Sunday, November 30, 2008

Cantonese Rice Porridge

Chinatown has streets and streets offering foods, of all kinds. And yet, we could not seem to decide on one that the whole family could agree. Temperature, humidity, state of mind, environment - all contribute towards a state, and it is when each is different states, it is tough to come to a concensus. Ah, there is this particular food that we have yet to really try as a family. 

Because Papa is a Hokkien (minnan), it is muay or beh (depending it is Xiamen, ZhangZhou, QuanZhou or for that matter Teochew/ChaoZhou dialect). Jok (in Cantonese) or Zhou is Cantonese and since Mama is Cantonese (although Zhong Shan would be more accurate), it would be great to explore this side of the cuisine.

Until "Superbowl" came to Singapore, Jok was just a street stall food. Of course, the 1970s' rave of HongKong Tim Sum (Dim Sum) brought along the pei-tan (pitan or century egg) jok. 

In my early working days when I could afford just enough to have jok for dinner, enroute to night classes, the jok stalls along Smith Street was almost like a default to me. The cooling evening air helps in taking away the perspiration gathering on my forehead as I "wallowed" into the porridge. My favourite was with a Yi-Tao Jok (Fish head porridge) or a Yi-Nam (Fish belly porridge) Jok. And there is the inevitable plate of Yi-Sung (raw fish).

Eating on the streets with pass vehicles, cars and bicycles, pedestrians - many looking for dinner and many were often influenced by watching how the diners were enjoying the jok - was almost like being an exhibitionist. (^^) Distractions apart, I had to make sure none of the fine fish bones escape and sink them into my throat.

Ah, those came rushing back as I sat with the family waiting for our jok. This is no joke, this porridge stall at the corner coffeeshop (of the Ang Kuei Association Building) between Keong Saik St and New Bridge Rd, actually includes GST in the bill. The queue seemed endless, but the movement was fast. No tempers. They had perfected a system. The diners queued up to make their orders - which is quite an array to choose from, from liver to cuttlefish to fish head and fish, chicken to the specialty, frogs in the pot, clay pot. Within minutes, no more than 10 minutes, the bowls of steaming hot porridge arrived. One has to be extremely careful with the boiling porridge. I could almost swear that they are more than 100C!

The art of enjoying a good bowl of porridge is to eat it slowly and not breaking into a sweat! Ah, it is a tough call, but it does not prevent anyone from enjoying such a hot bowl in a hot and humid evening.

The days of 70 cents or S1.00 porridge are gone, but the wonderful memories remain. Except for wonderful Pig Liver porridge which seemed different - somehow I find those in HongKong the best - the rest seemed to help us keep the food and tradition in a standstill.