All of us surely remember some of our favourite things when we began to learn and understand many things around us during our growing days. We remember the fruits we liked to eat, the games we liked to play, the dishes we loved to eat, the stories we always liked to hear over and over again and many other things that consitute our favourites. Sometime even among our uncles and aunties we tend to like one or two among them more than the rest. As we grow older, these favourite things we once crazed will always fill our memory bank and will be perpetually remembered. Like any normal child, I had my fair share of these favourite things.
My grandmother was a fantastic cook, in fact all mothers are fantastic cooks as far as their children are concerned. This is most obvious as it is always from the mothers that children begin their first taste of many foods cooked by their mothers and when they grow older, these foods will eventually become their favourites.
Breakfast during my early days was always the first thing I looked forward to since that would be my first meal of the day. Grandma and her maid-servant Mak Yang would be at the kitchen immediately after their dawn prayers. When I was very small, as small as four to five years old, cooking was done by using chopped rubber woods and it was only when I reached the age of seven or eight that these chopped woods would be replaced with the kerosene, filled in a bottle and fitted at the end of the cooking set. It was thought to be modern then. However, these chopped rubber woods would still be used to cook some other delicacies like the ‘dodol’ and ‘halwa maskat’ and when the quantity was bigger, especially when cooking ‘nasi briyani’.
While waiting for grandma and Mak Yang to prepare for breakfast, I would play alone by the stairs. I used to collect few empty cigarette boxes and from these boxes I created many games. I would line up these boxes in a row and shoot them one by one by using rubber bands. Sometime, these rubber bands would be stretched over at the top of a ruler and released them to shoot the boxes. I would pretend this ruler as my riffle and would shoot with one of my eyes closed with the other one focussed on the target. Of course when these rubber bands were released, I would produce the shooting sound just like in the cowboy movies I had watched like ‘bang bang’ and sometime ‘tiooong’. While doing my shootings, the smell from the kitchen would filled the air and that would make my empty stomach producing the same shooting sound of ‘bang bang’ and ‘tiooong’.
When breakfast was ready, Mak Yang would call me and I would immediately stop shooting and run straight to the breakfast table. Grandpa would sit at one end of our long table, grandma would sit besides him and next to grandma would be Wak Jis and Wak Yem. Auntie Mak Ru and auntie Mak Chu would normally have their breakfast at the kitchen eating together with Mak Yang and grandma’s adopted daughter Jah Piji. I would sit facing grandma and sometimes Kak Fuzi would join in. Grandma liked my cousin Kak Fuzi very much and she always made sure that Kak Fuzi would be around at every meal. She would shout ‘Fuzi, Fuzi’ from the rear door facing Mak Pon’s kitchen and within seconds Kak Fuzi would appear running towards our house.
The dishes for breakfast would be ‘lempeng’, a pan-cake like cooked with flour and mixed with a little salt and grated coconut. It would be fried by using ghee. We would normally eat these lempeng with sugar as well as ‘sambal ikan bilis’. Sometime we had ‘Quacker Oats’ and we called this dish as ‘Kueh Kak Oat’ (Quacker Oats actually). Everytime we had ‘Kueh Kak Oat’, we felt like as though we were ‘Orang Putih’ (White men). So I would say to Kak Fuzi ‘eat?’, and she would reply ‘yes, no and alright’. Besides the lempeng, we would have toasted bread spread with margarine. Those days butter was a luxury and so we normally had margarine. Black 434 Muar coffee would be our drinks and we never had tea for breakfast. Later we had a small ‘tapioca plantation’ and that would be the time when we had tapioca for breakfast almost everyday. However, looking back I must admit I liked lempeng most and is still my favourite but sadly, I can’t find any restaurant in Kuala Lumpur today serving lempeng for breakfast.
After breakfast we would play many games, both indoor and outdoor. For the indoor games, we would play the ‘congkak’ and ‘enjit enjit semut’. There were many games we played without toys, only with our hands and legs. We played ‘galah’ and koknai (police and thieves). If we had toys, it were products of our own manufactured. We created a product called ‘chaptay’, made of chicken feathers placed vertically on a stack of round rubber made from used bicycle tubes. The boys would make their catapults out of tree branches and looking for birds of various kinds to shoot and they always missed. While we were busy running here and there and all around the house, the womenfolk would be busy at the kitchen to prepare lunch. Before joining the kitchen ‘staff’, Mak Yang would wash all the clothes first and have them hung at the side of our house where the blazing sun could easily have them dried by evening.
Most of the Malay dishes would use coconut milk we called ‘santan’. These ‘santan’ could be produced by squeezing the flesh of the riped coconut which had been grated. The riped coconut would be referred as ‘kelapa tua’ (old coconuts) and sometime, these coconut fruits would produced embryo we called ‘tumbung’. Everytime they found any ‘tumbung’ in the coconut fruit, that ‘tumbung’ would be reserved for me, and me alone. If I found out that someone had eaten the ‘tumbung’ without my knowldege, I would begin my crying and that would be a disaster.
The food for lunch I liked most were ‘sotong masak hitam’ (cuttle fish with black gravy), ‘korma daging’ telur ikan goreng (fried fish roe) and ‘fried chicken leg’. So grandma always made sure one of these items would be served during every lunch time. I was a spoilt kid and quite demanding too but somehow grandma always obliged.
Once in a while she would cooked ‘Laksa Johor’ which is another of my favourite dish. Those days we did not have spagetti in the market and the laksa was produced by using cooked rice. These cooked rice would be mashed and place inside a special brass container with very small holes at the bottom. It would be squeezed and the mashed rice would come out from these holes to produce the ‘laksa’, which is quite similar to a spagetti. The gravy was of sliced boiled fish mixed with a special ingredient and cooked to perfection. Those days we used ‘ikan parang’ and it was truly delicious.
For tea, my favourite dish was ‘bubur pulut hitam’ (porridge of black glutinous rice) mixed with a few drops of ‘santan’. I could eat these even with three helpings. Sometime grandma would fried ‘mi siam’, another of my favourite dish.
When I began my primary schooling, I seldom read books but I sure did read a lot of comics and The Beano was my favourite. Reading comics would not be too straineous because I did not have to imagine things like when reading short stories. Comics are more descriptive and easy to understand. I would read the Beano before retiring to bed and would look for the same Beano the moment I woke up the next day. I could read the same Beano for more than ten times before buying the next new copy.
When I was small, I slept with uncle Wak Jis on the same bed and he would tell me stories. The story I liked most was ‘Badang’, about a fisherman who became very strong after he caught hold of the theif that stole his fishes. This thief happened to be a weird creature with very long hair. One day the fisherman after having caught the creature refused to let him go. The creature pleaded with him to let him go and he agreed if the creature could make him strong. The creature could really make him strong if he agreed to eat the products of his vomits. The fisherman agreed and eventually he became very strong and was later made a warrior at the King’s palace. So, every night Wak Jis would tell me this story over and over until he himself got so fed up. One night he suggested to me of a new story but I refused and insisted that he tell me the same story. So he began the story and suddenly he was so quiet. I looked at him but he was already fast asleep and snoring. I guess he was feeling so boring telling the same story that eventually made him sleep’.
I had many uncles and aunties both from my father and mother’s sides. They were all my favourites. The uncles and aunties from my father’s side were very hilarious in their characters. I will certainly introduce them to you in my later postings because they were really funny people and how I really miss them now. My uncles and aunties from my mother’s side were likewise very hilarious in their own ways.
We had no television then, only the radio and my favourite program was a weekly eerie program with various kinds of ghost stories. I would always listened to the story with my ears closed and eyes shut. At the end of the story I would find trouble sleeping and often ended with terrible nightmares. It was still my favourite though.
If I liked one particular shirt, I would wear it every alternate days and Mak Yang had better make sure it would be washed the day after I had use it. Once grandma made me a shirt with colourful flowers and I liked it so much that I would wear it almost everyday. Mak Yang would always insist that the shirt must be washed everytime after having worn it but sometime I refused to let the shirt washed and would wear it again the next day. One day while I was wearing the shirt, I played at the neighbour’s house. Then I saw the curtain of the house had the same design and colour of my shirt. Immediately I went home and changed to a new shirt much to the amusement of Mak Yang. Well, at least she could wash the shirt tomorrow.
These were some of my favourite things when I was very small. I am sure some of you surely must have your favourite things during your growing days. I had mine, during those days when it was truly wonderful.