In Singapore of the 60s, hawker licensing laws weren’t that stringently enforced. As a result many households were able to set up makeshift ‘pirate’ food stalls to earn extra cash. Without any sort of culinary training to speak of, these hawkers would simply cook and sell what they knew best: food they ate at home, or well-known dishes and snacks from their dialect groups. I remember them well, these 1st- or 2nd-generation immigrants to Singapore, the blood of their motherland still coursing thick in their veins.
I remember too, the type of food they cooked: robust, unadulterated, and redolent of their origins -- you ate, so to speak, the real McCoy.
I knew one such hawker family. At 4 in the morning the mother would wake up and start whipping up a storm in the kitchen for the morning’s business. Her husband, or sometimes children, would then set up stall – a couple of charcoal stoves, a table and stools -- at the foot of their flat. They sold fried noodles, peanut porridge, and a favorite of mine: fried glutinous rice.
To make fried glutinous rice, in the truly traditional way, is bicep-building work. You stand at the wok, slow frying the rice. The grains get stickier -- and increasingly harder to stir -- as the rice slowly cooks. It’s torture on the arms, but worth it. Properly done, each grain of rice acquires a light crust and is filled with flavor from the preserved sausages and other ingredients.
Understandably, the woman would produce only a small tub’s worth each day, whereupon a queue would form just for it, and the glutinous rice would sell out before the clock hits 7 every morning. It was cheap too. You get two mouthfuls for 20 cents – a fair deal by the living costs of those days, considering the effort to make it.
For a kid, it was a total treat! I’d savor each bite, and make sure the breakfast lasted.
The rest of the food would usually sell out by 9. The hardworking mother would clean the hawking space, and return to her domestic duties.
I’ve listed two cooking methods. The first is an easier method that anyone could prepare; it would be similar in taste to the other, and much less work. However, for the purists and traditionalists among you, the second method is yours! It would give you a true sense of how strenuous the preparation is…but the end result is worth every drop of sweat; trust me!
Fried Glutinous Rice
Glutinous rice 300 g
Water 3 cups
Dried shrimps 20 g, soaked in warm water
Dried mushroom 15 g, soaked in warm water
Salt 1½ tsp
Chinese sausage 30 g
Chinese liver sausage 30 g
Chicken broth 3 tbsp
Light soy sauce 1 tbsp
Dark soy sauce ½ tbsp
- Soak dried shrimp and mushroom in warm water for 30 minutes. Drain them well but keep the water.
- Soak glutinous rice with 3 cups of water plus the water from soaking the dried shrimps and mushrooms. Drain the rice thoroughly after 3 hours. Add salt in the rice and mix well.
- Steam rice, dried shrimp and diced mushroom for 30 minutes. Sprinkle 2 tbsp of chicken broth and place the sausages on top of the rice and continue to steam for another 10 minutes.
- Remove the sausages and dice them.
- Pour 3 tbsp of oil in a hot wok. Fry the sausages till slightly golden brown. Add minced garlic and rice and continue to fry until there is a light crust on the rice. In between, sprinkle light and dark soy sauce into the rice. These sauces add flavor and also make the frying of the rice easier. There should be a light crust in every grain.
- Sprinkle fried shallots, garlic, spring onion and pepper before serving.
Note: Make sure the rice is hot before frying or it will stick together.
- Heat 1 tsp of oil in a wok. Fry mushroom until the water in the mushroom has evaporated. Add minced garlic, shrimp, diced sausages, and fry until it is fragrant. Remove and set aside.
- Heat 2 tbsp of oil on medium flame. Add rice and fry for 15 minutes. In between, sprinkle chicken broth and salt.
- Return the fried sausage mixture into the rice and continue to fry for another 10 minutes. Sprinkle soy sauces in between.
- Once the rice is cooked, sprinkle fried shallots, garlic, spring onion and pepper before serving.