Category Archives: food

Olden Day No-Fly Zones

Back in the old kampong, wherever there was food, the environment would be abuzz with houseflies. 

Thus in every household there would be at least one food cover – usually a large one with a diameter of about one yard – to enforce a No-Fly Zone against the airborne invaders.

In those days, these covers were usually made of rattan, though some wire-mesh types were also available. 

Ever since moving out of the kampong, I have seldom seen such covers.  Perhaps, the general hygiene of the environment has been greatly improved, and thus houseflies have found it hard to eke out a living, and called it quits.

There are modern types that are made of plastic material, and have some degree of transparency.  Too bad for the flies – can see, can smell but cannot get to eat.

Stick ‘Em Up

Folkore has it that this sticky kuih was offered to the Kitchen Gods before they were sent off to heaven for CNY, ensuring that their mouths were “glued” shut, preventing bad reports from being heard “up there”.

Traditionally, small bamboo baskets lined with heat-treated banana leaves were used to hold the gooey slurry, before being put into a steamer to cook the contents.

There were a lot of “pantangs” or taboos to be avoided during the making, otherwise the results would be “disastrous”

This “Kuih Bakul” as it is also known, can be eaten in several ways.  Cut into smaller slices and sandwiched between pieces of yam and/or sweet potato and deep-fried was one yummy way.  Another was to coat softened slices with finely grated coconut.

I preferred those that had hardened over several months — just ate the slices without further ado.

Rice To The Occasion Of The Full Moon

Make it yellow, sticky and lemak. And don’t forget the Curry Chicken, please.  Folks, remember the Nasi Kunyit of old? 

Long before pathetic western cakes became incomprehensibly (to me, at least) fashionable, the successful completion of the first month on Earth for a baby was celebrated with the preparation and serving of Nasi Kunyit – which is steamed glutinous rice, laced with santan and colored with turmeric, and stuffed with some pepper corns.

When eaten with thick Chicken Curry ( I preferred to add a little fine sugar), it was scrumptiously yummy yum yum!  Of course at that time carbophobia was not yet invented, so no one was worried nor had any guilt-hangovers!

I remember that Nasi Kunyit was also a favorite serving on other festive occasions – as and when there was reason to get “high” other than Full Moons.

She Sells Seashells From The Seashore

Looks like I have just given the old tongue twister a new twist!

In the days of my youth, some of my neighhours would go to the sea shore (only about 15 mins’ walk) early in the morning, often with their children, to dig for Siput Remis.  Back then, there was an abundance of these shelled creatures, and so an hour or two of enthusiastic excavation could yield a couple of baskets of these delicious seafood.

Now and then, the children would be sent from house to house in the village to sell the excess Siput harvests.  “Siput, Siput” was their call.  I remember a cigarette tin or a condensed milk tin full of the siput cost 5 sen.  Stir-fried with black soya sauce, ginger and some sugar, these tasted heavenly.

Ikan Kekek Enak, I Like I Like

Haha, my version of the classic childhood song.   Either crispy deep-fried in oil or cooked in simple soup with pieces of ginger, this smallish (about 3 inches x 3 inches) plain-looking fish was a delight, guaranteed to make one polish off an extra plate of rice.

As kids we “fought” over the ultimate prizes — the roe that came in little balls about 1 cm in diameter, slightly flattened.  The poor man’s caviar !

Haiz, I have not seen nor tasted this ikan kekek for at least 3 decades now. Am not sure if it is just not available in Singapore or that it has been hunted to extinction. Maybe I have not searched hard enough.  What to do ?  As consolation, I just go to YouTube and search out the familiar music – tak dapat makan dengar pun jadi !

Really pathetic lah, I.

Fry Your Own Cuttlefish

For Penang Chinese womenfolk, mastery of the classical Jiu Hu Char was one of the requisites that maketh a bonafide homemaker.  If a wife failed in that skill, she would probably be retrenched and served fried cuttlefish — 被炒鱿鱼.  Just kidding.

When my mum was around I used to help her,  slicing the “mengkuang” and red carrots into thin sheets and then further into fine strips (these days we use a shredder). With added strips of meat, mushrooms, onion, and of course, fine slivers of dried cuttlefish,  and then stir-fried with some bean paste….hmm,  the  final mesh of supreme savory delight was sure to send taste buds quivering in sensational expectation.

Better still was to have a handful wrapped in raw lettuce laced with sambal belacan — rasanya betul2 meletup !

Baking Was A Tin Of The Past

Prior to 1965 or so, no one in our neighbourhood had a proper oven of any kind.  But plebeian resourcefulness kicked readily.

An empty kerosene tin was all we needed.  One face was cut away to form a nice rectangular tank.  Fine sand (from the beach nearby) was used to fill about one-third of the tin to form an even heating bed.

For the topside heating , a piece of old sheet metal with plenty of glowing charcoal was placed over the kerosene tin.  And Voila, our Oven !

Admittedly, this contraption was quite susceptible to mood swings.  Often,  the cakes turned out looking like Mt Fujiyama, some others resembled the Table Mountain of South Africa, or worse, macam Lake Toba.  Bad recipes, perhaps.

No problem lah, we just opened our mouths big big — eat lah !