Sira-sira store: Stick him up

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Friday, January 24, 2014

THIS is a great year. In a way, we are having two New Years, with the occidental one falling on Jan. 1 and the oriental one on Jan. 31. I think in Cebuano the term is nagyayong og tuig, which is often used in families that have two children born in the same year.

The Chinese New Year is particularly interesting and full of symbols, a rich source of material for impoverished food columns like mine.

Food symbols look like bruised-up boxers, or in Cebuano, bun-og na kaayo nga topic and yet, every year third-rate writers like me take it up in the boxing ring of column-writing. And every year, writers such as I hope that readers will go to that boxing ring with the intention of congratulating the writer—not mauling him.


I am sure you know about apples (for wisdom, peace); carrots (good luck); bamboo shoots (the phrase sounds like the Chinese “wishing that everything would be well”); pomelo (abundance, prosperity, having children, good health, unity); whole chicken (prosperity, togetherness, joy, completeness); duck (fertility); whole fish (surplus, an increase in prosperity); fish ball (reunion); oranges (wealth, good fortune, gold); and pork (strength, wealth, abundant blessing.

For sure you will receive layer upon layer of sticky rice cakes, including biko, palitaw and tikoy.

My nephew Pannon put me to task on why sticky foods are popular during the Chinese New Year. It all has to do with the gossipy kitchen god.

Yu Huang, the emperor of heaven, assigned the kitchen god to monitor how each family around the world behaves during the year. He is to record and report every single act and word that each member does.

I have seen this kitchen god posted in my cousin Rod’s house (Rod married a Chinese woman, Vica, who firmly adheres to her culture’s traditions). It’s a piece of paper bearing the picture of the kitchen god and some words in Chinese characters. Every year Vica takes down the old kitchen god and places a new emblem in a prominent location in the kitchen, the better for the heavenly spy to watch everyone.

During Chinese New Year, the kitchen god travels back to heaven to report on what the family has done throughout the year.

Can you imagine what sort of gossip he will relay to the emperor? Many people discuss problems in the kitchen or talk about the problems of other people in this part of the house. The kitchen is also where members of the family behave their most natural, including fighting and cursing.

This is why, if we are to believe this tradition, we need to live careful lives. Based on tradition, the family has to treat the kitchen god with a thank you dinner with something sticky, like glutinous rice, biko, palitaw and tikoy. With his mouth full of sweet and sticky stuff, the kitchen god can hardly talk, it is thought.

When people stick up the kitchen god this way, there is no possibility of him telling the emperor about the negative things the family members have done to each other throughout the year.

It’s a neat way of making people behave well towards each other, and a great way to celebrate the Chinese New Year.

Vica slices plain tikoy into rectangles and dips it in beaten whole eggs. She deep-fries it and serves it to the family with a smile. Good start!

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on January 25, 2014.


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