Last week, I gave y’all a lesson about crabs and their hepatopancreas. Ok fine, I didn’t give a lesson I gave a link, but whatever, you’re now more knowledgeable than you were before so I rest my case. All that talk about hepatopancreases (my new favourite word) pulled at my heart strings, which I know sounds weird, like why would crab “mustard” make me all sad, but it does. And it does because…
I miss my daddy.
And his chilli crabs. (in that order).
Growing up in a small village in Malaysia (Bukit Kecil for those who are nosy), my dad’s family made their livelihood as farmers and fisherman. So even as a child, my dad would trudge off into the mangroves and rivers with his thirteen siblings and come back with buckets full of crab, fish, and prawns.
They’d slowly make their way home along a pot-holed dirt road (which even when I was born and alive and very much kicking was still a pot-holed dirt road), passing by the family vegetable farm, plucking a handful of home-grown vegetables to take home for their mother.
And this was dinner in the poor little village ~ fresh seafood and home grown greens.
Geez, what I wouldn’t give to be poor right now.
When we moved to Brisbane in 1988, I think the first thing my dad did was suss out the local rivers and mangroves because dang if he’s gonna start paying for seafood now. And he recon’d good. He found secret mangroves and well-known jetties, he made his own crab “dillies” (initially out of wood, then sometime in the industrial revolution, he moved onto steel – not shit) and proceeded to provide his family with an endless supply of fresh mud crabs, sand crabs, fish, prawns and even the occasional string ray.
But he didn’t stop there, he bought us a house with a large garden, not for his kids to play in (because dude, my dad’s Chinese, we were locked in our rooms and forced to study for 27 hours a day) but so he could plant various varieties of fruits and vegetables.
The vegie patch is constantly changing depending on the season or his whim, but normally on the cards are bok choi, gai lan and snake beans.
The fruit trees are far more exciting. Longans are one of my favourite fruits and even though they only seem to thrive in the Southeast Asian heat, my dad grew me a longan tree which survived like half a season but imagine the awesomeness of being allowed out of my room after 27 hours of study and being able to pick my own longan fresh from the tree!
These days my dad still plants fruits, he’s got a thriving guava tree and persimmon tree, a couple of little kumquat trees and, I might be lying here but a papaya tree? Maybe? Mum?
Anyway, I’m totally digressing…
All this hepatopancreas talk had me missing my dad and his chilli crabs. Growing up in our household, we had crabs every weekend, if not almost every day during the summer months. We usually had these dudes boiled and ready to go, just staring at us with them beady eyes:
We’d sometimes had them just plain boiled, dipped in soy sauce, or sometimes my mum would whip up the bestest most awesomest fresh crab & sweetcorn soup:
But my very most favourite food memories were from when my dad cooked up his scrumptious chilli crabs. See the snake beans in the background? Those are home grown too.
My dad’s chilli crabs are just To. Die. For. I don’t know how he makes it, I don’t think the recipe is a secret or anything but I’m just a crap daughter and I never learnt (but I will!). And it’s not like I just want to say the word again, but the sauce, the secret to what makes the sauce taste good is a decent helping of the crab’s hepatopancreas and better yet, roe if you have some of that.
I miss my dad’s chilli crabs, I really do. There’s nothing like getting down and dirty with a dish like this and soaking the sauce up with plain rice or a toasted man tao. It’s spicy, it’s sweet, it’s tangy, it’s pungent. Urgh I love that word.. pungent.
But my parents’ culinary prowess don’t end there. Another favourite homecoming dish of mine is my mum’s curry fish with okra and aubergine. I don’t think I need to say much about this one… just look at the curry goodness.
My mum is also a pro at Malaysian kuehs and OMG she makes the best home made char siu baos, sitting on the floor and kneading the dough into airy oblivion for hours. Dedication. Love.
I miss them 🙁
Ok! So I’ve successfully homesicked myself out of the stratosphere now. I’m seeing my parents in April, but that’s not at home ~ we’re meeting mid-way in Hong Kong to attend my cousin’s wedding… and I’m not due for a trip back to Australia until… I don’t know when.
But the good thing about parents is that no matter how long you’ve been gone, be it a month or a decade, they’re always there and they’re always the same. And they always know what you love, and they always have it ready.
So, who wants to come home with me?