Straits Chinese cuisine is a conglomeration of many other culinary disciplines, bringing together elements from traditional Malay, Chinese, Indian and even Thai cooking to create the eclectic spread of visually stunning and mouth-watering dishes, both sweet and savory, which bear testimony to the glorious cultural heritage and lavishly colourful lifestyles the Babas and Nyonyas of the yesteryears were so well-known for. Many Peranakan dishes are characterised by their rich and robust flavours, be it the tingling sourish hues from asam-based dishes, to the fiery heat from sambal belacan-inspired creations, or the collagen-packed soups. This is usually perpetuated through the liberal use of spices, herbs, condiments and seasoning, all aimed at pushing the limits of one’s palate sensations and experience. Once in a while, we come across a dish seemingly more “subtle” when compared to the others amongst its ranks. A pearl in tranquil elegance amongst the bedazzling glittering of the other gems. Jiu Hu Char must surely be one such dish.
In the past when my maternal grandma was still around, there were some dishes that made rather frequent appearances on the dinner table during family gatherings and Chinese New Year meals. Ngoh Hiang (Chinese five-spice pork and prawn rolls) is an absolute must, and preparation usually started days before, given the number of dishes she has to whip up on the event itself. My grandma modified the conventional style of making ngoh hiang and made them rather petite, each about 2 inches in length, almost bitesize to be gobbled up in quick sucessions. I remember how my cousins and I would sneak into the kitchen as the unmistakable aroma of ngoh hiang frying permeated the house, to grab a piece or two when they were freshly out of the oil wok, even if it meant to risk scalding our tongue and palate, and a probable spanking and tongue lashing from our mothers who were helping out with the feast, for being “ill-mannered” as our misbehaviour were referenced with beggars’!
Then there was always a gigantic pot of kari ayam, quintessential to all meals at my grandma’s. It was very very lemak, just the way I love it, and full of kentang which were two of my cousins’ favorites! Together with it was a large rice-cooker which was never empty, an assuring sign that there is always food in the house no matter what time whomever visited. Finally of course, there is an equally large pot of chap chye, cooked the day before to allow the flavours to fully develop overnight. There would be other dishes on the table of course, like Udang Masak Kicap, Tau Yew Bak (braised pork belly in rich soya sauce), or Hee Peow Tng (fish maw soup) on the stove but the trinity of Ngoh Hiang, Kari Ayam and Chap Chye was always there with their unfailing presence. Though the spread was simple, it was the very essence of traditional home-style cooking which kept everyone well fueled and watered, which in turn kept my grandma happy, knowing that her dishes are thoroughly enjoyed by her children and grandchildren!
Dinner time and we found ourselves back along shinsaibashi suji 心齋橋筋. Not wanting to travel far out, after a long and tiring day at Osaka Castle and Umeda, Dotonbori seemed like the best option, and 鶴橋風月 大阪焼 Fugetsu Okonomiyaki located just next to Dotonbori-bashi was ideal. It’s authentic and its piping hot for the freezing cold weather!
Cute pinky piggy on the menu whom i’d affectionately called “buta-san”.