Being Part Hakka...

Growing up with my Hakka mother and aunts prove to be a lesson in thrift, especially when it comes to food. We eat sparingly and lightly for our main meals. Cooking is practical rather than presenting a pretty appearance. The aunts emphasize food in its original flavours and nutritional value.

As an adult, discovering my Hakka heritage when it comes to food was a source of surprise and wonderment.

A trip to a Hakka restaurant in Kuala Lumpur with a firm friend is exactly what the doctor ordered: a wonderful food tasting experience of previous samplings.

I view the menu in detail with all the things that I grew to love, yam, salted fish, minced pork and pickled vegetables feature prominently on the menu. Whether stir fry, boil, braise, steam or deep fry, it just feels like coming home to my aunts and mom’s cooking.

Traditionally, Hakkas live on rugged hill lands and have to work hard to survive. Therefore they need plenty of salt and oil to replenish their energy. Food need to be easily carried and preserved when working out in the fields.

 Mui Choy Kau Yook with Man Tao. Photo by Doris Lim

Mui Choy Kau Yook (Braised Pork Belly with Preserved Mustard Greens) is a classic Hakka dish that we grew up eating. Cooking is by way of braising.  A good flat piece if pork belly with an even distribution of skin, fat, meat, fat and meat is ideal. A mix of salty and sweet persevered mustard green makes for good balance in taste. Good black soya sauce and patience. Slow braising of up to 4 hours or more will produce that melt in your mouth super tender meat with the fat meltingly soft. Most people like it with rice, I rather like it with Chinese Steamed Buns (Man Tao), to mop up that delicious velvety sauce. It’s like eating butter fried bread, only much better. When you bite into the fat, it oozes creamy tasting lard oil.

Stir Fried Bitter Gourd with Salted Egg. Photo by Doris Lim

We children were told that bitter vegetables and herbs are good for health and like the bitter medicines from the Chinese Medicinal Hall, they heal your sickness. Bitter gourd is considered cooling in nature and helps to stimulate digestion and cool internal body heat. There are a few ways to cook bitter gourd. My grandpa loves it stir fry with beef slices and black bean sauce.

Stir fry with salted eggs sounds simple but you’ll be amazed how delicious it turns out as the salted egg takes out the bitter edge and makes it fragrant and tasty. I like it with boiled and cubed salted duck eggs. A quick stir fry will do so that the bitter gourd can stay green and crisp.

Hakka Noodles with Minced Pork. Photo by Doris Lim

Yet another one dish meal, Hakka Noodles with Minced Pork is an excellent breakfast treat. These noodles are similar to Wan Tan Noodles in springiness except that these have less lye water and the noodles are thicker and a little flatter. The noodles are blanched and mix with a dash of lard and dark soy sauce and top with minced pork belly in soy sauce. It goes exceedingly well with a good chilli sauce topped with chopped raw garlic.

Fried Salt Fish. Photo by Doris Lim

A staple at home, we used to come home to the smell of frying salt fish wafting through the house. Best eaten sprinkle over hot rice. Or a lovely dish of steamed with pork belly with salt fish with gravy over plain rice.

Steamed Minced Pork Belly with Salt Fish and Ginger.
Photo by Doris Lim

Fried Meat Cake. Photo by Doris Lim

Pièce de résistance ~ The Fried Meat cake (even saying that sounds sexy), a different take on the usual steamed version. A minced pork patty with chunks of salted fish (Mui Heong Kiam Hoo) mixed in, deep-fried to crispy salty, aromatic disks. Bite into that crunch and savour that pungent smell of salted fish. We’re prepared to wash this down with copious cups of hot Chinese tea. My kind of meat cracker!


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