Monday, 1 December 2014

What A Dish !

Yesterday was one of those days, that made me remember and reminisce about the past when I ordered this dish which my mom used to make, at this restaurant in this new mall at Tanjong Katong. The moment I tasted it, my heart was once again filled with gladness. That was one of the best home cook comfort meals she ever prepared for us when she stayed with us. Then I was filled with wistfulness that I didn't attempt to cook this at all and my children missed out on their grandma's cooking. My son took an instant liking to the dish when he tried it. This is not an item that usually appear on a restaurant menu. Since we were there at this Malaysian restaurant owned by this lady from Penang, I had the opportunity to eat this again after a lapse of twelve years. She also shared with me on how to cook it and said it was pretty easy to make. The dish is none other than Chai Buey (Hokkien) or Suen Lat Gai Choy (Cantonese). Translated will be Spicy, Sour Mustard Greens.

酸 辢 芥 菜
This dish broth is stewed from leftovers of lavish meals during festivities like Chinese New Year and sometimes from a relative's wedding banquet. Those days aunties were not shy about asking for them after the dinner came to an end. The odds and ends like roast pork, chicken or duck will be thrown into the pot to simmer for hours before adding other ingredients consisting of salted vegetable, tamarind peel, dried chilies, ginger to enhance the flavor. Final main ingredient will be the mustard green so the vegetables will not be overcooked. This vegetable has broad stems with succulent leaves and has a bitter taste. My mom would add extra seasoned chicken wings into the pot just for the kids.

How this dish came about, sounded like a folklore as it happened in the Imperial Courts of China which my mom told me. One day the Emperor was about his palace grounds. There was this aroma coming from the kitchen which kept him wondering what the cooks were up to. Out of curiosity, he headed for the kitchen and wanted to know what this dish was. How was it that it has never been serve to him before. He then ordered the cooks to serve him the new dish when ready. The cooks were reluctant at first but when pressed for an answer about ingredients of the dish, they sheepishly admitted to the Emperor that it was cook with the leftovers from the banquets and feasts for the royalty, generals and ministers held at the palace. Imagine there would be abalone, scallops, mushrooms added in the concoction of this rich appetizing soup with a tangy and savoury taste. Such forbidden foods sneaking into the pot by the cooks were liken to hidden treasures of the Forbidden City. Even the Emperor would vouch that it was worthy of an imperial culinary delight.

Before I sign off, I remembered my primary school teacher was pointing out a mistake a girl made in her composition. The girl described her mother as a good cooker, L0L. I must visualize this dish on my dining table. Hopefully when I see this vegetable in the market, I will not think twice about getting it. Happy Holidays to You ! ! !


* The dish above no longer on their menu.
   updated on 15/6/2016.

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