A winter melon broth always brings back 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.
In the late 1960s, as part of the culture revolution, educated workers from the big cities were sent to farming villages or smaller towns to work and to be ‘re-education’. Shortly after I was born, my father, a young mechanical engineer, was sent to work in a small town called Yingde (英德) that was a 5-hour train trip away from home. My father wasn’t reallocated back to Guangzhou until I was in high school.
I visited my father several times over the summer holidays. His accommodation was a bare room with walls lined with old newspaper. The room was shared by a few workers using 2 set of bunk beds. They mostly ate at the canteen. However, if they wished to cook, the room was also their kitchen. There was no shower rooms for the male. They washed themselves using the taps in the court yard, or at the nearby river. When family members visited, the workers shuffled around to different rooms 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, while my father smoked two packs of cigarettes each day. Each morning I walked to a small farmers market to buy groceries. Meals mostly consisted of boiled green vegetables, melons, eggs and rice. Once, a worker 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.
In the afternoons I hanged out in the factory office. I followed my father to the workshop where they made huge machineries. He chatted with the workers, tested the machines and they all looked awfully serious. I was more interested in the workshop – high metal ceiling, big dusty windows and strong smell of engine oil. There was something comforting there and I didn’t know what it was.
Yingde was a quiet and peaceful town by a fast running river 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 mistaking it as 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.
One day, I would like to go back to the river again.
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.
- 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
- 1 tsp sesame oil
- salt and white pepper to taste
- 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 and sesame oil, bring to boil
- Season with salt and white pepper, ready to serve