March 11, 2012

Old Foochow/Cantonese Kuali and Eating Crabs

My son's treasured fine in Perth - a 36 inch Chinese kuali

An old kuali and crabs? How are they related? Read on......

Eating of crabs would always bring back great memories of one's childhood in Sarawak.

And in the olden days our mother had used a huge kuali like the one above. Incidentally my son picked up the kuali (photo) from a roadside in Perth and he converted it into a bbq set by putting a wire mesh above the kuali which serves as a base for the charcoal fire!!

How times have changed. People in the past would never throw out a kuali as good as the one he picked up.

Several points in our history could be shared here.

My mother would scrape the bottom of the kuali  at least once a week so that the kuali heated up better and cooking was faster. The soot at the bottom of the kuali was called "Yian turn" and the black stuff is actually carbon from the wood fire. Ramin wood scraps were the best for cooking.(By the way the Yian turn guong is the glass tube of the oil lamp.) My second sister would be the one scraping the soot on my mother's behalf and I would be the one chopping the wood. Thinking about this makes me smile only.

 used on oil lamps to prevent the flame from going out)

This kind of kuali was best for steaming - a huge fish was easily steamed and chickens could also be double boiled. A casserole pot could be placed in the middle of the kuali and water poured into it. Covered up the kuali became a huge steamer!! My grandmother enjoyed steaming his Yam Kuih and dumplings. Later in life she would bemoaned the passing of the wood stove and the huge kuali.

A small fire would keep the stove warm. And food placed on the top of the stove would be warm enough  without any reheating. I remember that even the soup left near the stove would be warm enough for us when we were late coming home after school. Our kang kong soup would always taste nice and today I wonder how it was possible for my mother to keep the vegetables so green and fresh!!

Stir frying using a huge kuali like this was done in a jiffy. And I remember the fast and quick way my mother cooked her greens. So simple and so delicious!! The best dish was beansprouts which came out fresh and crunchy and in seconds.

But best of all was the infrequent times we had when our father would bring back a few crabs from the sea. Sibu is about 80 miles from the sea so in those days crabs were not sold very often. There was no road transport to the sea . A motor launch would take l day and 1 night to reach Belawai. Today it  takes only 20 minutes!

We all remember the way my mother cooked  the crabs using lots of eggs to stir fry. A few squishes of soy sauce and ginger juices would bring out the flavour of the fresh crabs !! And in the next few days we would be eating our rice with the sauce which was sweetened by the succulent flesh of the crabs!! This was really really good Foochow style of cooking crabs. To this day when we think of it...our salivary glands would work over time..(Foochow say..Lou Lang..)

Strangely I developed an allergy to crabs for a few decades after that but all of a sudden recently I found myself eating crabs quite safely.

Thus I am beginning to enjoy eating soft shelled crabs and some chili crabs (Singapore style).
But the best crab is the deep fried crabs with salted eggs which the Rainforest Restaurant of Miri does very well. (Shown in the photos above).

today people are lucky because of the ease of transport. Planes come in with boxes of crabs from Sabah and Lawas. Mini Pick Ups bring crabs from Belawai to Sibu. In Kuching crabs are obtained easily from the coast and lorries bring them to the restaurants in the city within the hour!! This is how fresh some of our Sarawak crabs can be. We are lucky indeed but we do have to pay a good price for our crabs.

Eating crabs is messy. You do have to use your fingers. And if possible always remember to wear a dark T-shirt because the crabs can give you lots of splatters. Eating crab is great with good conversation. If you do not have a good group of friends do not order crabs..because if you are the only one enjoying the crabs and cracking the hard shells with your eat...your quiet friends would be giving you the eye...after all they would find no good reason why someone could enjoy such a messy food.

You should take such friends to fine dining places where they could use knife and fork..and food which have no bones at all.....Such friends would not be amused when you find a chicken wish bone and wish to break it at the table with a friend!!

But a good crab meal is a good family event!! Whether it is at home or in a restaurant...Cracking of shells..and cracking of jokes...and of course going home with a stomach full of crabs and lots of memories for the future to treasure!!

Our generation should help our next generation build up good memories.

(By the way it is hard to find this kind of kuali now.....)


mezzo solo said...

i remember when my aunty used to cook/steam rice with this kind of kuali...the rice is always "just nice" and fragrant to eat. so many things to remember ...

Anonymous said...

then you need the "dian cheng" made of split bamboo pieces to clean the "dian."

there was also belief that the soot is very poisonous. if you accidentally step on it, you will get the "ding niu sia" - the snake around the waist.

there was rumour that you would be killed if a snake made a full round at your waist. my grandpa knew how to cure the snake. he had a needle, burnt over the fire (i think this was sterilization) and put it to one of the backbone vertebra. he count the number precisely. the dark blood would come out and within days, the snake was gone (dried up). some neighbour kids were treated by my grandpa and he cried loudly when the needle is put into the vertebra. i caught twice the snake while small, and my grandpa killed it for me.

14-doo boy

Ann said...

Singapore chilli crab, I am quite good cooking it. eggs is the secret.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Mezzo Solo...yes..the big kuali can really steam rice well...

Sarawakiana@2 said...

14 doo boy...
thanks for reminding me about the dian cheng...Haven't seen one for a long time. I hope I can still photograph one...
By the way the Shingles story is fantastic!! Never heard something like that!! Thanks. Many people get shingles today and cannot find good cures. They usually suffer a lot.
Was your grandpa very famous in Sibu or somewhere else?

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Ann...thanks for the tips...I have not cooked that Singapore recipe yet...slowly but surely I will try..I have never cooked my own crabs...ever...always the assistant cook.

Ann said...

make sure they don't attack you. Once, even though the claw has come detached from the body, it still hung on to my thumb. My best memory of my Sis E and her husband, cooking crab.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

That's funny...yes I am afraid of crabs clawing...and crawling...with all the claws wide open..and ready to pinch.

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