21 January 2012

gong xi fa cai!

I don't know for sure, but I suspect that very few Singaporeans resolve to lose weight on January 1st - the Gregorian New Year. There would be so little point, given that only three or four weeks later, Chinese New Year arrives with all its feasting, fireworks and general merriment.

At my friend's house last week, our pot of tea was accompanied by a dozen pineapple tarts, a whole box of Nyonya love letters (sweet wafer rolls), and soft sweet brown jelly cakes (kueh) coated with grated fresh coconut. Sublime, and entirely homemade by various friends and relatives. She waved her infuriatingly slender, elegant arm in the air and said "don't even think about holding back, it's New Year, resistance is futile!" Well, I didn't need to be told twice.

To give you a bit of the CNY atmosphere, here are some of our recent photos (do not adjust your screen, unbelievably, these red photos are straight out of camera!) Imagine music blaring at full-throttle, acrid smoke from barrels of roasting chestnuts, the taste of your takeaway siew bao as you amble along, surrounded by traders selling every imaginable food; cartloads of melon seeds, durian pastries, fried chicken feet, bak kwa, frog porridge, rambutan tea, salted preserved ducks... and of course, a multitude of the all-important pineapple tarts.

in case you were wondering, it's the year of the dragon!

Christmas decorations are for amateurs, THIS is decoration!

On the evening we were out taking all these photos, we tried a dish called ah balling - rice balls in peanut soup. I believe that it's actually a traditional mid-autumn festival dish but you seem to be able to get it at this time of year too. In fact a quick wiki search reveals that the spherical balls in the round bowl symbolise family togetherness, so perhaps that's why the stall was doing a roaring trade this week (a big element of lunar New Year is family reunion).

The reason it caught my eye is that, back in November, Dom from Belleau Kitchen challenged all his Random Recipe disciples to share a vegetarian soup recipe. I was convinced that someone in that clever bunch would come up with a sweet soup, but alas, it was not to be. Well, ah balling is a genuine and authentic sweet soup and really easy to make. So after eating it at the nightmarket, I did my usual: search for at least half a dozen recipes on line, and then combine all the most sensible elements to make my own version.
 ah balling
makes enough for about 6-8 people

a big packet of peanuts (NOT salted) about 200g but no need for accuracy
2tsp bicarbonate of soda
250ml soy milk
100g caster sugar
frozen tang yuan or mochi (glutinous rice balls, we like the ones filled with peanut best)
  • soak the peanuts in a bowl of water with the bicarb (apparently this helps to soften them) for at least two or three hours
  • wash the peanuts a few times in a sieve, chop very roughly (you still want big bits) and put them in a pan of boiling water - about a litre
  • simmer for a couple more hours with the lid at a tilt, the peanuts need to be soft and the soup will be cloudy
  • stir in the sugar and soy milk and bring back to the boil
  • drop your frozen mochi into the soup, when they rise to the surface after a couple of minutes, they're ready (we find two or three per person to be enough - the five per bowl at the night market beached us!) Sprinkle in some crushed peanuts for a bit of crunch.

It's sweet and hot and peanuty, but honestly, I don't think this will become a regular family staple. You never know though, perhaps next CNY in a frosty city far, far away, I'll feel like hanging up my red decorations and hosting a nostalgic Singaporean supper. This would make an authentic and unique dessert and, if served one rice ball per person in tiny porcelain bowls with Chinese spoons, I think it could actually be quite elegant... providing I don't unwittingly buy fluorescent pink rice balls next time!!!

GONG XI FA CAI lovely readers!


  1. The next best thing to experiencing the festivities surrounding the New Year is to read such wonderful descriptions of it. Your words and pictures make me wish I were there! My mom makes a similiar sweet soup, but adds a little bit of fresh ginger root to it. It gives the soup a little bit of heat. I actually like the pink rice balls!

    1. ah! there was a version with ginger soup at the ah-balling stall too! It was very warming and almost medicinal tasting - but in a good way - the perfect thing if you were feeling a cold coming on. Thanks for your lovely comment, and happy new year!

  2. I think the pink looks lovely with the blue of the china. Sets it off nicely!

  3. Whao..the decorations at Chinatown are really lovely this year. Happy CNY to you and family too.

  4. Oooh - I'll be first in line for some peanut soup next year. ;-)
    Love your photos.

  5. "a dozen pineapple tarts, a whole box of Nyonya love letters (sweet wafer rolls), and soft sweet brown jelly cakes (kueh) coated with grated fresh coconut. Sublime, and entirely homemade by various friends and relatives"

    and those photos!!



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