I believe that any dish prepared by a mother is the most comforting in whatever emotion we are in. Whenever we are sad or happy, mothers will whip up our favourite food bringing an instant smile and making us feel on top of the world.
It would be heartbreaking for those who had lost their mothers to reminisce those wonderful times spent with the woman who brought them into this world.
There’s no substitute for a mother’s affection and love, and I envy those fortunate enough to still be able to hold their mother’s hand and listen to her voice.
One thing I miss the most about my mother is her cooking. My mother passed away more than two decades ago and my biggest regret is that I did not have the opportunity to learn her culinary skills.
One of her best dishes was sambal udang kering or dried shrimp sambal. It was one of the last dishes she cooked for the family before she passed away. I still remember that very day like it was yesterday. I came from school and begged her to cook sambal udang kering as I was craving it.
The sambal udang kering is a simple recipe using ingredients easily available in the kitchen, such as dried shrimp (udang kering) shallots, garlic, Holland onion, few stalks of bird eye chillies (you can control the level of spiciness), red chilli, shrimp paste and tamarind.
The ingredients are pounded together in mortar and pestle. It can also be blended in an electric blender. However, the outcome will not be the same as when using mortar and pestle, as it is more pureed compared to the traditional method.
The dried shrimp is then soaked in hot water for a few minutes to soften its texture so that it will be easier to pound. Heat the pan and pour two and a half tablespoon of vegetable oil.
Once the oil is hot, saute the pounded ingredients until fragrant. Ensure all ingredients are properly cooked to the point that the oil floats on the surface.
Then add the pounded dried shrimps and fry until all ingredients are blended together.
The aromatic smell is an appetite teaser making you want to have it right away.
Continue cooking in medium heat, let it simmer for another 30 minutes to get the right dry and flaky texture.
Add a few tablespoonfuls of tamarind juice to neutralise the flavour. Add sugar and salt to taste.
After my mother passed away, my sister, who was nine years older than me, took charge of the kitchen. At that time, she was working in the private sector and shared my mother’s passion for cooking.
She had the opportunity to learn to cook from our mother. What made me so proud of her was her ability to successfully replicate the taste of my mother’s sambal udang kering.
Once, when I was down with fever, she prepared this comfort dish to cheer me up.
Another dish that she prepared was chicken congee – a Chinese-style porridge that makes you crave for more even though your tummy is already full.
Sadly, the sambal udang kering was the last dish that she cooked for us. I lost her to a sudden cardiac arrest during the first wave of COVID-19 in 2020.
I have been told my dishes are delicious but when it comes to preparing homely dishes like sambal udang kering, the satisfaction level is never on par with those prepared by my late mother and sister. To me, it is not about the taste, but the memories attached to the dishes prepared.
I am so proud of the sambal udang kering recipe that I often prepare it whenever there’s a celebration in the office. I was surprised by how many commend the dish; and some even offer to buy if I ever decide to start a side business.
I still remember my late mother’s constant nagging to learn the recipe so I would be able to make my own whenever I was craving for sambal udang kering.
I’m glad I did learn it from her. However, deep down, there’s always something missing from the ingredient that only a daughter can know. The story was shared by a friend, Lailatul Qamariah, who longs for her late mother and sister’s cooking.
“I am grateful to my late mother and sister for my passion in cooking. All I have now are memories of being in the kitchen with them that I will treasure forever. I will pass this legacy to my own children so when I am no longer around, they will still be able to have a part of me in their mind when they are cooking in the kitchen,” she said.