Heritage food like this brings back so many memories, retains such a rich culture, and always has a story behind it.
How old were you when you started cooking: I started cooking at 13 years old – home economics classes at school brainwashed me! Well, in a good way.
Personal wish related to cooking: I wish that one day I can use what I know in the kitchen to help others, and to show others that making delicious home-cooked food can be quick, easy, and a whole lot of fun!
Sharon Lam , Counsellor by day, Kitchen whisperer @ Delishar by night.
The safe and comfort of home – this is the heart-warming feeling I get whenever I think of steamed pork with salted fish.
My late grandfather is my inspiration for this recipe, one of his most common Cantonese dishes. I remember with fondness that rhythmic pounding of his Chinese cleavers against the butcher board while he manually minced the slab of pork shoulder. I would stand at the doorway of the kitchen and watch in fascination as he prepare dinner for the family.
As soon as that familiar smell of the pungent yet aromatic salted fish made its way down the hallway, the family would start setting the table in preparation for dinner. It was as if the aroma was silently announcing that dinner was almost ready.
My maternal grandparents were both Cantonese. My grandfather was from Guangdong, China. He came to Singapore at a tender age of nine, in hope that he would find opportunities and have a better chance of success in life. He lived with my great-grandaunt, who was working as a servant for a Caucasian family. He found a job at a glass factory and stayed on to learn the trade.
He was introduced to my grandmother, whom in her own words “wanted nothing to do with him”, but my grandfather was persistent and won her heart. They dated for a year before getting married, and had 7 children – 4 boys and 3 girls. My grandfather had a career switch, and became a seaman in order to provide for the family. It was onboard the ship that he honed his culinary skills, as he worked his way up from a repair guy to a cook, and finally the captain of the ship.
He made enough money to buy a bungalow where all his children and grandchildren lived under one roof until they were able to afford a place of their own. My grandfather sold the bungalow when he was ill-stricken with cancer. Most of my aunties, uncles, and my cousins then moved out, leaving six of us to share an HDB. I witnessed cancer slowly consuming my sick grandfather, but never once did we hear him complain or whine.
He went on with life as positively, and as normal as he could. I remember looking forward to going home after school, longing for my grandfather’s home-cooked lunch. Walking into the house and being greeted by that familiar smell of his steamed pork with salted fish, had never failed to put a smile on my face.
After the passing of my grandfather when I was 12 years old, I hardly ate this dish anymore as it was not something that I could find at the hawkers or food centres. While at some places, I might be able to find similar dish like the steamed pork with salted egg, it just did not satisfy that emotional craving of home. The solution was to learn to recreate this dish from my aunt, and through many kitchen trials, I finally acquired the closest taste and texture to that of my grandfather’s cooking.
Heritage food like this brings back so many memories, retains such a rich culture, and always has a story behind it. I am grateful to be able to recreate food that not only nurtures the body, but also feeds the mind and soul.