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.
Hah ! It took me about 50 hours to create this composite “photo”, using a combination of some old photos from the internet, extensive painstaking Adobe Photoshop makeovers, a glossy paper printout, an ex-Milo can…..just to show the good old Quaker Oats as I knew it in my childhood days.
The can came with a “key” with which we engaged the tear-away strip on the can body, and rolled it up to separate the lid from the body of the can. Interestingly, once separated, the lid could be inverted to close back on the body. But the can was tightly packed with oats and these would spill out once the lid gave way.
Quaker Oats used to be a staple breakfast item in our youth days….until “economic progress” struck us, and soon many other “goodies” came along to supplant it.
For kids of the 50s~60s, falling sick now and then – perhaps a bout of fever, coughs and colds — was commonplace. We just took some off-the-shelf oral medication and had some good rest in bed.
Of course, oftentimes, our appetites went awry for a season, and none of Mummies’ special delights could tempt us. No worries, though.
There was this Sweet Old Thing that came in a light blue tin – yes, Glucolin. It was principally Glucose – sugar that could quickly get into the bloodstream, without burdening the digestive system too much. It claimed to contain other nutrients – but who cared; it was sweet and nice. At least it made the sickness bearable…LOL
Photo here shows the packaging as I knew it when I was a kid. I have not seen Glucolin for decades – maybe it is no longer in fashion.
If there was any one person who has made light work out of a Wok, he was Martin Yan – whose “Yan Can Cook” series made its debut many years ago.
His contagious, affable chatter in heavy Hongkong-accented English — while his hands performed the deft cutting, chopping and stirring work — deeply endeared him to his audience.
The climax of each show was undoubtedly that rhythmic “chop-chop-chop-chop…..chop-chop-chop-chop…” rapid-fire slicing action on the chopping board, which always drew a huge applause from his audience.
He is something of an inspiration for me, each time I have to cook a meal. Cooking is not something I am good at nor love to do. So, to survive each session, I would subconsciously provoke myself – if Yan Can Cook, So Can I”
Don’t ask me for recipes – I just follow my feelings