I come from a big a family.When I said big I meant big even from those days standard.
I still remember when I was in school, my teacher asked me “Do you have an elder sister in standard six Normah? Or do you have sisters in standard 3, 2 and 1?. I have never felt embarrassed or pressured by those question. In fact, silently I felt proud of my sisters and brothers.
There are thirteen of us, nine girls and four boys altogether. One of my sisters passed away because of a high fever. She was one year old. I am second in the family. My father passed away at the aged of 43 and my mother was 32 years old then. My mum married at a very young age after she finished primary school. At the age of thirteen to be exact. When I asked her why she said that time was hard during the Japanese occupation. It was not safe for a girl to be in the house without men.
My father was a good man and romantic too. How we all know about this? We read all the love letter written by my father to my mother. My father is seldom at home because of his work. He worked for the Forestry Department of Malaysia. He was a great cook too. He learned to cook from my grandmother who used to own a small café while he was growing up. The weekend was always the time to look forward to. He will show us his cooking skill and he will name the dishes according to his children’s name and their favourite.
I will wake up early in the morning to follow my father to the Market. One of the best memories I did not forget in my life. While cycling, we would talk about so many things. I will share my daily stories with my dad. When we reached the market, almost everyone knows him; this was because my father was a nice guy. Ever ready to give a helping hand. My father taught me how to choose fresh fish, chicken and vegetables. He also taught me what ingredients to buy for the Assam pedas, rendang, curry and many more. Most of the time we don’t buy vegetables from the market as we grew them ourselves. So was chicken and egg because we rare them ourselves organically.
The other interesting lesson I learn from my father was how to cut the chicken, beef, fish or vegetable according to the dish that you want to cook. There was always a specific reason why a certain thing is being done in a certain way, and my grandmother will always be there to explain it to the minor detail, and it’s still very apparent in my brain. It took me sometimes digest the logic behind it, but after some time I put it as the” Johorean fussiness”. Yes, my parents are from Johor. As I get older, I begin to understand the philosophy behind all the fuss.
I was thirteen when my father passed away. My mother had to shoulder the responsibility to raise the twelve of us. She was determined to see all her children finish their education even when a lot of suggestion from relative to discourage us from doing so. My mother will start her day from very early in the morning as a rubber tapper, being a cleaner till mid-afternoon and as a farmer till late evening. We, her children, will take a turn to help her depend on our school session; this was when I realized the usefulness of the training that I have received from my late father. I helped my mum to do the marketing and cooked for the family before I went to school.
Making sure my sisters and my brothers will have food served on the table when they come back from school in mid-afternoon. It gave me great satisfaction when they love the food I cooked and what was more important to me was seeing them eating together just like the way when my father was still around. I will try to cook the same way as my father had taught me. And I can still feel the bonding that he wants us to have. Oh, how I miss you Abah.
As the year went by and as me and my sibling busy pursuing our career in our respective field, the passion for cooking never really die. I look forward to every opportunity to cook for my family during Eid, family gathering or even whenever they come for a visit. In fact, cooking is like a therapy to me when I am under stress with my work. My husband and children know the sign or smell of food being cooked at midnight. They will come down to the kitchen to find out. Eye wide open looking at me. My second boy is the most cheeky one. “So mama which account does not balance? and when is the dateline? “.
I will just smile, just like my father did. Looking into their eyes and I can feel like nothing else matter in this world. I took the big step to follow my dream in 2015. Enough of the financial and Accounting world and here comes Normahs, A small hole on the wall as some put it. In this small place, I shared with you the values and memories that my father taught me. The real meaning of food, nothing is to be compromise.