Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Childhood food memories

I only just realised Deetourguide has tagged me to do a childhood food memories meme, so here I am fulfilling it, a tad late. The task it to recall five childhood food memories I miss/not miss.

1. Lunch at home
My grandaunt, who came to live with us when I was born and stayed with us until the day she died, was always in charge of mealtimes, since my mother was (and still is) a hopeless cook. What I remember most for lunch are her chicken macaroni and chicken bee tai mak (or if you're Malaysian, loh shee fun), a simple but tasty broth of shredded chicken and lots and lots of spring onion. That was the first thing I would do after coming home from morning school, having a large portion with my special red scalloped placemat, still in my uniform. Mmm...

Being Cantonese, she made lots of qing dishes and soups. What I remember most are the steamed pomfret with tofu on the side, the variety of yummy herbal soups she would concoct and her sweet and sour pork. She seemed to be able to make it crispy on the outside and soft and tender on the inside.

2. Hot milk
As a child, and even now, I've never liked the taste of milk. The smell alone is enough to put me off, and the creamy taste somehow makes me cringe. But being a child, having milk every night was a must, with my mother constantly giving me lectures on the importance of drinking milk to build strong bones, while I would make faces and attempt to weasel out of drinking my mug of hot milk. Every night, my grandaunt would heat up the milk for me, but I would always put it off, waiting until the very last minute, until he milk had curdled, and then I would pretend that it would be completely undrinkable because of the skin on top. But of course, both my mother and grandaunt would not be fooled, and would simply whisk off the offending skin and I would be sternly admonished to drink. Man, that's something I don't miss at all.

3. Fine dining
I'm lucky that my father is a huge foodie and for special occasions, he would always take the family out for a nice, posh dinner. Everytime there was a birthday to celebrate, we'd try various chi-chi places in town. We went to lots of nice restaurants in hotels, but the two places I remember the most distinctly are the the French restaurant at the now-gone Marco Polo Hotel, and Harbour Grill at the Hilton Hotel. Embarrassingly, what I remember most about Harbour Grill is the butter, which could be found in the middle of the table. I am a huge butter fiend, and I liked having a variety of butter to choose from to go with my bread, and Harbour Grill always had three different types to choose from - the usual salted kind, a super yummy garlic butter and the last, I can't remember. Of course the steaks there were yummy as well, but what really sticks were the cute little butter bowls. As for the French restaurant, the duck l'orange was just heavenly and I would be utterly boring and always insist on the duck everytime we ate there, despite my parents repeated attempts to get me to try something else. Oh yes, I've just remembered the bakery at the Marco Polo hotel, they always had the tastiest scones, filled with juicy and plump raisins, and lightly dusted with icing sugar. We used to buy half a dozen and bring them home for tea time.

I suspect part of the enjoyment of these posh dinners was the fact that it allowed me to dress up in pretty party dresses. See, even as a child, I was such a vainpot.

4. Sweet treats
Before my sister was born, my parents would take me regularly to a pancake place called Better Batters at Holland Village. It used to be located at Chip Bee Garden, and I still remember the awning over the main door, the brown latticed windows, and the two round carpeted steps you had to climb to reach the upper level of the tables covered with checkered tablecloths.

It was probably my favourite place to have dessert, because I liked how the kitchen had a little slidey door from which yummy pancakes would magically appear, pushed out by unseen hands. And of course, there was the pancakes. I'm too young to remember this, but my parents tell me that the chef liked me so much (me being so cute and all, hurhur) that he would make free special little pancakes for me, cut into shapes like hearts and flowers. But I always liked their light and fluffy pancakes, no matter how they were cut, with generous portions of butter and maple syrup or honey. As I got older, I learnt to appreciate their banana pancakes, a tall stack of pancake layers with thick slices of banana and fresh cream in between, topped with a thick and rich brown sugar sauce. I got really excited when they opened another branch at the Promenade, but it didn't do too well, and closed down soon. I was really sad to see Better Batters go. You don't find pancakes like they used to make now.

5. Dinner at grandma's
It used to be a ritual every Sat night for my father to bring my sister and I to his mother's house for dinner. There, we would play with our older cousins, and get to have scrumptious and always filling dinner. Being part Perenakan, we would always have a variety of typical Nyonya dishes, like bakwang kepiting, buah keluak, kiam chye and lor bak. Then some days, if my grandmother felt like it, she would make popiah, and we would all gather round the table and make our own fat popiahs, bursting with our favourite garnishes. My method is always to load up on the sweet sauce, garlic and peanuts. Yummay.

Saturday dinner always followed a pattern: we would arrive, go to the kitchen to greet my grandmother while she bustled around the kitchen, then run to the living room to watch TV. She would eventually holler that dinner was ready, and we'd run into the kitchen to have dinner, crowded around a large round table. My grandmother never ate with us, despite our repeated attempts to get her to join us, but would eat after we'd finish. While we ate, she would hover around the table watching us eat, urgins us to "jiak, jiak!" and clucking in displeasure if there were any leftovers.After dinner, she would bring out freshly squeezed orange juice, chilled to perfection, and a plate of freshly cut fruits, invariably they'd be watermelon, rockmelon, and sometimes mango. We'd eat a little at the kitchen table, until she would shoo us away to the living room while she cleared the table. We would then take the plate of fruits with us to watch TV, or play Uno or chess.

Actually this is not quite a childhood memory, as I still get to go back and have dinner at my grandma's house on an occasional Sat and she still makes tasty dinners. But now that we've all grown up, and my cousins have their own children, somehow the feeling is all different.

And now, I tag:
Little Miss Drinkalot


Woof! said...

Ure post is so good it's a tough act to follow! Will try to do one soon, but some thoughts that crossed my mind as I was reading:

a. chicken maccaroni and mee cheh mak (haha.. thats the way I pronounce it.. dunno whether right or wrong) are still staples at my place, and I love it! Esp. when the former has a little salted vegetable..

b. curdled milk - I had the same trick.. heh..

c. didn't you have the milk program in ure sch too, where we got a packet of choc / strawberry / banana milk everyday? With the art contest winners printed on it and all..

d. Marco Polo - I was the huges-est sucker for the quiches at Marco Polo bakery!

e. dumb waiters, and the "serviing hole in the wall" between kitchens and dining areas amazed me to no end!

Ole' Wolvie said...

I had the 'milk problem' too.

If only the Internet had existed then so that I can 'persuade' them that milk is not that good for people. (I do still love my pizza and lasagne though.. *sigh*...)


JellyGirl said...

a. I have no idea how it's pronounced too, I just spelt it the way I said it.

c. Oh yes you reminded me of the milk program. We had the chocolate and strawberry milk too, but I always gave my milk away to one of my classmates.

Ole Wolvie: That's a very long but very interesting article! I hate milk, but funnily enough, I like yoghurt and cheese!

gabriel06 said...

really heart warming to read abt ur grandma.. mines gone.. sigh.. kinda reminded me of her.. anyway keep up the great blog