venues in the Klang Valley, since after all, it is my professional calling to ensure that my catering house reflects some of the best tastes around in our dishes – we learn and continue learning from the food experts around the region and the world.

I often tell people that my job is an occupational health hazard, but I am certain that there are only few jobs where these hazards are as sensually delightful as mine.

- Contributed by JW Xavier

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Ipoh Bean Sprouts Chicken – Nga-Choy Kai

Posted on 21 November 2012 by admin

I am often asked by friends and journalists alike – “what is your favourite type of food?”. Of which, I would reply  “Chinese” without missing a heartbeat. My friends describe me as an English man in an Indian body with a Chinese stomach. That itself will tell you a lot about me.

One of my favourite food destination, as a Malaysian, is Ipoh. I just love the “Ipoh Taugeh Chicken”, or as the locals fondly calls the dish “nga-choy Kai”. After sampling many shops including the famous stores in central of Ipoh (such as Low Wong or Onn Kee where tourists flood), my favourite one of all is an off the tourist track, well-hidden shop in Buntong where locals frequent, which opens only after 8pm.  Simply unbeatable!

This little no-name store, known around town just as Fifteen Tower Taugeh Ayam, is proudly run by Mr and Mrs Leow, whose son worked very hard to help his father in his shop and is now a qualified medical doctor from University Malaya, working and studying his way to the top. His “adopted” son, and Indian young man, speaks fluent Cantonese and helps out with the business.

Not only do they sell immaculate ngah-choy kai, they are very well known for their chicken feet in dark sauce. This dish is sumptuosly delivered after many hours of boiling and preparation with secret spices and herbs. The bean sprout is world famously fresh. The chicken is mouth-watering… but the best kept secret is their thick double-boiled chicken broth where the most tasty “sar hor fun” (flat rice noodles) spring out from. These noodles need virtually no chewing and slithers smoothly down your throat. You can also opt for the dry version, with dark sauce instead of broth, if you prefer.

One of my Ipohite friend proudly tells the story of how, in her visit to a famous restaurant in Tokyo, while having a little chat with their chef, at the mention of Ipoh, the Japanese chef’s eyes ligted up and he told her how the best bean sprouts in the world came from Ipoh. Indeed, there are few places in the world where bean sprouts taste as good. The locals attribute their juicy bean sprouts and flat noodles to the water from their majestic limestone hills.

Next time you are in Ipoh, do stop by this little Buntong store (though ambience is not that great) and indulge yourself in their unforgettable “ngah-choy kai”. Address: Pusat Makanan Zui Xiang Cun, Jalan Tun Abdul Razak – near Medan Kidd. 

Contributed by John William Xavier, CEO, The Big Rajah.

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Think Italian Food: Think Pasta, Pizza and Cappuccino? Think again.

Posted on 21 November 2012 by admin

Think Italian Food – Think Pasta, Pizza and Cappuccino? Think again.

When one thinks of Italian food, the first thoughts that immediately come to mind are commonly Italian cappucino, Italian pizza, Italian pasta… or for the more discerning, Italian gnocchi or polenta. However, very few of these dishes were invented before the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus in 1492 or the conquest of the Ottoman Empire in the 16th century.

Was coffee a native plant in Italy or was it brought to Italy and finally expressed as mocha, cappucino or espresso? According to historical records, coffee was first discovered in Ethiopia by Ethopian farmers and herders. Its original name, bunn (or bunna) came from the Ethiopian Kingdom of Kaffa…where the Dutch finally adopted and called it “koffie”.

 

From Ethiopia, these coffee plants were then brought to Yemen and Egypt and spread through the Arab world through the Sufi Muslims, throughout Europe by the Ottoman Empire, and later to Indonesia and Latin America. The first coffee house was founded in Constatinople. Today, the World Bank estimates that there are around 500 million people involved in the coffee trade globally.

And what about Italian pasta, pizza, gnocchi and polenta – amongst the most staple and popular Italian food? The core ingredients are made from tomatoes, potatoes, maize and bell peppers – brought to Europe from South America by traders. Not forgetting chocolate too!

Tomatoes and corn were native to Mexico. Chocolate drinks originated from the Maya and Aztec empires in Peru (originally mixed with hot pepper!). Capsicum found its roots from Cuba. Potatoes from South American Indians of Bolivia, Peru and Chile.

The demands for these produce found a huge following from Spain, Italy, France, Holland to the British empire in the 15th century. However, the first recipe for Italian pasta with tomato sauce was written only in 1891 by Artusi in “La Scienza in Cucina”: a recipe for Neapolitan macaroni.

It is also here in Naples where the classic Margherita Pizza (tomatoes, basil and mozzarella) was first created by a baker called Raffaele Esposito. In 1889, while the King of Savoy, King Umberto 1 was traveling with his Queen, Queen Margherita from the South to the North of Italy, she was famished and all the shops were closed except for a baker. He was then commissioned to present 3 kinds of pizzas to the Queen – of which her favourite was the one made with mozzarella, basil and tomato. This pizza was then named in her honour, Pizza Margherita. It is even said that the the national Italian flag was evoked by the colours of this pizza – green (basil), red (tomatoes) and white (buffalo mozzarella).

Talk about a country so passionate about its food that it can see its food history displayed on its national flag!

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Party Secrets: Entertaining Guests

Posted on 20 November 2012 by admin

At the end of the day, you want your guests to have enjoyed themselves. This is why the entertainment factor of your party is important. Honestly, I find this part the most difficult. It all depends on your guests. Most of the time I try to chat up my guests to keep them entertained but I can never spend enough time talking to everyone and juggle with all the food and what not.

I think the key to good entertaining is a good bit of guest profiling. Here’s a rough guideline!

  1. Age group

Start with identifying age groups. Old folks, adults, teenagers or children. A mixture of age groups may make finding an entertainment factor slightly more difficult, but not impossible. Though each age group may be present at the party, there often is a focus age group.

A birthday party for a 12 year old would make the child’s age group the main focus. Some parties could be meant for adults with their kids just tagging along. In that case, you’d mainly want to entertain the adults but keep the kids entertained too. Perhaps turn on a movie or set up an arts and craft corner for them.

  1. Strategic invites

My biggest problem hosting a birthday party was having friends from school and chuch. My school friends would be at the dining table while my church friends dominate the living room. There’s often this inevitable segregation between different groups of friends. It’s as if there are two different parties going on.

It may not always be a bad thing. When guests are with common friends, they’re more easily entertained and it ensures that no one feels left out so fret not. However if you think it calls for too many awkward moments, you can either do a staggered invitation (certain group comes earlier than the other) or host activities everyone can do together (like a game of charades!). Of course be sure to introduce people to each other. It helps to ‘integrate’ the guests. Sometimes the social butterflies of each would bring the groups together.

  1. Party highlight

Last but not least, prepare a party highlight. It could be a chocolate fondue, great wine, a piano presentation, dance hour or karaoke – anything at all that you know your guests would enjoy.

As important as it is to make sure your guests are well-entertained, be sure not to overwork yourself. The party is meant for you too. Eat with your guests, drink and laugh! Hosting is not a job. Enjoy yourself and your guests will enjoy themselves too.

 

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Indian Wedding Traditions

Posted on 20 November 2012 by admin

It is estimated by sociologists that over 90% of marriages in India are arranged marriages (Ahloowahlia, 2009)*. This marriage model has survived for over three thousand years, surprisingly steadfast through changes and modernization of the world and the given the overwhelming media influence of Bollywood that celebrates love-marriages. Interestingly, traditional Indian marriage is ranked as having one of the highest numbers of arranged marriages that still exist amongst the various cultures in the world and yet carries one of the lowest in divorce rates (only 1.1% in India as compared to nearly 50% in the USA)**.

So how does this all take place?

The Match

In the absence of a partner of choice, family members meet to discuss the prospects of their children being united in matrimony, should there be an expression of interest on both parties. Prior to that, a matchmaker is appointed with a given match criteria list (this wish list may consist of various criteria such as religion, education level, physically desirable traits, caste, numerology, horoscope, financial status etc.) and thereafter an exchange of photos by the parties.

Pre-Wedding- The Engagement & The Sangeet

Upon the match, the engagement date is fixed by family elders in consultation with the priest. The groom’s party will bring, with a convoy of close family and friends, a gift offering to the bride’s family. Customary, sweets are offered as well as other precious items such as gold and saree dresses. Hereon, the soon-to-be bridal couple will begin their romantic dating period.

During the Sangeet, which is the day before the wedding, there will be a party with song, food and dance, celebrated at the bride’s home where henna based intricate patterns (called mehendi) are applied to her hands and feet. Here, her other female-friends will also have the opportunity to apply mehendi to their hands. 

Wedding

The ceremony is kickstarted with the arrival of the Barrat, a formal procession that includes friends, family members of the groom and is welcomed at the venue by the bride’s family. The groom is only allowed to enter after receiving the blessing from the bride’s mother, in a ritual called “aarti”, rotating a small earthen lamp around him.

 

 

 

Jaimala” is when the bridal couple exchange garlands and is considered married. Thereafter, they will exchange vows before God, through the chanting of hymns with the priest. Next, they walk around a fire seven times, with a part of their costumes knotted together. Finally, he puts vermilion on the hair parting of the bride, and he puts on a chain around her neck, both of which she is to wear for life.

Finally, the wedding feast is thrown, a lavish banquet with usually over 500 guests in attendance celebrating more than a union of two persons, but that of two families.

*B. S. Ahloowalia, Invasion of the Genes: Genetic Heritage of India, AEG Publishing Group, 2009
** Divorce Rate In India http://www.divorcerate.org/divorce-rate-in-india.html Divorce Rate In India

 

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