For the A TO Z CHALLENGE, I’m blogging for 26 days in April (except Sundays) based on the alphabet, and my theme is #foodiefiction, inspired mostly by the foods of Singapore.
E is for Egg Tarts
‘The Queen of Hearts,
she made some tarts,
All on a summer day:
The Knave of Hearts,
he stole those tarts,
And took them quite away!”
When Fay first heard the rhyme about the Queen of Hearts‘ tarts in Alice in Wonderland, she thought the tarts were egg tarts, those wibbly wobbly golden yellow egg custards set into a biscuit-like pastry, her favourite dim sum treat.
She never had to request for it. When the cart came around, her grandfather, would give her a nod, and she would ask for two platters of egg tarts, one to eat there, one for her to take home.
Her dim sum lunches with her grandfather had become a monthly treat since she started primary school. Her mum would drop her off at her grandfather’s restaurant every third Saturday at 11am. Her grandfather would be outside waiting for her. The restaurant was on the ground floor of a shophouse in Chinatown. As Fay and her grandfather walked into the restaurant, all the staff and even some of the regular diners would say hello. Someone would inevitably ask about school or remark about how big she had gotten, although Fay doubted that she had grown much since the last month.
They would walk through to the kitchen where she waved hello to the cooks and kitchen assistants. Luckily most of them would just nod, wave a utensil at her or shout hello.
Her grandfather always insisted that she eat proper food before the egg tarts. Some kai lan, he would say, dipping the bright green leaves in the oyster sauce and placing it on her plate. My famous siu mai, he would add, and some char siew bao of course. He would squeeze some cheong fan on her plate, next to the har gao. And Fay would dutifully eat it all. Sometimes her grandfather would eat a bao or a siew mai just so that she would have company. The first time they had dim sum together she had felt so awkward as Grandfather just sat and watched her eat. Her mother explained that as he was at the restaurant everyday, he was probably tired of eating his own restaurant’s food. She had giggled at that. But at their second lunch, had bravely reached out and placed a char siew bao onto his plate. Since then, he would have a few bites to eat as well.
When it came to the egg tarts, he would have one, she would have one and the third would be split in two. They would solemnly eat the egg tarts in silence, then sip some chrysanthemum tea after.
Fay loved these monthly lunches with her grandfather. He treated her like an adult, let her choose the dishes she wanted (although she always chose the same things), she drank hot tea from porcelain tea cups instead of water from plastic cups that most other restaurants provided for children. And more importantly for a seven-year-old, he listened as she prattled on about school and her friends and her many activities like piano and ballet and swimming. Eating egg tarts and bringing extras home was just icing on the cake.
One day, Grandfather didn’t take an egg tart. Fay hesitantly ate hers, wondering if she had done something wrong. She carefully split one of the two remaining tarts and offered half to him. He looked sadly at her and explained that his doctor had told him that he shouldn’t be eating desserts like egg tarts anymore, that it wasn’t good for her health.
“Why don’t you just have my half?” Grandfather said, pushing the plate towards her side of the table.
Fay didn’t quite know what to do. She loved eating the egg tarts partly because it made Grandfather happy but now he seemed so sad. And…was he sick? Was he dying? What was happening to him? She stuffed the half in her mouth then quickly gobbled down the rest, just to get those offensive golden yellow custards off the table, nearly choking on the crumbs.
She didn’t know how to, dare to, ask about his health. So they sat in silence until her mum came to pick her up.
“Don’t forget your egg tarts!” the waitress said.
Fay returned to the table where her grandfather still sat, gave him a big hug and thanked him again for the meal.
Then she told him, “Grandfather, if you can’t eat egg tarts, then I won’t anymore. We’ll do this together.”
He burst into laughter so loud that the receptionist out front craned her head into the restaurant to see what was going on.
“Fay, you really are my favourite granddaughter,” he told her after he finally stopped laughing.
“Grandfather, that’s because I’m your only granddaughter,” she laughed back.
Their lunches still took place every Saturday, but they stuck mainly to the steamed dishes and ate fruits at the end of the meal. Fay still ate egg tarts when she was wasn’t with her grandfather – it isn’t easy for a young egg tart lover to go cold turkey after all.
And she was ultimately disappointed when one day she learnt that the Queen of Heart’s tarts were jam ones. She had liked the thought of bright yellow egg tarts being zigzagged away by the Knave.
Egg tarts are a popular snack/dessert in Singapore. It probably has its roots from the British (a Hong Kong version of the custard tart) or Portuguese (a Macau interpretation of Portuguese egg tarts). The pastry is either a shortcrust or puff pastry and it is filled with a sweet egg custard. Most egg tarts are round but one of the most famous and oldest egg tart bakeries in Singapore (and my personal favourite) makes them in diamond shapes.
What’s your favourite dim sum dish?
(Also I realize my stories are getting longer and longer. So thanks very much for reading!)