Laksa Asam woman
WHEN I was in my late teens, a middle-aged Chinese woman frequented our neighbourhood to sell laksa asam, relying on word of mouth for custom.
She parked her three-wheeled vehicle at a strategic spot, and a sizeable group of people, occasionally nudging fifteen or twenty, clustered around her to partake of the popular food.
On one occasion I heard our neighbour Madam Kay Poh say to the Laksa Asam Woman, “Your noodles are second to none – they have a fine texture. Where do you buy them?”
“We don’t buy them,” the Laksa Asam Woman said emphatically. “My husband and my son work their fingers to the bone at dawn each day to make the noodles. Because they have to use much strength to squeeze the gooey white dough out of the wooden noodle-maker, they now have biceps the size of footballs!”
That’s good,” said Madam Kay Poh, “because the noodles are preservative-free, seeing that you make them every day.” She took a sip of the soup from her bowl and added, “Your laksa is always meticulously prepared. For instance, the mint leaves are devoid of stalk remnants.”
Oh, my daughter takes pains to completely destalk the mint leaves,” the Laksa Asam woman said, a trace of a smile playing across her lips. “She also helps me to julienne the cucumbers and debone the fish. Each member of the family is responsible for a certain portion of the work, so what you are enjoying now is the product of a shared effort.”
What I liked best about the laksa was the sour and spicy soup, with its appetising aroma from the perfect blend of stock, tamarind, turmeric, chilli, lemon grass and belacan saluting the nostrils.
The Laksa Asam woman always served the noodles at their optimum temperature. She put the noodles and the toppings – pineapple shreds, mint leaves, onion rings and cucumber strips – into the medium-sized china bowl, ladled the steaming hot soup with its minced fish meat into the bowl, poured the soup back into the pot, and ladled the soup into the bowl again. With each serving priced at sixty cents, the customer got his money’s worth, for the Laksa Asam woman prepared a most delicious meal.
Word of mouth: Speaking as a means of passing information.
Second to none: The best.
Work one’s fingers to the bone: To work very hard.
Seeing that: Since.
For instance: As an example.
Takes pains: Involve oneself in much effort or trouble.
Get one’s money’s worth: To get value for what one has paid for.