The traditional Foochow kitchen in Sibu in the 50's and 60's could be considered the biggest room in the house and was definitely the centre of soical activities. It would have a huge cement stove with a huge kuali and three or four areas for fires to be lighted up.
An interesting wooden sink ,no longer seen today,would be at the side. Usually the stove faced east. One or two food safes would be found in the kitchen. A stone grinder was always part of this kind of Foochow kitchen. A huge wooden round table would be placed by a window and that was where the family would eat. Two other tables could folded and placed at a corner,ready for a big group of visitors!!
I remember three of these kitchens very well: my maternal grandmother's in Sg. Maaw,my paternal grandfather's in Sg Merah and my own mother's kitchen on Kung Ping Road. These were simple but spacious. It was not the physical space that was the most important or significant but the activities and fond memories associated with them.
I remember my grandmother's kitchen in Sg. Maaw as a place where my uncle Pang Sing made his paus or steamed buns each evening to entertain all the nieces and nephews who came to visit.
His strong arms would knead the dough made out of at least five kilos of flour and soon we had a huge pau in the kuali steaming away.
The huge pau (kosong ie. without any filling),,measuring at least one and half feet in diameter and well risen, would be taken out piping hot to the delight of all the children. He would generously slice about 30 thick slices for all of us plonk a lot of Golden Churn butter on them . Most of us would add sugar to the slices and we would get some kaya too. Young and old .big and small would quickly take a slice each and bite into the hot slice which might even burn our fingers a little.
This was the joy of making pau. This was the kind of family joy that we had. Although it was just a humble bun, I felt that it was food fit for a king.
Sometimes grandmother Lau Lian Tie would have about ten grandchildren visiting her during the school holidays. And the three families living together already numbered more than 15 too!! It was a large extended family living under one roof and the kuali had to be huge to feed us all.
Nonetheless our aunties were able to cook enough food for all of us without raising an eyebrow. Meals were deliciously prepared and placed on the two or three tables. Chopsticks and spoons were placed prettily on them and the bowls with chicken designs were ready for our fragrant rice. Eating together was just so much fun. At about nine each evening we had this marvellous huge pau coming out of the steaming kuali. The fragrance of a great steaming bun is memorable.
Our kitchen was huge enough for four tables meant for ten each .This kind of space will never be found in any home today. And this kind of family lifestyle could only be in our fading memories.
The floor being wooden we could always hear the resounding steps made by running children. Those were happy sounds. Laughter was infectious .
Under the big kerosene lamp my uncle would be fanning himself with a palm fan and grandmother would be sitting on the Lang Doh (open corridor) leading to the kitchen and smiling with satisfaction that we were having a night snack before turning in.
Today more than forty years later all of us cousins are still in touch with each other and some staying close like before . We still bond well together because we were once one family "eating from the same cooking pot".
Bless be the ties that bind!!
We are like the flour dough kneaded well together by the love of our uncles and grandmother.
We used to laugh and say that our Foochow yeast is strong and is fermenting every where with great strength. And then we must always remember that when grandmothers cook they cook with love and the aroma from their kitchens will always be with us for the rest of our lives. This aroma is a touch of love on our shoulders when we need to think of something to comfort us or to lift our spirits for a moment.