July 30, 2013

Great Grandparents: Personal Dishes or Sai Ka Chai

My great grandfather practised a special chauvinist (?) Foochow traditional table etiquette which has since disappeared. But it was a practice brought about by the most pragmatic measures. The breadwinner or the patriarch of the family should be given the best food in the family.

In the olden days, the breadwinner (male of course) had one or two dishes prepared by his wife or maid for his personal meal. The other dishes like soup and vegetables were "common family dishes" for every one to partake.

Today, this is done in a different way but it is based on the same theory. The VVIP table is served the best food which is different from the normal fare.


My great grandmother would personally cook two, small and dainty, dishes for his every meal. The special dishes could be any of the following : Pork ribs with black beans, chicken with soy sauce, brown beans and pork slices and steamed minced pork and egg.
Photo is goggled (to be replaced when I cook my own)

The special vegetables which go with these meat dishes were lettuce fried with small slices of meat, or cabbage and the various kinds of beans. Sometimes it could be preserved long beans cooked with a bit of prawns.

Children and even the wife could not any of these two dishes which were reserved for him, placed next to his rice.

In Foochow this is called "Sai Ka Chai" which means private, individual or personal dishes.( In later years when he was old an frail in his 80's food was brought to his room and he would eat at his small table away from naughty children and other members of the big household.)

Being brought up in this kind of household, I would naturally know how to have my Foochow table manners.

When Great grandpa was happy with any one of the children or grandchildren, he would pick up a piece of food from his personal dishes and "reward" the deserving person. How wonderful it was to receive such a gift of food.

This article is in no way a criticism of old Foochow ways but a personal record /documentation of memories of relatives  who have lived in those days with my great grandparents in Sibu and elsewhere.

(Thanks to Goggle for these photos. I shall be cooking these recipes soon and will replace my own photos to go with the post...thanks.)

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