Happy 2013 to all my readers. I wish that you will fulfil all your dreams and aspirations, as well as enjoy lots of wonderful meals with your loved ones.
December 2012 whizzed by, didn't it? School was out, and during my time that meant that my parents could ship me off to my grandparents' house in Salak South New Village.
New Villages are unique to Malaysia. Banish any thoughts of idyllic Downton Abbey setting, and cast your mind back to somewhat turbulent times in the post-war period in Malaysia. Communism was the ideological enemy, and the British colonial government declared a period of Emergency to fight the threat. Many Chinese were forcibly moved from rural villages into New Village settlements located near or along roadsites so as to isolate them from Communist influences.
My father, a young man then, as soon as he was able to save enough money, found some builders to make a simple single-storey house in one of these settlements on the fringe of the capital. There dwelled my father's family for years and years, until the grandchildren are grown and moved out with their own families. The house was basic, with plumbing and electricity, but my aunt used chopped wood for her cooking. Chickens and the occasional ducks or geese ran about the compound which was dotted with trees like the jackfruit which gave big but not particularly fragrant or sweet fruits from time to time; other neighbours had bigger orchards with rambutans (rife with giant black ants and ferocious red species), mangoes or even better, durians. Every school holidays, we would stay about a month at this house. We spent a lot of time outdoors with our cousins, making sand sculptures, torturing those ants, fighting, making up stories, and looking forward to the ice cream seller coming by on his bicycle. The cartoons came on the telly at about 5 pm, that's when we returned to the house. If it rained, we read, I went through my father's and aunts' books, there were not many, but the collection was quite ecletic, and there was also a huge collection of black and white photographs to pore over. We didn't have many toys, in fact, hardly any, nor any computers, mobile phones or iPads. Just whatever amusement we could rustle up ourselves, like dressing up or play-acting. No adult supervision, everyone was busy doing something, as long as we didn't get hurt or start a fire, nobody minded what we were up to.
In contrast, my daughter's holiday was turbo-charged. She had to go back to school for ballet practice twice a week, on other days she had tuition and art or piano lessons. We went prawning, rock-climbing, shopping, play-dating, and baked a lot. Sometimes, I let her zombie-fy herself with cartoons, but on the whole, her holiday was nowhere as carefree as mine was. It's the same story with my nieces and nephews. So much so that we all wanted to take a break from our holidays. We, as in my brother and us, decided to go for a short trip to Hong Kong. 4 children under the age of 10, and 7 adults including my parents. I felt like a tour operator, escorting our motley bunch to various destinations. We had a great time, but it was also a bit tiring.
One of the most memorable meals we enjoyed was dinner at the Manor Seafood Restaurant at 440 Jaffe Road, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong (+852 2836 9999). I had emailed my friend, Susan Jung for advice on where to eat, and she also helped us make reservations and pre-ordered some dishes. She has a new cookbook out too, go buy it quickly.
The restaurant looks like it has been there forever. The manager, Wendy, was very helpful and friendly. Our first pre-order came. Suckling pig. My father remarked that it looked rather big for a piglet, and before I had time to think about it, the kids had helped to hoover up all that lovely skin/crackling. Accompanied with discs of pliable wheat pancakes and hoisin sauce, it made a deliciously crispy and savoury start to our meal. The carcass was chopped up and yielded a lot of meat to make a separate dish.
This dish was an instant hit, so good we promptly ordered another portion. Oysters cooked in a claypot with ginger and spring onions. The oysters were plump and juicy and very sweet inside, but their skin had a gorgeous aroma from some wok-searing that intensified all the flavours further. It's such a simple and classic dish, but done very well.
We had more food. Vegetables and noodles, but not too much, because we were saving room in our stomachs for these gems. Golden Coin Chicken or Gum Cheen Gai. In between the pancake discs, the chef layers charsiu, roasted pork fat (yes, pure fat), chicken liver and taro. It was almost like a mille-feuille because there seemed to be two layers of taro, or maybe two layers of fat, they both looked very similar when we dissected the confection, but I didn't examine too closely. Very rich, very intense, and so good you will think about it for days and days after. The liver was done just right, not under nor overcooked, its flavours coming to the forefront despite the formidable tastes of the pork fat and charsiu, with the taro somehow bridging all the flavours and textures together. It was a very satisfying meal, the restaurant offered complimentary desserts but we didn't feel the need for even that.
I love restaurants like this. Old school, but in a class of its own. Thanks Susan! It's a great recommendation.