It was 1962 while I was five years old. The dormitory my family lived had one living space with the bedroom raised 3 feet higher from the floor, and a Japanese paper sliding door partitioned the living and sleeping area. The family – my parents and five kids ranging from 7 to 1-year-old – sleeping on a wooden double bed that sat on the top of the Japanese Tatami.

The kitchen was public shared by five families, and it stood alone across a small courtyard. It was bigger than our living space with a screen door opened and closed with squeaky noise. When it was raining, we walked through the eaves where we could peek into the neighbor’s windows before entering into the kitchen. The big stove was burning coal. A thick layer of ink dust stuck outside of the rice cooker and blackened everything it touched. My older brother used it for making his mustache.

I would play something on the wooden table while my mother was cooking. The aromatic steam kept coming out from the stove. My younger brother and sister were often playing or sleeping in their shared bamboo baby cart. I didn’t remember we made any commotion. Maybe we were too hungry to act out, or the kids at the old time were simply very quiet. These scenes always play in my memory like a slow motion silent movie.

The only sound stood out was the spatula clicking on the wok with rhythm. “Clinking, clinking, clinking….,” two metal hit each other endlessly as I counted. My mother’s silhouette defined the emotion of the music. Sometimes it was quarreling in anger. Other times it was softly singing in harmony. If gradually, the burnt sweet aroma of flour filled the kitchen, then my siblings and I would be very excited. We knew that we were going to have Fried Flour Tea.

Finally, my bowl was half-full with the brown flour. My eyes fascinatedly stared at the sandy sugar sparkling on the surface. After my mother poured into the boiled water, the flour submerged into the steam water and the sugar dissolved. I stirred the mixture with a spoon. Slowly and carefully, let water cooperate with flour in swirls. With one hand working on the mixing, the other hand had to hold and steady the bowl. Stirring to the right and left, I also crashed the floating lumps of flour at the bottom or edge of the bowl. I resisted the urge of eating it and kept working until the mixture became a thick paste. That was when I would feel satisfied with the result, then, I scooped up a spoonful and put it in my mouth. The creamy mixture would stick to the palate, and I would strengthen my tongue to scrape it down. Teeth started to grind it while saliva softened and liquefied the paste. At this time, the tiny particles of burnt flour would keep releasing its sweetness into the mouth. It was good! That slow procedure of consuming a snack brought a hungry girl so much joy.

My mother would add more water to the paste and make it a stew. She would blow air to cool it, and then tasted it to make sure it’s not too hot. Then, she would feed my little brother and sisters, who held the bar in the cart and waited with mouths opened. My older brother was always playing something on hand – such as a flying paper airplane – not paying attention to what he was eating.

The mother and children spent many years in this kitchen, but the image like this one permanently stayed — the steam shot up in front of me when the boiled water poured into the bowl. My mother was only twenty-eight years old at that time, and she had to take care of five kids. Without books, TV, a phone, or friends, she was a housewife making snacks between the meals every day.

Only the rich people could store candies or cookies in the household, and we were not rich. As a homemade snack, the Fried Flour Tea was well known, but not common. For it took more than one hour to stir the pan nonstop with the soft heat. It demands patience to accomplish it. When so many little ones were waiting to be fed, I wondered if the task ever made my mother crazy? I didn’t get the chance to ask her. She recently passed away. Now as I reflect, it is the symbol of an enduring motherhood.

I learned the skill of cooking it. When my younger brother had to return to his boarding school after the weekend, I would fry the flour and placed it in a big tin can for him to bring to school. I did it with patience, making sure it would not burn too dark and became inedible. When I filled the can and imaged it as beach sand with shells twinkling in it, I was delighted. One time my dad was standing next to me and gave me the instructions on how to make it better. Then, he searched every where to find a better size of can for storing it. I could feel his love and care for my brother out of his silent gesture, and I secretly blamed my brother not getting into a good local high school, so that the expensive private school was burdening my father.

The carbohydrate has become a villain in our diet. I never cooked this snack in decades. However, I would like to make it one day to relive the memory.

一九六二那年我才五歲。我家是在台灣鐵路局的宿舍區。不隔間的小平房的一半是一間小客廳,另一半是抬高約三尺的平台,上鋪榻榻米,上再有一張木板床。我們一家,七到一歲的五個孩子和爸媽,就生活在這樣的小空間裡。

 廚房則位於中庭的另一邊,是五家鄰居一起共用的。記得它好像還比家還大些,有個沙門老是吱吱響。下雨天我們得經過屋簷才能進廚房,這時還可以往鄰居的窗裡瞧瞧。大灶裡燒的是煤球木炭,飯鍋外黏著一層厚厚的黑灰,所觸之處肯定黑污一片,我哥哥常常掃幾筆在他嘴邊充當鬢鬚。

我總是在一個木桌上玩些什麼,等媽媽做飯菜。我喜歡看蒸汽從鍋裡瀰漫而出,廚房裡於是香味撲鼻。我的小弟弟妹妹們都被關在竹車籠裡玩耍或睡覺,我記得我們從來不吵不鬧,也許我們都餓壞了,也或者我們都太乖了。這些回憶的影像,總在我腦海裡,像黑白默片電影以慢動作放映著。

鍋鏟敲擊在鐵鍋的聲音特別尖銳響亮,鏗鏗鏘鏘的,時快時慢,重的時候好像媽媽生氣了,打著鍋鏟來吵架。輕的時候又像媽媽心情特別好,正在用鍋鏟給自己的清唱配樂。慢慢的,如果廚房裡開始瀰漫了一股輕微的燒焦味道,我就知道,媽媽正在炒著麵茶粉了。啊!又有點心吃了,我們兄弟妹們都樂壞了。

終於,媽媽把那淡褐色的麵粉盛進我的碗裡。媽媽還沒沖進熱水之前,我最愛盯著她灑下一小撮晶亮閃閃的白糖。沸水一倒進碗裡,我便小心翼翼地,一隻手扶著碗,一手仔細地用湯匙把麵粉和水攪拌起來。麵粉融進了水,逐漸成為糊狀,糖也化了。我還繼續小心的攪著,不放過任何結粒的粉團。我一定忍著想嚐一口的衝動,把麵糊調到濃稠適當,才一小匙一小匙的放進嘴裡。但也不馬上囫圇吞下,而是把麵糊放在嘴裡,用舌頭仔細拌著,再用牙齒細細咀嚼,口水於是和著麵粉,把那焦香甜美,緩緩的流釋出來。

媽媽把麵糊吹涼,嚐一口,確定不燙了,才餵進弟妹們的嘴裡。哥哥總是一邊吃一邊玩,摺紙飛機啊什麼的,也不管他吃了什麼。我呢,總是這樣細嚼慢嚥的,珍惜著,享受著美食,還希望這時刻永遠不會終止。

爸爸不在,上班去了,媽媽和我們孩子們在這廚房裡度過許多時間。這幕情境,我記憶極深—那沸水灌注到碗裡,蒸氣騰騰而上,溫暖了寒冬。媽媽那時候只有28 歲,卻養了五個孩子。沒書可讀,沒電視可看,沒電話可用,沒有朋友聊天,也沒街可逛。她每天就是做飯菜,點心給孩子們吃。當時,除了有錢人以外,家裡是不可能有糖果點心吃的。麵茶粉便宜又可以自製,難怪媽媽常做它。不過要有極耐心,用小火慢炒,前後得要花上一個多小時才能完成。這點心在當時雖存在,卻沒有很多人做,我想原因是它的製作過程太費時了。就算五個孩子不吵鬧,媽媽當時可否喜歡這個花體力又費時的工作呢? 媽媽四個多月前去世,我再也沒法問她了。

後來,我也學會了炒麵茶。弟弟上高中時住校,每當他過完週末要回校的星期日,爸媽就要求我這個會做家事的長女,炒一鍋麵茶粉,讓他帶到學校當點心。我喜歡看著那黃褐色的麵粉中混著閃亮的砂糖,裝在罐子裡,好像一片沙灘裡充滿了小沙貝。記得有一次我爸爸站在我身邊看著我炒著麵,東一句西一言地指點,又忙著去找一個較好的罐子來裝填。我了解為人父母的心,他對子女的愛,總是無言地,只以行動表現。爸爸當時為了弟弟不能考上省立高中的失望,在這個默默的關懷行動中已經化解了。

日月增長,台灣的生活水準提高了,不可勝數的糖果糕餅紛紛上市,人們把這道麵粉當成點心的東西也給遺忘了。畢竟,它只是澱粉加上糖,太單調了,再加上為了控制體重,人人談澱粉變色,又有誰會青睞它?我已經數十年不曾再看過這道點心,跟別說吃它了。但是,童年的回憶是永恆的,那母親照顧幼兒溫飽的心,比食物更讓人思念啊!

 

Categories: Memoir

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