Sunday, June 26, 2011

Rickshaw Noodles aka "Kan Chia Mee" or La Che Mian 拉车面

In Hokkien, this is called the "Kan Chia Mee" which means the "pull-vehicle-noodles" or in Chinese La Che Mian 拉车面.

This is a very simple noodle soup prepared and served where ordered (not the usual cook upon order noodles) and hence has thicker gravy and a more tangy taste because of the contents of the yellow noodles.

I suppose it must have been the cheap and easy to eat meal for the rickshaw pullers in the old days. When I asked the lady of this stall at Maxwell Market Food Centre (I wonder if this could well be the only heritage foodstall selling a dish of this kind) how long her stall has been operating. She answered, "60+ years", and without much of a pause, "since 1943". As there was a steady (not heavy) flow of customers, I could not engage her with more questions. She is also selling the mee-sua, another Hokkien cuisine. And I was told that her fried beehoon (rice vermicelli) is very good. There are also other typical southern Chinese breakfast food such as the yam-cake.

I guess, in the 40s, a bowl of the kan-chia-mee must have costed less than 5 cents. (^^). In the 50s, it was in that range. I heard from wife that in the 80s, it was 50 cents a bowl (from this stall) and when I tried it yesterday, it was 80 cents. Not much but good to keep the tummy from growling.

I know that in some temples, where there is an event, the kan-chia-mee is still one of the dishes being served. For convenience, it could be cooked in a big pot and served throughout the day. For many of the older folks, it was a nostalgic trip and they ate with relish.

In Maxwell Market Food Centre, there are many foodstalls that started life in the old Hokkien part of Chinatown. This Kan-Chia-Mee stall was from China Street. During the urban renewal, many of the foodstall in the Hokkien part of Chinatown - China St, Nanjing St and Kiao-Keng-Kao (Outside the Gambler's Den as translated literally) moved to this vegetable market turned food centre. As part of its continuity, (in the old days, there were hardly any names for any of these stalls), the signage at Maxwell Market Food Centre would indicate that that particular stall was from China St or Nanking St. You can do a food heritage journey through these stalls here.

Would the kan-chia-mee be one of the soon-to-be-disappeared food? Like the rickshaw pullers? (^^) Take a look, take a taste ... and get the taste of the lives that some of our forefathers have gone through.

Thanks to James Seah for the lead and National Archives Singapore (NAS), here is a better image of what a kan-chia or rickshaw puller is like.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Those kerosene lamps

On this Sunday evening when wife and daughter decided on a meaty Bak Kut Teh, and well, there are Bak Kut Teh, and Bak Kut Teh, daughter decided on the "young" establishment of Song Fa Bak Kut Teh. This is another classical example of how a typical Bak Kut Teh stall has been transformed into a successful business by the next generation. OK la, the contents are almost the same, only the ambience is different. Well, it has the look and almost the feel, but not the smell. It was cool some more.

But it was the lamps on the wall that brought me back to my young days. It is now retro and hip infact for restaurants to make their places look retro. For me, and probably for those senior citizens, these lamps would bring back memories - fond or otherwise. And I am sure, it will trigger many a granny to share the tales to their grandchildren. Imagine the scholar who studied with the tiny light from this kerosene lamp.

When I was young, before I moved to an HDB flat, I was staying in a so-called pre-war house in this place known as Turn-Tiam-Hung. Compared to these days, the rent was, well, affordable. Our room (with the extended family all sleeping together) was reasonably big to take nine persons, unlike those smaller cubicles in the heart of Gnau-Chair-Sui. But the Bibik (whom we kids had to call her Ko-po - grandaunt) was a strict matriarch. We, the tenants were also like part of her extended family) was very much concerned about expenditure, since we only paid for the rent and that included light and water and well, the bucket system. And so, each night, at 11pm sharp, she or her eldest son would switch off the lights. Only a few tiny lights along the staircase were lit to allow us to find our way to our rooms.

When we were very young, we were terrified of the dark, not to mention the calls of the cats, fighting or mating on the tile roof which was just above our room. And so, we tried to get to sleep by 10pm. You can imagine the importance of the spittoon as many of us, especially kids, would not want to venture downstairs to the toilet. And so, each night, before 11pm struck, Grandma or Ma would light up the kerosene lamp.

The lamp would be hung on a wall. The light was just enough for us to figure out the forms lying on the floor so that we don't step on them if we need to use the spittoon. If anyone of us needs to find something, we would have to carry the lamp. And in the rare occasions when we had to study, well, that was our source of comfort.

In the days when we had to wake up early, like 5am, to get ready to go to school, it was the lamp that would help me to change and get into my school uniform.

Ah the days ... I could still remember the smell of the kerosene being burned as the light flickered in the occasional breeze. I wondered how I survived the hot dark nights.