Food and music have the ability to bring back memories I have long forgotten. I will take a double order of them both.– KRAYL FUNCH, BLOGGER, HOME AND EVENT STYLIST
Suddenly that morning, I had the urge to eat fried tapioca leaves. I thought buying the leaves that had been pounded would spare me the trouble of having to pound them myself.
I have a weakness for fried tapioca leaves. They remind me of my late grandmother. She was a good cook and whenever my siblings and I visited her in the village in Kanowit during the school holidays, she would, without fail, prepare the dish for us.
She would pound the leaves first before frying them with a bit of garlic and ginger. She did not use a lot of ingredients but to me then, they were the best fried tapioca leaves I had ever tasted. Perhaps, the special, unique taste was due to the wood fire she used.
Since then, I have tasted fried tapioca leaves cooked by other people but none tasted as good as those prepared by my late grandmother.
The tapioca leaves I fry are not as good as my grandmother’s; I wished I had sat down with her and written the recipe step by step. But when many of us were young, we often did not think far. We took for granted the food we had and the people around us.
Little did we realise that when the people around us were gone, so would the food that we liked and took for granted.
When I was in primary and secondary school, I used to spend my year-end school holidays with my maternal grandmother.
My grandmother and mother were not close because my mother’s father died when she was young and my grandmother remarried again. After my grandmother remarried, my mother went to live with her father’s elder sister.
But I was close to my grandmother. She was hardworking and never scolded me. She always encouraged me to study hard so that I could find a good job later on in life.
My grandmother died during the first year I moved to Kuching to work. So, I did not have time to show my appreciation to her with the money I earned in Kuching.
A home-cooked favourite in my Liong family is Pak Loh/Lor Ark (Braised Duck). This dish reminds me of my late father who migrated from Hainan Island, China when he was a little boy.
I learnt to cook it while watching a Hainanese auntie who lived next door at Foochow Lane, Sibu, prepare it and while helping my father to peel and pound the garlic bulbs used in the recipe.
The Hainanese auntie cooked her duck whole while we cooked ours after it had been cut into small pieces.
I cook Pak Loh Duck during Chinese New Year and on special occasions, like when the Liong clan meets. Although my father had long passed on, my family continues to enjoy his Pak Loh Duck recipe.
I have three sisters and none are interested in my father’s Pak Loh Duck recipe. They never cook the dish, too, even though they like it. Perhaps they are put off by the tedious work involved in preparing it.
Although braised duck tastes better overnight, there is often very little left of our duck after our big meal. Everyone, you see, loves the sweet gravy and hard-boiled eggs that are added to it.
One of my sister’s daughters, who is in her early 20s, has indicated that she would like to learn to cook the dish the next time she comes back to Kuching. I told her that I am ever ready to pass on the Liong family recipe to her. Good food and good recipes should be shared by all, especially members of the same family.
There are two home-cooked favourites that I seldom cook these days — Salted Fish and Pork and “Batang Keladi Masak Belacan” (Taro Stems with Fermented Shrimp Paste).
Salted Fish and Pork is another of my father’s Hainanese recipe. My family ate a lot of salted fish and pork when I was growing up.
The dish was meant to last two or three days. Although the gravy was salty, it was delicious with hot rice and you could end up eating more than one plate of rice.
Those were the days when people were not so health-conscious and hypertension was a foreign word to many. Now, I seldom cook the dish.
One reason is that it is hard to get good salted fish heads for the recipe. Besides that, everyone in the family is scared of getting their blood pressure up.
Many years ago, my family used to enjoy “Batang Keladi Masak Belacan”, a simple cheap kampung food. My late younger brother was a good cook and he excelled in cooking the dish. Then suddenly he died; he was murdered when enjoying a night out with a group of acquaintances.
For years, no one in my house looked at taro stems, let alone cooked them. Eating them reminded us of my poor, unfortunate brother who died young.
Since he died, I have cooked “Batang Keladi Masak Belacan” once or twice. But somehow, everyone in the family seems to have no appetite for taro stems anymore.
The dish reminds us of him and even though much water has flowed under the bridge, the pain in our hearts is still there.