Friday, 23 October 2015

Developing An Interest In Chinese Opera

       The might of the camera lens stirred my fascination in an old Chinese art that had never piqued my interest.

Backstage preparation
Getting ready
"Fa Dan" in the making

Demure beauty
Seasoned beauty
Pondering over upcoming performance
Deep in his thoughts

Casting his spell on the audience

The "tuk tuk chiang" or Chinese opera is one of the oldest dramatic art performances in the world, and also plays an integral role in Chinese culture. However, due to a lack of exposure to it as well as an inability to understand the dialogue, the Chinese opera has never made me throw a second glance….till now. At the recommendation of some photographer friends, hubby braved the crowds to venture to the recently concluded Nine Emperor Gods Festival at Ipoh's Tow Boo Keong Temple. I was hiding at home from the haze, secretly glad that he did not drag me along. But the photos that he came back with made me stop in my tracks and propelled me to learn more about the Chinese opera.
The facial make-up of the performers must be the highlight of the shows.The painstaking process of painting the faces has the power to portray a character's personality, role and fate. A red face represents loyalty and bravery while black can symbolise valour or evil. Besides colour, the lines or patterns drawn also hold their meaning. To the uninitiated like me, some of these colours and patterns may not mean much but to the ardent fans, they can immediately tell who's who.
The astounding acrobatics that accompany the opera performance is another much-awaited part. All that prancing around in tune to the music, sword brandishing, somersaulting or making fire spray out of their mouths are the result of years of arduous apprenticeship. "One minute's performance on the stage takes ten years' practice behind the scenes" is a popular saying among opera performers.
I remember my mother telling me how she used to tag along with my maternal grandmother to watch the opera shows in the late 1940s and early 1950s at the Jubilee Park, Ipoh. As a little girl, my mother did not quite understand the shows but to be able to go there with her mother, it was a treat.
Jubilee Park, which was once THE amusement centre for Ipoh folks (it was also famous for being the cabaret where the famous Rose Chan striptease acts were held), has long stopped operating. Part of it now is used as a car park and another section has been turned into Sensation Of Sound, one of Ipoh's hottest nightspots.
All the Chinese opera performances that once brought so much delight to the Ipoh folks too would have been forgotten. And it would be sad if the glory of Chinese opera slowly diminishes, stays buried in the trove of Chinese culture, only to be dug up for annual performances in tandem with Chinese festivals.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Dishing Up A Hakka Meal

        A perfect Hakka dish must fulfil the three principles : salty, fatty and fragrant. And pork is the main feature in the majority of Hakka cooking.
        Despite possessing only Cantonese roots, I have always had a penchant for Hakka dishes. Braised pork with preserved vegetables (mui choy kau yoke), braised pork with yam (wu tao kau yoke), Hakka style fried pork belly, drunken chicken in glutinous rice wine, braised pig's trotters with vinegar, Hakka yam abacus, Hakka noodles and braised pork belly with black fungus…all these are my favourite dishes.
        To my delight, my Hockchew hubby has fallen in love with Hakka style fried pork belly (which is a regular dish in my kitchen) and braised pork with black fungus (after I introduced it to him at Ying Ker Lou, a famous Hakka restaurant in Kuala Lumpur). Taking a break from marking dreary exam papers, I decided to try my hand at cooking the braised pork with black fungus.

Ingredients :
500g of pork belly (skinless and cut into pieces)
30g of black fungus (soaked in water till softened)
4 - 5 cloves of garlic
1 tsp of five spices powder
1 tbsp of soya sauce
1 tbsp of oyster sauce
1 tbsp of shaoxing wine
1 tsp of pepper
2 tsp of sugar
1 tbsp of tapioca flour
2 tbsp of plain flour
2 pieces of preserved red beancurd
1 egg
800ml of water
2 cloves of star anise (which I didn't put in because hubby is averse to it)

Method :
1.   Season pork belly pieces with 1 preserved red beancurd, soya sauce, five spices powder, pepper, 1 tsp of sugar, and the two types of flour. Leave to marinade for at least 3 hours.
2.   Add egg to the marinated pork belly 30 mins before cooking.
3.   Deep fry the marinated pork belly in hot oil over high heat until golden brown. Dish out and drain well.
4.   Saute garlic and the remaining preserved red beancurd over low heat till fragrant.
5.   Add in black fungus, 1 tsp of sugar, oyster sauce, shaoxing wine. Toss well. Pour in water and bring to boil.
6.   Add the fried pork belly pieces (and star anises). Cover the wok. Simmer for approximately 40 minutes until the pork belly pieces are tender and the flavour has been absorbed. Serve hot.

Hakka braised pork belly with black fungus
        Hubby's verdict : very good, better than Ying Ker Lou's

        And all that slaving in the kitchen to dish up a Hakka meal was worth it!

Saturday, 3 October 2015

Devouring Freshwater Prawns In Tanjung Tualang

        I am ashamed to admit that as an Ipoh girl, I had never been to Tanjung Tualang. This was rectified by Derrick this evening, en route back to Ipoh from Kuala Lumpur after a shopping trip.
        Tanjung Tualang is a small town in the Kinta District, near towns like Batu Gajah, Malim Nawar, Kampar and my father's hometown, Tronoh. In its heydays, Tanjung Tualang was one of the mining hubs in Perak. In those days, there were about 300 dredges operating around Perak but sadly, the loner that remains afloat (but not in working condition) today is one in Tanjung Tualang. Many of the abandoned tin mines have been converted to freshwater ponds to breed freshwater prawns and fish. And from this, Tanjung Tualang lays claim to another boost of fame - freshwater prawns, resulting in its nickname "Freshwater Prawn Town" or Pekan Udang Galah in Bahasa Malaysia. I had always thought that udang galah means lobsters but I suppose for want of a better word, it can also be used for these big-headed prawns.
        For tonight's dinner, Derrick took me to Sun Mee Fong, one of the many seafood restaurants in Tanjung Tualang, all situated around the market. Jason Yeoh or better known as Axian, the famous food show host, has featured this restaurant in one of his food adventure episodes.
        To have the best of both worlds, we decided to have our 1 kg of prawns cooked in two ways : pan fried with soya sauce   and steamed. I really cannot say which tasted better; they were both finger-licking good. 
        The prawns that were pan fried with soya sauce were slightly smaller but they were so fresh and the soya sauce complimented the prawns beautifully. Although the sauce was a little oily, I could not resist slathering my rice with it. I believe that one should not act dainty and attempt to peel off the shells with the refined way of using cutlery. It simply kills the joy of getting your hands oily and then licking each oily finger.

        The steamed prawns were incredibly fresh, juicy and creamy. They were laid out in a fan shape on a bed of its own juices mixed with a really tasty wine, which I could not help slurping down spoonfuls after spoonfuls. The roe was superb and there was so much of it, with some tucked in between the legs. I was so busy stripping off the shells, sucking the roe, delighting in the sweet meat, that I had no time to dwell on the implications of this cholesterol-laden feast.
        Although the prawns were the highlight of the meal, we also ordered two other dishes. The stir fried potato leaves with garlic were sweet and tasty. The oyster omelette, on the other hand, was below par. In fact, the teeny weeny oysters were not very fresh. Call me biased, but nothing beats the Penang and Malacca oyster omelettes.
         This sumptuous meal did not come cheap. It set us back RM128.45 (after all, the prawns were priced at RM88 a kg), but we agreed it was a fitting finale to a fairly fruitful day of shopping. And now I can say that I have been to Tanjung Tualang, thanks to Derrick.