The year was 1985. I was in primary school and I had a bff , a Chinese girl named Dee. We were desk buddies and as I used to live right next to the school, I often came to school early, just to spend the 20 or so minutes before morning assembly with her, sometimes exchanging stickers, sometimes playing ‘ye-ye’ or 5-stones. Sometimes just looking through her colorful doll inspired notebooks and admiring them, as my parents were not known to indulge me in those ‘wants’.
But there was something else that, when I looked back, I realized that something else motivated me to come to school early enough before the first bell rang. Now, Dee took the school bus to school. As such, she had to leave her home very early, too early for breakfast. So she had her breakfast in school. Those days, only one stall opened early enough (i.e before the first bell rang) for the Chinese students to have breakfast. Just that one Chinese stall and that aunty’s morning menu was always, mee pok.
I used to accompany Dee to the stall to buy her mee pok. I would count the number of fish balls or fish slices in there on top of the mince meat, and made that sure she got the right amount each time. I would follow her back to the table and watch her slurp the steaming egg noodles, full of fascination. I remembered her asking me, why couldn’t I have some? I told her, cannot, I cannot eat babi. And she shrugged and said, why cannot eat babi?? It’s delicious. I told her, my parents said babi is dirty. Then she said, her mother always clean the babi before cooking, how could it be dirty?? I kept quiet and continued watching her slurp. Sometimes, her slurps were so fascinating to the little foodie girl in the making (me!), I salivated and I gulped down the saliva. No kidding!
Back then, I remembered telling my mother how great it was if we could eat all those things the Chinese eat. Being the typical Malay mothers in the 80s, she gave her scoff of ‘Dah buang tebiat tiba-tiba nak makan babi’ rendition. Again, I shut up. Of course I didn’t want to eat babi, duh. But it was circa that time, for one of our comprehension passages, it was about the Muslims in China. So, I asked my father, they eat babi or not? If not, what did they eat? Our kind of food, he said. Which was not convincing for me.
Fast forward many years down the road, when the first Banquet food court opened in Singapore, that was in Jurong East, I was already working. Banquet was then the only food court selling halal Chinese hawker food. When I heard from friends who had been there that they sold halal mee pok—substituting mince chicken for the pork, I took a cab from the eastern side of the island all the way to Jurong. I had my first mee pok, sans the babi and my meal was accompanied with flashbacks from the primary school years, to Dee and to her fascinating slurps.
Yesterday, I was at Little Taiwan cafe, alone doing work. I got hungry and scanned through the menu. They had ‘mee pok’ with shrimp wantans in soup on the side. The picture of it on the menu made me smile. I remembered Dee again, and her bowl of mee pok and her fascinating slurps. I ordered that dish. When it came, the dish was not that fantastic, but the memories of it all, made the slurping, yeap- a fascinating experience! 🙂