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Foodie Confidential

Eat-and-run reunion meal

Mr Perng Peck Seng chairs the River Hongbao programme, which is why he cannot stay to finish his Chinese New Year Eve dinner each year

For the past three decades, Mr Perng Peck Seng has not sat through a reunion dinner with his family on the eve of Chinese New Year.

That evening, for him, is one of the most hectic of the year. As programme chairman of River Hongbao, the annual Chinese New Year carnival that started in 1987, he oversees the running of the massive event.

Reunion dinner for him and his family starts at about 4pm at his home and he leaves midway through the meal.

The affable 64-year-old says in Mandarin: "My family have become accustomed to this and they understand that I am busy because I'm organising an iconic event that brings families together and allows people to learn more about Chinese culture."

He is married to a 64-year-old retired beautician and they have a 28-year-old daughter who works in the advertising industry.

  • WHAT WOULD YOUR LAST MEAL BE?

    My mother's Kinmen- style popiah, as it is an all-in-one dish. And suckling pig.

Because 2016 is the Year of the Monkey, the theme of this year's River Hongbao - which runs from Feb 6 to 14 - is inspired by Journey To The West, the classic Chinese tale of the epic pilgrimage of a Tangdynasty Buddhist monk.

The novel's protagonist, monkey god Sun Wukong, will be featured in more than 60 larger-than-life whimsical lanterns. The event at the Marina Bay Floating Platform will also showcase performances by dance groups from China and Taiwan, getai and xinyao performances and a photo exhibition on the event's history. Topping off the festivities are nine consecutive nights of fireworks. There will also be about 45 food stalls serving delights such as Turkish and Sichuan food.

While Mr Perng has his reunion dinner in a hurry, he still cherishes the meal as it features one of his favourite festive dishes - popiah that originated in Kinmen, an outlying island of Taiwan, where his 94-year-old Hokkien housewife mother is from.

The popiah filling is made up of eight ingredients, including snap beans, leeks, turnips, tau kwa (firm beancurd), cabbage and pork belly.

He was born in Kinmen, but his family migrated here in 1957 to escape the conflict between Taiwan and China. His father, who used to operate a boat ferry service, died 30 years ago at age 63.

How do you celebrate Chinese New Year?

My siblings and their families gather at my home for the reunion dinner. It is a scrumptious feast, with dishes such as pig's stomach soup, chap chye (vegetable stew), braised cucumber with pork ribs or duck, fried tang hoon and bee hoon and the Kinmen-style popiah. The popiah filling tastes better when you eat it a few days later, as it would have absorbed more gravy and become softer.

In the next few days of Chinese New Year, I squeeze in visiting the relatives in the morning before going to River Hongbao to work.

What are your favourite Singapore foods and where would you go to eat them?

I like the char kway teow from Outram Park Fried Kway Teow Mee stall in Hong Lim Food Centre for the soft texture and fragrance of the kway teow.

For fried Hokkien mee, I go to Come Daily Fried Hokkien Prawn Mee stall in the Toa Payoh Lorong 1 hawker centre. Its "wet-style" mix of noodles and bee hoon is fried with a pork-and-prawn stock, pork belly and squid.

Where is your favourite place for Hokkien food?

Beng Hiang Restaurant, which recently relocated to Jurong East from Amoy Street. I always order the orh luak (fried oyster omelette), fishhead and yam soup, and braised pork buns.

Besides Chinese food, what other cuisines do you like?

I like Japanese food for its variety and presentation. I have been going to Ikoi Japanese Restaurant in Miramar Hotel for a long time - I like the a la carte buffet, which is cheap and good, and will order the pork ribs ramen, sushi and tempura.

What is the best thing you have eaten and why was it so good?

Suckling pig from Beng Hiang Restaurant. The meat is tender, not oily and very fragrant. It pairs well with preserved radish and pickled cabbage.

What are your must-eats when you visit Chinatown to see the festive decorations?

I always have steamed fishhead at Chinatown Complex Market & Food Centre. There are at least 10 stalls selling the dish, but I head to Cheng Ji for its fishhead served with hot bean paste sauce.

Then I have chendol from a nearby stall as its gula melaka is especially fragrant.

What is the most adventurous thing you have eaten?

Snake's gall mixed with sorghum wine served in a small beer glass. The bitterness of the beer overwhelmed the taste of the gall, but there was still a lingering raw flavour from it.

Share with us some Kinmen delicacies you like.

I have been there about 15 times to visit relatives. The local oysters are very fresh as they are grown on concrete slabs in pristine seawater. I like the oyster mee sua, oyster omelette and yellow croaker fish.

If you could choose anyone to have a meal with, who would that be?

My mother, as I am used to the comforting taste of her down-to- earth dishes. I will have some of my favourite dishes, including chap chye, fried tang hoon (glass vermicelli) and pig's stomach soup.

  • River Hongbao 2016 is on from Feb 6 to 14, 2 to 11pm daily (except on Feb 7, 2pm to 1am) at The Float @ Marina Bay. Admission is free. For more information, go to www.riverhongbao.sg
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 24, 2016, with the headline 'Eat-and-run reunion meal'. Print Edition | Subscribe