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.
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。