And for tea-time, we'll have Tea Eggs. Tea eggs are eggs cooked in tea and Chinese herbs. They go well with Chinese tea too, surprise surprise. So tea eggs are served with tea and at tea.
Only snag was, it all only came together at about 6 pm, so we're talking old English hi-tea time and not midafternoon as is common here. My English classmates used to say they have tea when they mean an early dinner, if they eat something else later that meal would be called supper, though sometimes they also call dinner, well, dinner. Confused already? Not to forget that, at the other end of the social scale, some would say dinner when they mean lunch, apparently in the old days of poverty, people have only one main meal a day and it would be quite substantial with loads of bread and butter, so that meal was called dinner.
Right....... My initial plan was to make these eggs for tea, but I did not factor in the 3 plus hours cooking time when I started cooking at 2 pm. But the end result was definitely worth the wait. Of course, tea eggs are readily available at supermarkets and pasar malams, but I've been disappointed with too many bitter bullets and "exploded" eggs far too often so I decided to make my own. The recipe is from "ASIAN RETRO FOOD, Dishes from Yesteryear" by Betty Saw. Of course as usual, I tinkered somewhat with the recipe, adjusting the amounts of herbs and seasonings, but the result was still marvellous. The smell from the simmering eggs were wonderful too, smokey and aromatic, unlike the overt medicinal and burnt heaviness that assails the nostrils as we pass by a tea egg stall.
How is this egg cooked? First, take 12 eggs and leave it to come to room temperature. Then cover it with water in a saucepan and bring it to boil. Then simmer for 15 minutes (seemed a bit long to me considering we have more than 3 hrs to go, so I shave about 5 minutes off). Drain eggs and leave to cool.
When the eggs are cool, tap them with the back of a spoon to crack the shell, but do not peel. You didn't think I waited did you? I started tapping on the eggs while they were cooling.
Then return the cracked eggs to the saucepan and add the other ingredients which included tea leaves, 5 types of Chinese herbs (tong-kwai, dong-sum, kei-chi, yuk-chuk and pak-kei), sugar, salt and dark soya sauce. And top up with water to cover. Bring the whole pot to the boil and then simmer for 3 hours. Or more, it can't hurt. I had a nap while the eggs cooked.
The eggs are then drained and left to cool and then peeled to reveal the tea-stained cracked shell pattern. Some of the crackings were not too delicately rendered so they were stained in patches rather than a reticulate pattern, but I actually found those patches more flavourful, because they've absorbed more of the tea. Even after 3 hours of cooking, the yolk remained soft and melted easily in the mouth. The eggs smelled of tea and tong-kwai, They've absorbed the flavours well and was not as bitter as I had expected, tasting mostly of tea and herbs with a light sweetness. A healthy and satisfying snack. Washed down with some green tea, I felt like I had connected with tradition and history, at that moment, I felt really Chinese, yes, even though I am Chinese. Just somethings can make one feel more Chinese than usual.