Steamed pork with soy sauce sesame oil sesame seeds and wine
Steamed pork with soy sauce, memories of my aunt ‘Yi-ma’, and how my mother met my father (low FODMAP, gluten free)
During the week, we try to make simple meals. A meal cooked over rice in a rice cooker is ideal for a late autumn evening – warm, comforting and super easy. We enjoy a glass of wine while the rice cooker is hard at work.
So I cooked some steamed pork tonight. The dish reminded me my aunt ‘Yi-ma’ who cooked an excellent steamed pork dish. My mother met my father during a match making meeting between Yi-ma and my father. Yi-ma (姨妈) means an aunt from the mother side.
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 and worked on a rubber farm. It was very common those days along the southern coast of China. When he returned to China, he bought some farm land and two houses. He then took a concubine – his first wife only gave him a daughter but not a son. Later the daughter migrated to America with her husband. Before he had his own son, my grandfather also adopted a relative’s child whose name was Han. During the Sino Japanese war the family ran out of money and grandfather and his wives died under some circumstance – how it happened was never mentioned by my mother. Some relatives said it was from 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 a soldier in the National army. Upon his returning home, he took all the cash sent from America and rents from the land and houses. He left the two young orphans with little food and resources. Every day the siblings walked down to the Han’s house to collect some rice. They cooked congee for meals and 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.
In mid-1950, my mother was about 12 years old. Yi-ma’s family needed domestic helps and took my mother into their house. They are 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 congee for breakfast. A few years later, she was accepted by a selective high school and could not come up with the few dollars required. Mother was devastated when the family told her that they didn’t have the resources to support her education. Yi-ma was fortunate, she went all the way to university and became a doctor.
In late 1950s, my mother joined the work force. With her good look, she dreamed to become an actress. However, she was rejected due to her lack of height. She enjoyed a role as a childcare workers but she was shortly made redundant. Her job was given to a relative of an official. She finally found a job at a wireless factory where she worked as a factory hand. She had lots of friends there and many admirers. For the first time in her life, she was receiving attention and care she was crying out for. She was determined not to have a relationship, so she could go to America and joined her sister. Unfortunately, her sister passed away and her dream to America was shuttered.
In the late 1960s, a young and bright engineer and his family were living two blocks away from Yi-ma’s apartment. The young man’s mother, my grandmother, was trying to find a wife for her son. Grandmother and Yi-ma’s mother knew each other. They decided to match Yi-ma with the young engineer. The introduction did not go well – the young man stepped inside the apartment, and decided he wanted the other good looking maiden instead. My mother was visiting Yi-ma that day.
That’s how my mother met my father.
Yi-ma later married a nice man who was a senior official in the foreign trade inspection office. We called him ‘Yi-zhang’ 姨丈, meaning an uncle from the mother side. They were very 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. In his official position, Yi-zhang received gifts all the time, from fruits, cookies to expensive Chinese liquor in fancy bottles. Yi-zhang rarely drank. It didn’t bother him that some liquor was rotten in the bottle a few years later, as they were fake and made with tea. Their only daughter, Pan, was similar age to myself. We became good friends.
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 father never went to their house except a visit during each Chinese New Year.
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 over many years, saying that she would have to provide red envelopes to other children so she must recycle the cash.
I cooked some steamed pork tonight. For some explainable reasons, I remembered my aunt Yi-ma and how my mother met my father.
Recipe is as follows: