Tuesday, October 14, 2008

My favouriteTeochew Fish Porridge (Broth)

This must have been in the mid 1970s. That was when I had started working for a few years. I was working late and getting involved in work related activities. It meant late dinner. I could not remember how I came across these food stalls on the street, but I did find them. Since then, it was like my open air dining place.

There were two stalls lined up side by side at Carpenter St. Like many hawkers of yesteryears, these stalls just appeared when the sun set. They sold the same things, fish - pomfret (chiew heu) and Ikan Batang (tabang heu or heu-kao in Teochew). They had their loyal clients. Both sides had their tables always occupied.

For whatever reason, I always had dinner by the stall that was nearer to South Bridge Road. It was almost like my orders had been carved on stone (they don't have PCs in those days). I would always have my bowl of Heu Kao (must have been 70 cents I think) with a plate of duck meat cooked in soya sauce (I have been going around to look for this dish and have never found the same one again). There are other extras such as fish roe. Now earning much, I stuck to my standard pair.

The fish was always fresh. Although the pomfret is the more expensive fish, I preferred the batang heu (Ikan Batang) with its coarse and yet still oily meat. Cooked in teochew style, there was always a piece of the dried fish or two (known as ti-porh) that added the flavour.

Teochew fish porridge or broth (I think the Japanese Zosui might be the nearer description) is not like the Cantonese porridge (jok in Cantonese) or Muay in Teochew (Beh in Hokkien). When one orders the fish porridge, the chef would put his pot on the gas-stove, using a big scoop, he would take one scoopful of the "arm" (the cooked rice water) and put into the pot, and another scoop of cooked rice. When the rice in the water comes to a boil, he then throws in the slices of the fish and let it boil for a few times. And with the ti-porh and other condiments, it is ready for eating. Probably less than 5 minutes' work, or even less. Dipping the freshly cooked fish into a small saucer of light soya-sauce with cut chilli, it was sedap (delicious).

With the stalls having one or two of the pressured kerosene lamps and depending on the street lights, we sat and ate, enjoying the warm night air. People from all walks of life dropped by, probably for supper, unlike me. Towkays in Mercedes dropped by with their girlfriends (I think) or even their "barbers". There were two (maybe only ones in town) barber shops manned by ladies nearby and was a hot favourite with the Towkays. Some could be passerbys and yet some who went pat-tho (dating in Cantonese) who might ended up here for makan (food) before going home.

Alas, such a wonderful place was just too good to be true and soon, the stalls were no longer to be found. And I have lost a good place that saved me from gastric problems. Fish porridge or Heu Muay will never be the same again.

No comments: