Thursday, February 07, 2008

laksa and other stories

Foochow women compete brilliantly. We also try our very best in everything we do. Furthermore we make a lot of things from scratch to cut down operational costs. Thus the "kiasu" spirit is well and alive amongst us. However I prefer to call it the "Can Do" spirit, long before our famous "Malaysia Boleh" came into being.

A friend of mine told me this story of how a very enterprising young Foochow lady learned how to make clothes by talking apart a dress and sewing it back when she was only ten, because her adopted mother did not allow her to learn dress making. She made two dresses using this method. By 14 she was already a part time dress maker for a local towkay-tailor. She did not complete her Primary Six,having found learning in a school too difficult. When she saved enough money, she went to Singapore, this time with the blessing of her family, for a tailoring course. She is now in Kuala Lumpur, well married and happy . Yes, still making clothes.

My own maternal grandmother learned how to tailor her own samfoo by getting one whole bale of cotton and imitated my grandfather's cutting. It is very interesting that she never really used the sewing machine very much. She sewed her samfoo tops and made her own cloth buttons by hand Every one who knew her often admired the stitches she used to sew her black brocade samfoo pants. They looked like machine made. Years later when I went to Cambodia and saw many tailors in their stalls working on clothes by hand, I realised how fine my grandmother's workmanship was. Today most of us have lost that art of hand sewing.

Here is the story of how a Foochow wife made her own laksa having discovered that she liked it and her children liked it too. She used her own ingredients and put a lot of coconut milk into the broth and added a bit of curry powder and belachan. It turned out to be some kind of prawn and chicken curry bee hoon. Well the family liked it so much that every Chinese New Year, she will serve her Foochow coconut milk bee hoon. I had some of it during one charity sale. It was really good. Now this has become her secret recipe.

And as laksa is not part of our Foochow cuisine, we have delightfully included it in our festive menu. And since mixing with many Hokkiens, especially those from Kuching some of us have learned to make our own laksa paste , the less oily type. Here is a very rough recipe. Add a few intelligent pinch here and there of your favourite aromatics.

Home made laksa paste
15 shallots
l clove garlic
4 candle nut
l ringgit pack of sesame seeds (more if you like)
20 dried chili
some salt
1 cup crushed/pounded peanuts
2 pieces of lengkuas
dried shrimps/prawns

2 stalks of lemon grass
1 tbsp pepper
some sugar
some MSG if you like

1/4 cup cooking oil

Blend the above ingredients one at a time. Or use the humble pestle and mortar.

1. Fry the shallots in a little oil until fragrant, Add in the rest of the ingredients.
2. Add in more oil to make a paste. Cook slowly.

By trial and error you will come up with your special edition of laksa paste. (I add some belachan from Bintulu) the Sarawak Laksa Paste is a trade secret, so we need to develop our own. Perhaps yours could be better than the branded Twin Swallow paste!

Would you tell me your laksa recipe when you become successful? Let me know.

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