Partial ingredients to a ground spice paste (rempah), commonly used in Nonya cooking in Singapore.
Text & Photo © JE Nilsson & CM Cordeiro 2020
“Suzie! Come in here! I want you to watch, we’re going to do the rempah for buah keluak so next time you know how to do for yourself!”
Susan’s mother, Li, waited for a response from her daughter. Not a sound from little Suzie. Li glanced sideways at her own mother, Cecilia, who already head a firm grip of hand on the batu lesung. Cecilia called the stone mortar and pestle tembok-tembok, so named because of the material, but also the empty hollow of the sound made when using the stone mortar and pestle. Once, a housing and development board (HDB) surveyor visited Cecilia in her newly built Queenstown 2-bedroom apartment. The train track ran just behind that block between Malaysia and Keppel Road Railway Station in Singapore . The surveyor wanted to know if Cecilia and family were doing well, and if it was overly disturbing with the noise whenever the train passed, “So Aunty, how is it you find living in this new block? Is the train very noisy and disturbing?” Li sat on the modest sofa in the tiny living room with her mother, translating into Baba Malay for Cecilia, the English questions posed by the surveyor. “Yah, whenever train pass, you can feel so strong kejung-kejung! kejung-kejung! But otherwise, this place nice la.” Cecilia replied. Li kept a straight face throughout the interview visit from the surveyor, but could not help but blurt in Suzie’s direction the minute the little girl was old enough to string two words together, “Your grandmother, don’t talk about her la. When you ask her about the train, you know what she said, the train goes kejung-kejung, kejung-kejung. Ah, that’s your grandmother for you.” At age two, Suzie’s wide eyes spanned the face of her mother. It was a beautiful face that Suzie had the privilege of peering at everyday.