Grandmas’ easy cook recipe: Chili sardines.

Here I am thinking about grandma “Ah Ma” and missing her again. I remember how I use to come back from school and have lunch already made, waiting for me on the large kitchen table. It is usually a rice based lunch with yummy side additions. I am a glutton since birth and my mum asked Ah Ma to cut back on my food as I was getting too expensive to feed.. 🙂 Sure am glad that Ah Ma wouldnt have any thing to do with mum’s suggestion and happily fed me whatever I like. I am also thankful to mum for the great genes that I got, for I wasnt ever overweight despite all that good food and large portions that I get.

I want to give a little background info about my family here, I hope it will give a better understanding of SE Asian food and culture. 200 years ago, Singapore was founded and a government was put in place by the British EIC. Then people moved in from all over the region onto this tiny island to make a living .. or fortune.. That is to say, nobody is really a native here. At best, I would call myself a local in Singapore and a 2nd generation Singaporean.

When people move away from their homeland, they bring with them their culture from backhome. They never thought that culture would change with the new surroundings, but history show us that it can and has changed with time. It was also natural that the new immigrants then form groups and have clans with family names or dialect groups. In those days, there would be a Teochew section, Hokkien section and various other Chinese grouping in different parts of the island. Even tho all are Chinese, each group uses its own dialect and have its own cooking style that is distinct in its own way. To the westerners, Chinese eats rice. To the Chinese, there is Teochew porridge, Cantonese congee, steamed rice, baked rice crackers, glutanous rice cakes, etc. Anyway, I am Teochew by dialect group and have Hainanese grandparents on my mum’s side.

Dinner for 2. Each gets rice in bowl. The stir-fry veg and egg omelette to share.

Dinner for 2. Each gets rice in bowl. The stir-fry veg and egg omelette to share.

The most obvious difference between Chinese food and Western food is this. Western food is served in order of starters/appetizers, main and dessert to each person at the table. And Chinese food is served in a communial setup, such that everyone gets a bowl of rice/porridge, and pick on the assorted dishes of food placed in the centre of the table that is meant to be shared by everyone at the table. This is probably the reason why Western dining tables are square/rectangle and Chinese favors round tables for the family. We use square tables too, but only for practical reasons. Round tables are a must for weddings and family gatherings. Betcha most young, non mainland Chinese didnt notice this part of the culture. These are little things that I learn growing up with Ah Ma.   

So what is Teochew style food? 200yrs ago, most people were so poor that they couldnt afford to eat rice daily. Teochew porridge is really watered down, boiled rice that is satisfying enough for hungry Teochew laborers. The usual side addition to the porridge is pickled vegs and salted fish or meats. For the most desitute, its only rice broth and braised pork innards gravy. Only on special occasions, do the working people gets a serving of steamed rice and healthy freshly cooked food.

There you have it, Teochew food revolves around the “soupy rice”. As society progresses and working class people are able to afford a little better living, Teochew housewives have a little more budget and have created new dishes for the family. New ingredients and can foods made their inroads into the menu and onto the dining tables. What is authentic food and fusion food? Where do you draw that line..? I dunno. .. .. maybe Ah Ma’s chili sardines is a fusion food that have been around before the term “fusion food” became a fashion statement. 🙂 What I do know is this.. its a cheap and good way to feed me. I could eat this dish with alot of rice or soup rice anytime.. maybe 2 large bowls of rice.. easily.. 🙂 remember.. me?..gluton was my middle name….

Chili, Onions and Sardines in a dish. What would be a good name for this dish..? Havent figured that one out yet..

Chili, Onions and Sardines in a dish. What would be a good name for this dish..? Havent figured that one out yet..

Cut and slicing red onion.

Cut and slicing red onion.

Alright, enuf said. The recipe.

1) Cut a good size red onion in 1/2, then slice thinly as shown.

2) Mince 2-3 cloves garlic.

3) Cut chilis into small flakes. Fresh chili always taste better than dried chili flakes. For convenience or if fresh chili is not available, use flakes as subsitute.

Chili, garlic, onion ready, and a open can of sardines.

Chili, garlic, onion ready, and a open can of sardines.

4) Open can of 250g Ayam brand sardines (Ah Ma’s fav, use no other brands!) “Smarsh” sardines with a fork.

5) Prepare 1/4 cup of lime juice.

Cooking instructions. 1) heat oil in pan, put in onions when oil is hot. Turn onions over and fry till soft, scatter garlic and chili flakes.

2) When the stuff in the pan are getting a little brown, its time for the sardines. Stir fry, add tomato ketup and 1/2 cup of water.

3) After 3mins (or more if you like), turn off heat, stir in lime juice.

I am really fortunate to have Ah Ma around in my growing up days, and so glad that I did know and treasure her being around. Now, I feel happy that shes better off and I have no regrets about not knowing her better.. like many people do after their elderly pass away.


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Sailing 2015: Port Townsend(WA, US) -> Costes Island (BC, Canada)

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