I recall a delicacy which I used to eat with relish in my young days in the kampong in Butterworth.
90% of my neighbours were of Indian (nearly all Tamil) ancestry. During the Deepavali festive season, they would send their children over to my house with plates of goodies – among them was a kind of very hard ball.
These required a hammer or a batu lesung* to shatter them into smaller chunks. Even then, it took some strong jaw muscles and very robust molars to pulverize the smaller pieces into minuscule bits that can be savoured by the taste buds.
I think these are called Kallu Urundai. It has been donkey ages since the last time I saw them, let alone ate one. Alas, now my teeth may not be able to handle them anymore.
*batu lesung = a mortar & pestle set (in Malay)
Or one could call it the best thing for cutting hard-boiled eggs into slices. I remember we had one of these simple kitchen aids at home…a long time ago.
It was a simple, yet effective tool. The thin, highly-strung steel wires cut through an egg neatly, without messing up, yielding slices with uniform thickness – a result that could not be achieved using a knife.
But somehow, we lost it and more interestingly, never missed it or found an another occasion to use it. Why is that so? I wish I know.
My guess is that these days, food is plentiful, appetites have bloated and people live to eat. No one would be happy with mere slices – thus, only a whole egg or maybe even two, would satisfy gastronomic expectations. Thus, the slicer was gradually assigned museum status.
While tidying up my store room, I uncovered this 2-decade old kitchen appliance that we have not used for a long long time. It has become a monumental testimony of my wife’s happy hours in many episodes of culinary Broiler-vs-Broiler drama in the kitchen.
The machine is a table-top broiler, which we used to broil chicken (aka ‘broilers’) for dinner. It is a pretty amazing piece of machine, though quite simple in concept.
Those were the days. However, now, as age catches up with us, we find it too tedious to do the broiling, and troublesome to clear up the oily aftermath. Moreover, as the Empty Nest syndrome sets in, the incentive to get embroiled with cooking diminishes rapidly.
If we want roast chicken, simple — just head to the supermarket, grab one from over the counter and start biting.
Wow ! Sounds like an irresistible deal, right?
Decades ago, we lived in a village wooden house, which had a roof made from pieces of attap leaves that had been previously “stitched’ together. These were strapped into place by skilled workers, and they withstood rain and sunshine for at least 5 years between changes.
But we never saw the plant – the Nipah Palm – from which the attap leaves were harvested. Perhaps we never thought of looking for them.
These palms bear a kind of fruit with a multi-ridged pointed roundish shape. We used to buy them from petty traders at the marketplace. Once split open, the inside of the fruit yielded a smooth translucent ellipsoidal kernel which we called “attap chee” in Hokkien (‘seed of atap’). Yummy !
These days both fruit and and leaves are getting scarce.
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