November 16, 2012
Steamed Bread with Butter and Kaya
My mother and her siblings grew up in the Nang Chong Village of the Rajang Basin, which in the 1930's-50's was a rich agricultural area producing rubber and fruits as well as vegetables. All the Foochow rubber tappers then were themselves subsistence farmers.
The then Brooke Government and later the British Colonial government were not able to provide the best of medical facilities and especially dental service. Fuyrthermore tooth paste with flouride was not at all available. Most people made their own toothbrushes from wood and other materials. Mum used to tell us that she and her siblings when they were very young used salt to wash their mouth after they had brushed their teeth.
Tooth brushes were sold but they were used sparingly.
Some of the poorer relatives even used their own fingers!! An aunt was very clean and she used a small towel to clean her teeth one by one. Of course some people never brushed their teeth.
Thus people all over Sarawak who are now in their 70's nd 80's and even older have very poor dental health. My mother is one of them.
When she was only 30, my father granted her one special wish - to have all her bad teeth extracted by a good western trained dentist in Kuching Dr. Chai. Dr. Chai after examining her teeth shook his head and said that all of them had to come out. And it would also help her have less headaches. And then she had dentures fitted. I remember neighbours coming around to admire her "artificial teeth". And we were so proud of her. She could give a good smile and she did not need to hide her front teeth with a lacey handkerchief. How much must she have suffered!!
And in a special corner of our kitchen we would see a glass containing her dentures . We children were told not to mess with that or we would have our just desserts.
As she was a good cook, she started cooking food which could be eaten by her. No more tough pieces of meat. She would steam food, she would chop meat into small pieces and she would braise ducks until they were chopstick tender.
But the most significant item daily on the table was her steamed bread with melting butter and a smooth layer of dark brown (from burnt sugar) kaya which my father would lovingly ordered from the Hainanese coffee shop in town.
Later Yeo Hiap Seng started to produce tinned Kaya. We also had those orangey kaya. But nothing could quite beat the coffee shop kaya.
Till today my mum who is now in her 80's she still enjoys her steamed sliced bread. Two slices every morning. Noodles will be eaten by her if she likes at about ten. Our Foochow lunch is at 12.30 and dinner is at 5.30. She has been keeping the Foochow meal times of yesteryears.
The smell of steamed bread always reminds me of my mother and her butter and kaya - A UNIQUE Sarawak flavour.