Sunday, March 11, 2007

Asian Mothers and Daughters, Part 2

(Part 2 is made necessary by Blogger's 200-character limit on each post)

Mrs. Kwong made the point that her mashed potatoes made use of a trusty old pot and a masher that cost only a few dollars, and involved a lot less washing up. Beat that, Kylie, she all but said.

In so many movies involving Asian families, scenes involving food are memorable, because that area really is where the raw elements in relationships are distilled. Often, Mother knows best, and there is simply no other way. Daughter may grudgingly go along with it as she struggles with her life lesson of the moment, at complete odds with what she has heard all her life from Mother.

As for my own Asian background, I’m Straits Chinese, also known as Perankan, Baba and Nonya, from Singapore. The short-form description of my culture: after the British established its three settlements in the Straits of Malacca, immigrants poured in to Penang, Malacca and Singapore. Some of the men from southern China married the local Malay women, and the resulting blend of cultures became separate and distinct. The language was a patois of Malay with Hokkien (Fujian) inflections, the women wore the sarong kebaya, which looks more Malay than Chinese.

As for Peranakan food, it's a fabulous blend of Chinese and Malay ingredients and techniques. It’s a very time-consuming to prepare this food, with a ridiculous amount of attention given to prep and mise-en-place. Back in the day, Nonya matchmakers would arrive at a prospective bride’s home in the mid-morning, when the girl would be preparing lunch; the matchmaker (and sometimes, the mother-in-law to be) would listen to the sound of the mortar and pestle (lesong) and were said to be able to tell from that alone if the young lady was a good cook. So, it boiled down to these factors – was she strong enough to wield a heavy granite pestle, could she cook well, and bear numerous sons?

Naturally, once the girl married into a family her actions were scrutinized, and many a conflict would play itself out in the kitchen.

I say, so long as the skills are passed on from one generation to another, c’est la vie, eh?

I plan to get Kylie's books soon.

From everything I've seen and read, her books are as beautiful as they are good. They are:

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