September 11 2020 – Holly Ong
Throughout time, humans have celebrated the dead in different ways. For the Chinese, the seventh month on the Chinese Lunar Calendar is 中元节 aka Hungry Ghost Festival. The Singaporean Chinese can be a Pantang lot (pan-tang is Malay for superstitious). So the Seventh month is filled with dos & don’ts. It’s a bad month for business. The property market usually takes a dip, people tend to go out less, you’re not supposed to wear certain colors, if you’re out at night and you hear someone calling your name, you’re not supposed to turn around, you can’t open the umbrella within the home and the list goes on. Besides the laundry list of dos and don’ts, the month is actually a traditional time to honor those who have left us. When we were growing up, the Temples and clan associations would hold street concerts called 歌台 Getai. There would be noisy Chinese Opera and other flashy entertainment just for the roaming spirits. This year, it's been quiet in Singapore because of Covid.
And of course, there’s always food involved, the tradition called for a feast to appease the hungry souls that just got let out of hell. For our family, Ah-Ma used to whip up a feast to honor ancestors and we would be called back to the family home for dinner. In prayers to the ancestors, there would a need for 三生 San Sen, which would be three kinds of meat (Fish/Duck/Chicken or Pork). The homemade feast from Ah-Ma’s kitchen would be laid out on the family alter and the burning of paper offering / candles and incense would commence. After an appropriate time of paying respects to the departed, we got to enjoy yummy food. The thing I remember the most was Ah-ma’s Lor Ark aka Teochew Braised Duck.
The duck would be slow braised for a few hours in a concoction of caramelized sugar/dark soy/ galangal/ ginger/ star anise/ cinnamon. After the duck is cooked, additional ingredients of hard boiled eggs/ Tao Pok & Tao Kwa (Soy Bean Puff & Firm Tofu) would be added to the master stock and lightly cooked. Everything would then be chopped up into chopstick size serving pieces. Yum!