Tham Jiak means in some way "love to eat" in Hokkien. I am a Malaysian Hokkien and truly love to eat.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Reminiscence of Ah Ma’s Cooking

Pusiva had tag me on this Meme called ‘10 things I missed about mum’s cooking’. Yes, many people do have fond memories of their mother’s cooking. Everybody has their favourite dish, only achievable by their mum. As for me, yes I do remember vaguely of few times that my mother cooked for us, but if you ask me to name my childhood memories of missed home cooked food, I would have to talk about my Ah Ma’s (grandmother) cooking. She used to cook everyday when I was young, and I have many memories of her simple yet delicious cooking. As she is less fanciful, she usually cook most of the same simple Chinese home cook food, which we simply adore and would not trade it even for the best Chinese cuisines out there.

I remember days when I was in the morning school (we in Malaysia had two sessions of school in a day, depending on which year you are in), I would rush back in the afternoon waiting to see what is on the table. Then there are years when I was in the afternoon school, where I usually had to go to school earlier than lunch, thus I had to endure the time when I come back for dinner to eat the leftovers, usually listening to my sister (who always happens to be of the opposite school time) bragging about the finished favourite dish.

When I was near my teens, my Ah Ma’s children all chided her from cooking, as they want her to enjoy her life and relax. Thus begin the years that I had to cater for food (really bad food memories, but which should be the beginning of my interest in own cooking) and only occasional treats from my Ah Ma’s cooking. From then, we missed her cooking so much, once a while we would beg her to satisfy some of our cravings. As for now, let me list down the top 10 food (pictures here are my cooking for illustration only) that I missed dearly, though there are many more, I have to say my favourites are:

Chow Fan (Fried Rice)
Ah Ma’s chow fan is the best. Ok, this may seem like a cliché but it is true, for me at least. She can do the meanest ‘white’ chow fan, with no dark soy sauce, big succulent prawns (her secret) and sometimes chopped long beans, chicken or pork and that’s about it. Real simple but good eats definitely. I had yet to achieve her white chow fan level, usually succumbing to the dark ones as it is easier to flavour them. My Ah Ma’s chow fan is good to eat just on its own (though my sister and cousin like to eat with lots of tomato sauce) and I can never ever get enough of it. Sigh, I miss it so much. Before this, long time ago, she used to add in frozen mixed vegetables (green peas, cubed carrots and corns), which I would pick out one by one when I eat it. Frozen stuffs are just not good, the peas are too tough, the carrots are tasteless and the corns just don’t belong there). Then one day she knew about it and fried a separate chow fan for me without those, and oh boy, was I touched. She loves me, doesn’t she? Then finally she evolved to leave it out completely, which become to now her ultimate chow fan!

Chow Mang Kuang (Stir-fried yam bean)
My Ah Ma chow (stir-fry) the meanest mang kuang. The mang kuang will be sliced uniformly with mandolin then stack up neatly to slice into sticks. Her secret is that all the mang kuang is of about the same length and thickness so that it will cook together thoroughly. The same thing goes with the carrots, though she would put less of it. The carrots lend to more complex texture, colour and taste of course. Superb! She chow it with some minced pork, small prawns and lots of garlics! Yummy!

ABC tong (ABC soup)
Of course I love ALL of my Ah Ma’s cheng tong (clear soup). As a Cantonese, she boils soup frequently. Her usual soups are lou wong kwa (old cucumber), lotus roots with peanuts and yok choy kai (herbal chicken). All these soups deserve an individual post themselves, but oh well, when I cook it next time, I’ll talk about it. But if I had to choose between the soups, I would have the ABC soup. Why? Well, my Ah Ma just do this one best, her secret is the crushed peppercorns that she added in with the carrots, tomatoes, potatoes, big onions and of course pork ribs. She just know how much to add of each ingredient bringing in the right blend of the perfect soup. It serves well for cold and rainy days and also for the sick. But to me, it serves best whichever day or weather or condition.

Zhao Har (Prawn fritters)
Ah Ma had somehow perfected the method of zhao har (fry prawns). She uses the right mixes of flour, with enough seasoning (pepper and I forgot what else) and then the right amount of water and eggs to dilute it to the right consistency. She told me the process once long time ago but I forgot (shame on me)! Anyway, she would then dip the huge prawns into the mixes, holding by the tail, and submerged it into the hot oil. She said no overcrowding, the oil must be hot, and to lower the prawns slowly to avoid the dough spreading (and of course oil splattering). Thinking bout it makes my mouth water. Soon there would be big prawn fritters, with the crust all puff up leaving the prawns inside soft and succulent. When you bite into it, it tastes like heaven!

Fan Shu Chu Yok (Dark sauce Potato and pork)
This one is my personal favourite. Whenever my Ah Ma cooks this, half of it is usually finished by me alone. It was never enough for me. Even after I finished my rice, I would sit there and keep poking at more potato and more pork and devour it. I had to pull myself away from the table, telling myself to leave some for others. Ha-ha. Yes, it is that good. I craved for it a lot when I first came down to study. Ah Ma’s secrets are, first the potatoes must be sliced thinly and uniformly (her personal skills), then it is shallow fried in batches to perfection, crispy on the outside but still soft and crumbly inside. Then she would sliced the pork (she uses the loins) thinly and then marinate it first with soy sauce, dark soy sauce and sugar. Then she would stir fry it with the potatoes. Now though I had learn to make it, I can never achieve the same results (maybe I was too lazy to slice all the potatoes uniformly and fry it batch by batch diligently) and usually now, I would use the shorter way, just parboiling the potatoes and then chop it up and make my own fan shu chu yok. I kid myself it is healthier, thus less tasty than Ah Ma’s.

Hong Tao Sui (Red Bean Soup)
Why would I miss my Ah Ma’s hong tao sui? Well hers is usually different from the outside (not to say better, but different), as she would not boil all the beans to mush, usually leaving them with enough crunch and resulting in a clearer soup. Then she would add in dried mandarin oranges skins (her secret, she always have one doesn’t she) which would lend a citrusy taste to the else usual hong tao sui. Every time after Chinese New Year, I would see her diligently put the orange skins out to sun for few days in a row (yes she makes her own dried mandarin orange skins), usually keeping an eye for the rain (which is superbly frequent and unpredictable in Malaysia weather, worst yet, Taiping, which is well known for the name raintown). Then when the time is right (which means the skins are ready for use) and her mood is right, she would make us her ‘different’ hong tao sui.

Chow Pao Choy (Stir-fried cabbage)
This is one of the simplest dish that Ah Ma can make it so good that it tops any other complicated dish out there. This one might not have a secret. Ah Ma just chow (stir-fry) the sliced cabbages with lots of garlics. Maybe she can chow to the right softness yet still with crunch and enough taste but not too overpowering. I do not know why, but when she cooks this, I can’t stop eating it. Somehow, the outside ones does not taste as good, and I absolutely do not like those chow with har mai (dried prawns), which I felt it takes away the simple goodness of the dish.

Baked beans with cubed potato, cubed onions and minced pork
This one must be my Ah Ma’s creation. She came up with it one day and we all got hooked onto it, thus it became a household favourite. She would cube the potatoes and onions into tiny 1cm cubes, all of the same size (again, I do not know where she gets her skills and patients to do this). Then she would stir fry the pork with garlic then add in the cubes and in the end, pour in baked beans (from the can, yes semi-can food but I swear it is superb). It results in a dish only found in my Ah Ma’s house, which is absolutely delish!

Fu Kua Tan (Bittergourd Eggs)
Ah Ma cooks her fu kua tan, by first soak the bittergourd in water, then squeeze out water and then repeat process with new water for a few times to remove bitterness. After bout 3 times, she would then slice it thinly (and I mean really thin) and of about the same size (need I say more?). Then she would fry it briefly, and then add in beaten eggs to hold all of it together. The result is a really thin fu kua tan that are soft and eggy plus bitter and crunchy at the same time. This dish actually came later in my Ah Ma’s culinary years. Someone introduced it to her and from then on she made it all the time. At first, as a kid, I absolutely hate it. I do not like the bitter taste of the gourd. I would usually pick out the eggs from the side and middle or wherever and leave out the gourds. Though the eggs are already ‘stained’ with some bitterness, I still eat it anyway. Then, soon I got lazier and sometimes some gourd sneaked into my picked eggs, I still eat it anyway. Then soon, by some evolution theory, I got addicted to it and start eating it the way it is, with lots of bittergourds held together by the eggs. This is how I learnt to eat my bittergourds, which now I absolutely love, no matter how it is cooked.

Honey chicken
My Ah Ma cooks lovely honey chicken in her huge orange non-stick pot-pan. With this she would cook the chicken parts into perfection, after marinating it with dark soy sauce, soy sauce, oyster sauce and so forth, and then add in the honey by taste. It would result in a honey chicken that is not too sweet, with distinct honey taste and enough soy sauce salty. I hope I’m making sense here. Besides, the chicken would be soft and juicy while soaking in a thick deglazed honey soy sauce.

So there goes my favourite list of my Ah Ma’s cooking. As for me, where have I been lately and why have I not been charging my culinary skills in my kitchen as I had promised? Well this is because I had just shifted! Oh yes, I’m in my new house now, and of course new kitchen! I am so excited to show you all but right now it is just all boxes lying around. The plus point of this kitchen is the extra extension at the back of the house which can be made into my wet kitchen! My dream came true. Besides that, I went around my neighbourhood and found that there is a whole day market nearby that caters to every need of a home cook enthusiast, that’s me! With that I have no more excuses for not cooking more often! Stay tune then for more of my culinary adventures.

12 comments:

Silent Reader said...

Fu Kua Tan (Bittergourd Eggs,I love this,too. I usually add diced prawns with fu kua & give it a quick stir fry and then put it into beaten egg mixture, mix it and then fry the whole egg mixture.
Yum.

Tazz said...

Rachel, you are very fond of your Ah Ma. From the time I first joined KC until now, I have read umpteen times about your Ah Ma. haha..

My memories of my two Ah Ma's were totally different from yours. My paternal Ah Ma was quite messy in her food preparation, but she "la sou jiak, la sou tua" until she was 95. *lol*

My maternal Ah Ma was like a xiao jie with bonded feet, she only knew how to boil water, I think. *lol*

rokh said...

silent reader, good idea, i might try it out some day

tazz, yes i'm fond of my Ah Ma (paternal grandma) and also my Pho Pho (maternal grandma). they both are totally different too as my pho pho is more on the messy and fast cooking too.

swee said...

congrats on your new house :)

stefoodie said...

rokh, all of this sounds so yummy!!!! bad idea to read just before lunch. although.... i do have some rice waiting to be made into delicious chow fan. i'm sure it won't be as good as your ah ma's but i hope it's good enough for my kids:D.

congratulations on your new home. i am eager to see pics of your wet kitchen. (is this, perhaps, the equivalent of our (filipino) dirty kitchen?)

rokh said...

swee, thanks

stefoodie, i'm sure your kids will love your chow fan. and yes, i guess wet and dirty is the same

suanne said...

Your post reminds me of my late mom's cooking which I regretly that I have not learned from her.

babe_kl said...

oh yeahhh i oso like my mom's baked beans with eggs *slurps* yr post reminded me of my popo's cooking :(

Puspha said...

Very delicious list of food. Great job.

fooDcrazEE said...

ooh! similar food we had during younger age. Most Malaysian and SG will missed all these food.

Beau said...

What exactly is the definition of chow fan? or at that matter chow mein or chow suey?

rokh said...

chow fan actually means stir fry rice, preferably in a wok. chow mein is stir fried noodle and chow suey, to be honest is not really that popular here so i am not sure

Post a Comment

* Malaysia * Good Food * Recipes * Travel *Reviews * Asia *