As someone who has lived away from China, my home country, for more than two decades, I often find myself travelling into the depths of my memory, trying to savour moments growing up that I took for granted.
I remember the walks in the park with my paternal grandmother — where we shared silence for most of the way — and often wonder what she was thinking about. Only many years later did I learn of the hardships she endured, the losses she was grieving, while parenting and cooking us delicious meals. There is always a sensory memory somewhere in my reminiscence of the good old days, that carefree childhood, a simpler life. Whether it be sound of cicadas in the trees in the still, sticky midsummer air; the smell of a muddy lotus pond while I dig for earthworms by her side while she was fishing for tilapia; the smell of candy floss on the side of the road outside where she was playing mah-jong with her friends. There was always a taste or smell of food somewhere in all my little memory pockets, each of them containing a recipe that I am constantly trying to recreate.
This has stuck with me for all the years that I’ve been living in SA, cooking dishes that remind me of home in a distant memory has been therapeutic. I’m happy to share these memories with you, and if you’d like to try them out, be my guest.
Rice bowl was one of the easy lunches at home while I was growing up. Especially during weekdays, giving us enough time for a little siesta before school or work started again in the afternoon. It’s also a simple way to make for a delicious lunch for one, or even five. There are some simple rules in combining different ingredients to create deliciousness and robust flavours. Something sweet, something green, something salty (sometimes also fatty), slightly charred, something crunchy and sour, these flavours come together, and you have yourself a great lunch or easy weekday dinner.
Here’s my simple chicken rice bowl; chicken braised in Hong Shao Sauce (red braised sauce, according to Google), with finely chopped onions. For greens, I used sweet pea, because I have found ways to incorporate baby friendliness into my cooking for my two-year-old; you can use bak choi or any greens as you wish. For the sour, I used “pinkchi”- a “kimchified” pear made by my wonderful friend Zayaan, but you can use any pickles you wish so long as it is tangy and even slightly sweet. While the rice was cooking I steamed a few pieces of pumpkin, which I added to the rice because, toddler friendly again, no-one understands as much as a mother with young children the need to hide veggies in all possible places.
2 x pieces of chicken breast, skin on
½ x red onion
1 x cup of rice
1 x cup green peas (or any greens)
1 x pumpkin (if you want to make “orange rice” )
1x tablespoon of oyster sauce
1x tablespoon of light soy
3x table spoon of Lee Kum Kee “red sauce” ( ready-made red braising sauce)
- Alternatively, you can make your own red braising sauce, here are the ingredients
2x tablespoons of dark soy
1x tablespoon of light soy
2x tablespoon of brown, dark brown sticky sugar or rock sugar
2 x ginger, sliced 1cm thick
2-3 x star anise
2 x cinnamon sticks
2x bay leaf
½ cup x rice wine
1x leek cut into 5cm pieces
- Cut the chicken into 3cm cubes then add marinade with 1 tablespoon of oil, oyster sauce and light soy sauce; let it sit for at least 20 minutes
- Finely chop onion, add oil to pan, sauté
- Add chicken, brown and seal chicken on all sides
- Add red braised sauce, then some water to just above chicken pieces; once boiling, turn heat to medium (burners are different, adjust heat accordingly, braising is slightly lower than stewing) for 12 minutes
- Bring water to boil in a small pot and add sweet peas, blanch for 2 minutes maximum, if cooked for longer you’ll have wrinkly peas
- Mash up pumpkin and mix with rice
- Top rice with chicken, pickles and greens
- Et voila, Enjoy!