八宝粥, literally to mean “Eight Treasures Porridge” is a traditional congee concoction enjoyed on 腊月初八 the 8th day of the 12th month in the Chinese Lunar Calendar, hence giving rise to its other name, 腊八粥. Having it roots in Buddhism, the history of this dish can be traced back more than 2200 years back to the Han dynasty when it was generally used as part of prayer offerings and not consumed. Interestingly during the Song dynasty more than 800 years ago , the folks then began enjoying this porridge for themselves, causing it to evolve and change to reflect the culinary characteristics of each period in history, as well as in accordance to personal taste and liking.
As far as I remembered, vegetables have always been part of our staples over the dinner table for almost every meal. My mother made it a point to incorporate vegetables whenever she can in our meals since young, very simple dishes like garlic stir-fry of sawi greens, or a spinach with ikan bilis soup, and of course cabbage in our all-time favorite, 高丽菜饭 gor leh cai png, i.e. one-pot cabbage rice. The spread of vegetables were usually our local fanfare of 菜心 choy sum, 苋菜 bayam and 小白菜 bak choy. Carrots were expensive then, far and few between and broccoli was virtually unheard of until I was much older. Despite being one of her favorites, my mum avoided cooking 空心菜 kangkong as it was deemed too “cooling” for our young constitutions, much like how she would enjoy braised chicken feet in 凤爪面 Fung Zao Meen on her own but sternly forbade us from eating itas it is believed that children who ate chicken feet would develop jerky and wobbly limbs, resulting in ugly handwriting! But I’m glad that years later, I’d inherited her love for local fanfare which we enjoyed together, kangkong and braised chicken feet amongst other things.
Cangkok Manis is a vegetable which appeared infrequently in our meals.It usually manifests as an egg drop soup, with minced pork balls and ikan bilis, finished off with an off-flame swirling of a beaten egg. Truth be told, I didn’t really enjoy it when I was a boy, despite being told how dark green vegetables are beneficial to us. Its taste cannot be more different from what its name depicts, leaving a slightly bitter aftertaste in the mouth. I much preferred the version with bayam! So with much discouragement and negative feedback from us, the appearance of this soup from our dining table grew infrequent and disappeared altogether as we grew older. Now that my mother is no longer with us, how I wish I could taste her version of this soup again…