Apart from the usual festivities, Chinese New Year is also about eating. Eating is not just about the consumption of food but is also about the whole social interaction of good company, great food and drinks that makes it a memorable experience. What better way to combine all these elements than a popiah meal at CNY. This year we were grateful guests of our super hospitable hosts who treated us to what we believe is the best poh piah in Singapore.
Our meal began, not with the predictable lo hei, but a much more traditional dish which is relished by the Teochews – pek toh fish (白肚鱼/拜年鱼) which is a kind of rabbit fish. Apparently, CNY is the best time to consume this fish as its condition is at its peak and the prized roe or milt of the fish are at their fullest. It is also said that the fish, which is usually not highly valued because of its fishiness, loses this undesirable trait during this time. Each of us was given one fish to symbolise a year of abundance. True enough, there was no fishiness at all despite the fact that the fish had been steamed intact i.e. with innards and all, as the fish has to be complete in order for the full abundance to be enjoyed!
The main filling for the popiah was a complex mix of many ingredients including turnip, carrot, French beans, bamboo shoots, fried tau kwa, prawns and pork. This was kept warm by a portable gas stove with the flame at the lowest setting. The flavour of the popiah is fine-tuned by the type of garnishing that is introduced. This is where you can customise your own popiah as you are free to put in any of the various extras that were available. For our CNY popiah lunch, there was a generous selection of toppings that were prepared, including lar por (deep-fried lard), tee po (dried fish), chinese sausages, bean sprouts, omelette strips, hard-boiled egg, tiger prawns, Chinese parsley, home-made chilli paste, sweet sauce, garlic and lettuce.
Fortunately, our hosts have prepared some kueh cups with which we can make kueh pie tee using the same ingredients. This time we were quite happy with our handiwork which you must agree looks quite good.
Our CNY popiah lunch was brought to a sweet ending with a sugee cake which our hosts had bought and coffee served in beautiful bone china. Some wine, including a Penfold’s Bin 407 provided the extra enjoyment to this wonderful meal.