Winter melon broth with dried shrimps and memories of a factory in the town of ‘YingDe’ (英德)

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Today I cooked a winter melon broth with dried shrimps. It brought back so much memories of a peaceful country town with a fast running river, a farmers market and a factory with impressively huge machines that were sky high in the eyes of a little girl.

Winter melon broth with dried shrimps and bacon

I was born towards the end of the culture revolution in GuangZhou, a major city in Southern China. At the time, workers from the cities were sent to farming villages or smaller towns to work or for ‘re-education’. Shortly after I was born, my father, a young  mechanical engineer, left us to work in a township called YingDe (英德). YingDe was 150km or a 4.5 hour train trip away from Guangzhou. My father didn’t return to Guangzhou permanently until I was in high school.

My father examining a machine
My father examining a machine

I visited my father several times over the summer holidays. His accommodation was a bare room with its walls lined with old newspaper. The room was normally shared by a few workers using 2 set of bunk beds. The workers mostly ate at the canteen. If they wished to cook, the room was also their kitchen. There was no shower rooms for the male dormitories that I could recall. They washed themselves at the common cold water taps nearby with their shorts on, or at the nearby river. When there were family members visiting, the workers moved around to different dormitory rooms in order to make room for the families.

In this room, I cooked for my father and myself over a tiny diesel stove on the floor. The 3  x 20 cents meals from the canteen were deemed to be too expensive as daily expenses. Each morning after my father went to work,  I took a short walk to a small farmers market to buy ingredients to made lunches and dinners. Meals were mostly just boiled green vegetables, melons, eggs and rice. Once, a colleague came back from Northern China and gifted us a small bag of dried shrimps. We enjoyed it for months, adding a few pieces to each meal.

Sometimes in the afternoon I hanged out in the factory office. Bored with drawing, I often begged my father to take me to the workshop where they made huge machines. He chatted with the workers, tested the machines and they all looked awfully serious. I never had any ideas what they talked about and was never interested. I liked workshop for its high ceiling, big windows, smell of the engine oil, and something else special about it that I could not pinpoint.

YingDe was a quiet and peaceful town by a fast running river. The river was where I first learned to swim. In the evenings we walked down to the river on a small path shared by farmers and their animals. One time, I jumped into a pile of cow dropping thinking it was a rock. Where the river turned there was a small beach. Across the beach there was a particularly tall rocky mountain with a mystery looking cave.  I always wanted to swim across the river to explore the cave, but never had the courage.

By the river at YingDe, GuangDong, China
By the river at YingDe in 1980s

The winter melon broth I cooked today was a lot more fancier than the plain and simple YingDe version I cooked over 30 years old.  I do hope you will enjoy it.

Recipe is as follows:

Ingredients

  • 1 piece of winter melon, about 250g, remove skin, diced
  • 2 rashes of bacon, sliced
  • 10-20 dried shrimps, washed & soaked in hot water for 20 minutes, drained
  • 25g mung bean vermicelli, soaked in hot water for 20 minutes, drained
  • salt and white pepper to taste

Method

Bring a pot of water to boil, add melon pieces, dried shrimps and bacon; Simmer for 5-10 minutes or until the melon pieces are slightly translucent; add mung bean vermicelli, bring to boil; season with salt and white pepper, ready to serve.

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