Among the numerous popular hawker favorites, char kway teow has a special place in the hearts of many. It is a traditional fried noodle dish whipped up by street hawkers who gathered at the now-demolished Ellenborough Market just across Clarke Quay along Singapore River. The area was also a well known enclave of the early Teochew settlers who knew this place as tsah tsun tau 柴船头, owing to the provision of fuel-related goods like firewood, charcoal and kerosene in this area. At night, some of these hawkers take to the nearby old Thong Chai Medical Institution 同济医院 for the supper crowd who flocked here after a session of tua hee 大戏 aka Chinese wayang opera nearby or a movie produced by Cathay Organisation at Majestic cinema just a short stretch down Eu Tong Sen Road. But as peddling of street food waned in the 1980s as it became outlawed, gone were the days when these illegal hawkers had to scurry and run away from the health inspectors, colloquially known as 地牛 “tee gu“. Together with the establishment of hawker centres around the island, local delights like char kway teow spread to the heartlands and became everyone’s favorite as well.
Teochew cuisine is characterised by a wide range of seafood dishes. Blessed with the long coastal line in the Chaoshan region in southeastern China, the Teochew people are accustomed to having seafood as part of their everyday lives. From cold crab (潮州冻蟹) to braised cuttlefish （卤墨鱼), their famous shark’s meat jelly (鲨鱼冻), and of course fishballs (潮州鱼丸) the Teochews are well known for their seafood fare, and their innovative use of the precious produce from the oceans. When folks think of Teochew porridge 潮州糜, the first thing that comes to mind is individually grained porridge often cooked with sweet potatoes, enjoyed over a wide range of condiments and dishes, sometimes as simple as preserved olive leaves (橄榄菜), pickled lettuce stems (菜心罐) or salted duck eggs (咸鸭蛋), to pickled radish omelette (菜脯蛋) or even steamed threadfin (蒸午鱼) or braised duck (卤鸭). Otherwise, it would be something as wholesome as a one pot meal like Chinese Pomfret Porridge (斗鲳糜). Yet for most of the Teochews in the past who lived and breathed frugally by the sea, the expensive Chinese Pomfret or threadfin (午鱼) may not be an everyday indulgence. As such, other varieties of Teochew porridge evolved and most notably, shark’s meat porridge 潮州鲨鱼糜.
Just a quick post to share with all of you a recipe which I’d cooked for lunch today, and incidentally, a dish which I enjoy very much as a child, Chili with Taucheo Stingray. It is a very quick dish to prepare and doesn’t require complicated rempah making. Yet the flavours are so robust and refreshing, excellent to go with rice or Teochew porridge!
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.
Haven’t had Teochew-styled steamed fish in quite a while. This used to be such a common and popular fare on our dining table, but since my mum passed on and my sister moved out after she got married, this dish stopped appearing for quite a while. Just two weeks back I saw my friend Hock Chai from Zi Zai Restaurant in Penang featuring this dish on his facebook and sent me craving to have a taste of it again.