Although I had eaten so much within that long weekend regardless that I had forewarned myself, I can vividly remember all the wonderful feasts. Few of them was taken outside in restaurants as we do not want to tire our dear grandmothers and mothers, but those few home made feasts was what I treasured most.
On my Ah Ma side, it had been many years since she cooked a feast for our Chinese New Year as all her children want her to rest and relax, while on my Pho Pho side, it would be the usual feast of my favourite dishes such as jiu hu char, which had me standing by the side of the bowl, nearly finishing off by wrapping it in fresh raw lettuce and popping it into my mouth again and again, ah bliss, and also the must have heart-attacking duck soup, I swear that it is more of duck ‘oil’, but nonetheless irresistible! These home cooked feasts will have me gobbling up as if there were no tomorrow while I just nibble on the restaurant food, which once I got so sick off I cheated my way out of dinner by saying I wanted to visit my Lai Ma (Nanny), which I did of course but with no food.
Speaking bout my Lai Ma, she is another wonder woman in kitchen, apart from being a wonder woman of raising kids, which would be another whole story I will share soon. Last year, when I got real lucky, she had me sit down and feasted on her food during my visit. At that time I was already full from lunch at Pho Pho’s but staring at her version of Chinese New Year home feasting; I could not resist and proceeded to have second lunch of the day! I cursed myself for eating too much beforehand while continued on feasting anyway. So this year, with the reminiscence of the wonderful feast I had with the tastes still vividly at the tip of my tongue, I smarted my way out from a lunch out with my relatives in a restaurant and ‘visited’ my Lai Ma on Chor Yat (first day of Chinese New Year) itself. Beside the fact that I was really yearning to see both my Lai Ma and Lai Pa (her husband) after a long time, I was also secretly yearning for her special dishes.
When I got there, many people were there visiting already, including U and her brother which grew up with me together under my Lai Ma’s care. I waited patiently while enjoying their company and once they leave, I casually asked if there is lunch. My Lai Ma was extremely surprised “What! You haven’t had your lunch? Why didn’t you say so just now?” Glancing at the clock which was showing only near to 3pm, it wasn’t that late from lunch but from my Lai Ma’s reaction, just like how a typical Chinese would react, it would had seemed like I had been starving for years. Quickly, she had me get the rice while she got me a big bowl of ham choy thong (salted vegetable soup). I stared at the spread in front of me and proceeded to enjoy the feast, this time with lots of room in my tham jiak stomach to fit in.
The ham choy thong is how I always remembered it would be, as she cooks it quite frequently, salty, slightly spicy and sourish, which serves real well as an appetizer. Then there was the must-have steamed chicken, eaten with her homemade green chili sauce. Another meat dish is the lor bak (deep fried marinated minced pork rolled in thin soybean sheets) which was home made by my Lai Ma’s sister was really good too. The chunky minced pork was really juicy and fragrant while the soybean sheets were perfectly crunchy. My Lai Ma made pickled cucumber to eat with it, which surprisingly pairs really well together and to me, it was better than the usual Loh sauce (dark sauce thicken with corn starch, usually served at the hawker stalls).
Then next is my favourite chow mangkuang (stir fried sliced yam bean) which tastes like my Ah Ma’s Cantonese version with added cuttlefish strips. This dish has similarity to my Pho Pho’s Hakka darker and much more sinful version, which is to be eaten best wrapped in fresh lettuces.
Finally, it was the star dish of the day, which was the first that came to my mind when I was reminiscing about her dishes of last year. It is the stir fried ngaku (arrowhead/arrowroots) with nam yue (fermented red beancurd) that despite looking weird with its pinkish hue, it was a real delight to the palate. Slight sweet yet salty and with just hints of nam yue (many people find this an acquired taste, but trust me it is just a slight complement here). This dish is also a darling to eat wrapped in fresh lettuce, but first slathered generously with tim cheong (sweet sauce). I once asked where to get the tim cheong and my Lai Ma said “Aiya, make it yourself. Very easy! Put this this and that that together, and ta-da – you got your ultimate tim cheong”. Sorry though I cannot remember those ‘easy’ steps, aih, they all make it sound so easy, time for me to buck up! I must start cooking and making more Chinese cuisines. This is definitely one better way to enjoy ngaku apart from the usual addictive fried ngaku crisps which are widely available (both homemade or store bought) at this time of the year.
I ate with such gluttony and tham jiak-ness that halfway through my feasting, Lai Pa took second helpings of rice and joined me together at the table. Now the real family feast has begun!