“It all started when I was collecting my mother’s recipes and putting them together,” explains Dr Ong Jin Teong when asked about the inspiration behind his culinary biography Penang Heritage Food. “I made a list of all the family dishes that I could recall and that is how the book developed.”
“There were modifications of some of the recipes with time and there were clarifications needed, like how big is the cup or bowl used or what is the weight of 5 cents of kunyit? I later decided to go back further to my mother’s handwritten recipes as well as her recipe collections to find out their origins.”
An engineer by profession, Dr Ong started his research upon his retirement in 2005. Tracing back the history and background of each dish was not easy for the myriad of cultural influences that have seeped into the recipes over time.
“I wanted to make a record of taste of the food of the 1950’s, the 60’s, the 70, and maybe the 80’s. I started typing out the recipes and thought it would be interesting if I give a history and background of each dish.”
“I was feeling nostalgic so I wrote about the good times we had, when we had our grand multi-family picnics at Sungei Pinang and at Telok Bahang. Food played a prominent part in these regular picnics.”
Shifting through his memories also helped Dr Ong to remember more about the recipes and cooking techniques used back in the day. “For some reason I remembered how the laksa noodles were made from scratch – from the grinding of the rice through to the squeezing of the dough through a press on to a pot of boiling water.”