“Mama’s buah keluak was really super sedap!” “Aiyoh, her hati babi bungkus! That was something special. No one makes them like hers, so big, and so full of flavour and spice!”
That is how the conversation always goes, always revolving around the legendary culinary skills of my mother. My dad gets scarcely a mention. To make up for it, I try to sneak him into the conscious recall of my sisters, nephews and nieces by telling and re-telling his love for fried pig brain. Yes, you read it right – fried pig’s brain. It was so calorific and so cholestoric that my mother allowed him to have it only occasionally.
She would have to make a special order at the market as that offal was rarely eaten, even for us Asians who eat stuff that Andrew Zimmerman calls bizarre.
The humblest of ingredients became magical feasts in her creative hands. Nothing was ever simple or simply done and there were no short cuts to be had to ensure that euphoric, explosive climax when tongue meets food in the mouth! Given mummy’s culinary prowess, how could anyone of us, compete? At least, my eldest sister, Fan is still upholding the Peranakan cooking tradition and that is a wonderful thing! So, as we gather around the table, grateful for the yearly opportunity to taste your home-cooked Peranakan cooking, we probably know deep in our hearts that as far as the Yeo sisters are concerned, none of us is capable enough to take over her rolling pin and lesong.
So that is why mother continues to hold court in our memories, and not dad, around the dinner table. The recollection of her cooking by her daughters, grandsons and grand-daughters is both a celebration and a mourning of a skill honed to perfection and an art lost forever. Today it lives in the taste buds of our memories but when we, too, pass on, even that will be gone.
No Room for Mama nor her Sanggul by Florence Keh