September 15, 2009

Razor Clams + Oysters = Filial Piety

My mum and her siblings became the typical sandwich generation (e.g.three generations with grandmother and my mother and us children) living very frugally in Sibu in the 60's and 70's. My maternal grandmother would "visit" us during the weekends. And as kids we really looked forward to her two day stay. Sometimes she would stay longer especially during the long holidays. Later grandmother also experienced being "rotated" amongst the sons only. Many grandparents today also experience this (for better or for worse).

Once mum bought some fresh razor clams when my second sister was just about 8 and she had the job of removing the shells from the boiled razor clams. Mum had not told her to keep the soup and only to throw the shells away. So being the very efficient child she happily threw the shells and the precious soup away. I do not think my mother or grandmother (who was really looking forward to the good soup) ever scolded her at that time...may be they did "tsk tsk" for a while. But she was so traumatized that she would never eat razor clams ever after. She also deemed herself the dumbest kid in the world. Till this day she would never forget the razor clam incident.

I don't have a photo of fresh razor clams. Found this one from Google.
When my grandmother gradually lost her eyesight in her eighties. We knew that she would become totally blind after sometime. An operation would have cost a bomb at that time but what was more significant was that her health was not great enough to permit an eye operation. So she never had her cataracts removed (considering the technology at that time). She was totally visually impaired in the last four years of her life but she continued to visit us and travelled by the motor launch.

Being a very filial daughter mother would buy dried razor clams for her very often in those years knowing how much her mother loved this particular seafood. It is a Foochow or Chinese traditional belief that razor clams help a person to have good eye sight. Whenever grandma came to stay I would always see mother pulling out the special drawer where her savings were kept. She would take some money out and call one of us to go to the shops to buy razor clams or oysters to cook something special for grandma. We would just be so happy to run for her. ( Chinese phrase for this is "run leg" or pau jiau). Whenever she had some more money saved up she would stock up her cupboard with more tins of razor clams and oysters. Grandmother loved dried squids too so we also had quite a bit of squids wrapped in plastic bags hanging in the kitchen. And mum would always say that we must keep these items aside for grandma. These are acts of filial piety passed from one generation to the other. Mum has truly modelled the good values for us to follow. And I hope too my children would follow these values.

Sometimes mum would suddenly be asked to visit a relative who was not well so she would have an ever ready stock of goodies to choose from. And from her cupboard she would take out a few tins of this or that and add some fresh fruits or tins of Nestle milk to bring along. Mother would never go to another house empty handed.

Dried razor clams which are readily available in Chinese medicine shops in Miri and Sibu.
It is like a family tradition that I should have several tins of razor clams at any one time in my kitchen cupboard too. This is being very provident and always prepared so whenever visitors come I would cook HOONG NGANG or the big rice vermicelli in the Foochow style using razor clams as one of the main ingredients without a second thought.

The price of tinned razor clams has gone sky high. So I am stocking up again. I do also have a very great refugee instinct.

Tinned oysters : tip on how to use them - drain the fluid and wash them a little. You need to fry them first with the garlic and then add some minced meat before you add the water. The frying of the tinned oysters will help get rid of the fishy smell. Another tip - blanch the tou hoo before you add it to the boiling hot soup. Do not cook the tou hoo too long. 2-3 minutes would be just nice to maintain the silkiness of the tou hoo.

When my grandmother grew older one of the favourite dishes we cooked for her was Foochow Tou Hoo Soup with Oysters. Because at that time fresh oysters were not available in the market we had to use tinned ones. As a result until today we too would have an ever ready stock of tinned oysters in our cupboards. Sometimes tinned oysters become out of stock in the supermarkets so we have to either bear with the situation or we rest happy that we have some tins in the cupboard!!

Now there is again scarcity of tinned oysters in Miri and I have five tins left!! (Smile) It is also a Foochow thing to bring a few tins of oysters to our children whenever we go to see them in KL or elsewhere.

Whenever we talk about oysters we usually think about cooking it with bean curd.

Bean curd was always available in all the Foochow villages in the Rajang. Each village would have its own tou hoo maker. My mother's village Ah Nang Chong had one. He was a very good man who remained single all his life. Every day he would use his "pian dan" to carry his tou hoo from home to home. He also sold the best TIE PIAN in the whole of Rajang Valley (as it was claimed). And I really like all these stories about him.

According to my mother he was a very kind man who was soft spoken and patient. Why he never married no one would know. He passed away many years ago but many of my relatives still remember him fondly.

In Sibu we had two Lee families who made very good tou hoo. One of them is Lee Kong Toh whose son Lee Siew Chiong was our schoolmate in the Methodist School. He is nicknamed Tou Hoo Chiong until today. They used to live in 14B Hose Lane. Tou Hoo Chiong is a very successful businessman in Kuala Lumpur today.

The other Lee who made very good tou hoo married my mother's "adopted" fourth sister. Fourth Aunt and her husband were very kind people and we were always very happy to buy tou hoo from them. I believe my mother never bought tou hoo from any body else. Mum always claimed that Fourth Uncle's tou hoo was the best in the world - silky and sweet. This was indeed customer loyalty in the olden Sibu days.

The appearance of some chopped spring onions in the kitchen would make all of us excited about the soup of the day when we returned from school. And it would often be a tou hoo soup. I always consider Mother's cooking the best in the world.

And today as I look forward to my own soup I savour the memories which revolve around tou hoo and its related aspects.

Time flies and my mum's sandwich generation lifestyle has gone into the fading shadows of life. Who knows I will one day be the one receiving dried razor clams from my grandchildren and another sandwich generation would come about!

And wishing for you many days of good soups ahead.

a) Chow Tiong Kee (of Detroil Power Miri) my former student and now my friend who has many stories about Sibu.
b) Stories from my mother


Ann said...

When I visit you, you will cook that oyster soup for me? Or when you visit that New Zealand member of your family, you bring me some too.

From your photo, I thought it is a geoduck.

I am no fan of TOU FOO, ate too much when I was young, my duaghter has turned vegetarian, and I buy the blocks of fresh TOU OO, quite pricey here. If not for her, I refuse to buy them



Sarawakiana@2 said...

Hi Ann
Thanks for visiting. May be I can make it to NZ in 2010. My sis who is in Auckland is a wonderful cook.
I can do tou hoo soup with oyster any time for you!! And do come to Miri.
Do you know that you can make tou hoo from soya bean milk with eggs? But does your daughter eat eggs?


Uncle Lee said...

Hi Sarawakiana, I have always loved razor clams. Anything from the sea will be fine with me, as well fresh water prawns too, but not fresh water fish...maybe only.
You sure one real gourmet cook. Bet everyone looks forward to your weekend culinary surprises, huh?

There are a lot of huge Chinese supermarkets here and they compete each other as there's Taiwanese VS Hong Kong VS China ones...and you name it, we have it, from Malacca or Penang belachan to langsats, to chinchaloke.
Love that last dish of tau fu. Looks really delicious.
If ever we were to meet, I sure would love to ahemmm, get a dinner invitation...not to a restaurant, but to your home and your cooking.
Always appreciate women who cooks well.

You have fun and keep well, Lee.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Uncle Lee
You are too full of compliments.

I love cooking for my children and relatives who appreciate my style which is very simple. I do not go overboard with Cantonese style. But I do some Sichuanese food though.

Sure if come to Miri you can have a simple meal with my friends and I. I will get all my varsity mates together and we can have a teepee time and smoke the peace pipe.

Thanks for dropping by. Compliments for a woman's cooking always keep the song in her heart going!!

Anonymous said...

I have always wondered about the little black stuff in the tou hoo soup (halal) I know it is tinned oysters!No wonder so tasty and rich!

fufu said...

oh...i miss the fresh japanese oysters i used to eat... yumyumyum...

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Hi Kamaliah
Thanks for dropping by. I am used to eating halal tou foo soup but it is usually made with kiam chai. I am glad some Malay chefs have learned to use oysters.

Cheers to great soup.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Thanks for dropping by. I am sure the fresh Japanese oysters are excellent.

I like Oh Chien too...and it is fairly hard to "buy" fresh oysters here in Miri. If we want to eat good fresh oysters we have to have them at a high end hotel like Marriot!!

Have a good day!

Ah Ngao said...

yeah,the shape of the shell is unique.does it taste like lalak?

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Ah Ngao
Have you eaten the dried ones? They are very stringy but they make good soups.
I cannot remember the taste of the fresh I am sure they taste like la la (bamboo clams) or even mussels. May be some one could help us out here. Fufu knows a lot about fresh sea food.


Bengbeng said...

this looks like something i can manage in the kitchen. thanks

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Hi Bengbeng
Tou Hoo soup is the easiest to prepare - and it is very very presentable....and you can even add some tasty fishballs too if you like.
I don't add any sticky stuff...just clear soup is good enough.
All the best.

Ann said...


I shall love to see you. Let me know when.

BTW, there is some one who you may know . He is William Low, Not foochow, was in your younger bro's year. i think he told me your bro died. He runs 2 restaurant here by the name of Cinta Malaysia. Cooks more Nyonya style food. Very near my place.

We don't eat out often, but I have been to his place, have to support your own people right?

Oh Yes, Toh Sing told me your son is/was getting married. So you are promoted to MIL.


Kit Suet
Thanks for tip on making Tou Fo, I am too lazy to make, I rather sit at the computer. But today, I did a lot of gardening.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Hi Ann
No my second got married recently. M MIL two times now. (2 faces..remember the Foochow way of saying...)
What is full name of William Low? I love Nyonya food.

Yeah Hsiung passed away in 1981. It was very very sad. Pancreasitis. Nothing could be done because it was too sudden.

Nice to garden actually. If I don't have so many dogs I would grow a whole garden of herbs ...but now I just have a few pots of this and that...

thanks again for dropping by.

Free Bird said...

I can't seem to find those tinned oysters or clams here in KL. Been to almost every supermarket i know.

I really like that soup. Its so "at home"

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Free Bird
so next trip mother and your aunts/uncles will bring you a dozen? hahahahaha.....packed in a paper box and every one would know that she/he is Foochow or from Sibu? Yes? No? Acutally my Kelantanese friends do it too...They even bring the whole lampit mat to KB for their mother!!

I heard complaints from many that there was no clams or oysters in Miri for a while. But I actually found several - hence the post...some of the shops are selling them at 80 sen more than the ordinary. Ing Kong should have some. I must go and check.

Can you get tou hoo easily?

Free Bird said...

Yes i can get tou hoo. but not as fresh as the ones we can find at home. Its a little yellow here. even if you buy the one in the morning market. I need to buy a bigger fridge so I can keep more food

Free Bird said...

Actually I want to pack all of you in a box and keep it here in KL.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Dear Free Bird
Frozen tou hoo is never as good as freshly made hot tou hoo.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Yeah I wish your wish will come true....
But you can't pack all that is Sibu in a package.....

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