Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Tian Jin Preserved Vegetables or Dong Chai


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This little ceramic jar of preserved vegetables from China has been a staple of my family for four generations now.

In China vegetables are grown in spring summer and autumn. The farmers would preserve most of the vegetables for winter when nothing can be grown. Radishes and cabbages are good for preserving. This tien tsin vegetables are in fact preserved cabbages.

My grandmother used to cook this very often when fresh vegetables were not available and especially to help those without an appetite to have a fairly decent meal. (She would say" this is good to help your rice go down".) And then my mother would cook soup with this vegetable as often as possible to save on housekeeping money so that we could get a good education. As children we would never complain for the lack of food on the table. A bowl of white rice was decent enough. Better days would come in the future.

In some ways I associate this vegetable and a lot of other Chinese preserved vegetables with home economy and a frugal campaign to save money for the proverbial rainy day.

When I was living in Kuala Lumpur I often cooked an egg soup using this vegetable for an evening meal when I was rooming with a good friend. She too agreed that we should spend not more than two ringgit per meal . Sometimes we would share a plate of kway tiau and have two fried eggs and the free Jasmine Tea. That would be less than RM 3 between the two of us. As we were university students living on a small scholarship we had to stretch our proverbial dollar a little more.

When my children were younger and they felt homesick for Sibu and thinking of grandmother I would make a soup with this vegetable and eggs for them. In fact they could eat this soup every day. Today my now adult children continue to love this soup and other dishes cooked with it like omelette with Tian Jin vegetables, dumplings with meat and TT vegetables , and fried eggs with TT vegetables to go with porridge. And when we have no eggs we will just cook this saltish vegetable soup and one meal is complete and satisfying. Nothing much but we do have a hot meal and lots of stories to tell.

I know I will continue to use this vegetable for future generations, God willing, and friends who come by our home and take a walk down memory lane.

Though simple it is a wonderful memory triggering ingredient in our lives. If I have Alladin's lamp now in my hands I would wish that my grandmother was here to eat porridge and an omelette with tien tsin vegetables. Or stir fried noodles with TT vegetables with a Thai twist.

2 memories:

Unknown said...

Hi mama,

I found a similar preserved vegetable jar in the local Taiwanese supermarket here. It doesn't taste as good as the tian jin, but it's pretty close. I use it with omelets.

I Am Sarawakiana said...

:) :) Do you use a lot of onions for your omelets?

Need to soak it for a few minutes in hot water if you find it too salty. I think most of us cook with too much salt hence the cholesterol level.

Go to the black and white wedding photos and you will see a beautiful photo of San Ning. She passed away today at 12.30 So sad. We will miss her.


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