Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Memories on Monday "Food"

Monday Memories requests we write about Food.
have that ,
done that,
over done that,
need that,
enjoy that.
Too much food.
It shows.

A memory of special food came to my mind of when my parents took us to Singapore. I was 13 when we moved there and we stayed for just under a year and a half. My Dad was in the Australian army and the year was 1972. It was just after he returned from Vietnam. We found out later that a trip on active duty was a pre-requisite to a posting to Singapore and he had wanted us girls to experience another lifestyle and country. We had lived in Malaysia as babies but of course had no memory of that time. So off we went. I was christened in Penang, but that is another story.
Singapore to us was a gourmet paradise. So many wonderful foods to try, and we did! We had some friends amongst the local community and they introduced us to wonderful food. Food from the night markets and street side stalls. We were warned that those places were unsafe and we should not eat food from them. But... we did and loved it without any ill effects. The satay stalls along the waterfront across from the Padang. Oh Yum, hot spicy and delicious. The market down on Orchard road that was in a big car park, only at night, full of great stalls of all kinds, and all cooked on site in front of you while you waited. The steamboat, cooked in a simmering silvery stockpot in the middle of a rickety table on fold up chairs, in a skinny crowded lane way with light bulbs hanging over head.
There was a big open air eating area near our friend's flat. We often went there for noodles or soup, and I always got sugar cane juice. That was crushed through a thing like an old fashioned washing machine wringer. I tasted it many years later in Sydney and thought it was foul stuff, but when we lived there I loved it. Ricky Wong was our hosts name, and my sister went out with him for a while. Anyway his family adopted us and took us lots of places when we lived there. They would send their driver in a big black Mercedes around to chauffeur my sister and I when we went out. I remember sinking down into it's soft leather seats. Talk about hospitality. Ricky's elder brother Anthony became my big brother, hehe. His Mum and sister used to ooh and ahh over my whiter than white skin and pinch it. Not the sort of skin a teenage girl wants, I never could tan, but to them it was a novelty. Lovely times to remember.
Ricky and Anthony took us to a street vendor stall once and we tasted real birds nest, not the fried noodle type that you usually get called bird's nest. Real bird's nest is just that, birds nest. It is a particular type of bird that makes it's nest from it's dried saliva, very rare and expensive.
I remember once Anthony took me to a huge banquet with him and I was shocked and horrified to learn there was a room out the back of the restaurant. When you were too full you went out there to vomit so you could go back and have more to eat. And No! I didn't use it. The trick was to have just a tiny taste of each course offered and there were many courses. I think there were 20 something. It was the custom to eat and enjoy food offered by your host and to not do so was an insult to them. Also it was a compliment to burp at the table because that meant that you were enjoying your food and also that you left the scraps on the table cloth and made a mess because that meant that you were enjoying your food too. Those table cloths were snowy white and perfectly starched.
We lived in Changi when we were there, in the area that is now part of the Singapore airport. They started building that after we left there.
Just a few blocks from our house and around the corner was the infamous Changi prison. The same one my poor Uncle Roger was held as a prisoner during WW2, before being sent to Burma to work on the Thai Burma railway. He survived and came home, many didn't, he was never a well man due to illness from that part of his life though. I went to a party in there once. Inside the prison. The guards used to live on site. The party we went to was one of the guards children. Dancing and loud 70's teen music.
Anyway, we would hop on the bus and go down to Changi village and there was a curry house type shop down there that we loved. Mum would send us down there to get take away curry. When we went to the village to shop ,we used to go to that curry place and get a bowl of curry gravy and a paratha and tear bits of it up and dip it into the gravy and eat it. We got some looks off the locals until they got used to seeing us around. Or sometimes just have that paratha with lemon and sugar on it. Paratha are India bread type things, sort of like a buttery flaky big pancake, cooked on the griddle. Changi village does not exist anymore. I remember the little wharf there too with those old boats that went out and came back each day with their catch. They didn't look very seaworthy.
And the markets. We would go there to buy our vegetables and fruit. Smells and sights and sounds and colors and, and, and, wonderful. We would buy rambutans, lychees, pawpaws and jackfruits straight from the farmer.
Live animals at the markets were slaughtered on the spot and taken home with you , many didn't have refrigeration so it had to be fresh. Live chickens and other poultry, seafoods, we used to buy big live crabs and take them home and our Amah would cook for us.
There was, (reputedly though it may have been a story to shock us girls), a place in China town where you could go and eat monkey brains while the monkey was still kicking. Ew! Well if it was only a story to scare us , it worked.
Dad , Mum and us girls had a favorite restaurant that was down by the beach at Changi. It was called the South China Seas restaurant. It had great food and was open on three sides, under a big tin roof . We loved to go there and sit by the water and watch the sunset and have our meals. They had the best chilli crab there. I remember that we always had chilli crab. Mmmmmm Yummy. Then we would walk along the beach. The beach being just a narrow strip of sand littered with coconut trees and their associated debris, but it was still a beach and quite close to home for us to get to, a short taxi ride.
I loved to go down to Changi beach and had some friends at the kampong there. I went out with a boy called Ringo, a Malay boy and when I went to his house one day his mum was all dressed up because I was coming and served us tea and tiny cakes on a decorated tray. I was honored. Ringo died in a motor bike accident at the age of just 17 when I was there. I have a lifelong fear or motor bikes and never got on his bike with him. He used to follow the bus I was on and meet me where I got off the bus. Hehe. We would go across the road to the beach and have coconut drinks straight from the coconut. Little boys would climb the trees and cut them down. Then the vendor would chop off the top with a machete, mush it around a bit to cut some of the soft pulp inside then serve it straight from the shell with a straw sticking out the top. Then we would hire little canoe boats and float on the water in them. I loved that. I still love canoes. I remember the sun beaming down and the little canoe, floating, rocking gently with me laying down inside it. Beautiful. Just beautiful.
About a block and a half from our house was another kampong that had a funny little shop. I used to go in there and get the home made ice blocks and tins of jam that was made with eggs and orange and had a strange kind of creamy texture. I guess that is not there anymore either.
I also remember buying these funny pickled sweet and sour apricots from street vendors that I loved but they always made me cough, they almost took my breath away, god knows what preservative they were made with. Another strange snack, bought in little packets, was dried salted cuttle fish that you could chew on for ages and made your breath stink, but tasted very good. I wonder if I would like that if I tasted it now I am an adult. Hehe.
And the chewing gum was called chiclets. And the soft drinks came out of a bottle and were poured into a plastic bag at the shop, they kept the bottle, with a plastic pull string at the top which when pulled shut acted as handles, with a straw sticking out the top.
We also ate dried salted sunflower and pumpkin seeds for snacks. Don't know if I am spelling this right, but we called them kwachi seeds. Good because you had to shell them as you ate them so they took a long while to eat.
Sometimes while we were waiting for the school bus in the mornings an old man would come riding along on his bicycle with a tin box type thing on the side of it and we would buy little bundles of rice, topped with some type of salty dried fish stuff and wrapped up in banana leaves to form a little triangle thing. They were yummy too, but very hot with quite a dose of chilli in them. We took them to school for our lunch. Another old man also came around on his bike selling hot buttered corn on the cob from the back of it. We often bought that too.
At the cricket club in the city they made big platters of fried rice topped with chilli, so so hot, burn your mouth out. Hehe. But we ate all that stuff then. I still have fads every now and then for things with chilli. We often went there with Dad when he played cricket at the Padang and another club in town that I can't remember the name of. It was a life time ago. Singapore has modernised and changed so much since those days.
When we came back to Australia there was Asian food available but nothing of the quality that I had experienced in Singapore. Of course now things have improved. Cities having their own areas where you can get great Asian foods. When we came back to australia we went to visit Wagga (a country town) and were taken to Choy's, the only chinese restaurant in the whole of Wagga. It was very popular and well patronized by the locals, but it served what I came to know as Australian Chinese food. Dumbed down for Australian palates. Nothing like the real stuff. The Malay, Chinese, Indian, Nonya food of Singapore.
We have caught up I am pleased to say, in many ways. In and around the westfield shopping area at nearby Woden town center where we live now, are a plethora of multi cultural foods to be experienced. Very good.
That's all for now.
Love Linda.


Winterwood said...

yes it was like that when I came here to live too... but slowly things have improved in the shops stocking overseas foods!

Josie said...

Hi Linda!
I'm sorry it's taken me forever to get here. It's been one of those weeks, with very little time for blogging. This was a wonderful Memories post! You've had the opportunities in your life to experience other cultures and foods and this all sounds like a wonderful adventure! The two years I spent in Germany introduced me to several wonderful new dishes, but nothing as unique as some of these! What fun memories to look back on! Thank you for sharing them with us, you described it all so well!

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