What’s the most elaborate, complicated meal you’ve ever cooked? Was it a triumph for the ages, or a colossal fiasco? Give us the behind-the-scenes story (pictures are welcome, of course).
Unfortunately, it never crossed my mind to take a photo of this dish which was taught to me by my late grandmother whom I lovingly called Mama.
Mama had many peranakan (straits born chinese) dishes that would cause all our family, relatives and close friends to deliberately visit our home during meal times on festive occasions and birthdays.
So Mama had to singlehandedly plan all the dishes and will engage only a few of her trustworthy and skillful helper which was usually only my grand aunt. So that was why I get roped in to do some menial tasks like grate coconuts and squeeze the milk out, peel potatoes and hard boiled eggs and remove roots of bean sprouts. It was long and laborious hours in the kitchen.
I was never taught how to cook the whole dish until Mama was too old and weak to do the chores or cook for us. She decided to tell me what to do so I became her hands, nose, mouth and eyes. Step by step, each ingredient from peeling, chopping or slicing onions and garlic to how many coconuts to make the amount of milk needed just to make chicken curry.
The basic ingredients required would be coconut, small red onions, garlic, salt, ginger, curry powder for chicken, cooking oil, chicken pieces, potatoes and eggs. Not a long list but the preparation of the ingredients was laborious. Then came the mixing of the curry powder with the coconut milk to make an even and smooth paste. This requires patience and constant slow mixing with a wooden spoon.The small onions and garlic must be peeled and sliced thinly. Potatoes and eggs pre-boiled to cook and peeled.
The cooking part was where Mama would tell me to fry the onions in the big pot with oil till its lightly brown and fragrant, then add the garlic which gets brown much faster. Then add the curry paste in and stir it evenly. The fire should be not too hot or it would burn and spoil the taste. Mama would then ask me to wait till the smell of curry becomes strong then it’s time to add in the chicken pieces and stir fry the paste with it evenly. Add a little water and stir until it simmers for about ten minutes.
I think I must stop here as it feels almost like a recipe book now. It was the process of smelling, seeing, estimating that Mama taught me to make her wonderful chicken curry. Everything was measured by her own estimation and not spoons, cups or weighing scales. The sequence was important as well as how the ingredients were prepared. I believe it was her tender loving care and hard work that made all her dishes so yummilicious beyond measure. We all still yearn for them but no one or restaurant has ever matched hers.