Saturday, April 26, 2008

Food or Tiffin Carriers

I have arranged all these tiffin carriers in a chronological order from antique (Raymond Kwok) to modern (source : ebay) in anti clockwise manner. They are as dear to my heart, as a Foochow or Chinese woman, as to any Asian woman in this world.

When a Chinese woman sees a tiffin carrier,like any of these, her heart would definitely miss a bit because it is one kitchen item that she cannot do without, unless she is totally unskilled in the kitchen.

Here are some stories I would like to share with you.

Once there was a young man who had sent his wife to the Lau King Howe Hospital to await their first born and then went to work. The hospital later telephoned his mother that the baby was soon to be born. His mother quickly slaughtered the best female chicken (must be female according to traditions)and boiled it in the simple Foochow style, which we call Bak Kong (Plain boil). This was very nourishing for a woman who had just given birth. She then placed the chicken soup in the bottom tray or layer of a tiffin carrier and placed some rice in another layer. she also placed two hard boiled eggs at the top layer. In this way, the chicken soup would keep the rice and the eggs warm. when it was known that the baby was just about to be born the mother sent the young husband to the hospital with specific instructions on how to "feed" the new mother with the chicken soup and the rice. He had to use a spoon and feed her. the new mother must not get up from the hospital bed.

Well, the young man arrived at the hospital and checked out his wife. When he heard her crying out in pain and still in labour, he took an about turn and cycled home with the tiffin carrier. when his mother saw him pale and distraught,she asked him what happened. He then realised that he had done the most embarrasing deed. His mother had to send the tiffin carrier to the hospital on foot herself as she did not know how to cycle and fed the daughter in law herself. She mumbled that she had a hopeless son.

But she was over the moon because she had a bouncing baby for a grandson!!

The story of the Hopeless Son spread far and wide and brought a lot of smiles to many understanding men and women.

My own stories were simple. The tiffin carriers would always remind me of how wonderful Foochow mothers were to their daughters and daughters-n-law from the moment the babies wereborn. It was such a comforting arrangement for mum to cook all the lovely confinement food and have them sent to the hospital. My mum would always carry the tiffin carrier to my hospital bed after I had been delivered . They would have the most important kampong chicken soup. This soup was a good anguish terminator. For generations they Foochows recomment this plain boiled chicken soup for the first few days of confinement.

So in a way I I had some very memorable meals out of these tiffin "trays" for my four babies who were all born in Sibu. My mum was different as she did not ask my husband to send the food to me. I often wonder if my husband might have committed some abominable acts by forgetting to send me the food or losing the tiffin carrier some where along the roads in Sibu!! Well, one never knows!!

One of my friends was fairly busy with her career. One day, her husband lovingly brought a tiffin carrier to her place of work. when she opened them happily, she was embarrased to find that there was nothing in the trays!! her embarrassed husband had brought the wrong tiffin carrier to her!! Some men don't even know the weight of an empty tiffin carrier!!

An aunt of mine used to carry a fully cooked meal of four dishes in a tiffin carrier to her bed ridden mother in law for years, every day, twice, by foot, until the old lady passed away. Her husband had actually left her and her six children. How much love can a woman have for her mother in law? My aunt is indeed an examplary daughter in law.

I believe there are lots of stories around the tiffin carrier, some are bitter, some are sweet but all are home stories which should be shared.

What's yours?

3 memories:

Unknown said...


I have a very sad story to tell about tiffin carrier. A son was riding a motorcycle with his mother as a pillion rider on the way to send food to another son with the tiffin carrier in her hand. They were involved in a accident and the mother fell off. She passed away on the spot and the food in the tiffin carrier was still warm.

I Am Sarawakiana said...


This is a very touching story of mother's love. And I am reading this on Mother's Day. May we remember the poor,ill fated mother today. It is just extraordinarily sad that the food was still warm.

Warm food always reminds me of a good mother.

Are you somehow related to them?

Thank you for sharing.

I Am Sarawakiana said...

what's your ideal meal in a tiffin carrier?
Mine's rice at the top layer with chicken at the bottom.
One vegetable, like long beans with eggs and one meat, like stir fried lean pork with soy sauce and ginger.


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