Most offices would stop work at 5pm – that’s how I remember it when I was a kid. So, it was not unusual for the average family to have dinner start at 6pm. There would always be plenty of food on the table. Which only made things worse, because families in those days never allowed good food to go to waste, and so we had to “clean” our dishes every time. We would be so full that there was hardly any room for dessert; at most we’d have some fresh fruit.
Therefore, desserts would be relegated to supper, after our stomachs have had some time to settle. And they weren’t simple affairs. Great efforts went into planning the menu because it was done according to the seasons or a family member’s diet. Green bean dessert soup would be cooked when the weather got humid and hot. A bowl of steamed custard egg or something else fortifying would be prepared for a family member who needed a boost of nutrition.
Supper would commence around 9pm; everyone would put down whatever they were doing -- a mahjong game, watching TV – to gather around the dining table. And, while enjoying the steaming, delicious desserts, the women of the family would gossip, the menfolk would listen to the radio, and the children play and run around between their spoonfuls.
This dessert, which I am introducing, often made an appearance in our family because it supposedly balances the body’s systems against the high humidity and heat of the Singapore weather. It appealed to everyone because of its neutral taste, and the kids loved it for its quail eggs.
Barley was also deemed great for cooling the body, while gingko nut was believed to be good for the brain. Beancurd was a good source of protein and helped improve one’s skin texture.
Barley, Bean Curd Skin and Gingko Soup
Water 2 litres
Barley 50 g, soaked for 1 hour, drained
Soft bean curd skin 100 g, rinsed
Pandan leaves 4, bundled
Gingko nuts 120 g, pit removed
Rock sugar 120 g
Quail eggs 12, boiled and peeled
- Boil water, barley, ¾ portion of bean curd skin and pandan leaves for one hour.
- Add gingko nuts, remaining bean curd skin, rock sugar and simmer for another 15 minutes.
- Add quail eggs and simmer for 5 minutes.
- Discard pandan leaves and serve hot or cold.
Note: In Hong Kong, bean curd skin is boiled until it emulsifies in the soup, but I like the texture of bean curd skin so I split the portion into two additions. You can do either method.
When I was kid, chicken eggs were used instead of quail eggs, but I found chicken eggs to be too substantial for supper.