Text by Sheere Ng @ Makansutra
Heard of Ai Ban? A rice cake which is made out of mugwort leaf, green in colour and the filling is largely vegetarian. How about Yi Zi Ban? Another rice cake made with sweet potato with a filling of meat, beancurd, dried shrimp and mushroom as some of its ingredients. Or even Huang Jiu Ji, chicken cooked in fermented glutinous rice wine?
All these fading and vanishing traditional Hakka fare will be featured at the upcoming the Hakka Delicacy Food Carnival on the 8th of July. This one-day carnival is co-organised by 16 Hakka associations to promote the dialect group’s traditional recipes and culture.
Of course the usual abacus seeds, yong tau fu and sun ban (a yam dough similar to soon kueh) and many more Hakka traditional foods will also be available but the fun would in exploring these rare and hard to find old school Hakka dishes.
Such event does not come by all the time and in fact it was four years ago when the associations last organised a food event of such scale, and there is no guarantee when would be the next.
“Since it is such a rare event, we are also taking this opportunity to bond with fellow Hakkas from various associations,” says Mr Kok Chee Choon, General Secretary of Char Yong (Dabu) Association.
According to Mr Kok, it is not easy to gather everyone to prepare so many dishes as the process is laborious. For example, it takes more than an hour to pinch the yam dough that makes the abacus seeds. For an event like this, the length of preparation for just the food alone can easily go up to five hours despite more than 500 clan association members who will be doing the cooking. Many are from the older generations who have been preparing the dishes at home for decades.
“If you find the food salty, that’s because we Hakkas like our food salty. We will stay true to traditions in the food we’ll serve at the event,” says Mr Kok.
Originally from northern China, the Hakka people migrated several times to the south due to social unrest and foreign invasions. All this travelling explains the saltiness of real Hakka food as since salt is a preservative, food could be kept edible for longer as they traversed over long distances.
This is also why, with no access to flour while travelling, they replaced dumpling skins with tofu, resulting in the now-popular Hakka Yong Tau Fu.
Admission to the event venue, which is at Kallang Theatre, is free but the dishes are priced between $3 to $5. The $10 food coupons are on sale at Char Yong (Dabu) Association at 29 Geylang Lorong 22, Kwong Wai Shiu Hospital at 705 Serangoon Road, Singapore Chung Hwa Medical Institue at 640 Toa Payoh Lorong 4, and the Shing Heng Group pawn shops at blk 221 Boon Lay Place and blk201E Tampines Street 23.
Tickets will also be sold on site, and all proceeds will be donated to the Kwong Wai Shiu Hospital, which depends on public donations to provide healthcare services.
Hakka Delicacy Food Carnival Kallang Theatre, 1 Stadium Walk, Level 1 8th July, 11am to 2pm For more information on coupon sales, call Char Yong (Dabu) Association at 6742 0288.