>We’re about to have some folks over for a birthday dinner: soupy rice noodles with fishballs, poached chicken, + unctuous pork bones, all drizzled with fresh garlic oil.

And we’ve discovered that we’re almost out of milk again. There’s a cliche that Chinese don’t like dairy food, and our family has always gone against the grain on that one. Back in the steamy old days in Chapel Hill, Brisbane, our family of five (3 kids, 2 adults) would order up big on milk deliveries, and the morning saw ranks of 600mL bottles along our front doorstep. The el cheapo plastic-covered wire carrier held six of them, and others stood haphazardly elsewhere. In the constant 30 degrees C days of late spring and summer, you can imagine the murky warmth affecting the milk the moment it leaves a fridge. Sleeping in on Saturdays meant questionable milk for that weekend. These were also the halcyon days of (almost) trusting one’s neighbourhood, what with regularly leaving cash out on the doorstep with one’s order. My parents had an air of resignation about the whole process: putting out the milk money and expecting it to be flogged, but doing so nonetheless because they wanted home-delivered milk and there wasn’t any option for direct debit or slapping it all on a credit card.

We all have fond memories of our limited milk experiences in Malaysia, and tried to re-live them when we visited our rellies ‘back home.’ My clearest one is of sipping ice-cold Magnolia brand strawberry milk from a glass bottle. Other people get addicted to various fizzy cola drinks; I was always, and still am, a strawberry milk girl. Because of the scarcity of fresh milk in Malaysia, just about everything we had was UHT (long-life) stuff. I love it. My partner, who grew up in Australia and has always had fresh milk as a household item, can’t stand the taste of UHT. He thinks we’re quite odd for being so partial to evaporated milk (+ canned peaches = omg good) and other treated milks. It’s all about what’s considered exotic and rare, isn’t it? Our family has always wallowed happily in the availability of milk in Australia, and considered tinned meat products like Spam, Hamper corned beef, and sardines as treats (remember, we hail from at least one moderately Anglophile branch of a Chinese Malaysian clan). My dad was also very fond of Peck’s meat pastes, but these were things I never preferred. That is, if I was stranded on a desert island with nothing to eat except Peck’s meat pastes, etc…hmmm, I think I’d still try to bag me some edible roots or leaves before approaching those dainty little jars.

Interestingly, though fond of milk, my mother has a phobic aversion to cheese and yoghurt. The nix on the yoghurt stems from the common reaction of feeling that it has ‘spoilt’ (therefore, why eat it, etc). The cheese thing is much less clear. She often tells the story of being fooled into biting into a chunk of cheese by a naughty cousin, and there’s also a tale of cheesy woe concerning a Macca’s Fillet-o-fish. Whatever the source of the problem, the result is that she now eats no cheese. Except for the rare times she eats pizza. Under such circumstances, the cheese has to be so well done that it is all but unrecognisable as cheese. What she doesn’t know is that the pasta bakes we do (including lasagnes) almost always include cottage, ricotta or similar. Sssshh.


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