March 8, 2010

Old Fashion Foochow Bowls and their Utility

This is from the remarkable 1999 movie "The Road Home" featuring Ziyi Zhang. (wo de fu qin mu qin)

Here you see Ziyi Zhang sending lunch to her husband using two bowls wrapped in a scarf.
This movie gave me the inspiration to find out more about how our Foochow forefathers made use of porcelain bowls in their every day life......

When you buy bowls for your family for the first time probably you would select six small rice bowls (15 cm diameter) and 6 medium noodle bowls (18.5 cm diameter). You might  buy two or three large noodle bowls (21.5 cm diameter). Today the patterns on the ceramic bowls are plentiful ranging from Western to Surreal. Some of you might have Noritake or some expensive English brands. You will be spoilt for choice.

Foochow ceramic bowls in the olden days were simple and practical. And most of them were "rough ware" - not the valuable imperial ware that Sotheby would auction.

But we have to remember that they too have a history and a set of specific terminology and utility.

Actually Foochow ceramic ware is not exactly remembered by many of our elders. When our forefathers came to Sibu with a few precious belongings of theirs they had brought with them some Fuzhou traditional ceramic ware and related terminology which most of us do not know today. And I would like to add to the little I know.

My third aunt and I had a good conversation not long ago regarding village wedding catering 30 years ago. So she helped me with  some interesting terms .

According to her (now in her 70's) her experience in catering for neighbours together with my Third Uncle was invaluable indeed. My mum used to say that Third Aunt was a great example of Excellent Foochow helper. (kakitangan - puong chiew). She was always very dependable and proactive. And starting right - from the beginning. No one heard of ISO then.

The village would have a Community committee in which able bodied men and women would work as a team. Bowls and spoons and chopsticks would be brought to the wedding venue very much in the gotong royong style we know today. Usually ten square tables would be the general number. The table tops were all removable and the legs foldable. So the strong men would carry all these on their bicycles. Most families would have two or three of these tables and they were able to help out. Thus "borrowing" tables was common.

In those days there were "adult" tables and "children's tables". The setting for adults would be 8 or 10. Adults would sit on stools.  But for the children it would be 12 (three on a bench on each side of the table) .

Eating was very informal and what was enjoyed was really the food and the conversation. Each wedding feast was usually in the afternoon following the Christian wedding ceremony in the morning. Once the bride had been sent off the invited guests would start eating. Or once the bridegroom had brought back the bride and after bowing to all the guests the lunch would start. When we were young we always knew that going to a bride's home would give us an earlier lunch which could even be 11 o'clock in the morning. The bridegroom's feast would be later especially if the village was farther away or the tide was not favourable.

Conversations would start like this:

"Hi how many children do you have now?"
"How many faces of Grandmother have you made?" (How many grandchildren do you have now?)
"Have you been made a Grandfather?" (Ne juh ah koon mui?)
Here are two types of ceramic (clay) bowls(the chicken pattern bowl 雞公碗  and a plain bowl) made in China which we Foochows like to use. A No.3 bowl is placed over a No.2 bowl to keep the food from flies and also to keep the food warm. It is actually very practical.

These bowls are numbered in the traditional way. Size 5 is the biggest . We normally use  Size 3 for noodles and Size 2 for rice at home . The smallest is Size 1. At the moment I have several Size 2 "chicken pattern"雞公碗 bowls and two size 1 bowls in my cabinet.

According to my third aunt (Mrs. Lau Pang Sing from Sg.Maaw or Lower Nang Chong Village) she said that the biggest bowl about 30 years ago (now people don't use these terms or even the bowls) was called Kong Muong (Biggest bowl - bowl door ) for huge bowl of celebration noodles. when relatives brought gifts of noodles and live chickens to help celebrate a birthday or the birth of a new born baby the family would cook chicken soup and mee sua straight away for lunch. This was to respect the visitors for coming. A big bowls of mee sua with a few pieces of chicken and two eggs was definitely a great deal of respect for the guest.

Size No.2 bowls refer to the ordinary rice bowls or porridge bowls. These were also called Kaeu Wang. 8 treasure glutinous rice for example would be steamed in it and then turned over on a plate. It would look very pretty and the portion would be enough for 10 person. These bowls were also for chopped chicken and pork.

This kaeu Wang would be filled with meat and it would be covered by a smaller bowl (no. 3 ) This would prevent lizards or flies hanging around the food. Today of course lots of cling film would be used.

Men would usually use No2 for their rice. While women would use a No.3 .

When I was young I would always be very happy to come home and observe that my mother would have some food on the table. Usually she would have Size 5 with a soup and two small bowls of vegetables and meat (Size 2). All would be covered with another bowl or another plate.

Size No. 3 bowls 三號碗 were the smaller   ones for dainty eating or for side dishes like peanuts and preserved bean curd. Or even for left overs like salted vegetables or a few slices of salted eggs.

No 1 bowls were called Wang Diek 碗碟(盤)because they were very small. These would be used for tiny morsels of condiments like preserved or pickled vegetables or bean paste.

It seems that nowadays in Miri the smaller bowls are used for dry noodles in Miri eateries whereas in Sibu platic plates are used.

Whenever I have an opportunity I would really like to look at these rough ceramic bowls. Perhaps one day I would be able to buy a Size 5 bowls - and dream of old days with my grandmother.

And if you come to my house I will cook you good chicken mee sua and fill up a size 5 bowl for you to show my respect and joy upon seeing you.

Size does matter.

(I will feature the platters used by the Foochows in another post when I have the photos and perhaps even the food cooked and placed on


1. Mrs. Lau Pang Sing (Third Aunt : Wong Nguk Ling)
2. Mrs. Hii Wen Hui ( Little Aunty : Lau Hung Yung)


Jay said...

This remind me of my young days where my grandparent have a several ceremic bowl and plate. The one still fresh in my memory is the bowl with blue colour fish at its bottom. This indicate that they must have barther trade with Chinese trader. Those item are treasure to my grandparent.

天鵝江畔 said...

CY, i m not sure also the name in chinese about the different bowls n so on.
Chicken bowl雞公碗
Kong Muong缸盤?

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Thanks Jay...the blue and white bowls with fish patternis very famous .

The various longhouses in the Baram have lots of ceramics like huge jars and dragon motif brass kettles. All these are indicative of old barter trading between the Chinese merchants and our local people.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Thanks for your imput. I will copy and paste your Chinese words in my posting.

Kong muong could be big bowl door. Have to do more research on my part.

Thanks again.

Bengbeng said...

this is interesting. i think most people do not have any idea about it. wishing u a wonderful holiday :)

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Hi Bengbeng
It is good to know that you arrived in Sibu safe and sound. I am sure you are energised to teach even better.
Hope our knowledge of the utility of different bowls of our ancestors will become better.
thanks. I am looking forward to my holidays....

Ah Ngao said... son just told me yesterday,he finds his laksa more enjoyable/tasty when served in a porcelain bowl(i.e the Kay Kong bowl).i told him,it's just his imaginations.actually i have heard of people claiming that any game cooked in a clay/porcelain pot tastes better.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Ah Ngao
I think your son has good taste...It is nicer to eat from a Kay Kong Bowl...plastic bowls do not give you the pleasantness of eating good food!!

I think it is healthier to eat from a porcelain bowl.

Good to hear from you and your son!!

Superman said...

Yup, the chicken pattern bowl really bring back a lot of good memories. I still remember using those bowls for eating at my late grandfather's place...He is a great man. I do miss him. I will have many things to learn from him if he is still around...

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Hi Superman
Yes my grandparents too used these bowls. I am still thinking of the huge bowls my grandmother would use to fill up the huge pieces of organic chicken so that the whole family could eat well. It is rare now to steam two chickens at one time for an extended family of 16 - three generations.

WE do learn a lot from our grandparents.

Ann said...

When I was little, my Ah Kung used to joke about the FOOK CHOW LO and their big bowls which we call WAIs aka big soup bowls.

When one of my uncles's Foochow wife had her first baby, she had 6 eggs for breakfast. No wonder the Foochows are HA MA GIN DOI, very big size.

Everytime I tell people I am from Sibu, they ask if I am a Foochow because I am also HA MA GIN DOI.

My late friend, Lau Kung Ing ex Kapit and then Sarikei teacher explained why the Foochows are so big size. They eat from the big bowls, and the big amount extend their stomach. Further more, they often eat porridge, as porridge is very watery, they can eat very fast. Because it is eaten so quickly, one doesn't get the satisfaction of feeling full, so another bowl, and this extends the stomach further. Logical?

A few of my relatives are Foochows, when they come to eat our dainty Cantonese bowls of rice, they say, they don't feel full after eating in our house. My Ah Kung retort, why they don't go for second helping? They joke, of course in FIL's house, you don't want to look too greedy. LOL

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Hi Ann
I love these cross-cultural exchanges! Ha Ma Jin Duai also refers to that I am over 80...ooops..
Kung Ing was my cousin and I am still in touch with the family. Yvonne the daughter was my favourite trainee!!

Six problem. I have heard of one new mother who could eat 8 eggs!! The poor farmer's wife had the happiness of eating for a whole month....that's another story.

Lots of SIL father dropped the hard boiled jumped...doink doink doink onto the floor...hahahahah

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