Event host and President, Dato’ Pat Chia welcomes Enakers to the celebration to welcome the Lunar Year of the Tiger
When the name ‘Hakka’ is mentioned, it conjures up images of a people, indomitable and courageous. This is especially so in the context of the Hakkas of Malaysia, many of whom were recruited to work in the burgeoning tin mines in late 18th and 19th century Malaya, and their descendants who have made Malaysia their home.
‘Hakka’ in Mandarin characters is "客家", kejia, which means‘guest people’. Their ancestors were northern Han Chinese who moved to the southern provinces in a series of migrations from as early as the Qin Dynasty. Having been on the move throughout the centuries, they have no province to call their own, always being a minority group in the provinces of the south.
Inevitably, the Hakkas developed a culture characterised by resilience and frugality. Their desire for freedom, and being constantly on the move seeking new lands, made them more intrepid than other Chinese ethnic groups. They have been likened to the dandelion, a flower that thrives in the harshest of conditions, and coming out the better for it. It is no surprise that their cuisine has come to define Hakka identity.
Hakka cuisine may be outwardly simple; but is inwardly tasty. They possess the skill to bring out natural flavours of meats and vegetables, and striking the right combination of tastes and textures of ingredients. Tofu is
a speciality; village or free-range chicken with salt, preserved (to extract the best flavour) meats and vegetables are commonly featured. Stewing and braising are preferred methods of cooking.
The hallmark of Hakka cooking lies in the strong, direct flavours of food found in everyday markets, use of salt and fat and use of all parts of poultry and animals. The result? Simple comfort food which satiates the appetite. The Hakkas have a rich repertoire of dishes they call their own, and it takes time to savour them all.
Thirty-two MCG Enakers had a treat of five of the Hakka Restaurant’s signature dishes, carefully selected by Enak event host, Pat Chia, to balance taste and budget. This was indeed a glimpse into the wider world of Hakka food.
In true festive spirit, Enakers tossed the Prosperity Yee Sang salad while expressing wishes for good luck, abundance and prosperity to welcome the new Lunar Year of the Tiger. The blend of julienne vegetables and sauces of this beloved dish signifying good fortune whetted our appetites.
The spill signifies ‘spilling abundance’ and is a deliberate gesture
Toast to prosperity and health
Each table had an enthusiastic round of toasts to wish each other ‘Gong Xi Fa Cai’.
Hakka stewed beef briskets soup, a 12-hour slow-cook preparation had the briskets braised till soft, succulent and infused with a salty sweet flavour. I heard someone say its collagen-filled as well!
The Signature Hakka salted free range chicken was steamed with home-made rice wine. The bird was just the right size, and had salt, oil and wine gently rubbed onto it before the well-timed steam. The meat had absorbed the flavours from the salt-wine marinade.
Salted chicken and vegetarian combination
Eight is an auspicious number for the Chinese as it sounds like the word for ‘prosperity’, thus the Vegetarian Combination of 8 varieties of vegetables in preserved bean curd sauce dish. Bean curd is a fermented tofu condiment much used in Hakka cooking. It gives that undeniable Hakka-umami.
When the Hakkas migrated from the north to the southern provinces, they could not find grain for flour with which to make dumplings and had to re-orient their diet with tofu as substitute. Today, the Hakkas make some of the best tofu, and lucky were we to enjoy the Hakka Home-made Tofu, braised with Black Fungus and Sponge Melon dish. Deep fried,
the outside of the tofu pieces were fragrant and the inside soft and full of flavour. Here again we see the combination of ingredients for simple comfort food which I could not stop eating!
Dough balls with creamy soft durian filling, durian balls, is a modern addition to the menu. It provided the Malaysian touch to the event. To complement this was the classic dessert of crispy deep-fried pancake with lotus seed paste filling to symbolise a sweet ending to the MGC New Year Reunion.
... so this is Hakka cuisine, with its distinct flavour
Congratulations to the six winners of the special Lucky Draw.
We were winners all as everyone present received the table gift of two hand-made face masks, courtesy of Lam Lai Meng.
Whose number did Ay Ling draw?
Thanks also to Corinne Sibert for her contribution of the book on Malaysian Cuisine for the Lucky Draw and Lai Meng for more face masks for the Draw.
Pat with Cheryl, winner of Lucky Draw grand prize who will be busy putting Malaysian cuisine on her dining table.
There is much more to Hakka cuisine, the soul food of a once-nomadic people. May I suggest you try lei cha, and that Chinese banquet in a wash basin, poon choi, of Hakka origin. This ‘wash basin’ dish has morphed into a popular celebratory dish layered with expensive ingredients!
Text and picture captions by ChuahSiewYen
Photos by various members of the MCG
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