When it comes to celebrating Chinese New Year, even the best and most renowned chefs are just like us–it’s all about the food and reuniting with family and loved ones. However, they might have the upper hand in knowing just what to eat, what and how to cook, and what to put on their yee sang. We chatted with world pastry champion Otto Tay to get his take on celebrating, eating, and baking during Chinese New Year.
As a Johor native, Tay makes the trek back to his hometown, Muar, to celebrate with his family, which consists of himself, his brother, and his parents. “When we celebrate, we usually have a family gathering for the New Year’s Eve dinner and then we would stay up late to pray to Ti Kong,” says Tay, who is Hokkien. Ti Kong refers to the Jade Emperor, to whom Hokkiens would pray to twice over the course of the 15-day Chinese New Year celebrations with the second prayer occurring on the night of the eighth day, close to midnight.
Traditions are aplenty during this festive season. Whether it be dressing in red on the first day or playing games with visiting cousins, every family subscribes to one tradition or another to usher in the new year with as much luck and prosperity as possible. Tay’s family is no different. “Angpow from the seniors, which I would say I am always very happy to receive,” declares Tay, when asked what his favourite tradition is. “On the first day, we must wear red. If we don't, my grandma would scold us. So we have to be dressed in new clothes, as it’s a new start and it's very ong (Chinese for prosperous) for the upcoming year.”
Reunion dinner must-haves
For some, a reunion dinner is incomplete without hotpot. For others, a big pot of braised pork trotters would be the pièce de résistance of the meal. For Tay, it's a humble teapot. “My late grandpa would make tea and gather all his grandsons to tell stories about his childhood,” reminisces Tay about his nostalgic Tie Guan Yin tea. “He would tell stories, we would eat, and he would explain why he cooked specific dishes–all with tea.”
Of yee sang and bakkwa
Unlike what you might believe about a chef’s celebration, Tay does not cook anything for his reunion dinners, which happen on New Year’s Eve. Instead, he brings yee sang and contributes to the bakkwa stash in his family’s home.
“In Muar, there are hardly any fine dining or grand restaurants,” explains Tay, “But I would get a nice yee sang from a secondary school friend. His name is Samp and he's also a chef but a culinary chef. I always buy my yee sang from his restaurant, Samp’s Kitchen.”