Aunty Kuppu’s amazing vegetable pickle

The year was 1987.

The national daily I worked at, The Star, had just had its publishing licence revoked by the government.  Overnight, the entire newsroom was out of work. So, I’m sitting with my housemates – also reporters – in our shared house in Section 17, Petaling Jaya, mulling over matters of press freedom (lack of), and career prospects (apparently doomed), when Mrs Kuppusamy – Aunty Kuppu to us – suddenly shows up.

Aunty Kuppu had been a headmistress of Durian Daun Girls’ School in Malacca in the ’50s, an admired colleague of my mother’s, and later much-loved family friend. Despite the name – a legacy from her second husband – she was a Malacca nyonya: light-skinned, and (unusually) big-boned and tall. No matter the occasion, or lack of one, Aunty Kuppu’s formidable presence always brought an atmosphere of burlesque, with her sharp eye, quick wit and terrible jokes, delivered at a volume suitable for school assembly before PA systems came in. These were always interspersed with a braying “hah?…hah?” and perhaps an elbow-dig, in case you were slow to respond.

She didn’t say anything about the political situation on that occasion, which really was beyond words,  but she did give us a jar of her special homemade vegetable pickle – I guess, to cheer us up. It was so mind-blowingly good, I had to ask for the recipe.  Continue reading


The care and cleaning of tiny dried fish

In my first years of going to Australia as a university student, my mum always packed a large supply of these dried fish for my kitchen cupboard. It was the early 1980s, and Asian cooking ingredients were hard to find outside of large cities, which at that stage did not include Canberra.  “Chinese” or (even worse) generic “Asian” food came from typical Aussie-Chinese restaurants serving unrecognisably syrupy lemon chicken and sweet and sour pork.

I never had any trouble getting these through customs inspection, along with my year’s supply of curry powder.

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