With Chinese New Year (CNY) knocking our doors, one can definitely feel the bustling atmosphere, hear the cheery music and see the seas of red and gold almost everywhere in Singapore. This is what gets everyone – visitors and locals alike – excited for one of the biggest holidays in Asia. Yourfamily.Kitchen contributor and Singaporean-Chinese Mumpreneur Kareen Lai shares with us her CNY story and strategy for enjoying the festive delicacies in a good way.
Goodies with a deep meaning
As with all festivities, food plays the central role in giving the occasion an exclusive identity. During CNY, most of us would be rushing to stock up on CNY goodies that typically must be seen at home. From endless varieties of tarts, to bak kwa (Chinese BBQ pork jerky), pastries and cooked dishes, it is certainly a must to “stock up” our homes with these foods to consider ourselves ready to welcome the lunar new year.
There is no doubt that most of us will over eat during this festive period. I won’t try to pretend that I am the disciplined angel who eats clean and won’t touch these “evil” CNY goodies. I don’t deny that the typical CNY goodies are against my usual principles of eating clean and less processed. In fact, they can truly sabotage your health if care is not taken.
The reality is I want to feel and enjoy the festivity as how I used to when I was young – enjoy the goodies, fun and social gatherings. CNY goodies did not come about just because we decided to feast and eat more during this period. The most traditional goodies actually have a long history and stories tied to them. To better understand the stories that revolve around the top favourite goodies, kueh bangkit, ong lai (pineapple tarts) and kueh kapit, enjoy an easy read at Carolyn Chan’s blog.
And mostly, it’s not just about eating these goodies, but what they symbolize. For many the coming together as a family to help mum or grandma prepare these traditional goodies symbolizes a time of bonding that is precious beyond time. When they see the CNY goodies, they are reminded of the warmth and good times.
Embrace them – but practice moderation
So yes, I would not advocate deprivation and censorship of CNY goodies, especially if you are deeply rooted in the tradition. Rather, embrace them and practice ‘moderation’ instead. Everyone can easily do this, and enjoy CNY, if we just simply practice ‘moderation’.
So can we eat bak kwa? Sure!
Can we eat pineapple tarts? Sure!
Should we touch the kueh lapis? Sure!
Just make sure you treat yourself only to a conservative portion. Now you can say everyone is different and being ‘conservative’ is relative to each individual. But the idea is to practice being truthful to yourself because nobody really cares if you are lying. You know very well that if half a tub of goodies end up in your stomach, you are obviously not being conservative! You are the only person who is subjected to any consequence or outcome. So be truthful to yourself!
Be warned though, most of the CNY goodies are laden with processed sugar and fats – read more about them here. This is the ultimate combination to encourage addictive food behavior, which means they are designed to make you want to eat more! So you need a strategy to not go for second servings.
The good news is one of the most important dish during CNY is actually pretty decent! That is the all famous ‘yusheng’. Everyone looks forward to the time when you stand around a plate of salad and toss the ingredients sky high with chopsticks. Now ‘yusheng’ is made of pretty decent ingredients. Most of the ingredients are raw vegetables and the condiments are made up of peanuts, plum sauce and spices. For a list of the traditional ingredients in ‘yusheng’, you can take reference from here.
In fact, if you can do a home made ‘yusheng’, it could turn out to be the healthiest dish on the table. Simply by replacing a few ingredients with better options.
Plum Sauce – Choose a less sweet version
Deep fried Crackers – Use unflavored tortilla chips
Crushed Peanuts – Use crushed almonds / any other healthy nuts
And of course, a home-made version is always more assured because you never know what kind of ingredients the restaurants use in creating this dish for you.
The eating strategy to enjoy
So really, I wouldn’t go through all that hassle and heart wrenching moments counting the calories each pineapple tart has or how much fat that piece of bak kwa holds.
My best strategies to survive CNY unscathed and still be able to enjoy it completely, is:
Eat only the goodies that is worth eating (better be really good to earn that stomach space)
Stay closer to the table with cooked food (avoiding lingering at the table with goodies).
Stop eating when you are 80% full (ensuring you don’t overeat)
Everything in moderation so you can enjoy a jolly happy Lunar New Year! 新年快乐！
Contributed by Kareen Lai