In my younger days, I used to accompany my late Mum on her visits to Chowrasta Market, along Penang Road. There, along the adjoining side lane, was a stall making and selling popiah skins.
It was intriguing to watch how that Uncle snatched a lump of sticky dough from a tub, jiggled it in his hand, and then dabbed it onto a round hotplate, and rubbed the lump on it in a circular motion, before pulling back his hand. That left a thin layer on the hotplate, which quickly hardened.
His assistant then moved in to peel off that cooked wrapper, leaving the hotplate ready for the next cycle. In the mean time, the Uncle went on to work on another hotplate. Quite efficient.
Haha, if I were to try it, I think I would get the skin of my palm burnt.
The Malay name for this elongated-heart shaped flower is “Jantung Pisang” or “Banana Heart”.
In the early days of my kampong life, it was a common sight – a big purplishly-red bulbous bud danging temptingly at the end of a stalk of banana fruit on each tree.
My family had our own banana trees in our compound, but we did not know what to do with those Jantung! However, we had many Indian neighbours around us, and so there was no lack of “suitors” for the beauties.
I have never eaten any food prepared with this flower, until 2 Nov 2019, when a good Indian friend treated several of us to a Kerala Restaurant – and there was a plate of Jantung Patties, for us to relish to our hearts’ content.
This item is definitely getting scarcer by the day.
Some senior folks may remember the pre-machine days, when we had to use a manual scraper to forcibly “evict” coconut meat in strips and bits from its tempurong encasement. “Easy does it”, you may say.
Next, if we wanted coconut milk from the scrapings (nowadays we call them “grated” coconut), we would put several scoops into a piece of tough cloth (in those days, usually from flour sacks) and, then bundle them up and use raw muscle power to twist and “perah” the package.
With hands firmly gripping two ends of the package, a powerful twisting action was applied and, out flowed that white, delectable and lemak santan. “Squeezy does it” !
A tribute here to womenfolk of those days, whose hands were often roughened and toughened by work such as this. I was glad to have helped my mum.
note: “perah” means “squeeze” in Malay language. “santan” means coconut milk
Probably everyone has eaten the Nasi and savoured the various mouth-watering lauk pauk, but have you ever seen that big stick? I would venture to bet that Millenials have no idea what that is.
Come with me to the early days in Penang, when Nasi Kandar was a poor man’s sole proprietorship, with two big baskets (containing the goodies) slung from a long wooden pole of flattened elliptical cross-section. That pole was made from a special wood, that had a high elastic modulus.
Our family had one such kandar stick in our old kampong house. It was about 2m long. Apparently the olden Chinese folks also wielded the Big Stick, for a variety of tasks.
Nasi Kandar has come a long way and now occupies a pole position in the Malaysian F&B industry – Syabas to the Indian Muslim community.
You might not believe this.
Yet half a century ago, when I was living in the Bagan Ajam kampong, with the sea just 10 minutes’ walk away, this was true.
Fishermen beached early in the morning with their overnight bounties and carted them to the wet market near my attap house. And they were cheap. Yes, crabs – and prawns and fish — were cheaper than pork or chicken.
In fact, our family often had crabs for both lunch and dinner. My late mum would deftly de-shell the cooked crustaceans, and gather their meat into delicious piles for the kids. (That is the reason why till this day, I cannot ‘handle’ crabs properly).
Lately, I checked out the prices at a nearby hawker centre. SGD60 per kilo. I was so stunned that I started walking sideways!
Situated along the main road in Air Itam town, Pulau Pinang, just a little distance from the wet market is an unassuming shelter that houses what I call a true UN Heritage Class food legend.
Yes, the Air Itam Sisters Curry Mee stall. The two sisters, Mdm Lim Kooi Heang (87) and Mdm Lim Kooi Lye (85) have been in this business since 1947 – that is an amazing span of 72 years !
It is tough work – getting up at 4.30am each day to prepare the soup base and the ingredients, and to get ready for business by 7am. We salute these two Kakak for their indefatigable spirit.
As age creeps up with the march of time, we wish them more years of good health. Curry On ! More years of yummylicious Mee or My Fun (Cantonese for beehoon) for the customers
It has been years since I last ate one “kee chang” (碱水粽) and decades since the last occasion when we made them ourselves.
Back then, we had to sort out the glutinous rice first. For some unknown reason, the “pulut” rice was always adulterated with perhaps up to 10% of ordinary rice. Maybe glutinous rice was much more expensive then, so the rice millers tried to make some unethical gains.
The family would gather around the dinner table, and painstakingly pick out the unwanted grains with a “lidi” (wooden skewer made from the spine of coconut leaves). But all that labour of love and rice discrimination was sumptuously rewarded whenever a piece of the cooked alkaline dumpling was opened and lo, before our eyes, was that glorious orangey-brown near-translucent bouncy pyramid of chewy temptation.