盆菜 Pen Cai
It was said that Poon Choi was invented during the late Song Dynasty.When Mongol troops invaded Song China, the young Emperor fled to the area around Guangdong and Hong Kong. To serve the Emperor as well as his army, the locals collected all their best food available, cooked it, and put it in wooden washing basins. By doing so Poon Choi was invented.
Poon Choi includes ingredients such as pork, beef, lamb, chicken, duck, abalone, ginseng, shark fin, fish maw, prawn, crab, dried mushroom, fishballs, squid, dried eel, dried shrimp, pigskin, beancurd and chinese radish.
Poon Choi is special in that it is composed of many layers of different ingredients. It is also eaten layer by layer instead of "stirring everything up", but impatient diners may snatch up the juicy radish at the bottom first using shared chopsticks.
Traditional Village Poon Choi is served in large metal washing bowls with a perforated metal plate at the bottom to keep food from burning, as it is kept warm on a portable stove as it is being served.
Some restaurants or providers change the poon choi and add fresh shrimp and fresh oyster instead of dried ones. This increases the potential risk of contamination by bacterial that causes disease. It has to be cooked thoroughly.
It is often served during religious rituals, festivals, special occasions and wedding banquets in open area of villages. From the 1990s, Poon Choi became popular among urban dwellers and can also be enjoyed at many Cantonese restaurants in the autumn and winter or on special occasions throughout the year.
It is only in the recent two years that 盆菜 Pen Cai has become popular during the Chinese New Year period in Singapore.
There are really no strict and hard rules on the ingredients. Almost anything goes into the pot!
Every ingredient has to be layered and stacked up properly. Chicken and duck meat are usually placed on the top, implying that birds return to the nests. Though those who know would reach for the bottom where the gravy trickles over the ingredients.
Pen Cai is associated to an event that unites the entire community. It is a symbol of cohesion, such that everybody who eats from the common pot are equals, therefore making it a popular dish during the New Year.
A lot of Chinese restaurants serve reasonably good Pen Cai with a rough estimate of the price ranging from S$200 - $1000 depending on the ingredient and popularity of the restaurants.
Food for the day : 盆菜