The Stone Kitchen – Traditional Culinary Tools in the Malaysian Chinese kitchen needed to extract, grind, and mill goodness out of unyielding ingredients.
The afternoon was hot and sunny. I remembered feeling sleepy to the steady scraping sound of coconuts being grated. Strapped to Mom’s back with an old sarong, I was as comfy as any tropical baby could be. I rested my head on her shoulders and felt the gentle motion of the arms moving as she skilfully extracted every last scrap of white coconut flesh from the shells. That sensation was one of the earliest memories that I had of Mom.
Before the advent of electric kitchen appliances, the Malaysian Chinese kitchen was well-equipped with a variety of specialist manual tools needed to extract, grind, and mill natural goodness out of some of the most unyielding ingredients known to man. No speed settings, pilot lamps, or color coordinated technological wonders with touch screen features. All it took for most part was elbow grease, lots and lots of it. Plus a seemingly effortless dexterity borne from years of handling those same tools day in day out.
The most ubiquitous stone kitchen tool was the “cheng-k’u“ (mortar-and-pestle). Made from granite, a well-seasoned set was worth its weight in gold. The owner would have imparted her habitual motions into the shape of the pestle caused by constant wear as it grinds chilies, shallots and shrimp paste into sambal. It is not usual to attempt using someone else’s mortar-and-pestle as it all “felt different” or as they say in Hokkien “beh soon ch’iu” (not in the flow of the hand). The steady thump of the mortar-and-pestle close to noon time meant that lunch was about to be served.