Popular Posts

Monday, November 18, 2013

A remembered fragrance

A remembered fragrance    

                         By Wan Chwee Seng

Its fragrance reached us, long before he set foot in the house. Maybe, it was the night breeze that carried the fragrance from the playing field in front of the pre-war government house  to the sitting room where eight of us, kids, sat reading or playing on the hard wooden floorboards, while mother kept a watchful eye on us.

A picture of the playing field in front of the house in 2008

My brother and I  at our childhood home in Kuala Pilah. ( Photo: 30tn Dec. 2008 ) 

As soon as we heard the familiar cough and the sound of the soft footfalls on the concrete steps, one of us would rush to unlatch the door.  And the sight of our father, baba, standing  in the dim light like a huntsman just back from a hunt, filled us with joy and gratitude. But, instead of a spear and a game in his hands, baba held a billiard cue stick in one hand, while hooked to a finger of the other hand was a creamy white package.

Baba standing in the dim light

 While mother helped to carry the package, we all rushed for a seat at the two benches that were placed at each side of a long wooden table.
We waited in anticipation as mother’s deft fingers untied the dried reed string that secured the upeh  ( arecanut leaf sheath ).

An arecanut tree

Upeh ( arecanut leaf sheath )

As soon as she lifted a flap of the upeh, the tantalising aroma of fried kuih teow ( later we learned it was called sar hor fun ) wafted out from the upeh and assailed our nostrils. Ten pairs of chopsticks were soon ploughing through the flat noodles and picking at the choicest ingredients that suited our taste buds. Above the clicks of chopsticks, we listened in silence, as baba informed mother about the latest local news and his evening at the Ulu Muar Club. The Club was located just across the playing field in front our house and during most weekends baba would join his friends from the Residential Area, Kuala Pilah for a game of billiard and enjoy their usual stengah ( a mixed drink from half measure of whiskey and soda water, served over ice) at the club.

 Sometimes, through the tranquil night air we would hear baba's spontaneous laughter and, knowing he was safe and well, a look of relief would light up mother's anxious face.

Close to mid-night, the crunch of unsteady steps and incoherent voices would drift from the side lane of the house to the sitting room, as the few stragglers from the club made their way home. 
We would pause from our work or play to listen to baba's footsteps and cough. Then as the other footsteps receded into the distance and we did not hear the familiar sound, we tried to reason the worry away, telling ourselves that he was heading to town to 'tapau' some food for us. We would picture him plodding alone along the lonely stretch of road lit only by the glow of chequered lights from the row of government quarters, as he made his way to his favourite coffee shop in Kuala Pilah town.  

Government houses in the Residential Area, Kuala Pilah ( Photo: 2008 )

We knew baba would not come home from the club without bringing back some kind of takeaways: fried noodles, fried mee hoon and others that have since slipped my mind. But somehow, the sar hor fun has remained vivid in my mind. I often wonder what gave the sar hor fun its unique taste and fragrance. Was it the preparation: noodles fried in a sizzling wok over flaming wood fire; the ingredients;  the upeh wrapper; or perhaps just the imagination of a hungry kid?  

Then one morning at a family gathering at our ancestral home in  Melaka,  my siblings and I were reminiscing about our childhood days in Kuala Pilah in the 1950s  when one of my sisters said,

“Do you remember the late night when baba would come home from the club with fried ' kuih teow' ?"

"We could smell it from a distance."

"I have not come across any that smell and taste that good," she added. 

As a murmur of assent ran round the room, all lingering doubts about the fragrance of the sar hor fun was put to rest.I knew then it was not the imagination of a hungry kid. 



My siblings and I at our ancestral home in Melaka

 Today, whenever I think of the ‘kuih teow’ of my childhood days,  my nose still tingles with  its remembered fragrance_  a fragrance that evokes the memories of  caring and loving parents and the joy of sharing meals with loved ones.

Related articles:
Please click links and scroll down

In days past

Finding our way home

Gifts from a stranger