Chap Goh Mei - Gastro Obscura

Ritual & Medicinal

Chap Goh Mei

On the fifteenth night of Chinese New Year, Malaysian singles throw caution to the wind and fruit to the water.

On Chap Goh Mei, the fifteenth night of Chinese New Year, groups of Malaysian revelers congregate at the edges of lakes and straits, their hands cupping vibrant oranges marred by Sharpie scribbles.

At the onset of the New Year, celebrants often give oranges (which represent wealth in the coming year) to their friends and families. But on the last day of celebration, single women in Malaysia co-opt the symbolic orange to help them find love. Starting in the late 19th century, eligible bachelorettes on Penang Island wrote on the rinds and tossed oranges into the water. Male suitors were meant to pluck a floating orb, then find the affiliated lady. Singles initially performed this ritual so that fate might bring them a spouse, but today, women add their phone number or Facebook profile and try to land a date. While the tradition started in Penang, groups now gather at bodies of water throughout Malaysia for the annual rite.

Though love is in the air, some participants are guided by entrepreneurial spirit, not the chance for romance. Vendors scoop up oranges from the water, then re-sell them in the street—contact details and all—to interested bachelors.

Need to Know

For those not in attendance, a virtual Chap Goh Mei river filled with floating oranges can be accessed from an app called Wowwwz.

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