Issue 78- Musing On Food
SeeFoon goes in search of Teochew Porridge
Teochew porridge is a journey of nostalgia for me. In my youth in Singapore, it was an eating experience that always hit the right notes on my palate. But having lived many years in Hong Kong where Chiu Chow (the Cantonese pronunciation) food was elevated to the heights and one’s pocket ravaged to the depths, I found myself associating Teochew or Chiu Chow with cold flower crab, soy-braised goose breast, delicate Chinese chive dumplings and many other delicacies that only the HK restaurateur will conjure up. All costing an arm and a leg and perhaps a mortgage on your new house!
Now that I live in Ipoh, I find myself retracing some early culinary journeys and relishing not creating a deficit in my budget. Recently I was transported back to my childhood memories when I went in search of the quintessential Teochew Muay as I remember it being called in those days.
Teochew cuisine comes from Canton province in China but with a character all its own. Teochew porridge as it is found in Malaysia is essentially an economical, ready prepared ‘fast food’ not unlike the ubiquitous economy rice offerings that one finds in just about every coffee shop in town. There is one difference: no genuine Teochew porridge will offer sambal(led) or curried accompanying dishes as one would find at the various economy rice stalls.
Teochew porridge is quite different from Cantonese porridge in that it is more watery and the grains of rice, while soft, is still quite distinct. Flavouring is never added to the porridge and the idea is to marry all the different tastes of the accompanying dishes that come with the meal with the bland porridge. The basic ones are preserved vegetables, braised beancurd, preserved bean curd, peanuts, salted duck eggs and many more. Teochew cooking relies heavily on tau cheong or preserved bean paste and their ‘Loh’ (not to be confused with the Hokkien ‘Lor’) method…..essentially a method of braising in soya sauce and spices like star anise, cinnamon.
I sampled the Teochew porridge at two restaurants recently and these are some of my recommendations:
Yew Ming in Old Town
Yet another 3rd generation-run restaurant, Yew Ming has been around for more than 70 years. Comprising 2 shop lots, there is no queue for tables and the restaurant though not air-conditioned is cooled by ample fans. We began with the ikan kembong (a type of local mackerel) that comes either fried or steamed topped with tau cheong (soya bean paste) – RM3 per fish. The fish cakes or Yu Pang was tasty and had the right springy mouth feel. Pig’s trotters and large intestines braised in the traditional ‘Loh’ style could have packed more ‘oomph’ RM12 as could the Carp fish head song yu tau, steamed with garlic and soya bean paste – RM22.
The Choy Po Dan, omelette fried with preserved radish had the right degree of saltiness for the bland porridge – RM12 and we finished the meal with a big bowl of Seaweed soup and fish balls Yu Tan Tze Choy – RM10. Porridge here costs RM0.80 per bowl. Some of the dishes are pre-cooked but most dishes here can be ordered and prepared à la carte.
Operating since 1969, this Teochew porridge restaurant serves very few à la carte and other than their steamed fish, all their accompanying dishes are pre-cooked. The best time to arrive is just after 11.30 a.m. when all the accompaniments are laid out in a cornucopia of abundance.
To go with the porridge (RM0.70) is a dazzling array of dishes ranging from the standard salted duck eggs, fried or braised ikan kembong RM3.50 each, peanuts and ikan bilis, fish cake RM1.50, braised tofu RM1, to some of their house specialities which I haven’t seen anywhere else.
Amongst these are the braised pig’s blood – RM0.80, duck’s heart, gizzard and livers, RM5.00, the whole baby octopus RM5, fu kuah or bitter melon with black beans – RM2 and brinjal in tau cheong – RM1.50.
Deserving special mention are their signature dishes, the Loh Ngap or braised duck in their special soya sauce and their large and small pigs intestines. It is rumoured that the Loh sauce is never thrown away and every day, the chef adds fresh ingredients and braises the ducks, and pig’s offal in this sauce which gets intensified over time. Friends of mine who felt squeamish about this idea, are obviously not familiar with the idea of the ongoing stockpot…..both in Western and Chinese kitchens….where if the pot is boiled every day, no danger of food contamination occurs. Who knows, may be the sauce in which my duck breast and pig’s offal was braised is 40 years old!
7 & 9 Jalan Leong Sin Nam, New Town.
11.30 a.m. – 4.00 p.m.
Restoran Yew Ming
81 & 83 Jalan Bandar Timah (Leech Street),
10.00 a.m. – 2.30 p.m.