The intriguing tale of deliverance behind the Hokkien New Year
The ninth day of the first lunar calendar is especially significant to the Hokkien people (a subgroup of Chinese). Some traditionalists would even venture as far as to say that it is much more important than the Chinese New Year day itself because on that day, the entire Hokkien clan was spared from being massacred. They believe it was the Jade Emperor, also known as the God of Heaven, who protected them. Thus, it is celebrated with more grandeur especially in Penang compared to the first day of the lunar calendar.
The legend of the ferocious beast called Nian
'Nian' in Mandarin means 'year'. However, legend has it that Nian was also a mythical creature that terrorised humans during the New Year. It was so fierce that it threatened to destroy the entire race of mankind.
At a loss at what to do, the Emperor summoned his advisors to find a solution to this looming armageddon. Having devised an infallible plan, the advisors approached Nian and challenged this all-powerful beast to prove its invincible strength by destroying all other monsters on earth rather than erasing the humans who were obviously no match for it.
Ti Kuih to sweeten the words of the Gods
Ti Kuih (sweet sticky rice cake) in Mandarin (nian gao) literally means "year cake" which also echoes the sound of rising abundance or prosperity for the coming year.
Springy Nyonya Kuih Talam
Kuih Talam, a classic Nyonya cake, is still popular in Penang today. Its two signature colours are green and white. The sweetened green base layer is perfumed with pandan (screw pine) juice while the top white layer has a "lemak" (rich) indulgence of santan (coconut milk) that is mildly salty. It is dangerously addictive and a slice is never enough. Maybe that is why nowadays, Kuih Talam is cut and packed in two or three pieces. I also notice that the pieces are much smaller than what they used to be when I was growing up.
Le Venue revisited (many times over)
When it comes to good food, Penangites are spoiled for choices, from hawker fare to fine dining cuisine. Having said that, to mark a memorable evening, one would still have to ponder and think of an appropriate venue. Some restaurants have introduced fusion food that does not make sense while others have to implement nouveau cuisine with hardly anything on the plate and everything on the bill. Being prudent with their spending, Penangites would feel disgusted if they leave half full, having to stop at a nearby coffeeshop thereafter for a plate of sar hor fun. I would always assume that such places would not survive the tough clientele on the island, nevertheless although many have fallen, there are those who have managed to thrive. There are also many restaurants that serve mediocre meals that are simply forgettable.
The Ferringhi Garden Restaurant: great dining within an oasis
The Ferringhi Garden Restaurant has an amazing lush garden filled with flowers in full bloom. Even before looking through the menu, we could not resist taking a few photographs of its tranquil and beautiful dining ambience.