As the wind whipped on the eve of our First Super Bowl Monday (kickoff at 7:30 AM Malaysian local time), it’s also the eve of Chinese New Year. Celebrated much differently on this side of the world, most Chinese families eat a meal with family tonight. According to various sources (our Uber drivers), the day of Chinese New Year is usually reserved for friends and family hanging out together, like Thanksgiving day in the USA. Unlike North America, however, the celebrations first begin after the real holiday and can run up to three weeks. Although it varies depending on social status and financial means, almost all Chinese run businesses (about 60% of Penang’s shops) close for at least three days. We’ve observed some of our favorite food courts already boarded up with signage saying “see you in three weeks”. Since our neighbor from Hong Kong is off to Singapore, our other friends are either mostly Brits and Diane’s family is 7,000 miles away, that left us sadly unprepared for anything remotely resembling Chinese New year dinner.
Although we did visit the wet market on Saturday, it was so filled with Chinese shoppers we couldn’t get anywhere near the crowds and besides, they jack up the price as much as three times as much for this weekend. (Hong Kong prices are even higher right before CNY). Unwilling to pay US prices while living in Malaysia, we did visit Cold Storage, the local supermarket but found much of the same; crappy meat and chicken and no vegetables worth buying. Fortunately, we live in Malaysia so we decided to do our first take away order from our favorite Malaysian food stand. Easily cooking the island’s best Nasi Campur, the friendly proprietor at Umi Nasi Campur helped us scoop bits of whatever we wanted into individual plastic bags and happily smiled at us. Knowing us as one of her best foreign customers who always buys more than most locals, she tallied it all up and came up with 50 ringgit (about $13 USD) but given the amount of food we took, we think she gave us a bargain. Most online sites rip her apart for being way too expensive but by our standards it’s one of the best $7 lunches anywhere so we figured why not make it dinner?
Loosely defined as rice with any combination of meats, fish and vegetables and, you eat Nasi Campur buffet style. Usually they give a huge dollop of rice and you pile on whatever looks good. Always having trouble with foreigners who always take way more than locals (usually for financial reasons), many of them just eyeball it and come give you a little post-it note with the bill while you’re in the middle of eating. Probably one of my favorite things to eat in Penang, it’s one of the few things difficult to find in Thailand and even though there’s Malaysian food restaurants all over Melbourne including “Ipoh style“, “Little Penang” and various others, don’t even think about eating there if you want to know what Malaysian food really tastes like. Taking beef randang, chicken curry, mutton, sambal tofu, fish with okra, caramelized pineapple, and a host of delicious veggies, our Chinese New Year Dinner proved as delicious as our last Christmas celebration with Diane’s family in Edmonton (ironically, at a Chinese restaurant because unlike in Asia, North American Chinese restaurant owners think cash is more important than a few days off).
So now our stomachs are full and we can get a good night’s sleep in time to hop up at 6;30. Enough time to cook Super Bowl Monday breakfast, Diane will find a CBS feed somewhere on the internet as we do with NHL hockey, North American network TV, news and almost anything else you’d wanna watch (all free). And then I can get ready for all the Facebook requests from my Bay Area FB friends about “What’s the final score since you live in the future”? Wishing everyone a prosperous Chinese New Year, Gong Xi Fa Cai (The Hokkien way of saying it)
Ironically, Gong Xi Fa Cai (or however you’ll say it) is not really a “Happy New Year” greeting. Because Gong Xi (恭禧) is congratulations or respectfully wishing one joy and Fa Cai (發財) is to become rich or to make money. Thus, Gong Xi Fa Cai means wishing you to be prosperous in the coming year.
Enjoy the Super Bowl !!!