SINGAPORE - (THE NEW PAPER) It took Ms Sharon Lam many tries to recreate one of her late grandfather's dishes.
And it took her grandfather years of hard work as a seaman - rising from a lowly repairman to a cook, and finally, the ship's captain - to perfect his signature steamed pork dish.
The late Mr Lam had honed his culinary skills on the ship, preparing food for hungry sailors.
But home was where his food was appreciated most.
Ms Lam vividly remembers the rhythmic pounding of his cleaver against a wooden board as he manually minced a slab of pork shoulder.
STEAMED PORK WITH SALTED FISH
500g minced pork
50g salted mackerel fish (mei xiang), rinsed
2 water chestnuts, peeled and roughly minced
1 inch old ginger, julienned
1 tbsp soya sauce
1.5 tbsp Shaoxing wine
0.5 tsp sugar
White pepper to taste
2 tsp corn flour
2 tsp sesame oil
Chopped coriander, to garnish
1 chopped red chilli, to garnish (optional)
1. Put the steamer on high heat.
2. In a large mixing bowl, add the minced pork, water chestnuts, soya sauce, Shaoxing wine, sugar, white pepper, corn flour and sesame oil.
3. Using a pair of chopsticks, mix the ingredients in one direction until well combined. Mixing the meat in one direction gives it a springy texture and will prevent it from falling apart when being steamed.
4. Place the meat mixture in a stainless steel or heat-safe bowl, making a patty 2cm to 3cm thick.
5. Create a slight indentation in the middle and place the salted fish in it.
6. Scatter the ginger on top of salted fish and meat.
7. Steam on high for 15 to 20 minutes or until cooked.
8. Garnish with chopped chilli and coriander.
9. Serve immediately.
"I would stand at the doorway of the kitchen and watch in fascination as he prepared dinner for the family," says Ms Lam, a school counsellor.
The smell of the aromatic salted "mei xiang" (a type of mackerel) wafting through the hallway was a sign that dinner was almost ready.
He continued preparing the dishes for his family even after he was struck with cancer.
Ms Lam recalls: "He went on with life as positively and as normally as he could.
"I remember looking forward to going home after school, longing for my grandfather's home-cooked lunch."
Her grandfather died from the cancer 20 years ago, taking the recipe to his grave. For years after that, Ms Lam's craving for it grew.
"It was not something I could find at hawker or food centres.
"While at some places, I might be able to find similar dishes like steamed pork with salted egg, it just did not satisfy that emotional craving of home," she says.
The solution? Learn to recreate the dish from scratch. She took to the kitchen, enlisting the help of her aunt to find the right mix of ingredients and reproduce the familiar taste.
Ms Lam says it is not the same, but it does come close to her grandfather's.
About My Singapore Food
My Singapore Food is a not-for-profit crowd-funded project that aims to preserve 50 family recipes.
They were compiled from recommendations by chefs and restaurant owners here, some of whom will also be featuring their family recipes.
The website - www.mysingaporefood.com - was officially launched yesterday. It will host all 50 recipes in short videos, available for free and released in phases till the end of the year.
Each video will also showcase the personal stories behind each dish.
This article was first published on August 2, 2015.
Get The New Paper for more stories.