Happy Lunar New Year y’all!!! (And happy Valentine’s Day if you celebrate it!) Chinese New Year has always been a tasty and food-filled tradition for me and this year hasn’t been any different. Most of my childhood memories are closely associated with food, and growing up in a food obsessed culture, it’s not hard to see why.
Every Sunday afternoon my mom would bring me to music class, and on the way there, there used to be a really popular Beef Kway Teow stall which had queues going around the block. As the class was at 1pm, we would often visit that stall for lunch, and I would always top off my Beef Noodles (dry) – with it’s thick gravy, fragrant toasted peanuts and crunchy salted vegetables – with extra chilli sauce with its tangy undertones and capsaicin kick, and cinchalok – which is an incredibly tasty condiment made of salted krill, chilli, shallots and plenty of lime. A taste bud explosion, I love the combination of the silky noodles drenched in thick gravy, textured with tender pieces of beef, and punctuated with the high notes of chilli and cinchalok.
Hawker centres are often a crazy maze of people driven by hunger. Besides the dozens of stalls – some selling similar food – vying for your attention, you have to navigate getting a table, not losing your dining companions, and making sure that your table does not get commandeered by other, louder groups.
So why go to a hawker centre? Often the food is wayyy better (and cheap! $3 is often enough to get you a meal), and really, isn’t good food meant to be paired with the appropriate atmosphere?
Although these lovely morsels aren’t anywhere near to all of what hawker centres in Singapore have to offer, these are certainly some of my must-haves when I visit home.
When I was little, my mother used to put me in a pram and take me for a walk to Seletar Market. There, there was a friendly matronly lady who, upon seeing that I liked the Fried Carrot Cake (Cai Tow Kuey), used to have a plate ready whenever my mother wheeled my pram to a table. Fried Carrot Cake is so named because of the little pops of diced salted radish that give the dish its characteristic taste. Add in fried egg, and diced rice cakes and there you have it! It comes in a white version and a black version, with the black version having the addition of dark soy sauce and sweet soy sauce. Unfortunately the market has since been torn down in favour of high rise apartments, but I still remember it fondly as a big part of my childhood.
When I was older, I attended a kindergarten that was part of the childcare programme organized by my mother’s workplace. The building that my mom worked in was located conveniently near Amoy Street Food Centre, where a middle aged man with a round belly and a white singlet dished up the first food that I was truly addicted to – Chee Cheong Fun. A rice flour mixture is first steamed into thin sheets of noodle, then rolled. Usually served with a sweet, thick sauce, I now prefer to unravel the rice noodles and toss it in a mixture of soy sauce and sesame seed oil. The silky noodles carry the hint of salt from the soy, and the fragrance from the sesame seed oil. These plain rice noodle rolls are sold in most Asian stores in Australia as well, if you fancy steaming them and dressing them yourself at home. =)
Food, to me, is a great conveyor of memories, and these are foods that give me constant (and enjoyable) flashbacks.
What are your childhood favourites?