I hope everyone has had a wonderful Chinese New Year reunion dinner and a festive and fun celebration for the first few days of Chinese New Year. I looooove Chinese New Year, it’s the occasion that brings family and friends together, and it’s a tradition that reminds all Chinese of our root, culture, and civilization. Never mind the obnoxiously loud and cheesy Chinese New Year songs, the bright red and gold Chinese New Year decor, and the endless foods and offerings for the many prayers and rituals. They are what make us Chinese, and we should embrace all these unique practices for generations to come.
While I am always excited about the reunion dinner and the many courses of traditional Chinese New Year dishes, I have to confess that it’s the leftover that really tickles my taste buds. Yes, I am talking about chai buey, or 菜尾, literally meas “leftover.” In Penang, especially in my Nyonya family, the day after the first day of New Year is when we make a huge pot of chai buey—a soup or stew concocted with all the leftover ingredients from the reunion dinner. It’s generally consisted of meat (chicken, roast pork, duck), vegetables (preferably fresh “mustard green/gai choy/ 芥菜” or kiam cai/picked salted mustard green), and all the other leftover from the reunion dinner, including steamboat (hot pot). The chai buey is infused with tamarind juice, bean paste (taucheo), some dried red chilies, with some peeled assam keping (optional). You then stew the chai buey over low heat to bring out all the flavors of the leftover ingredients, and the end result is a pot of mouthwatering, appetizing, and utterly delicious stew that I can eat for days…
This is my chai buey that I made a couple of days ago with some leftover roast pork, mushrooms, and other leftover Chinese New Year dishes. The great thing about chai buey is that it just gets better overnight or days later as the flavors break down and continue to develope with time. My late mother would keep chai buey for up to 3-4 days, while she kept adding fresh mustard greens to the soup. Everyone in my family loves this dish—the soup goes so well with steamed white rice and sambal belacan, and the dish is full of hidden treasures, if you are willing to dig in and find the goodies.
As chai buey is made of leftover foods, there is really not a proper recipe to create the dish. It’s really flexible and you can use your taste buds to create your own version of chai buey and use the key seasoning ingredients below to bring out the flavors:
- Tamarind juice—soak a golf-ball size tamarind pulp in 4 cups of water and extract the juice
- Yellow bean paste or taucheo—this gives you the earthy and salty taste in the stew/soup
- Dried red chilies—remove the seeds of the dried chilies and dump them into the soup. A great chai buey should be slightly spicy.
- Mustard green or gai choy (芥菜)—we love this vegetables in chai buey, nothing can replace it. In Hokkien, it’s called “kua cai.”
- Water—since this is a soupy stew, you should add water because the best part is sipping the sour soup!
For the perfect balance of flavors, use some salt and sugar (optional) to achieve your desired taste.
Now, tell me if you love chai buey?
Note: Chai Buey can also be found at the many economy rice stalls in Malaysia, and some chicken rice stalls also serve chai buey. I have to warn you that it’s not the most appetizing and photogenic looking stew/dish, but once you try the flavor, I am sure it will win you over. Enjoy!