There is no hidden agenda* behind this story – just an honest recount of my childhood encounter with some dead crustaceans preserved in a bottle.
One day a relative gave us a bottle of Cincalok : upon opening, out came a smell that was awful, somewhat pungent. My late mum put several scoops of the stuff into a dish of meat (with onions, garlic and red chilli) and steamed the mixture in a wok.
When cooked, the smell was a lot better, but somehow, apart from my mum, no one else in the family took any liking to it. Perhaps she was the only one with some authentic Peranakan DNA in her.
That was probably the last time ever that we ate Cincalok.
We might be the exception, because I know many other folks salivate over this heritage-class appetite-whetter.
*note : pun, alluding to the Malay proverb, “Ada Udang Di Sebalik Batu”
I have forgotten now exactly when the first encounter took place, but I do remember how that black, gooey (some say ‘smelly’) stuff made inroads into my favourite food list.
It came in the form of a slightly viscous sauce that was generously poured over the white rolls on a plate of ‘chee cheong fun’ (猪肠粉) together with the maroon-coloured ‘sweet sauce’ (甜酱). But initially it took much persuasion to get me to put that stuff into my mouth. The rest is history.
Of course, this Otak Udang was also an inseparable key companion and enhancer of the famed Penang Asam Laksa.
Looking back, it intrigues me how folks can be hooked onto eating the mashed-up brains of some lowly crustaceans (don’t ask me how they died – that’s a no-brainer)
A recent shopping trip in Johor Bahru brought me into eye contact with a childhood delicacy that I have not savoured for the last 30 years or so.
Yes, it was the Sweet-and-Sour Pickled Leek. In my native colloquial Penang Hokkien, we call it “Lor Gio”.
Without hesitation, I bought a kilogram, and finished half of that within 10 minutes. Ooh, the sweetness accompanied by a tinge of sourness, in 80:20 ratio – my taste buds came alive again, and saliva glands went into overdrive !
Alas, that awesome childhood memory re-run was so overwhelming that I did not realize the seller had ripped 50 ringgit off my wallet in 2 seconds.
Upon reaching home, reality set in – and the 80:20 ratio became 20:80, and I felt like wanting to pickle that seller 00:100
Before the early 1970s, making a cake was somewhat of a hit-and-miss affair, having to deal with the unpredictable mood swings of a highly-battered dough taken to task in a charcoal-fired makeshift oven.
All that changed, when we bought a circular flat contraption called an “Ovenette”. After the dough was put in, and the cover closed, and the switch was flicked on, all that we had to do was to wait, see and smell.
The cover had a circular window on top through which we could see our rising expectations.
Though there was no temperature control for user manipulation, the results were usually very pleasing and palatable. At last we could have our cake and eat it as well.
These days, we have upgraded to built-in ovens in the kitchen, thanks to a wifey with very cakey tendencies.
The Ketupat of my youth has always been that scalene-triangular shaped piece of delicious pulut (glutinous rice), embedded with some beans and coyly wrapped in a kind of pale-yellowish leaf that was tightly-knotted at the tip (to prevent any untimely wardrobe malfunction, I suppose).
It was one of several kinds of favorite breakfast fare in those days, costing only 5 sen a piece. We usually ate them with a sprinkling of fine sugar.
Then, in later years some squarish pieces of stuff, wrapped even more conservatively, came into my knowledge as being a “staple’ during Hari Raya Puasa. But inside, they were just plain nasi and bland. And they called it Ketupat also. “Mana boleh?” I thought.
Thanks to gentle education by kind folks around me, yes, they are also ketupat but of another variety. I was ignorant.
What do you do when the nice ciku you brought home are not quite ripe to be eaten yet?
Folk wisdom in the kampong days taught us to put them on to the uncooked rice in the kitchen store – better still if fully covered with the beras. After a couple of days or so, the fruit would ripen nicely, ready to be savoured in full flavour.
Well, we have tried out with mangoes too – seemed to work also.
Did the beras provide a chemical catalytic reaction to hasten the ripening? Perhaps some biochemist can advise.
Meanwhile, I try not to be too cerebral about the inter-molecular workings; rather, focus on relishing the results and enjoy lah!
This traditional delectable delicacy is known by various names in different parts of Malaysia, but Penang folks call it “Ban Chian Kueh”. However, even that had undergone some mutation – resulting it being known as “Man Chang Kueh” (‘man chang’ means getting into mood swings and ready to throw tantrums).
In my youth days, this very sweet “pancake” was made in large pans (with diameters of approximately 2 to 3 feet), with thickness up to an inch. After the baking, two layers were flipped onto each other, and cut into smaller pieces for sale.
Nowadays, individual pieces are made in smaller pans (of about 10 inches diameter) and baked pieces are folded up for serving.
Never mind big or small – they are sweet, fragrant and altogether delicious and irresistable. Don’t worry about diabetes, eat first lah!