At the wet market one day, I peered curiously at folks perched on tiny, tiny stools around tiny, tiny tables under a huge tree near a Chinese temple.
I was out of ideas for breakfast and somehow, none of the dry stuff like bread, fried cakes or man tou appealed to me.
I noticed that they were eating porridge and went to check out the array of fresh stir-fried and pickled vegetables to accompany the porridge.
In view of my pregnancy, I asked:
“Zhe ge xi fan he cai you jia wei jin de ma? (Is there MSG in the porridge or dishes?)”
The lady owner exploded:
“Wei jin? Xi fan gan ma yao fang wei jin??!!” (MSG? Who on earth puts MSG into porridge???!!!”
Oops!!! But a kind lady eating nearby quickly replied,
“Xi fan mei you wei jin. Cai ken ting you jia wei jin de. Mei you wei jin jiu mei you kou wei. Zai jia zi ji cao de cai cai mei you wei jin…” (No MSG in the porridge. Of course you need to add MSG or the veggies will be tasteless. Only home-cooked food will have no MSG)
Then I asked if there’s any salted eggs. The lady customer added that there’s no MSG in those either
I ordered only half a bowl of the sweet potato porridge, a salted egg, some stir-fried vegetables and tofu. The lady owner (who initially wanted to murder me) now cluck-clucked saying that I was eating too little LOL
I said it’s OK, my stomach can’t take too much now.
The steaming hot porridge and the salted duck’s egg was DELICIOUS! The tofu was OK but the stir-fried vegetables were EXTREMELY SALTY and I loudly announced:
“Wah…lao ban niang. Zhe ge cai tai xian le! (Lady boss, the vege is too salty for words!”)
She actually smiled and said,
“Ni bu xi guan. Zhe ge shi Sichuan cao cai. Wo de ke ren mei ge dou xi huan…” (You’re not used to it. This is Sichuan style, which is a hit with every one of my customers.)
I just showed an incredulous expression, still reeling from the saltiness. Something seems to be missing from my porridge so I asked if she had any “cai por” (pickled vegetables).
The lady customer laughed and told the lady owner to give me a bit to try…just in case. Ahh…the “cai por” was good. Too bad she didn’t have any salted fish
And so I found a delicious, healthy and cheap hot breakfast at the price of RMB3. Sometimes, I add stir-fried French beans, which taste like the ones we cook at home:
I’ve become a regular there and have even made friends with the lady customer and another Mother with a cute little boy.
It’s interesting to see that Chinese of all shapes and sizes here eat this porridge for breakfast. Check out this big fella slurping down his porridge here.
I’ve also seen teenaged boys and girls come for take-aways and hurly-burly military men asking for their “xi fan” or “zhou”. Of course, they’ll pile on the accompaniments especially the extra-long “you tiau” (deep fried crullers).
The lady owner turns out to be really sweet, always choosing a nice, clean salted egg for me and giving me huge pieces of sweet potato.
She’s even asked me to try her fried beehoon and mee but since I don’t like cabbage or Chinese cabbage, I said I’ll stick to porridge!
Sometimes I speak Hokkien (Minnanhua) with her and she also tells me of relatives in Malaysia. Most of them can’t pronounce the names of cities in Malaysia and none of the ones I know e.g. Ji Luong Buo (KL), Bing Cen (Penang), Ma Liu Jia (Melaka), Sa Lao Yek (Sarawak) ring a bell…
That’s how it is with Hokkiens eh? We appear brisk, fierce and unfriendly on the outside but once you get past the hard shell, we’re really nice folks
I’ve already been invited to a couple of house to try their home-cooked noodles and other Hokkien dishes LOL
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