Friday July 7, 2006
Good food, so are the 'kawan'
When Lai Meng arrived at Hua Xing Restaurant in Petaling Jaya for this interview recently, several “aunties” who are her fans greeted her.They wondered why the 79-year-old veteran artiste has not appeared on TV for a long time and encouraged her to remain active in showbiz.
Nowadays, the grandmother of four has slowed down in accepting jobs because of her age. She prefers not to eat out often, as it is rather inconvenient for her family to take her and her bed-ridden husband out for a meal. (Lai's husband died of intestine complications on July 1).
Not only did she meet her fans and the Loo family who runs the restaurant and whom she has known since the 1960s but she also savoured her favourite dishes.
The Xiang Shu Qie Zi (Pungent Brinjal) dish is Lai's all-time favourite.
“I love the dish very much. I learnt how to cook it some time back but forgot about it after I stopped cooking it for a while. Tonight I was really lucky to eat it again,” she said.
“I like the way the dish is made. Even though brinjal is a vegetable, the chef makes it tastes like it is an expensive dish and the brinjal has a nice texture.”
On the Marmite Ribs she said: “I am a carnivore; I like to eat meat a lot and I cannot do without it. This dish is delicious. I like Marmite when it is cooked with meat. The ribs taste bitter yet delicious.”
Next was the Tapioca Cake, a famous Foochow dish, which Lai prefers those served at a Klang restaurant.
But she is glad that the dish was served because not many res-taurants offer this dish.
“Tapioca is tasteless but the chef is good at matching the right ingredients to make the dish flavourful. I have eaten this dish in Klang and it was one of the best. It is cooked with shrimps and requires a lot of skills to cook it as you got to make it taste hard a bit,” she said.
The last dish that Lai craved for is Feng Rou Jian Shui Gao, a braised pork dish that goes well with rice cake that has baking soda in it.
“I like to prepare braised pork dishes myself but I am never good at it and mine does not taste as good as this. It seems that Hokkien people have the special talent in preparing this dish; I like the way they make the gravy. It is equally appetising when it goes with rice,” she said.
“That’s why there is an old saying that everybody may have his or her own 'kungfu' (skill) but the technique and skills they possess differ.”
Lai likes Cantonese and Hokkien cuisines. She began to fall for Foochow dishes after she met the Loo family who serves mainly Foochow cuisine at their restaurant.
She then worked with Chin Kway on Hokkien and Mandarin dramas in 1970s and 1980s.
Chin Kway and her brother Kim Hoo would invite Lai to try their dishes at their restaurant (used to be called Wah Hing Restaurant) at 4.5 Mile Jalan Klang Lama over the past 30 years.
The restaurant was relocated to the present address to make way for the road-upgrading project in Jalan Kelang Lama a few years ago.
After work at the former HVD Entertainment, Lai and her colleagues used to have supper at the Jalan Klang Lama outlet.
“A company van would take us home every night after work. On our way home, we would drop by the restaurant,” she said.
Even though they do not work in radio dramas anymore, Lai still keeps in touch with Chin Kway and her family.
“We are like siblings,” Lai said.
“If they have any function or cook something, they will invite me to come over and took the trouble to pick me up from my house.”
Lai was the star of local sitcom Empat Sekawan (Sei Hei Lam Mun in Cantonese), which also starred Hon Ying and the late Hoi Yong and Wong Hor.
Empat Sekawan was one of the locally produced entertainment programmes back in the 1960s that was enjoyed not only by the Chinese but Malay and Indian communities as well. It ran for over two decades on RTM.