When I’m in my little kitchen cooking, especially when making Indian food, I’m often reminded of my maternal grandparents. My grandfather, A.A. Marimuthu, hailed from Tanjore, South India and came to Singapore when he was 18. Born a local Chinese, my grandmother she was adopted by an Indian lady after the Second World War. The story goes that she might have been stranded or orphaned during the Japanese Occupation. They met and got married and continued to live in my great-grandmother’s home in 44 Joo Chiat place- a pre-war shophouse in the Katong/Geylang area in the east of Singapore.
The earliest memories of my childhood go back to the days I was about 4 or 5 and living in that shophouse. I can still clearly recall my grandfather using a type of pliers to cut the asafoetida (type of dried latex used in Indian cooking) and my grandmother stirring the pot of sambar (a South Indian vegetable stew/curry) or using the large ladle to dish out the thosai batter onto the hot griddle. Grandfather took care of the spices and Grandmother was the one mostly in-charge of cooking, as in most Indian households.
The smell of my grandmother’s homemade sambar and ikan bilis sambal (dried anchovies in hot chilli paste) are so deeply etched in my memory that for me, they are the gold standard to achieve . Both my grandparents were old school home cooks who made everything from scratch; they ground their own masala powder, ground their own spice paste by mortar and pestle and made thosai and idli batter daily with the larger mortar and pestle (ammi)- a feat a modern day home cook could never achieve!
Sadly, my grandfather has passed on and my grandmother has severe dementia. They did not leave behind any recipes and only my recollection of how the food tasted serves as a guide to me. I hope, one day, to be able to cook like my grandmother.
Food and memories are closely linked for many of us, I’m sure. What are some of your fond food memories?