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A homecooked meal by grandmother, with Assam fish that turned into three dishes.

Rules I break to savour the sourness and bitterness of life

  • Megan Sin's headshot
Megan Sin26 June 2020

I hope you won’t say I broke the rules
because I don’t think I broke any rules.
My love has no rules. 
My love does not need to abide by rules.
My love should not abide by rules. 

I went to my grandma’s house during the circuit breaker. My father was unhappy. He accused me of breaking the law. I don’t believe the law is so inhumane. I went to spend precious time with my grandma, a human I love and care for so much. 

They don’t understand that health isn’t the only thing that keeps one alive, love keeps one living. 


My grandma — she lives alone. 

She is so independent — she tells me to stay home, don’t visit her. 

We did not meet for at least a month. Usually I would go to her house almost everyday, or spend a full day at her at house at least once a week. I call my grandma’s house “我们的家” (our house).” 

Usually, walking by the corridor, as I approach her windows, to the gates, I would loudly announce my arrival, “婆婆! (PO PO!)”

And she would go “OI!” and scramble to open the door for me even though I have my own set of keys. 

The day that I apparently ‘broke’ some inhumane laws to visit my grandma, I did not loudly announce my arrival. I quietly unlocked the gate by myself. To the sound of the keys and the rusty gate, my grandma calmly responds, “你来了 (you are here).”

I was shocked but also not quite. After 6 months of not seeing me in person, my grandma did not hug me when I finally came home to Singapore. This time, the same. On seeing me again, she immediately asked me to take a look at the fish eggs she kept for me — fish eggs so huge that they kind of look like alien eggs. I got scared for the first time. Fish eggs that my grandma does not eat but always keeps for me. 

I brought a whole bag of vegetables, fruits and nuts for my grandma. Together, we made Assam Fish Head, but we ran out of assam* peels, so we used lemon instead. She has been preparing to cook Assam Fish Head for me. Leading up to the day I broke the rules, everyday over the phone she would remind me that she kept a huge fish head for me so she could have Assam Fish Head with me. 

I shared a meal with my grandma during the circuit breaker. I got quite a bit of jokes about how I broke the law just to have a meal with my grandma. I can’t deal with those jokes. 

They don’t understand that health isn’t the only thing that keeps one alive, love keeps one living. 

Assam fish head was a little bitter because I forgot and I added the lemon rinds and peels into the pot. It was a touch bitter but I could handle it. I’m good with bitterness. 

I take the sourness and bitterness in life willingly because I know I have broke the rules, but I’m happy to have broke the rules. 

.:::.

Recipe for Assam Fish Head, without assam

Season your fish head with soy sauce ahead of time. 

Bring some water in a pot to boil. Add a roughly chopped onion and a tablespoon of 豆酱, fermented soy into the pot. Let it boil till the onions are soft

My grandma very calmly takes out the fish eggs, cuts them into 1 inch pieces, marinates them with soy sauce, pepper and sesame oil

When you heart tells you the pre-soup is ready, add in the fish head. Cover the pot and leave it to cook. 

This time around, I bought eggplant for my grandma because my aunty who buys food for my grandma always buys chye sim and Chinese spinach — and I feel like my grandma is bored of them, even though she denies it. 

When the fish head is almost cooked, add in the eggplant, sliced into diagonal 2- inches pieces, or however you like it. 

Slice 1 humongous tomato and add it in too. You can add it in earlier, if you like it soft — my grandma doesn’t like it too soft. 

My grandma takes out a huge chunk of homemade chilli paste and adds it to the soup.

Let it “cook cook” for a while. 

Season with more soy sauce to your liking. When the fish head is cooked, take it out

My grandma doesn’t ladle too much soup on the plate with the fish head, so that less soup would be mixed with bones. She scoops out the vegetables on a separate plate

She adds in my favourite fish eggs. As they cook, they release little tiny bubbles of eggs into the soup, thickening the soup. Once done, she scoops them out

From a pot of water, we dished 3 plates with such distinct flavours. 

Pair the dishes with your favourite chilli sauce, or my grandma’s homemade garlic chilli

::::

I savour my meal times with the people I love. I eat to their pace. I listen to the eagerness in their voice — to repeat the stories that she couldn’t tell me in person. 

I am fed so much love every time I’m at my grandma’s house. 

*In parts of Southeast Asia, tamarind is known as “assam” in the local Malay language.


This article was published under the open call Food in the time of Covid. We asked people to send in stories that explore dimensions of food and life under a period of uncertainty and lockdown in 2020. Learn more about it here.

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About the author

Megan Sin's headshot
Megan Sin

I am (Megan Sin is) — currently finding ground. 

With a background in theatre, I’ve been exploring combining different artforms; turning poetry into movement-based performances, and how typography and performance score coexists with one another. Currently, I am also part of the editorial team of Foodscape Pages. With opportunities to work closely with the Earth and our foodscape, I apply my lessons from the Earth to my research in body politics. To craft an artform which embodies the connection between the Earth and our bodies; as we value diversity in Nature that brings forth life, we value diversity of humans too.

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