A few years ago I happened to be in Shanghai during the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival. Normally during this time of year families come together for reunion dinners. But a few of my expatriate friends from Singapore and Malaysia, and I were posted in Shanghai without our families. So we gathered up a group and celebrated the festival at a Shanghainese restaurant. As we ordered our meal the waitress suggested we try some pork mooncakes. That was the first time I tasted a savory mooncake.
In Ba Jin’s (巴金) epic Chinese literary trilogy: Family, Spring and Autumn (家,春,秋), the author describes the life of a Chinese aristocratic family during the final years of the feudalistic Qing dynasty. It was a tumultuous time in which the family members had to negotiate changing political landscape as dynastic rule disintegrated, as well as the family’s own struggle between generations over changing values and aspirations. Ba Jin was a great observer and narrator of a China struggling within and without while falling into chaos at the beginning of the twentieth century. Among all the confusions and upheaval, there is one single constant and that is the communal family meal.
Whether it was an elaborate sumptuous spread of the upper class or a meager bowl of porridge of the poor, sharing communal meals was a social ritual. Families gathered for special celebrations and revolutionaries gathered for clandestine dinner meetings. These meals were not always happy and agreeable occasions. Tensions among family members often boiled over during them. But they gathered and shared their food nevertheless.(more…)
It has been more than five years since we lost our cat, Lily, to cancer. Warren and I were very fond of her, and until now just couldn’t bring ourselves to adopt another cat. We finally decided we’ve given ourselves sufficient “adjustment” time. Early this year our friend Grace Young, author of The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen and The Breath of a Wok, had suggested we consider the Only Hope Cats Recue, Inc. when we were ready. So last week we finally contacted Kris at Only Hope Cats and found our beautiful four-year old rescued gray tiger tabby, Brandon.
To someone growing up in Asia in the 1960’s “boiled peanuts and a movie” is what “popcorn and a movie” is to the American moviegoers. As a child going to the cinemas in Singapore, I would always encounter boiled peanuts peddlers pushing large steaming kettles, mounted on tricycles, bursting with peanuts selling their fare. My friends and I would purchase packages of boiled peanuts in newspaper cones and bring them into the theatre. We would crack the peanuts noiselessly, as the moist soft shells split easily, and discard them on the floor. At the end of the show the floor would be full of peanut shells and I used to enjoy stomping on the shells making crunching noise as we walked out. But this reminiscing also brought out my feeling of disgust for how filthy that habit was. I’m glad that this practice doesn’t exist anymore.