Taste - Sweet memories

Taste - Sweet memories

By
Chui Lee Luk
Contains
4 recipes
Published by
Hardie Grant Books
ISBN
9781742702407
Photographer
Chris Chen

I suppose this could just as easily have been about sour, salty or bitter memories, but those words don’t quite conjure up such warm evocations, do they? There are some early encounters with sweet tastes that have stayed with me. I still use these memories as my reference point for what tastes good sweet-wise, because of the strong early afinity I developed for the taste. (I hope this emphasises that likes and dislikes are based on personal preference and there is almost always no objective standard.)

Let me gather my thoughts on what I consider to be the good sweet tastes. I don’t remember my first taste of cereal porridge, but it seems to have been a part of my life since the days I was first taught to eat solid food. It came in a big, very bright yellow, blue and red tin that gave an impression of largesse for some time ahead, and offered comfort in its own way. The small dried flakes are the makings of this porridge: once combined with some liquid, a transformation occurs and they become a porridge mixture. We simply poured water over the flakes and sugared the mix slightly. If we were ill or just feeling pathetic, warm water was added as an alternative and the mixture thinned out to become a drinkable thing. The taste of it was malty and never overly sweet or rich.

This elusive ‘maltiness’ seems very finely tuned to a particular memory that represents an ideal of taste for me. For a long while I held red bean pancakes, the sweet snack presented to us as an occasional treat, as fulfilment of my subjective view of malt-like goodness, from the filling to the intriguing flavour of the pancake.

Flakes of corn are also a cereal I’ve known almost all my life. These too have a maltiness, but I’m distracted first by the crunch, and then by the cardboard-like texture that they decline into if left for a bit too long in the milk. Oatmeal porridge was also distracting: it looked like the other cereal porridge but had nothing of the taste. It had to be cooked for a long time, milk was added and it had a harder texture, which required some chewing. It was a little too grown-up for me at that time.

Reminiscing about the taste and smell, I feel a physical need to have this cereal porridge right now. #ese days, when a dessert hints at malt, whether through its use or another similar #avour pro#le, or by a fortuitous combination of ingredients, I’m transported to an early happy time.

Avocados belong in the sweet foods category for me; I still find it difficult to comprehend how they can be considered a savoury ingredient. Split in half, the pale green flesh sprinkled with sugar, an avocado snack was a cooling salve against the humid heat. It tasted rich but wasn’t sickly; the sugar accentuated its subtly pleasant sweetness. The combination of texture and taste is what arrests me. Baked creams, sweet tofu dishes, Cantonese custard tarts, Macanese and Portuguese custard tarts — all have that same combination in my view.

Coconut is not such an unconventional sweet ingredient. It can be shredded and desiccated, its milk and cream extracted, and oil refined from it. The multiple ways in which the coconut can be processed results, obviously, in a multitude of coconut dishes both sweet and savoury. My paternal grandmother made a Nyonya paste called kaya. This steamed coconut custard, with the addition of a generous amount of butter, was usually spread over bread (soft white loaf bread preferred; toasted bread also an acceptable alternative). Kaya is not very appetising in appearance; it can be olive brown, perhaps with a green tinge if pandan juice has been added, and its appearance slightly reminiscent of mucus if I’m to be honest. I struggled to make myself even approach it, let alone taste it, because of its repulsive appearance. However, the flavour of it is absolutely satisfying. I think in this instance the richness of the combined eggs, sugar and coconut creates a feeling of contented ful# lment.

My other favourite coconut titbits are the New Year biscuits called kuih bangkit. They are rather ornate things, the dough shaped by being pressed into wooden moulds and transformed into floral shapes. I would describe these biscuits as crunchy: they are composed of toasted tapioca brought together with egg and coconut cream. Some might describe their taste as unpleasantly chalky without any saving grace, but I recall how they radiated warmth when I popped them into my mouth and started chewing and that I liked how the flour crumbled all at once and sucked all the moisture out of my mouth. Perhaps, for me, the interest lay there and the coconut sweetness merely played the foil.

Recipes in this Chapter

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