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Jan 27, 2017

Food to Celebrate Chinese New Year Reunion Dinner

Violet Oon hosting her very own television cooking program in the 1980s.

Get to know the Grand Dame of Singaporean Cooking, Violet Oon.

Her influences, inspiration and mission.

Violet is living out her lifelong dream of entertaining and feeding family, friends and neighbours, while sharing her knowledge and expertise, all from the comfort and warmth of her own “kitchen”.

Violet began her career in journalism in 1971 as a reporter for music and the arts and in 1974, she became The New Nation’s food critic. Driven by her passion for sharing good food, Violet started her own culinary magazine called The Food Paper in 1987. That passion would later lead her into diverse adventures; from the launch and operation of her own food outlet in Takashimaya in the 1990s, to the role of food researcher for the National Heritage Board.

Having successfully carved a niche out for herself, Violet has served as an F&B consultant in key national events such as the 2006 IMF World Bank Conference and the 2009 APEC Meeting in Singapore. She is also lauded as a speaker and has presented talks at the International Association of Culinary Professionals’ annual conference in Baltimore, USA. Violet has also been appointed Chef de Mission, leading Singapore’s team of chefs at the World of Flavors Conference and Festival (2004, 2007 & 2009), held by the Culinary Institute of America.

Always generous with her knowledge and experience, Violet has written three cookbooks of her own: Peranakan Cooking, Violet Oon Cooks and A Singapore Family Cookbook, with a fourth book in the works. She has also co-authored the Curry Cookbook from German publishing house, Teubner.

In addition to spreading her passion for Nyonya cuisine in person and on paper, Violet has enthralled radio listeners and charmed television audiences in TV programmes filmed and aired by the BBC, CNN, The Food Network and Singapore’s Channel 5.

A long forgotten newspaper article related to the Chinese New Year reunion dinner devised by Violet Oon a 7-point plan, published in Singapore Monitor on 8 February, 1983 to share on how not cook and still enjoy.

Getting through the Chinese New Year festivities can be rough if you have to cater your own food.

Unlike the other public holidays during which at least half if not more of the restaurants and hawkers are operating, Chinese New Year is one festival
which means closing shop for four days for most eateries, except the pricier hotel restaurants and coffee houses.

No, it does not help if you're a millionaire with hordes of servants.  Unless they are Thai, Filipino or some other nationality, they'll all be off for the holidays

You want to be freed from the household chores, and nothing is more difficult than having to cook every meal for four days when you're supposed to be having fun.

So what do you do?  Read on.  VIOLET OON has devised a code for getting out of cooking for the New Year.


Get yourself invited out for every meal and visit friends all the time.  Go home only to change, bathe and sleep.  Make sure you're not in when people visit as you'll have to take out the cakes, cookies and dringks and wash up afterwards.

By now you should know whose mother makes the best food, so head for thdir houses.  Be a good guest.  Go visiting bearing gifts - four oranges each house and if you feel generous, a bottle of cognac or wine.

Be prepared to pay for your meals in the form Pof "hong bao" for the motoey lot of children that congregate in the homes of famous cooks.  Still, it'll be worth it.  Put only $2 in each packet and make it as anonymous as possible so it won't be traceable.



Make sure you're a younger relative who attends the reunion dinner in your parents or some other older relative's house.  Again go bearing gifts and prepare lots of compliments.

Help out with the washing up but with many people helping the chore becomes enjoyable.  Anyway you get a beautiful dinner slaved over by someone else, preferably your mother.

But if you do not , an older brother or sister and turn out to be the head of the family who is expected to host the reunion dinner, don't panic.

Be modern and innovative.  Tell everyone: "Who wants to go through the name of stuffy dishes?  Let's have a real group effort with a Pot Luck Dinner.  Each one brings a dish and let's rotate houses each year."

If you really get cornered, and can't get out of cooking for the reunion dinner, why not try a barbecue?  You can get all your meats cut, marionated and neatly
arranged in foil trays by way of the leading supermarkets.

Visit one that has a good selection of meats, good selection of meats, buy the foil trays from the shelves and place your order now.  Don't wait till the end of the week.

Yaohan and Cold Storage marinate beef, chicken wings, lamb and pork beautifully.

At the same time, buy all the salad, vegetables and sauces, pick up some French bread, get some cold meats from the delicatessen counter, plurge on some large prawns and you're set for the meal.

Dessert can be ice cream with fruit cocktail or a cake ordered from the supermarket.  Use disposable plastic plates and cups and you'll have a party without too much cleaning up to do.

Of course this lacks the atmosphere of a meal made up of traditional favourites but the aim of the dinner is to get together, after all.


Get it catered by a non-Chinese caterer.  Today there are many Indian and Malay shops and stalls that cater for Chinese parties during the New Year season.

It's still not too late to book a satay man and get him to cook some sotoh, lontong or other dishes.  You can even have a buffet spread if your party is big enough.


Visit a fast food restaurant that's open.  They're among the least pricey of the eating out options.


Scout around for Indian and Malay stalls and restaurants that open for the season.  Make your enquiries and phone calls now or you'll find yourself starving come New Year.


Go to Malaysia.  Even Johor Baru will do as there are more Malay hawker stalls there than in Singapore.


For those who have money to spare and really want to pamper themselves, book late a local hotel and eat at the cofee house, restaurant or order room service.  If you're married this can be a second honeymoon and the children will be so happy having a pool to swim in that it'll be a New Year memorable for the relaxing time rather than one of petty quarrels and flared tempers because you had to do so much work in the kitchen or because the food you ate was best forgotten.

So you've got through the New Year's Eve Dinner and visited all your friends.  Still there are meals to eat at home.  What do you do?

One alternative is to open cans but what is poor plan for a festive season.

Buy more sophisticated emergency rations.  If you do not object to European food buy some crusty French bread, cold sausages and meat, pickles and salad, and have a cold collation at home.  There's no cooking involved and washing up is minimal.

Also stock up on instant noodles, lots of snacks and frozen local food found in many supermarkets such as yam cake, beef balls, marinated chicken wings that only need to be heated up, grilled or boiled.
Over 30 years later, Violet Oon "invented" the "Chinese New Year feast take-away trays" here .

At Violet Oon's National Kitchen in Singapore

Distinguished Guests at National Kitchen

Here's wishing everyone who celebrates a Happy Lunar New Year! May you bask in the comfort of good food, great company, and belly laughs, and may your rice bowl always be full.

The National Kitchen will close early on CNY eve so our team can enjoy reunion dinner with their families and will remain closed on the first day of CNY (28 Jan). We will reopen on Sunday, 29 Jan 2017.  [Source: National Kitchen].

Happy & Prosperous Chinese New Year of the Rooster 2017!


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