She Couldn’t Cook

Growing up, we didn’t have much material-wise but what we had in abundance was love.

My two siblings and I were raised in a single-parent family. Our mother whom I affectionately called Machi (a colloquial Cantonese expression for mother) brought us up on a meagre delivery officer’s salary.

My mother came from a wealthy family where she had her own AhMa J. You may be unfamiliar with this term as they no longer exist here.

The indispensable AhMa Js were domestic helpers originating from China. Previously, they were often found in places like Malaysia. You could spot them easily with their plaited hair or buns, wearing black and white samfus. They were known to diligently work for families.

So, given her privileged background, it was no surprise that Machi wasn’t a whizz in the kitchen. In fact, she didn’t even know how to boil water when she first got married!

Left to her own devices, my mother slowly learnt how to cook. From the simple task of just boiling water in the early days, Machi progressed to owning a decent repertoire of dishes. Many of them became my personal favourites.

It was meant to be, for AhMa J eventually decided to help Machi. She was the gem who managed our household when my mother went to office. Our neighbours would have often heard us calling out for her. We called her Ah Goo. We loved and treated her as part of the family.

After A Hard Day’s Work

In those days, on weekdays when traffic was not so heavy, Machi would be back from work in the evening at about 5.30. The moment she had plonked her handbag on the sofa, she’d would head to the kitchen. Without hesitation, she would jump into cooking dinner.

By 6.45, the tantalising smell of dinner would waft through the house. Dinner was ready to be served.

We young ones would get busy setting the table while Machi went off to take a bath.

At 7 sharp, we would all be seated as a family around the dining table.

We knew our place and manners. No meal was started before Machi and Ah Goo were comfortably seated at the table. Then, we children would say “Sik Fan” to the two adults. That meant “Please eat”. Only then did we raise our own bowls and chopsticks.

There Were No Handphones Then

That was the pre-mobile phone era. Dinnertime was a ritual of sorts. It was a means for our hardworking mum to catch up with our going-ons for the day. That included the trouble we got ourselves into!

It was at that same table that Machi instilled values upon us. Table Manners. Etiquette. Managing crises. Problem solving. Respect. Trust. Humility.

It was also over those meals which were cooked with love, that she passed on secrets. The secret of maintaining our self-confidence, high self-esteem and assertiveness. All the ways we could hold our heads up high always.

When we grew old enough to give our views, dinnertime got way noisier! We would debate and even have heated arguments over current topics!

That’s when Machi would break the tension with a lame joke and all would be good again. Laughter was a consistent ingredient in all our family meals.

Have We Lost It All? 

In today’s world, a family chatting while enjoying a meal together is a rare moment.

Perhaps it’s the long working and schooling hours during the weekdays that keep them apart. Or is it that technology has replaced the warmth and soul of a family?

Whatever the reason, today’s family speaks less to each other. They share less with each other. They misunderstand each other constantly. They grow apart faster from each other.

And soon the family will become strangers to each other.

But this kind of sad ending can be overturned.

What other way than getting strangers to meet over a meal, better still, over a good meal.

Keep the family together. Cook a meal together. Enjoy dinner together. Keep all electronic devices away from the table. Engage in real conversation. Debate if you want. Laugh when you can.

Family is most important. Don’t turn them into strangers. See you for dinner at seven.

Adventurous Prudence Loh is the person to reach out to for tips on the best food almost anywhere in the country. Insisting she lives to eat, she reminds one and all that she enjoys lame jokes for dessert! Armed with that delightful sense of humour, this energetic lady conducts fun food and cultural tours in major Malaysian cities. Touch base with her at prudence6868@gmail.com