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Sunday, October 26, 2008

Comfort and Joy

This post won't be about the usual Christmas saying. I have been a little distressed lately. My life has been in flux and I find myself seeking comfort in familiar foods. My comfort food is very asian. It is rice porridge or congee. In Cantonese, it is called chok or jok. I am more accustomed to calling it moey, the Hokkien dialect of Chinese. It is a very cheap meal to make- a cup of rice will likely feed the whole family since it is mostly water or stock. The rice is soaked for about an hour and if you're like me, you'll break up the grains before you boil the daylights out of it. It can be had with any kind of meat- chicken can be steamed or poached with ginger and some green onions before shredding the meat. Fish filets can be marinated with soy, sesame oil and ginger and be cooked in the porridge. Ground pork balls can be made with some chopped up tung chye (Tianjin Preserved turnip), which is very salty, and dropped into the porridge or be made into a soup to be added to the porridge. But if you do it the latter style, your rice porridge has to be thick and goopy so it can be diluted with the soup.

Condiments for rice porridge include a little bit of the following: shredded ginger, chopped green onion, white pepper, soy sauce (not China Lily, of course- but the typical real kind of soy sauce from China), fried chopped garlic and some garlic seasoned oil and thinly sliced bits of the chinese long donut called You char koay or something similar sounding.

One of my favourite rice porridge is a standard dim sum offering- Century Egg and Pork Congee. Now I cringe everytime I see Century Egg in western media. Typically, it is in the context of strange things those other people eat and it is lumped with balut (fertilized egg embryo), or dinuguan (congealed blood and meat) or bugs, bats, civet cats and bushmeat. I am sure some of you will remember episodes of Fear Factor with contestants having to chow down on century egg slurry or something unappetizing to western sensibilities.

I attibute my love for century egg to my term in my mother's belly. She had some nasty cravings, one of them being century eggs. Luckily, she didn't crave the smell of gasoline/petroleum like she did when pregnant with my brother. In asian countries, century egg is cut up and served with slices of ginger, or cooked up in my favourite porridge. Basically, it is a duck egg that is allowed to cure in a very basic solution for a few months. The chemical process solidifies the yolk into a brown gelatinous mass and converts the yolk into a creamy, yet very ammonia-y custard. Sometimes, the egg white will have some very pretty snowflake like crytals develop within the gelatinous mass and it is oh-so-pretty.

I won't lie to you- century egg truly is an acquired taste- but to me, a very comforting one.

So I made this porridge this weekend, and as I was scraping off the mud that is wrapped around the egg to preserve it, I remember taking mud off salted duck eggs and remember how much more satisfying that process is. Salted duck eggs are covered in grey clay and then rolled in black ashes so they don't stick to one another. And suddenly I am taken back across time and space and I am in my mothers kitchen and washing off the ashes and clay, bits of the clay washing down the sink as water dilutes the mess. The salted ducks egg typically has a blueish hue. We only made salted ducks egg one way- boiled and eaten with porridge. The white is typically very salty so an egg would feed at least two people, when eaten with congee.

There really isn't a point to this post, I suppose, aside from remembering and being comforted by things familiar, no matter how unfamiliar they are to others. I hope that I can still turn to my comfort foods and things that bring me joy when I need to.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing your comfort and joy writings :)
Food is tops on my list. It doesn't seem to matter what I make, there is a small part of me that remembers something from home as I am preparing a dish. Most of my favourtie photos from the past and the present are taken when we all get together to eat.
Now I'm getting excited about going to a cookie bake with my girls :)
Bye for now,

Jan said...

Thank you for sharing your comfort and joy! That's the point, after all, right?

Kimmie said...

Your comfort foods sound very comforting. I think it's the memories attached that make them so. It made me stop to reflect on what my own might be and why - thank you.

Honour said...

And, why, oh why would you be upset about congee being lumped in with balut or dinuguan? Would you truly turn down a good meal of dinuguan and hot rice if it appeared on your doorstep? (as it did on mine the other day)?

Lovely reminiscing Di. invite me over next time you go for a trip down memory lane, please.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes there is no point to a post, but to share- and that's what's great about it!!

Donelda said...

fasinating story!! enjoy your comfort :-)