Monday, January 14, 2008

Chinese Bowls on the Table

Foochow tableware is very simple. I am referring to the traditional,spartan and simple home of a Foochow family of the 1950's and 60's before the advent of Tupperware, Noritake,Vision,etc.

Grandmother would have the main big soup bowl (called size 5), three of the smaller ones for vegetable, meat and perhaps another vegetable and finally the smallest of the bowls for our rice. Little saucers would be placed on each side of the table for soy sauce. We used very little chillies, or chili sauce. Tomatoe sauce was not at all popular with Foochow children at that time.

The Big soup bowl was for the communal soup, which we would all dip into. Soup was popular with Foochows and we had a few favourites : salted vegetable soup with pork, chicken and ginger soup, egg soup, chow chai soup (preserved vegetable with wine lees), cucumber with salted fish soup and tien tsin vegetable soup.

Poorer families only had one dish with their rice. And that would be the soup.

However most families would serve condiments like , pickled vegetables,fried peanuts, ikan bilies and salted eggs as side dishes or appetizers.

In the 50's and 60's, most families did not have take away for their meals and all food would be home cooked. It was always lovely to see the father and the mother cooking together. Perhaps it was this tradition that most Foochow men could cook very well.

I would mention in particular my Third Uncle, Lau Pang Sing, who was an excellent cook. He would be called upon to help with any Foochow banquet along the Rejang River. And because it was all for the family and close relatives, his service was completely free. For each banquet of usually ten tables he would be working more or less two whole days with the help of a few other relatives. And all would enjoy his dishes.

For all the dishes for the banquet, the biggest of the chicken bowls would be used. One of my favourite banquet dishes was the minced meat balls. And the bowl would come out steaming hot on a wooden tray, served by a very close relative. The banquet would be made more merry by lots of shouting like " Hot! Hot!", "Take Care! Take care", "Step aside! Step aside!"

If any bowl got broken accidentally, some one would shout, " Broken but prosperity will come! " This was because the verb break (puai) in Foochow rhymes with prosperity (chai). Puai puai hai, je huat chai - break a porcelain, together we prosper. This rhymes remind me that Chinese philosophy often relies on the negative being balanced by the positive.

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