Monday, June 9, 2008

Gathering around a hot pot

This was our steamboat feast last night, ostensibly to mark the Duan Wu Jie, but really, do we need an excuse to get together to pig out?

Just an hour before dinner, Mum and Second Sis were busy with the last minute addition to the menu – home-grown lady’s fingers (okra) stuffed with Mum’s home-made fish paste. She prepared seven – one each.

Hey, we only have so many okra plants in our garden, you know.

Anyway, there aren’t many pictures of the event because the photographer was too hungry, and no camera’s image stablelizer feature can compensate for the shakes and shudders induced by a fiercely growling stomach.

But thankfully, steamboat dinners are a regular event at home, and we had one similar one on the third day of Chinese New Year. Although it was for five instead of seven, we had the usual mainstays of our meal. Pork…

… prawns, seasoned with a healthy dose of grated ginger …

… squid …

… and savoury tofu, cut into small pieces.

Other mainstays are a variety of vegetables, some sort of noodles, and beancurd wraps and beancurd balls stuffed with fish paste (yong foo chook and yong tau pok), pictured in the previous post. Essential to the meal are dips, which add flavour and zing to the food. We usually have three or four different types of dips around, one of them a spicy chilli sauce.

We use a Thai charcoal steamboat pot that’s not too big, which is good, as that means not too much soup will evaporate during the continuous boiling during dinner.

Brother usually takes care of starting the fire. He heats pieces of charcoal over a gas stove, and when they are sufficiently hot enough, he transfers them into the pot, which is placed in out bathroom, and proceeds to coax them into a high enough heat, with the aid of a hair dryer.

Then, the pot – with its raging charcoal and some soup that’s already gurgling away – is transferred gingerly to the table.

We fill the pot with more soup (vegetables, an old chicken and Chinese herbs boiled over many hours under Mum’s watchful gaze), add a bit of wolfberries (gei zhee) and the yong foo zhook and yong tau pok, and let it come to a boil.

Then we all dig in and eat away, always making sure to make space around the table for the Leftover Brigade.

When I’m away and I think of family dinners, I always invariably have a picture of this hot pot in the centre of our old round table, with all the fresh goodies waiting to be cooked, and everyone digging into a communal pot, serving food to others.

It is much more than just a meal, for it has a strong social element to it. So it is not surprising then that we’ve tried to replicate it some 9,000 miles away from home, among friends!

The fish balls and meat balls might have been store bought; ditto the fish paste (although we did the stuffing of the foo zhook and tau pok ourselves). The pot might have been a bit too big, running on a portable gas stove. But it was all good! We made the soup from scratch, like Mum, and the thinly sliced beef was from a Korean market and quite heavenly. We ate slowly, savoured the many bottles of wine at our disposal, and let the pot and conversation warm up a cool February night.

1 comment:

Jen L. said...

Mmmmm. Good memories. But do you always have to torture me like this?