Once upon a time, the simple family dinner was served using all kinds of bowls and plates adorned with traditional Chinese patterns today commonly referred to as Kitchen Qing. These kitchen ware range from simple blue-and-white “fish bowls” with the pattern of a curled carp at the base to the most florid Chinese rococo patterns complete with dragon and phoenix motifs. These were imported from China’s Jingdezhen porcelain works. At its height, specific pastel colors favored by the Malaysian Chinese were specially made. With the modern onslaught of the dreaded bright orange or green melamine ware, these refinements are just a distant memory for many of us.
Most Malaysian Chinese families maintain two sets of dinnerware. The plain everyday ceramics were normally just white ceramics with patterns around the edges. The most popular patterns were the “ko-ko-kei ua” or cockerel motif, hibiscus, or the tea rose. These were the workhorses of the Malaysian Chinese kitchen, providing the backdrop for the multitude of dishes served every day. The daily plates normally have flashes of green (life) and red (prosperity) as these are considered auspicious colors and most suitable for the family meal. In later years, with the use of ceramic decals, pink became popular as well.
The other set of Kitchen Qing were reserved only for festival days. These tend to be heirloom pieces inherited from parents received during the couple’s wedding day and are carefully kept in a display sideboard cabinet. Among affluent Peranakan families, such heirloom pieces are rich in pastel colors (pink, turquoise, green) with very ornate scalloped edges complete with phoenix patterns. Sinkeh families favor the Ban Siew sets that are equally ornate decorated with auspicious Chinese characters. All these pieces are now highly sought by collectors and are worth far more than the original owners could imagine.