August 1, 2014

Sibu Tales :Fish Soup with Chow Chai

A huge patin fish...(Googled photo)
My maternal grandmother loved different kinds of Fujian soups. And one of the best was the Chow Chai Fish Soup.

As my Third Uncle would often supplement their food by going fishing in the evenings, very often, his catch would be at the dinner table as early as 6 p.m.

Foochow rubber tappers in those days ate dinner early so that they could be up as early as 3 a.m. and head for the rubber gardens.

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We used to have an expression, "Go early and wear a Tu Mah Yian or headlamp..." . Not that I was a rubber tapper myself. But staying with my cousins all those years during the holidays impacted me at lot. I would wake up early like them but then went to sleep for a little while more. Mid morning the younger ones would be at the rubber sheet shed to help with the preparation of rubber sheets. We would enjoy stepping on the coagulated mass and stepping them until they were thin enough to be rolled.

For years this expression of wearing a Tu Mah Yian indicated how early we were.  Hence many of us who had rubber tapping experiences we would understand the meaning of rising early in the morning. Actually , many of us, until today, cannot sleep after the sun has risen.

When the evening came and the tide was high, we were full of expectations. Because high tide would mean fish or prawns. And the water would be clearer for our laundry.
By five, most of the ladies in the village would be in the jetty washing their clothes. It was hard to get rid of the latex stuck in the shirts or blouses. Hence the rubber tappers would wear the shirts or blouses which were made from flour sacks. Those were very strong and hardy and good for many many washing.

It was moments like this that my uncle and cousins would be fishing around the jetty, or a little above the smoke house. A net or a line could bring in a good harvest.

The Chow Chai could also be home made (made by pickling mustard green with ang chow) or bought in the market in Sibu.  Grandma would take a bundle of the limp chow char out of the jar, squeeze the liquid out, and close the jar, which had a cloth and wood cover. If the chow chai was low in supply she would loudly exclaim, "Next trip to Sibu, we will get more chow chai!!"

Our food was centred around a lot of preserved meats, eggs, and vegetables. 

Patin is a good kind of river fish which can grow to a big sized creature weighing more than 8 kg!! But my uncle seldom would get such a big one. Patin has white flesh and some people claim that it has a muddy smell. But when washed carefully and cooked with chow chai which gives a sourish taste, the fish flesh becomes very firm and sweet.

Most of us are good at eating fish with lots of bones. Our tongue can easily separate the flesh from the bones and in no time, we can spit out the bones...That's kungfu eating!!

1 comment:

Ann, Chen Jie Xue 陈洁雪 said...

I wonder if there are still such big fish from Rejang River.

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