In fact we can make it any time, any day and any season in Sarawak. Unlike in olden days China, there was a season to make the tou cheong.
When I visited my great grand ma and grandfather in Sungei Merah, we would often have their homemade soy beans on the table as a condiment. Grand father (Kung Ping) loved the condiments and I remember my great grandma also enjoyed eating her rice with the fermented soy beans. Many old people towards the later part of their lives found it hard to crank up an appetite. And one of the Foochow appetisers in those days was this homemade fermented soy beans. Perhaps it reminded them of old China, and their old village in Fujian (14th district in Fuzhou).
I personally did not quite like it because I did not like the sticky bits in those early days, not that I was snobbish. It was my young and untested taste buds. So instead I would eat lots of the sweet, fried cabbage and poured a large portion of soup into my bowl of rice. My Grandmother Siew used to tell my mum that I was a "Rice girl" or buong loi , an archaic Foochow term meaning "having good appetite for rice".
|Photo from Goggle|
According to Yew Ping, most of my Bintangor cousins who knew Great Grandma's fermented soy beans or tou cheong continue to remember her special preparation. That would include David Tiong especially.
Great Grandma was always pleased whenever one of us said that he or she loved fermented soy bean and that he/she loved only what she made. I think most people cannot reach her standard of making fermented soy beans. Beans were only a few cents a kati in those days and I remember the jar used for storing the fermented soy beans in the Sungei Merah house. Being able to make one's tou cheong in those days was a "must have skill". And that was considered "Nuong Nii" very capable.
Social judgments were painful to the sensitive child in me. I used to empathise with poor students in my school who were shy to eat in public. What did they bring to school? It was not because I had ham in my sandwich, or something great. I could have a bao, or sometimes just biscuits. I thought ikan bilis and some sambal was the best food in the world. But my friends were shy and they would sit somewhere quietly. So we did not pry. Were they having only tou cheong and a bit of salted fish with their broken rice?
When I heard " bad" statements from adults, I felt sad too." Poor people only have fermented brown beans on their table with porridge" and that was a common, discriminating statement to describe how poor people were. Today, I smile when my Malay friends say, "Orang miskin makan sardin sahaja."( poor people eat tinned food.) To me nowadays, tinned food can be too pricey.Tou cheong from Korea is RM18.00!! I will pay a good price if any one can make tou cheong like my great grandmother!!
This preparation of fermented soy beans is probably on its way to extinction in Sarawak as more and more people can get good factory made imports from China and Korea. Even the Japanese products are now being sold in selected stores all over Malaysia.
We Foochows do not say "Make Tou Cheong", we say, " hik tou cheong" because the beans have to be cooked, wrapped up and fermented in its own "heat" for three nights. By the fourth morning, the fine, delicate aroma of the tou cheong will fill the whole kitchen!!
Cheers to Tui Mah...we remember your tou cheong!!