I used to live along Upper Serangoon Road near the old Lim Tua Tow Market where there was lots of good and cheap hawker food around. Those were the days when our area were the only HDB blocks around and the vicinity was just nothing but a Teochew cemetery. Serangoon Central came later and NEX Shopping Mall didn’t even appear until 20 years had passed. The crocodile farm was still around and Upper Serangoon Shopping Centre was not a ghost town like today. Down my old block there used to be quite a good wanton mee stall, operated single-handedly by a middle-aged lady whom we refer to as the “wanton mee auntie”. Our favorites were her 鳳爪麵 “fung zau meen” with succulently braised chicken feet, that my mother forbade us from enjoying as it was believed that eating chicken feet during one’s pre-pubescent years can result in trembling hands and thus ugly handwriting. We ate nonetheless, secretly buying from the “wanton mee auntie” of course, telling her they were for my mum! So yummy! How to resist!? For us, wanton mee auntie’s 鮮蝦水餃 sin har shuei gau was something special as well. It was a time when 1.50 can get you a bowl of springy egg noodles in yummy soup along with three plump shuei gau and an additional 50 cents can get you two more. Long gone are the days of cheap and affordable hawker food of course, and long gone are the days of authentically cooked hawker food as well…
Chap Chye is a quintessential dish for anyone who takes an interest in Peranakan food to learn to cook . It has its roots in Chinese cuisine of course but has since become deeply ingrained and naturalised into the Straits Chinese way of cooking. For us, Chap Chye is a dish which never fail to make its appearance on the dining table whenever we celebrate a major festival at my Grandma’s. Like I’d mentioned before, this dish together with kari ayam and ngoh hiang are hailed as the “holy trinity” which reminds me much of my grandma’s cooking even until today. It is her speciality, which she faithfully prepared the day before, in full knowing that the dish takes a good overnight rest for the flavours to develop and mature. Traditionally, chap chye is a must whenever there is ancestral prayers, alongside other dishes like pongteh but as the generations evolved, the rule for chap chye as a laok semayang has relaxed over time as it is now commonly enjoyed even over simple family dinners.
Peranakan cooking is a classic example of an amalgamation of the culinary cultures from many ethnic groups who have lived closely together in this region for hundreds of years. It likens a ”Creole Cuisine“ of the East, blending together influences from Malay, Chinese, Portuguese, Indonesian and Thai cooking all into a unique genre which we know today as “Straits Chinese cuisine”. Out of these influences came a myriad of dishes which have now become signatures of Straits Chinese cooking, whose names run analogous to the cuisine now. Ayam Masak Buah Keluak, Itek Tim, Babi Pongteh and Ikan Gerang Asam are some of the more iconic ones. Like many other Peranakan dishes, he Hee Pio soup has its origins in traditional Chinese cooking, particularly those from the southern provinces of Guangdong and Fujian. For many lovers of the cuisine, Hee Pio Soup is a simply must-have on the dining tables at family dinners, important gatherings, wedding celebrations and other joyous occasions where the “Tok Panjang” was served. While the concept of Tok Panjang has kind of waned and disappeared from the modern lifestyles of most Peranakan households, Hee Pio soup still makes its customary appearance whenever folks get together just to dine together in the company of one another.