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My grandfather taught my mom’s older sister to cook this unique dish, and she, in turn, taught my mom who taught me when I was 13. Hokkien “Chiu Gang” Mee is an unusual dish, which is very hard to find. In fact, I have not seen it on any menu, even in local Hokkien restaurants.
This dish is special in terms of the way it tastes. While the famous K.L. Hokkien noodles are somewhat similar, the flavour of this noodle dish leans towards the dark soy suace, which the noodles are braised in. The K.L. version tends to be heavier and a tad sweeter. In addition, the coating of sweet potato flour, when combined with the braising process changes the exterior of the pork slices, making them very silky and tender.
I remember cooking this dish for 60 Girl Guides when I was 16. We were at a school camp and I was in charge of feeding the girls and this was what I cooked. This noodle dish brings me back to my childhood because it was something we would eat at family gatherings.
My maternal grandfather came from a minority tribe of Zhangzhou, Hui’an, of Fujian, China. He came to Singapore in the early 1900s to work as a construction worker. He met my maternal grandmother who was from Sanshui of Guangdong Province in China. She was a Samsui woman and also worked at the construction site carrying stones and other hard labour.
When the Japanese invaded Singapore in 1942, my grandparents got married even though my grandfather already had a wife and two children in China. In those times, it was a marriage more out of necessity than love, but they had a good marriage nevertheless.
My grandparents went on to have five children; the first three were girls followed by two boys. Being a typical Chinese family, my grandmother did most of the cooking at home and since she was Cantonese, she cooked Cantonese food. It was from my grandmother that my mom learned to cook.
It seemed that no one knew my grandfather would cook, much less, that he was actually a fantastic cook because no one ever saw him cook anything. Until one day, one of his “brothers” made the decision to return to China. In those days, returning home to China was a really big deal, and my grandfather cooked a huge feast as a farewell dinner for his “brother”. That was when my mother realised her father knew how to cook!
It is a shame that neither my mom nor my aunt managed to learn many more dishes from my grandfather before he passed on, but I am grateful that there is at least this one dish we can still cook, and remember him by.