I was just thinking the other day about how the food we love most is a telling sign of our heritage and who we are. Living in a cosmopolitan society, in a mish-mash of cultures, one easily becomes detached from one’s own. It shows in the way we speak, dress and even in what we eat. I mean, when did Singaporeans go from saying ‘wah lao’ to ‘wah the fark’? And scarily, why do I crave ketchup on fries more than soya sauce in fish porridge? **A recent encounter with some ‘ah bengs’ on the bus restored my faith that Singlish is still firmly entrenched in our lives. Though I my love for ketchup cannot be dislodged. Not even by durian.
Thankfully, I have come to the realisation that I am Cantonese all the way to the bottom of my stomach – no matter how much I decry double boiled soups and steamed fish. You only have to see me in bed with a cold and craving a bowl of soupy noodles or porridge to know it.
The food most dear to my Cantonese heart (in sickness and in health) is Siew Mei, a mouth-watering ensemble of meat in the traditional Cantonese style.
Even during my five months in Chengdu I was dying for some because Sichuanese cuisine is so different from Cantonese and nobody makes Siew Mei like the Cantonese.
I could go on all day about how the lean, slightly gamey duck, with its fatty crispy skin is such a good combination with the savory accompanying bean sauce and plain white rice.
But then I wouldn’t have time to wax lyrical about forkfuls of glazed, carmelised barbecued pork, sweetly savory, is perfect when washed down with a flute of champagne (how’s that for a cosmopolitan twist).
Thank goodness the Cantonese have spread all over the world and good Siew Mei can be found in many places, though sadly I have yet to come across it in Berlin. (Your tips and suggestions are welcome if you know of any!)
On a recent trip back home, I revisited some of my favourite Siew Mei haunts like Fong Kei in Toa Payoh (in the coffeeshop just next to the 2-storey market at Lorong 2) and tried out some new ones like
Canton Kitchen at People’s Park Complex in Chinatown (Singapore).
Coffee shop at the corner of Jalan Macalister and Jalan Rangoon (Penang). The same coffee shop that I posted about in Big Breakfast in Penang.
And if you still can’t get enough of Siew Mei, check out this interesting Hong Kong documentary, Siew Mei Kung Fu. Hosted by Eric Sang and featuring various roast meat chefs spearing, grilling, chopping and performing other assorted other kung fu-like actions to get the meat to your table. Siu Mei Kung Fu by RTHK