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.
H is for Hokkien Mee
She slaved away in the kitchen, starting dinner preparations early with a rich stock made from blanched pork bones, dried fish, clams and her precious stash of prawn shells. She had saved prawn shells from previous dinners, frozen them until she had a sizable stash for this special dinner. Raw prawns and squid were added to the boiling stock for a few minutes until they were cooked, then set aside to cool.
The perfectly pink crustaceans then had to be peeled. The prawn heads and shells dropped back into the pot to enhance the simmering stock. The smell of the rich meaty seafood stock wafted through the hot cramped kitchen and into the rest of the flat. The windows had been flung wide open in the hopes of enticing in the faintest of breezes. Alas it wasn’t a windy day nor was it a rainy one. It was just a typical swelteringly hot and humid Singapore Sunday. At least it’s not a bad hazy day again, she thought, at least today I can actually open my windows. That at least is something.
As the stock simmered on the stove, she set to work plucking the bean sprouts and washing them, all the while thinking about this feast she was cooking, for the men she adored. Her little brother was on holiday from his university studies in Boston. She hadn’t seen him since last year, as he had spent Christmas break wandering around South America. She followed him on Instagram and envied all the wonderful places he explored, all the food he ate.
She saw her Dad more often, since he lived in Singapore, but on weekends he liked to play golf and mahjong with his kakis. He loved his grandchildren but he wasn’t very kid-friendly – he didn’t know what to do with them, and although she would make suggestions of simple games he could play with two kids under five, he preferred to whip out his phone and let them watch Youtube videos.
So she had made sure on this Sunday that her husband could take the kids over to the in-laws’.
Mum was away in New Zealand. Ever since Dad had retired, Mum started travelling more often. In the past year she had been to China, Hong Kong, Thailand and Myanmar. She suspected that Mum just wanted to get away from Dad who was now home too often.
Mum told her via email that she was silly to cook Hokkien mee. “Just go out and buy some food lah, they won’t know the difference”, she wrote.
But Didi only returned to Singapore once a year. She wanted to make his favourite local food since he was back so seldom. Maybe he would know the difference. He was after all always complaining about the Singapore/Malaysian food he had to put up with in Boston.
It was only when she started looking up recipes for Hokkien mee that it dawned on her this humble noodle dish found at plenty of hawker centres and food courts was more complicated than she had thought.
The beansprouts plucked and washed, the stock at the ready as were all the other ingredients, she checked the time and realized that everything was going according to plan.
Her plan that is, not her brother’s nor her father’s, who turned up half an hour and an hour late. She still smiled and offered beers and finally cut their small talk to usher them to the dining table.
With her father and brother finally seated and famished, so they claimed, she proudly served her homemade Hokkien mee and sat down with a small plate of her own. She had tasted as she cooked and thought it tasted pretty good, and now couldn’t wait to hear their comments.
After a couple of minutes, the first to speak was her father.
“Maybe you can cook the noodles longer next time. A bit tough leh.”
“Not bad but I think can do with some more pepper and soya sauce,” was her brother’s comment.
“Needs some sio bak*!” her father declared.
“Oh! I heard about that one! They serve in a claypot and with sio bak on top right. That’s supposed to be really good Dad. Have you been?”
The talk descended into the depths of hell for her. They started raving about the Hokkien mee that they had eaten at across the island. Then the talk turned to chicken rice, roti prata and durians, her Hokkien mee that she had spent hours in the kitchen cooking and worrying about simply shoveled into their mouths. Mum was right, she really should have just ta-powed some Hokkien mee from the nearby kopitiam.
She decided to just tune them out and finish her homemade Hokkien mee. If they didn’t appreciate it, maybe her husband would. Maybe she shouldn’t have declined his offer to stay around and act as her cheerleader. She really felt like she needed a good Hokkien mee cheer right now.
Hokkien mee is a dish of egg noodles and rice in a stock made from prawns and pork or chicken. It’s garnished with fresh prawns, fish cake, squid, bean sprouts and sometimes pork lard. A squeeze of fresh lime juice and some sambal chili gives it extra zing. It’s said that Singapore-style Hokkien mee was created as early as 1880 by a Hokkien (that is, from the Fujian province of China) immigrant.
*sio bak is a crispy roast pork