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Thursday, 7 February 2008

Year Of The Rat-ta-to -ille

Happy New Year to all faithful blog readers. The annual exodus back to my parents' hometown happened with the grim inevitability of lemmings leaping off a cliff. Which could be connected to the Year of The Rat. My cousin is improvising dischord on the living room piano while her elders are marvelling at her latent musical talent. She should enjoy while she can; it won't be so adorable once she hits 10 years of age when the very same family members will be telling her to sit down and eat her food.

Ahh food, the staple of any festive season. Food lubricates the merrymaking machine, along with alcohol ( for Chinese New Year, its always Hennessey XO or Jolly Shandy), providing a sense of familiality and communion. However, as I gaze upon jar after jar of pineapple tarts, love-letters and mini deep fried prawn rolls, I realise that the festive machinery has started to be rendered obselete by modern methods of crass production.

Take the pineapple tarts, for example, or rather, don't take them. Especially when you get the type that are shaped like stuffed dormice and the jam filling looks like jellied hamster turds instead of golden dollops of sweetness. Mini prawn rolls fare no better when they are compacted and deep-fried to an unbelievable hardness. The riot police will be using prawn rolls instead of plastic bullets to disperse unruly crowds. Love-letters are aptly named- after being stored in a lined Milo tin for two or three days, they fragment into forlorn shards, and you are left to pick up the pieces while all your aunts tactfully inquire, "Waah! Still not married yet?".

The quality of foodstuff is not strained; it droppeth like the gentle rain from heaven. I am not asking for manna during any festive season but I protest the wanton proliferation of substandard manufactured traditional foods. Whereby mass production churns out copies of copies, until the originals are rendered meaningless and forgotten. Why do we eat pineapple tarts during Chinese New Year? Who invented the pineapple tart? When was the first recorded pineapple tart consumed? These may seem like inane and pointless questions but at least mull over them when you unscrew the red plastic lid off the pineapple tart jar. Perhaps, once upon a time, a single pineapple tart contained a whole pineapple, as prawn rolls must have contained whole prawns before being downsized to their modern pellet-shaped incarnations. Love letters used to stand the test of time (until Chap Goh Meh) despite being shaken and stirred in a metal tin.

The obvious solution against crass production would be to make your own festive tidbits, but that is unfeasible with time-pressed modern families. As I watch my cousin bang away on the piano, I declare that we should also ( try to) enjoy any festive season while we can, and insist on quality over quantity. It sounds like a dreadful cliche but you do not want to be saddled with jars of stuffed dormice, riot pellets and shattered love letters after Chap Goh Meh. Particularly when you can't give them away for Valentine's Day.

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