I cooked some steamed pork in the rice cooker tonight. The dish reminded me my aunt Yi-ma (姨妈) who cooked an excellent steamed pork dish. Yi-ma means an aunt from the mother side.
My mother met my father during a match making visit between for Yi-ma and my father.
My mother’s childhood
My mother was an orphan. Her mother was a maid who married her aged master.
In early 1900s, my grandfather was a laborer who went to Malaysia to work on a rubber farm. It was very common those days along the south coast of China. When he returned to China, he bought some farm land and a few houses. He then took a concubine, the maid. His first wife gave him only a daughter and no sons.
The first wife’s daughter migrated to America with her husband. Before my grandfather had his own son, he adopted a relative’s child whose name was Han.
During the Sino-Japanese war the family ran out of money. Grandfather and his wives died under some unspoken circumstance. My mother refused to talk about it. Some relatives said they suffered a great deal of financial hardship as they were not able to collect rents from the land and houses during this period.
During the 1940s, my mother grew up with his brother, living on some cash sent home by the sister in America. The two young children cooked for themselves and cared for each other.
The adopted son, Han, was 20 years older than the children. During the war he was a soldier in the National army. When he returned from the war, he took over all the cash sent from America and rents. The two young orphans was left with no food or resources. Every day the siblings walked down to the Han’s house to collect some rice and whatever he would give them. Their regular meal was a thin rice porridge (congee). They were always hungry. As a grown up, my mother refused to talk about this man. Every time his name was mentioned, mother was anxious, sad and angry.
Moving to the city
In mid-1950, my mother was about 12 years old. My aunt Yi-ma’s family needed domestic helps and took my mother into their home. They were remote relatives from my mother’s side. Mother was grateful to them despite that she didn’t enjoy the chores, like getting up 5am in the morning to cook breakfast.
A few years later, she was accepted by a selective high school and could not come up with the few dollars for school fee each year. Mother was devastated when the family told her that they didn’t have the resources to support her education.
A young and beautiful maiden full of dreams
Young and attractive looking, my mother applied for an actress position which she was rejected because she was not sufficiently tall. Utterly disappointing, she found a job as a childcare worker which she thoroughly enjoyed. Her role was shortly made redundant and the position was offered to a relative of an official.
Mother became a factory hand in a wireless factory. She made many new friends. In later years, I observed her interaction with her friends, I could not help wondering if some of her male friends were once her admirers.
With the ambition to migrate to the U.S. to join her elder sister, my mother refused to have a relationship. When she was 28 years old, her sister passed away. Mother’s dream was shuttered again.
How my mother met my father
In the late 1960s, a young and bright engineer and his family were living two blocks away from Yi-ma’s apartment.
My grandmother was a friend of Yi-mas mother. They organised a match making 相亲 to introduce my aunt to my father. The introduction (相亲) did not go well – the young man stepped inside the apartment, and decided he wanted the other good looking maiden instead. Mother was visiting Yi-ma that day.
That’s how my mother met my father.
The young couple dated briefly, and happily married. They had many photos of happy times, sitting in the park with sweet smiles, and holding each others’ arms.
The happy time ended when I was born. My father was sent away to the countryside to work for another factory. He visited us for 10 days each year at Chinese new year, and occasionally dropped in for a few days while he passed through for work. My mother’s dream of marrying an educated man and living a comfortable life was shuttered. My father was not entitled to any accommodation in the city. We all cramped into a terrace house with my grandparents, uncles and aunt and their families.
When my father returned to the city, it was 13 years later.
Yi-ma married a nice man with a gentle soul. He was a senior official in the foreign trade inspection office. We called him ‘Yi-zhang’ (姨丈), meaning an uncle from the mother side. In his official position, Yi-zhang received gifts all the time – fruits, cookies to expensive Chinese liquor in fancy bottles. Yi-zhang didn’t drink. So it didn’t bother him that some liquor turned moldy in unopened bottles – they were fake and most likely filled with tea.
Beside free gifts, they were quietly well off. Yi-ma’s brother died during the Korean War. All the family assets went to Yi-ma, including a sizable portfolio of real estate and stocks in Hong Kong.
Knowing our limited financial resources, Yi-ma was always generous to us. Every year at the Chinese New Year she always gifted me a handsome amount in a red envelope. She gave me my first $1 note. In early 1970s, $1 was a fortune to a little girl. Unlucky for me, my mother confiscated the money, saying that she would have to provide red envelopes to other children so she must recycle the cash.
Yi-ma and Yi-zhang were the first family we knew to own a color TV and a fridge. They often invited us over for meals, cold jelly, special goodies or simply when they cut open a watermelon. Their most tasty dish was the steamed pork, cooked in a little metal dish on top of the rice, juicy, sweet, salty and delicious.
My steamed pork
I cooked some steamed pork tonight, just like how Yi-ma used to cook it.
(serves 3 as a FODMAP recipe)
- 400g pork scotch fillet (or a cut of pork with some fat), diced
- 1 tbsp. dark soy sauce (use a gluten free soy sauce for a GF option)
- 1 tbsp. sesame oil
- 1 tbsp. white wine
- 2 tsp sugar
- 10g of green shallot (scallion), sliced (use green part only for a FODMAP diet)
- a little fresh chili, seeds removed (optional)
- 2 tsp corn flour
- a little black pepper, cracked
- 2 tsp toasted sesame seeds, to garnish
- Mix all ingredients except for sesame seeds, place the mixture on a shallow bowl
- Steam the meat for 20-25 minutes, or until cooked