Old Jim Kee runs some of Sydney’s most-loved Malaysian restaurants under his personal brand, Chef Jim (or Uncle Jim, depending on who you ask). Now he's launched a Malaysian Lunar New Year pop-up store that sells a colourful cabinet of goodies.
Outside Old Jim Kee in Spice Alley, Chippendale, the seasoned chef is peddling all the snacks and meals necessary to enjoy the most important yearly Chinese festival — whether it’s with friends and family, or simply as comfort food for those unable to return back home.
For Chinese-Malay Kee, Lunar New Year celebrations are a particularly important time of the year. “Like all other Chinese, we travel home to spend the festivities with our family,” says Kee, who grew up in the northern city of Penang. “But because Chinese have lived in Malaysia for many generations, our celebrations differ slightly to Lunar New Year in China.”
Sample the Lunar tarts — they’re usually made by the host family to be given to family members when they arrive home. These small, round, cookie-like snacks have a bready outer layer (made from eggs, flour, sugar and butter) and an often fruity filling. According to Kee, they must be circular — this represents gathering together and family.
The go-to flavour of these moreish snacks is usually pineapple (nastar) because phonetically, the word for pineapple in Mandarin (huang li) sounds similar to the Chinese word meaning “good luck comes”. The mandarin orange flavour is also popular, believed to represent prosperity or abundance.
There's also peanut, chocolate, matcha with red bean (which symbolises missing or yearning for someone) and pandan coconut tart flavours. The treats evoke vivid memories for Kee. “My mother forced me to help bake tarts when I was young, when I wished I was playing outside. But they’re important because they bring family together.”
Another important food tradition at Kee's pop-up is yu sheng: a large plate of raw fish, colourful vegetables and herbs. But it's more a ceremony that an actual meal — in English it's called a 'prosperity toss' and it’s designed to bring fortune and abundance to everyone who participates.
For a proper prosperity toss, a plate of raw salmon, dried persimmon, white radish, jellyfish, carrot, pomelo, pickled veggies, peanuts, seaweed, ginger and various sauces, is placed on a table. Chopsticks are used to toss the food up into the air while dreaming about your goals for the year. Oh, and it will get messy, but it's a tasty dish for later if there's any food left on the plate.
Of course, many ingredients of yu sheng are interchangeable but some are considered more taboo than others. Take the Malay word for cucumber, for instance; it's s similar to 'passing away' which is not appropriate here. It's also important to use red ingredients where possible, keeping with Lunar New Year tradition.
There are love letters (sweet, thin, folded pastries), dried sambal shrimp rolls and Malaysian peanut candy. If you’re wanting a traditional feast but can’t prepare it at home, Jim’s Pop-up is able to dish up a number of traditional Lunar New Year main meals to quell that nostalgia, too.
Now until the end of February.
28 Kensington St, Chippendale, NSW
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