Monday, August 23, 2010

The Wisdom of My Grandmother. Restoran Kari Kepala Ikan Pudu, Jalan Cerapu, Cheras, KL.

(non halal)

Firstly some hilarious news. PAS Youth Wing head, Nasrudin Hassan has commented that New Year Celebrations and Valentine's Day celebrations are contributing to the high rates of baby dumping during the months of July to September. He has mentioned that "Western" celebrations expose the youths to alcohol and indecent sexual behaviour. All I gotta say to him is to look at the gestational calendar below, and Google which public holiday season it was at the end of September, 2009 in Malaysia. He is definitely not MENSA material and I am sure that somewhere in Religious Texts, there should be something about bearing false witness. I am not sure how he came to this correlation, and do not expect him to have attended courses in Basic Epistemology. Scary isn't it, that this kind of people might actually govern us one day.

My grandmother would have said "Opening your mouth to bite your own tongue". Sometimes it is better to keep quiet.

She was neither a leader in the geriatric wing of a Political Party nor well versed in any religious text, just a simple FOB from China.

Gestational Calendar.

Leong Yik. I have only seen my paternal grandmother write two words in her life, when she needs to sign some forms. Written in a squiggly, childish scrawl, in Chinese characters. She was unschooled, unable to speak any other languages except for Cantonese and a very "kampung form of Cantonese" known as Sei Yap. I have never met my paternal grandfather before. He died young, and left grandma a widow with 9 kids. My father dropped out of school to help take care of his younger siblings.

Despite being uneducated, she is adamant that her children get educated. Among my Uncles and Aunts, the youngest few are the luckiest because they were able to secure tertiary education. The eldest 5 could just completed high school. Scholarship was traditional Chinese style, brother sister scholarship.

My grandmother did not head any big business conglomerate, she held 0.00% equity in Malaysia's economic pie. When she passed away at the age of 96, all she had were a pair of diamond ear rings her children gave her, some jade bangles, some gold chains and a hoard of children and grandchildren spread across the continents to mourn her loss. She was a contented woman, and wanted nothing more than to see her children and grandchildren happy and contented as well.

Restoran Kari Kepala Ikan Pudu whips up very traditional home cooked like Chinese dishes filled with "wok hei". Simple Kailan fried with Garlic. Grandma would have loved this, but would need her false teeth to chew this.

Grandma was a simple woman. It took very little to make her happy. Her edentulous, beaming smile was always a beautiful sight to behold. She was frugal and made do with what she has without complaining. She would often scrape the bottom of the rice pot so as not to waste the rice. With some eggs, dried cuttlefish and veges, she would be able to whip up a beautiful meal. She cooked with love and with passion. Nothing satisfy her more than to see her grandchildren finishing up the dishes and rice and grow up to be healthy and strong.

She wasn't a Michelin Chef.

Taugeh Fried with Salted Fish. Another simple dish that is cooked at home but beautifully executed here. Not too salty and lightly peppered. Grandma loved Salted fish and calls int "Ham-Ngooi". She took it only occasionally.

She always loved cooking simple dishes, and a meal for her must include some soup, vegetables, and some lean meat or fish. Cooked simply and healthily. She indulges in "rich" food once a week on Sundays when our family has a "cook in session" where Aunts will gather in the kitchen to cook some Curry Noodles, Curried Chicken or Fried Meat. She avoids all form of red meat. Despite suffering from Diabetes and TB in the later years of life, she remained healthy until she was about 90, when she broke her hip after a fall.

Throughout her life until her final few years, she got treatment from the Government Hospital and took her medications religiously. Neighbours and relatives will often pester her to take some supplements or herbal cure but she never succumbed to their entreatments that "Western Medication" and the treatment that Junior Doctors of various races in the hospital offer low quality medical care that will harm her more than cure her. After they leave, she will cackle and say to me, "Quacks! Just because they know a few more words than me, they think they are doctors. If all the diseases in the world were cured by some mushrooms, the hospitals would have closed down. Government doctors are paid to help sick people. These supplements peddlers get paid when they sell me stuff."

She never studied predicate logic.

Their "Koo Lou Yoke" is good here too. Sweet and Sour Pork. The Batter is crispy and the sauce has a delightful tinge of sourness. Grandma's favourite when she got to dine outside.

When my Sam Sook (Third Uncle) made some money from a night job, he bought a Television set for grandma. Those days TV sets are a rarity in the East Coast. Only one other house had a TV within the cluster of 7 homes where we used to live. In the evenings, a few of the neighborhood children would come to our house to watch TV. My third aunt is rather concerned about having strange children in the house and often locked the doors before switching on the TV.

My grandmother stopped her from doing that. "People will get jealous and hate us for not sharing especially if they are from a different from us," she said. "It does not matter that your brother had to keep two jobs to buy me the TV, but other people will say that we have a TV and they don't. If we don't share, they will make up a lot of excuses hate us. Such is the nature of humans."

She was never a Yale Law Professor that is admired by some loud rightist group with limited vocabulary.

"Fu Yee Yau Mak". Fu yee is fermented bean curd. Another favourite of my grandma, who liked to take Fu Yee with porridge.

I have never understood the obsession about Amy Chua. Maybe a quote from the book lifted from wiki will help put things into perspective. Also, "overnight democracy will empower the poor, indigenous majority. What happens is that under those circumstances, democracy doesn't do what we expect it to do -- that is, reinforce markets. [Instead,] democracy leads to the emergence of manipulative politicians and demagogues who find that the best way to get votes is by scapegoating the minorities."

In other words, the threat is actually from the politicians and not from the income disparity alone. Racism.

Ethnic clashes may have arisen due to uneven distribution of wealth, but governments have been overthrown when they were perceived to be unjust and oppressive. Especially there is a great disparity of income between those in power and yet the citizens were living in hardship. French and Russian revolution are examples.

Steamed Range Fed Chicken. My Grandma used to cook this during feast days and New Year. The chicken had to be slaughtered at home. No frozen Chicken for her.

We used to have Chinese language lessons on Saturdays in School. The teachers from Chinese schools are as alien to me as a Masai Warrior in my school. Coming from a background in Malay medium school, I found my Chinese Language teacher, Mrs. Ding to be a humourless, anal retentive old fart who was very liberal with the measuring ruler. Learning was by rote, and the writing had to follow prescribed strokes. For a scatter brained and playful child that I was, it was two hours of hell every week. We chanted the same pages from the textbook the whole year (to her credit, I can still chant the first few pages). I played hookie after a few months and refused to attend the Chinese Language classes. My Mother raised a big ruckus.

Claypot Curry. Despite the name of the Restaurant, this was my least favourite dish. Lovers of the sourish tamarind laced curry with traditional Bunga Kantan and Daun Kesom will not apprecaite this heavy version with Coconut Milk.

It was Grandma who rescued my ass from being splayed by the whipping cane. My hysterical Mum was going on and on about how I will not be Chinese by not knowing Chinese Characters and Mandarin. My Grandma retorted that she does not know how to read and write, and can only speak Cantonese. And how dare her daughter in law imply that she is not Chinese? Case closed.

A few afternoons later she said to me, "You are now Malaysian, and the most important thing is to learn things that will equip you with skills and languages that will help you survive in this country and be a useful man. Being Chinese is not being able to recite Confucius by memory like an ancient scholar and show it off occasionally. There is nothing great about being a parrot. Being Chinese is the ability to weather any storm unscathed and being resilient. Throughout history the Chinese has been oppressed by the Chinese, the Mongols, the Manchus and the Caucasians but somehow survived and manage to do well."

She was never a Chinese Educationist.

Sambal Prawns. Malaysian Chinese Fusion Dish. How I wished our leaders work hard and unite against Racism. Their silence in this matter is deafening. We seem to have more breakers than makers.

There you are, a little snippet about my grandma. An uneducated woman from China, widowed at a very young age, with a child like logic and very strong disposition. If I were asked to give up all my meals at Fine Dining restaurants to be able to go back in time to taste her cooking one more time, I will do it. To chat with her for an afternoon while she sits on her Lazy chair listening to her Cantonese Opera (her entire collection was about 15 vinyls) would placate my restless spirit. I would love listen to her reminding me of frugality and hard work again, to be modest and considerate, with random tales from the China she grew up in and the hardships she had to endure. She used to say how life was so much better here compared to China, and how we should grow up to be useful citizens. How we should be patient even through tough times.

How it is so difficult to make something and how easy it is to break things.

I cannot boast of a Grandmother who flies to London and Hong Kong to have meals in the poshest restaurants. Neither did she stay in Million Dollar Mansions with drivers and posh object d'art in the house bearing expensive gifts. The most expensive gift she gave me were her little pearls of child like wisdom. I wished I appreciated her more and followed her advice to the letter. It would have saved me a lot of distress.

Thank you Sky, for reminding me that a great chef can whip up a beautiful dish with just an egg and some rice, because I immediately thought of my Grandma who fed me during those lean years.

Restoran Kari Kepala Ikan Pudu,
9G, Jalan Cerapu,
Off Jalan Cheras,
Kuala Lumpur.


Sean said...

Reading this inevitably reminded me of my own maternal grandmother, who's in her late 80s now, and spent her childhood in an orphanage cos her mom couldn't afford to take care of her, and after she married, reared chickens and took other odd jobs to help my grandfather support their five children ... It's kinda sad to think about how ppl of their generation had to struggle ... we're definitely a pampered, ungrateful lot in comparison...

"Joe" who is constantly craving said...

such a beautiful piece. sadly i can't seem to remember such vivid details that i had with my grandmothers, simply because we didnt really grow up together.

J said...

Thanks for a beautiful post.

(I miss my grandparents dearly - I wish I had had more time with them)

thule a.k.a leo said...

Ah! Your post reminds me on my grandmother who sadly had passed away a few years ago! I was very close with her but it broke my heart to see her struggled with lung cancer till her death... but I promised her that I'd live a happy life as she wanted all her children and grandchildren to be happy like her (when she was young)

qwazymonkey said...

Thanks for sharing this story with us. Your grandma was a kind, wise and loving person.

Btw, I thought you don't eat Chinese food? Hehe :P

Thailand Club said...

this is a beautiful post, both the description and photos, and the first four dishes r also some my favorites :-)

Thailand Club said...

and the steamed range fed chicken no frozen my most favorite childhood dish

HairyBerry said...

although we now have more than the generations before us, i wonder if we are any wiser. it's a thought worth reflecting. your post is wonderful, paranoid android. i enjoyed reading it every much.

Paranoid Android said...

@Sean: It amazes me how the previous generation could make do with so little.

@Joe: In that sense I guess I am lucky.

@J; Hugs back

@Thule: I am sure you have fond memories of her...

@Qwazymonkey: :p

@TC: Amazing, isn't it. How we always treasure the simplest dishes.

@Hairyberry: Yo! Thanks man.

UnkaLeong said...

Makes me wonder if all Grandma's attended the same finishing school, for your lovely ode to your Grandma; reminded me of mine. *hugs*

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