October 17, 2014

Sibu Tales : One Dish only with Plain Rice or Porridge

A distant aunt of mine was a very frugal lady and she was not particularly a good cook. Some nasty relatives criticised her for having "nothing to eat". "Moh noh siak" is not a nice Foochow way of talking about a person behind her back.

I once asked her why she did not learn to cook well.

She answered,"We were poor in the olden days when we did not even have oil most of the time!!"

Foochow women have been brought up to have enough oil, salt, sugar and rice in their cupboard.

But then it was not hard for me in those days to empathise with my loving aunt. Although she came from a poor background she was nevertheless a very kind soul. She would share whatever she had with us, whenever we came to visit. And we would also bring something to her house.

A recent preparation of mine.

One day, as students, my friends and I dropped by her house to give her two gourds from my mother's garden. My friend also gave her some long beans from her mother. Another friend brought some limes from her tree.

Aunt was in the garden tending to her ducks and chickens which she was rearing for sale. She would entertain us with stories of snakes visiting her at night and eating her precious fowls. Her backyard was facing the river which was a good place for reptiles to hide, lay their eggs and breed...Tales of snakes often brought shivers down our spines in those days.

She invited us in for a meal but we declined. One her table was a small dish of anchovies, and onions.

She exclaimed, "Good that you have brought limes. I do not even have vinegar at home. But I do have enough food for all of us. You don't have to go home and eat. Just eat here. "

She looked up to the sky and she said, " Thank you God for supplying enough GRACE for me."

My aunt was a woman who had a grateful heart. Joy was written all over her face. In later years she was very blessed, very blessed indeed.

My friends and I learned a lesson in humility that day.

But I also learned that when a woman truly welcomed her guests to her home, we would be able to feel her genuine welcome and no matter what food she had on her table, her guests would be grateful.

And I will always remember the small dish of anchovies with onions.

Whenever I hear Foochows mention that they only have anchovies with their rice, I would say, "That's the best dish God can prepare for us. We should be grateful that there are small fishes swimming in the sea to provide us with protein!!"

(Foochow metaphors : Kangyu gian - small fry, unimportant person. Siak Kangyu gian - poor people)

(NB, in fact in later years I would always prepare this dish as a side dish for friends and relatives when they come. We must never be too pompous and ostentatious in our lifestyle.)


Anonymous said...

your writing reminded me about a neigbour widow whose family was very poor. as a child, my younger sister and i ran into their house one day while looking for our mom. she did not have anything at home. but she gave us the fried salty peanuts. i thought that was very tasty. i still remember about this incidence after nearly half a century.

Ensurai said...

Yes..indeed childhood impressions remain deep seated in our minds. Our grateful heart plays an important role in shaping our world views. Thanks for sharing. These memories help to arrest the development of dementia...That is why many Chinese with good life experiences do not suffer from dementia (this statement needs referencing...hehahahah)

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