Monday, February 8, 2010

Households paying a high price for festive glitter

LAST week, when I visited my regular fishmonger in Taman Melawati and asked if he had local "bawal tambak" or giant white pomfret, ("tow tai cheong" in Cantonese), he said he did not sell them this year.

Even if I had wanted those from Thailand, he could not supply me with any.

The price of the fish had touched RM100 per kilogramme in the last two weeks of January and it would be crazy to eat it, he said.

I asked about the price not because I wanted to buy the fish but just to get a feel of how high the prices can be during the run-up to the Chinese New Year.

Each year, I wondered why people fussed over this fish.

One year, it cost so much that people were calling for the price to be capped.

It hit RM128 per kilogramme, if I was not mistaken, and that was the price if you buy it at the fish landing jetty in Sungai Besar.

Having eaten most types of fish from local waters, "bawal tambak" is just another fish to me.

White or black, the only value I attach to it is its freshness. If it is straight from the sea to the "kuali" (wok), then white or black is just fine.

But if it has been kept in the fridge for a week, then I would rather not have it grace my dinner table unless deep-fried or cooked in tomyam sauce so its state of freshness does not insult the tastebuds.

But when the price of "bawal tambak" peaks like that of roses on Valentine's Day, I wonder why everyone wants a bite - even those who could ill afford it. But it is not just about pomfrets.

The prices of giant sea prawns, waxed duck and mushrooms from China, barbecued meat, and limes, too, have risen.

Did you notice that the dragon lime, (a longer variety known as "loong kat" in Cantonese) has replaced the kumquat or common lime in importance in recent years?

Marketing hype and wordplay have put a ridiculous seasonal demand on this "prosperity" plant where the fruits fall faster than its post-festive prices.

This week, a pot of dragon lime plant, which is slightly more than a metre tall, is likely to cost the same as two weeks' supply of groceries for a small family as the buying craze hits the home stretch.

Soothsayers and traders will swear that it is auspicious to have pots bursting with dragon limes to bring an avalanche of good fortune to your doorsteps.

But of course, they never tell you that they are usually the ones who will reap the prosperity first.

This year, with the Chinese New Year Day falling on Feb 14, a stalk of rose will probably cost more than a bouquet of peonies at the florists although restaurant owners could stand to make less this year in Valentine's Day wedding dinners since most people would be away during the long break.

I could be wrong.

The Year of the Tiger could prove prosperous to restaurant operators and they could be laughing all the way to the bank instead.

It's no joke to be caught up in the buying frenzy during festivals.

Festive songs have a way of putting you in an extra generous mood to lavish yourself with luxuries you would normally not give a second thought to.

Sometimes you could dig too deep into your pockets just to keep up with Ah Fatt next door and find out too late that you have to tighten your belt twice as much once the festive glitter is all gone.

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