The Tray of Togetherness is instantly recognisable around this time of year – a lacquered box full of treats, it’s put out for guests and family, and beloved of kids of all ages. Orange fruits like clementines symbolise gold, seeds fertility (their word sounds like “son” or “offspring”). And chocolates always symbolise joy!
We asked multiple award-winning designer and artist Elaine Yan Ling Ng for her family favourites across three generations. While Ng has created a roster of visionary works, and has been called a “techno fairy” by Elle Deco, when it comes to her family’s Chinese New Year treats she’s all about tradition.
“My granny has an orange sweets box that’s been used for three generations, and my mum had a red one with gold dragons on top that was from her wedding,” she says. “Granny’s has a lazy Susan, so as kids we always liked using it. And as granny’s house is very traditional, she always has candied fruits and vegetables. That’s the key, especially things like winter melons and candied clementines.” The long pieces of candied melon symbolise “good head, good tail”, or good beginnings and endings.
Ng’s mother also has a soft spot for the traditional. “My mum’s favourites are freshly roasted pistachios, cashews and sunflower seeds,” says Ng. These are perennials, with the Cantonese for pistachio being “happy fruit” and the cashews standing in for gold ingots. But she also mixes in some modern munchies. “Because there’s a wider variety of snacks now, mum has other things in boxes as well for the guests to choose from. She’s always loved handmade artisanal Swiss chocolate – she keeps a box after Christmas if she has some left over.”
What of Ng herself, as the third generation? “It’s hard for me to pick because I like so many of the treats!” she says. “But I like the feeling of having the traditional candied winter melon. I like the crunch of it, and for balance you need to have a cup of black tea – then you really appreciate it.”