Despite the cost of living, we dine out quite often in Singapore. In the earlier days when Singapore was not prosperous, we dine out at Chinese banquet usually during someone’s wedding or an elderly person’s 70th birthday.
The order of dishes is quite predictable. The type of ingredients then, varies according to the wealth of the individual throwing the dinner party. Each table sits about 10-12 people. Unlike in Hong Kong where dinners are preceded by mahjong playing, we do not have any entertainment.
The food and conversations surrounding the food is the highlight.
The number of dishes served during a Chinese wedding banquet is symbolic. The number eight is regarded as a lucky number to the Cantonese-speaking because it sounds like the word “prosper”. Thus, Chinese wedding banquet consists of eight courses, excluding the last dish of dessert, to bring luck to the couple and their marriage.
For other Chinese dialect groups, eight doesn’t translate to prosperity, instead, nine(jiu) is a lucky number, meaning “eternity”.
Roast suckling pig
Roast suckling pig is served at Hokkien and Teochew banquets. Flattened and roasted the traditional way.
According to most chef, the roasting is very time consuming and cannot be automated because every piglet is different and the machine sensor cannot detect. The crispy skin with a thin layer of melting fat oozing out demonstrates a marriage of skill in rearing of the piglet and the master roaster. Open fire on a charcoal pit can still be found in Singapore but is a dying art. Very hot. Each piglet can cost anywhere from $388.
In the past, every Chinese banquet MUST have Shark’s fin soup on the menu. Or you’re short-changing your guests and you’ll be remembered for being miserly. I’m personally quite happy its taken off the menu for eco-friendly reason which allows the host not to over-pay for soup with stringy bits. [Since the opening up of the Chinese economy, we’ve not seen real shark’s fin soup. So why pretend. Instead, we now eat Fish-maw soup. From my part of the world, we don’t usually put in Sze Chuan sweet sour soup, that’s for the Northerners.
Chinese banquets usually serve a roast chicken dish. Beef is rarely served because most Chinese do not eat beef for religious reasons in gratitude to the cow/ox for their labour in the fields. But I’ve heard different versions from Thai who though Buddhists, do eat beef.
Lamb is not eaten because the smell is not tolerated. So chicken is the safest choice.
Restaurants usually serve broccoli with scallop or a chap chye version.
Fish is served just before starchy food.
Fish also has a similar pronunciation as the word “abundance” in Chinese and is always included in a wedding banquet menu to represent abundance in the couple’s marriage. A fish served whole with its head and tail intact also symbolises that the couple’s marriage will come to a successful completion.
Just before the end of the meal, the carbohydrates will be served, as a filler. It can be noodles or rice. Noodles symbolise longevity in Chinese culture. Usually egg noodles or Yi noodles can be served in a wedding banquet to bless the couple with a long and happy married life together. Glutinous rice wrapped in lotus leaves has become more popular in recent years, lotus representing “harmony” in the marriage, and the sticky glutinous rice – hope you’ll stick through thick and thin.
Photo: Oyster mee sua served in broth. Unforgettable. A simple dish elevated to great heights of culinary pleasure.
Dessert signals the end of the meal. In a Chinese wedding banquet, a sweet dessert is usually served as a symbol of a sweet marriage for the couple. The type of dessert served also has a meaning to it.
In Teochew Chinese banquets (my family group), yam pudding with pumpkin and gingko nuts is served. Yam represents fertility, pumpkin gold and prosperity and gingko nuts represent longevity and fruitfulness. In Hokkien families, red bean paste soup (warm) with glutinous rice balls is served. Glutinous rice balls symbolise unity and family union in Chinese culture and eaten on significant occasions. The Japanese have a same tradition of celebrating with red beans. Otherwise, it could be almond jelly with longan (cold) – modern twist.
Here the New Majestic served a Singapore fusion dish with durian mousse. But you have an option.