Saturday, 30 April 2011

Wonton with a Difference

Stepping into the supermarket is no big deal these days. But it wasn’t always so.

Back in the 1960s, the 4 or 5 supermarkets in Singapore were very exclusive places, frequented only by “ang moh” (Caucasian) residents and expatriates, and very well to do Singaporeans. The rest of us did our marketing or grocery shopping at neighborhood wet markets and provision shops (or “mama shops” as they were known). There were also many small cottage industries that churned out foodstuffs, such as fresh noodles, for residents living nearby.

I loved these small shops and the people who ran them, as they had their own secret recipes and particular identities. For instance, some shops specialized in soy sauces, and various types of bean pastes and sweet sauces, which they made themselves, or, in turn, obtained from other cottage suppliers. Back then, there was greater variety of tastes because there was greater variety of origins; unlike the food shops of today where the source is usually a “big” manufacturer or distributor that supplies the whole – or almost whole – of Singapore. 

The noodle suppliers were usually wonton skin makers too; and every morning, I watched as fresh wonton skins were pressed in roller-machines, cut into round or square pieces, and carefully wrapped in brown paper, or even used newspaper, to prevent them drying out. The packets were displayed in a glass cabinet at the front of the shop, next to other cakes and bundles of fresh-made noodles; refrigeration being unheard of in those days. And the whole shop smelled peculiarly of dry powdery flour.

After cutting, the edges and other odd pieces of wonton skin would be thrown into a tray. The scraps would by then have turned brittle and dry, and be sold for as cheaply as 20 cents per 300 grams; however, that would have been enough for a family of four!

There were different ways to prepare these remnant wonton skins. I preferred mine with fish stock and minced pork balls, as they produced a hearty comfort food that was great for a hot afternoon.

Wonton Skin Soup (for 4 persons)

Wonton skin             320 g, laid out and dried for 1 hour.
Choy sum                  100 g, or any leafy vegetable
Ikan bilis                     200 g, soaked in water for 1 hour and drained. Keep water for the stock.
Ginger                         2 slices
Pork bones               250 g
Water                         6½  cups + ½ cup of water from soaking the ikan bilis

Minced pork             150 g
Spring onion             1 tbsp
Oyster sauce             1 tbsp
Soy sauce                   1½ tsp
Pepper                        ½ tsp
Water                          1 tbsp
Corn flour                  1 tbsp

Fried shallots
Spring onion

1.   Deep-fry 50 g of ikan bilis until golden brown. Drain and set them aside for garnishing.
2.   Boil water.
3.   Saute the remaining ikan bilis and ginger for 2 minutes; 
4.   Add boiling water and pork bones, and simmer for 1 hour.
5.   Drain and keep the stock only.

1.   Add marinate to the minced pork and mix thoroughly with a pair of chopsticks, stirring clockwise until the meat appears sticky.
2.   Roll the meat into balls and drop into the stock with the leafy vegetable.
3.   When the meatballs float to the surface, they are cooked.

Wonton skins:
1.   Boil 2 liters of water. Once boiled, cook wonton skins in a ladle for 30 seconds.
2.   Meanwhile, scoop boiling stock into 4 serving bowls.
3.   Divide the wonton skins into the bowls. Top with meatballs and garnishing.
4.   Sprinkle spring onion, chilli with a dash of pepper and sesame oil before serving.

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