A picture of Chinese Rokjak (a fruit and vegetable salad) taken in the 1990s.
Source: National Archives Singapore
One of my most vivid memories that I still have of my childhood is that of my 6 or 7-year-old self being sent on a weekly weekend afternoon errand to buy Chinese rojak from the roving hawker. I lived in the older HDB town of Clementi in the West of Singapore.
I don’t quite remember how we knew the rojak man would be there, but he always was when I went to buy it.
Perhaps it was a bell or a horn he used. I must try to ask my parents if they recall.
I had to take the lift down 15 floors, take a short walk to the next block and order the rojak from an uncle who sold the dish, freshly made-to-order, from the back of his bicycle. It is a wonder, then and now, how he managed to secure and pack all the ingredients he needed to make the sweet treat into a plastic case, or was it glass?, on the back of his bicycle.
I loved running the errand every Saturday afternoon because I did feel so big, and so important.
I remember being the shortest customer, and I loved to stand really close to the uncle as I watched him pour the thick, black sticky hae goh (shrimp paste) into the big brown bowl before he proceeded to expertly slice the fruit into thin pieces.
I especially loved the sight of the reddish banana flower stub being shaved into the mixture. Don’t ask me why but I did.
I would run home with the pack of rojak for my parents and grandparents, eager to show them how capable I was. And even more eager to dig in.
Three decades later, the rojak is still one of my favourite local dishes. Its sweet distinctive tasting sauce mix of the hae goh and peanuts is what makes it such a treat for my sweet tooth. Long after I finish eating up the crunchy, refreshing bits of fruit, I’m always using the satay sticks to scrape up the drippy sauce. If I could, I would take the whole plate and lick it clean!
What foods from your childhood do you have fond memories of?
(Source: National Archives Singapore)