Since young, we learnt to eat simply. Not only were the dishes whipped up in our kitchen simple, but more importantly, we are taught to be contented with whatever is provided on the dining table. Thankfully, mom and grandma were both excellent cooks, able to conjure up a range of yummy food with the simplest of all ingredients. Eggs, the cheapest source of protein are a common sight for our meals but despite being so common, the dishes were never boring. From an assortment of omelettes to sunny side up soups, my mom knew exactly what makes us happy and our tummies filled. Sometimes our dinners were just a simple one-rice cooker or one wok meals, simplified versions of claypot rice, cabbage rice and even chicken rice all done within the comforts of one pot. One wok meals were also something worth looking forward too, first sending aromatic wafts from char kway teow, mee goreng, SPAM fried rice from the kitchen that permeated our small flat, whetting our appetites as we rushed to finish our homework, before tickling our palates. One particular one-wok dish stands out being most memorable, so simple to cook yet so immensely gratifying, and that is Mom’s 猪脚罐头炒米粉 Canned Braised Pig Trotters Bee Hoon.
Odd it may seem, my favorite dish to order whenever I walk into a traditional chinese noodle shop in Hong Kong is not a bowl of 云吞麵 wan tan meen or 水饺麵 shuei gau meen. For years, it has always been 柱侯牛腩麵 ngau nam meen aka braised beef brisket noodes for me. Not sure why but I’d always preferred this over the popular pork or shrimp dumplings for its robust flavours and the melt-in-your-mouth bites of beef brisket as well as succulent chunks of beef tendon which had been braised to the right texture and consistency. It was until more five years ago when I first visited 劉森記 in Sham Shui Po where I found another love. Their 南乳焖猪手 Braised Pig Trotters with Nam Yu Fermented Beancurd was cooked to perfection I thought. Delightfully aromatic and with flavours which are strangely familiar and yet alien to me at the same time, it was love at first sight… or taste rather. Since then I’d been going around trying out various noodle joints not only for their 柱侯牛腩麵 but also their 猪手麵 whenever possible. We braise pig trotters at home all the time, from 卤猪脚，the traditional dark soya sauce version which is prevalent in local Hokkien and Teochew cooking, to 猪脚醋, the richly vinegared version for the occasional indulgence of sweetness and tang. It didn’t take long for me to try and cook 南乳焖猪手 at home for myself, to satisfy my own cravings for this dish whenever I could, whenever I want.
Comfort food is often what one truely yearns for when one gets home after a long day, It could be after laborious ploughing through streams of data and figures, in an almost hypnotic trance-like fashion in front of the computer hours at ends, and dinners made frugal. Or it can be after endless evenings of socialising, over martinis and cocktails amidst cosmetic conversations and superficial banter, and real food made little. When one finally gets home, and all that pomp and makeup shed off like a second skin, one can finally be oneself. That is when the cravings set in. It can be as simple as a classic Croque Monsieur with freshly toasted bread over old cheese and good ham, or a bowl of cereal with creamy full fat milk and crunchy homemade granola. Satisfying the insatiable, as one becomes overwhelmed by routine and the mundane, comfort food despite its simplicity, transcends and becomes a luxury.
For me, nothing can be more comforting than a bowl of freshly cooked noodles. Those who know my blog well would know that I feature noodle recipes to a great extent and often to great detail as well. From 炸酱面 to Mentaiko Pasta, from Spaghetti alla Bolognese quite long ago to Spaghetti alla Laksa Pesto most recently… in short, I’m a sucker for noodles in all forms, and quite literally so. For me, the sheer act of slurping strands of noodles, be it ramen, pasta, beehoon or kway teow is profoundly therapeutic. Slurping unleashes an avalanche of flavours into the mouth, setting forth a plenitude of palate profiles and aromas that stimulate one’s senses all at once. Slurping is considered part of good table etiquette in the Asian context, and most rightfully so. Surely it is one of the most resounding ways, and the least one can do as a display of appreciation for a good noodle experience.