Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Secret soup (4)

As I last posted in Secret Soup (3), the terminology of kay moi also carries a cryptic (Da Vinci-ish) social code for Penangites.

When Penangites spot their relatives, neighbours or friends all dressed up as if for Sunday church, they would casually ask: “Cheah kay moi ar baa moi?” (are you going to partake of chicken or pork porridge?)

Though the word baa just means meat, common usage in Penang makes the terminology pork rather than beef or lamb.

Going for the former, that is, kay moi or chicken porridge, means attending a wedding, while taking pork porridge implies attending a funeral.

Certainly chicken porridge was traditionally served as a breakfast meal at Penang Chinese weddings. I am not sure whether this is still being practised because I haven't attended a Penang Chinese wedding for eons - I keep clear of such occasions because of busybody aunties and female neighbours who consider it their sacred mission to marry off any available kampong (village) bachelors. These women can be so bloody mercilessly unrelenting in their KPC*-cupid mission.

* KPC = kay poh chnee = busybody

Anyway, I am not so confident on the reason for pork porridge being associated with funerals, other than to guess along the same lines for kay moi – that it was (perhaps still is) served at wakes.

In Penang, when a Chinese passed away, friends and relatives would maintain a 24-hour wake during the deceased’s lying-in-state until the burial. The bereaving family in turn has to look after these supporters or voluntary wake attendants, feeding them and ensuring they have a regular supply of light refreshments and cigarettes.

The obligatory mahjong games to ensure a festive atmosphere (and also, to keep the attendants awake) would spring up on their own. The scene would only be completed with pots of coffee and tea, and jars of water kept full while packets of cigarettes would be guaranteed available. Apart from the four meals of breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner, extra late night suppers and early morning snacks such as pork porridge would be served. I guess that’s probably how the link between pork porridge and funerals started.

Well, that’s the Penang culinary version of 4 weddings and a funeral.

I don’t have much success at cooking kay moi the way Mum has been doing because I couldn’t come up with the moi, but instead usually end up with chok.

When I don’t put enough water it becomes steam rice, but when I add on extra water, it turns out as a milky paste-like concoction, basically chok. Somehow Mum produces the perfect state of white micro submarines lying at the bottom of the crockery lagoon.

One notable characteristic about Penang chicken porridge served at wedding breakfast – it’s provided in a rather comel (pronounced chor mal meaning 'cute' or 'dainty') china bowl (fine porcelain) complete with also a china spoon, and maybe even placed on a comel china saucer, the types that Straits nyonya* use.

* Chinese Malaysians born/living in Penang and Malacca who have adopted Malay culture – eg. wearing sarong kebaya, cooking Malay dishes and delicacies, using a combination of Malay and Hokkien languages, etc. Penang, Malacca & Singapore were once known collectively as the British Straits Settlement

So someone with a hearty appetite like my friend Bruce would require at least a dozen bowls or more if such dainty crockery was used – no, we didn’t serve Bruce with the comel-size bowl – he might swallow that as well.

But eventually I developed my kaytee-style. Basically I cheat – well, I have to if I want to achieve the moi rather than the chok.

I would cook the rice first, just as normal steamed rice. Then I allow it to cool off. Meanwhile I’d heat up chicken stock in a different pot, toss in de-boned chicken thigh fillets, fish out the cooked chook meat to dice it into cubes, chuck them back into the stock, flavour to taste, and then allow the soup to cool. I loosen the cooled rice into loose grains and add the lot into the cooled soup.

The cooling is important because if one part is still hot, somehow the rice would keep absorbing the soup, and consequently either dries up the mixture, making the whole combination into steamed rice again, or disintegrates into a chok-like paste, either of which would piss me off.

When ready to eat, I zap the content in a microwave for a minute or so, add in chopped kiin chai or even uan sooi, and a tablespoonful of sautéed garlic plus the oil, then sprinkled a bit of pepper and tau yew, and Bob’s your uncle.

And before the rice grains start to absorb the soup, it's already submerged in my tummy. One can even add slivers of chicken liver or giblets into the soup if one likes them.

Best of all, it’s also halal*-possible with sembelih** chicken , hence a truly Malaysian dish.

* kosher
** properly slaughtered i.a.w Islamic rites

There you are – the soup is not a Germanic secret as outrageously and falsely claimed, but a Penang nyonya treasure, as it has always been for hundreds of years. Mind you, I prefer the way they serve it in Berlin, by a Vanir Goddess.

(1) Scary soup!
(2) The not-so-humble Basil

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