Saturday, 18 August 2012

Craving for Comfort Food of Yesteryears

          Lying in bed last night whilst slowly recovering from an agonizing day at the mercy of a menstrual migraine, my thoughts turned to food. It was a relief to be able to stomach the thought of food after a day of retching and being unable to tolerate even a small cup of Horlicks. My poor tummy rumbled a little as I had hardly eaten anything the whole day long. And I found myself suddenly craving for wan ton.

Kon low wan ton
        This was not surprising as wan ton has always been my #1 Comfort Food since young. I had always preferred my wan ton served in its dry version (meaning minus its soup, tossed in sesame seed oil and lots of dark soya sauce). My favourite wan ton hawker, Ah Fatt, greets me amicably and understands exactly what I want when I place my order, "Kon low wan ton, without mee." There was once when I was under the weather. My dear parents were about to embark on the task of bringing food to the house-bound invalid. Mummy asked what I fancied and I weakly answered, "Wan ton." When she relayed this to Ah Fatt, he was all smiles. And the invalid enjoyed (but struggled a little as her appetite was not in full throttle) slurping down the silky smooth dumplings filled with well-marinated minced pork.

        #2 Comfort Food is Mummy's savoury mini omelettes with minced pork and spring onions (photo to be uploaded when Mummy next makes this). It is one of my favourite dishes and every time she fries this for dinner, I'll have a second helping of rice. This dish holds lots of nostalgia for me. Back in the early 90s when I was studying in a college in Kuala Lumpur, I looked forward to Fridays as I could make the 4-hour bus ride back to Ipoh (this was prior to the completion of the North-South Highway). And on Sundays, a teary-eyed 18-year-old would make the long journey back to Kuala Lumpur. Unpacking in the cold and lonely hostel room, I would take out the flask of dinner that Mummy had lovingly prepared. And the tears would flow once again upon seeing the savoury mini omelettes with minced pork and spring onions --- labour of a Mother's love.

These were the sardine rolls that I baked last December.

       Comfort food is defined as food that "soothes the psyche by reminding us of comforting childhood memories". Comfort food is "far from gourmet and generally epitomize home cooking. They invoke feelings of nostalgia, safety and security". I am not sure if my #3 can be categorized as comfort food, but it definitely is very sentimental to me. Knowing how much I love her baking, my journeys home to Ipoh were often greeted by the aroma of Mummy's freshly baked sardine rolls. She seldom bakes nowadays, claiming that the hassle of baking is too much for her weary bones to bear. So last year, when the baking bug bit me, I decided to try my hand at making her sardine rolls. They were not as nice as the ones she used to make, but I hope that my skills will be improved in time to come.

Cute little quail's eggs in their beautifully-marbled shells
        Back in the good old days of the early 80s, cholesterol was an alien topic. And the egg-lover in me tucked into hard-boiled eggs without a qualm. #4 Comfort Food is...quail's eggs. They were a regular feature in the tuck box that Mummy used to pack for me to take to school. And when the bell rang to herald recess, I would gobble down the eggs in no time.

Putu mayam served with brown sugar
        Although I shy away from all kinds of Indian food as I am averse to the strong smell of their curry, surprisingly #5 Comfort Food is of Indian origin. Putu mayam are vermicelli-like noodles made from flour with water and coconut milk. It is steamed and served with grated coconut and brown sugar. My paternal grandmother introduced me to this dish. She often bought this from the itinerant hawker pedalling past her house. And being a wee toddler at that time, I would sink into the sweet string hoppers with glee.

        Growing up in Grandma's house offered other joys too. I especially loved it when Grandma had returned from the market as she would have invariably bought some Nyonya kuih home. Never one to act shy where food is concerned, I would fling open the doors of the food cupboard and take my pick. My favourite Nyonya kuih in those days was the Kuih Lapis (or Nine Layers Kuih in Cantonese). It is made from rice flour and sago flour with lots of coconut milk and some red and pink colouring. To be honest, the child in me relished the delights of carefully peeling out each of the nine layers more than devouring the tasty dessert. Nevertheless, this is my #6 Comfort Food. Speaking of Nyonya kuih, it conjures up images of itinerant hawkers of yesteryears. I still remember an old uncle who used to sell his Nyonya kuih in tiers of baskets fixed to a long pole, which he precariously balanced on his shoulders.

French toast served with kaya
        Another finger-licking gem from childhood days was the French toast made by Third Aunt. She would coat cut pieces of day-old bread with beaten egg and then fry them till they are crisp on the outside. And while they were still fairly warm, I would happily dip them into the kaya that Third Aunt had brought back from her husband's coffee shop. Old Town Kopitiam now serves this 7th Comfort Food of mine and I do occasionally go for it. But the French toast made by Old Town Kopitiam cannot hold a candle to those that Third Aunt used to make.

        My poor tummy rumbles again. This time, it is not as a weak protest of not having eaten, but it is a reaction to the thought of all these lovely comfort food. Mmm...should I raid the larder now?                                                                     

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