ADEN CHEW WEn xuaN,13
In a quest to taste the legendary Dong Po Rou (braised pork belly), Aden Chew Wen Xuan took up this project so that his mother could take time off her busy work schedule to cook the famous traditional Chinese dish. Little did he expect that she would cook up a storm, resulting in a 10-course dinner treat!
Mother, Wang Shu Jun
Dish of Choice:
东坡肉(braised pork belly), 酸菜鱼 (sauerkraut fish), 神仙鸡 (herbal chicken), boiled broccoli, braised meatball, quail eggs and cabbage, cold cucumber and black fungus salad, fish head with chopped chili and garlic, stir-fry french bean, stir-fry lettuce with chili and peanuts, stir-fry squid and capsicum
Have a listen to Aden's reflection in this journey of documenting his mother cooking these amazing dishes or read on in the transcript below.
Shiyun: In 2021, when I first invited you to do the project, your mum wanted to do it but you didn't want to do it. So how come two years later you decide to do it?
Aden: Because I want to show off my mum. Show off her 厨艺 (cooking skills)
Shiyun: For food?
Aden: Yes, 东坡肉 (dong po rou, braised pork belly)
Shiyun: When did you first eat 东坡肉?
Aden: On the day when you guys came to my house and do the filming.
Shiyun: You haven't eaten 东坡肉 before? Then how do you know that it is so amazing and unique?
Aden: Because of the fats! It is 三层肉 (san ceng rou, pork belly), who don't like 三层肉 for Chinese?
Shiyun: How about the other dishes that she cooked?
Aden: 神仙鸡 (shen xian ji, herbal chicken). Yes 我没有吃过， 第一次 (I've never eaten it before, first time..)
Shiyun: Also never eat before? 神仙鸡?
Shiyun: Okay, what other dishes you haven't eaten before?
Aden: Only these two.
Shiyun: The others you have all eaten?
Shiyun: Are those dishes something you eat very frequently?
Aden: No. Like only on Chinese New Year, or special events then, yeah.
Shiyun: In the workshop right, I saw in the post-it you wrote that... when you eat your mum's food you feel comfortable, inspired and amazed. Let's talk about amazed.
Aden: Okay, I'll just take this as an example. So when I was primary 5, I wanted to have a diet. My mother bought a lot, like a lot of chicken breasts at home. Then I am like, ok I cook. I just boil the
chicken breasts and eat. Disgusting! Later my mother came home, "Ah boy, 你要吃吗?" 我讲要。"我帮你煮鸡胸肉啊! " ("Ah boy, do you want to eat?" I said I want. (She said) “I will help you cook chicken breast"), Then she go cook and take out. I’m like, what? So nice, I'm amazed!
Shiyun: Mummy figure to you is someone who is very amazing at cooking and making, like doing magic with food?
Aden: She say like, she you know (learnt to) cook from my grandfather in China and I'm like... How? because my grandfather in China, he don't usually cook, he eat those kinds of you know... I don’t know how to say. You take like a pot and you just boil things in water, or throw them into a bowl of, don't know whatever secret ingredient put there for like some days, take out then you can chop and eat.
Shiyun: It's like your fermented meat ah? 腌肉 (yan rou)?
Aden: Yeah, they call it.. 什么? 蒜蓉白肉? 我不懂。(What do they call it? Garlic pork? I am not too sure.)
Shiyun: Is it very nice?
Aden: I miss it.
Shiyun: From your sharing, it seems that you miss quite a lot of things in China.
Aden: Yes, because unlike Singapore, my hometown there in China, they like to eat a lot of fermented stuff. So like 臭豆腐 (chou dou fu, fermented tofu) all from there.
Shiyun: Where is the hometown?
Aden: 浙江，富阳村 (Zhejiang province, Fu Yang village)
Shiyun: Interestingly, you call that your hometown?
Aden: Yes. I consider them my hometown because, you know, my mother's cousins all, everyone... they treat my mother and my family very good. Because, my mother is the oldest among them, then, you know, they very close together.
Even though we are far apart, but, you know, every time my birthday, my mother's birthday, every time, you know, some special occasion then like, they will video call us. But when it comes to the Singapore part of my father's (family)... Because (when) my father was younger, right, he was like, you know, very like, never study then like go work with my grandfather already, like fixing the long kang (drain) and all that. In Singapore, most of them (relatives) just like look down on my father, because he has no money when, like (he is) at 30 something years old.
Shiyun: So in your photos, I also realised out of the 400 plus photos that you take, you take a lot of your mother's hand making food.
Shiyun: So you are most amazed by your mum's pair of amazing hands.
Shiyun: (laughs) But your father was very clear.
Aden: My father , I focus on his face. Because he don't like to take pictures ,so I purposely take one. If you go through my gallery... no photograph of my father, because every time I want to take picture my father ran away first. He doesn't like to take pictures.
Shiyun: So this is a very rare photograph of your father?
Aden: Yes, very rare. If he knows he is going to delete it, but let's keep it a secret. (laughs)
Shiyun:So I guess next year 新年 (Chinese New Year) you will have a lot of food to eat ah? Because your mum will want us to go to your house.
Aden: Huh got meh?
Shiyun: I don't know, I guess so...
Aden: I don't know... Depends on her la.