Red Bean Congee

It sounded meaningless but I reminded myself I must catch up some of the missed sleep when I switched off the lights at 3:21am.
After staring at the reflection of my face on the clock glass for more than three minutes, I decided to get up but worried that I was going to waste another day working at home.  The clock read 8:13am when I drew back the curtains to find a dull and wet Saturday morning. “That’s fine. At least the temperature’s a couple degrees lower than yesterday,” I reassured myself.

I would love to have congee and deep fried savoury donut but I stopped at the train station and wondered why I made such a fuss to have breakfast afar. I went to Old Mac’s instead. Laziness is the real reason and visiting Old Mac’s becomes a frequent part of my weekly routine. What a life!
That morning, unexpectedly, many old folks were having Deluxe Breakfast and Hotcakes Deluxe Breakfast there.  I had Sausage N' Egg Twisty Pasta; I thought it was less greasy and thus healthier. “Stupid!” I mocked at myself.

I thought Old Mac’s was for the younger ones. Second thought - The cheapest breakfast set in a local cafe is $31 and you won’t get free coffee refills - that explained. I guess one shouldn’t fight his wallet, especially when he’s financially dependent. I pondered how many of these old folks were enjoying the food and how many were merely satisfying a basic biological need.

The loud chattering of some grannies sitting nearby sent me back to the street after 10 minutes. I did not know why they would upset themselves so early in the day with grudges about their in-laws and their possible early dementia due to lead poisoning. My mother never resents - not even at her present age. I went to PARKnSHOP and hoped to get some fresher fruit before the shopping crowds appeared after 10am.
The shopping was quick as the supermarket was small. Checking out the price of micro-wave dinners, I noticed that the shelf nearby was expanded and there were many brands of rice these days, and I never realized their present there. How strange! It must be more than 5 years since the last time I bought rice. I remembered it was a 2 kilo-sized and I threw most of them away a year later.

A sudden thought jumped into my mind – I’m going to cook some red bean congee. “Get started!” I screamed at the inner me, and so I did.  It was exceptional for me to make such a swift decision.
I picked up a 2 kilo-sized, checked its weight label, put it down and searched for smaller bags. There was a 400 gram-sized; it must be a promotional package. I was pleased with the discovery and put it into the shopping cart. Beans were close to the rice and were packed neatly in plastic bags. I was 11 or 12 the last time I bought red beans from a grocery shop. They were wrapped in a sheet of newspaper tied up with a straw. I grabbed a bag, examined it and wondered how long these beans would be tucked away in the kitchen cupboard.

As I was thinking what other ingredients were in the congee, a distant smell of red bean congee started simmering up my nose. It was sweet, not fruity sweet but the kind of earthy sweetness at the tip of the tongue when you slowly chew cooked rice. “Should I get some dried mandarin orange peels to enrich the flavours?” I wondered. “No, it’s only red beans, rice, water and sugar.” I recalled my mum once told me that the secret of good red bean congee was rock sugar, not the granulated refined one. I was standing by her then in the kitchen awaiting her to say the congee was done; she reminded me that rock sugar was expensive when I asked for some as sweets.

That memory is distant and faded and she has not cooked red bean congee since I left school. I have never cooked that for myself either and red bean congee becomes a long forgotten relic down my memory lane.

I had the three ingredients in front of me and puzzled how to start:

How much water?
How much rice and red bean?
Should I soak the beans and rice in water before cooking?
Which one should I cook first, red bean or rice?
When should I add sugar?
How do I know it is cooked?

Cooking the congee proved to be uneasy! The saucepan was too small and the heat of the stove was hard to control. I had to keep adjusting the temperature and adding water to prevent the congee from boiling over or going dry. After standing by the stove for 90 minutes, tasting the softness of the beans 8 times and adding sugar for more than 3 times, I declared the impossible task was accomplished.


It didn’t taste as good as I thought. It’s nothing close to my mum’s.

“How can that happen?” I demanded an answer. “I had used the same ingredients.”

“Well, cooking is not about putting the ingredients together, even if you put them in the right order,” I tried to reason that over and over again.

“Never mind, there’s always a first time and the first time’s never the best,” I reassured myself. But, this may be the last time.

It was already two forty-five.  The rainstorm had stopped but the sky was still grey. I hit the road after having a pack of cream cracker.

“Oh! You’re early today!” My dad said to me as he turned to look at the clock above the door. It was four thirty-five.
“I’m not working today, so a bit earlier,” I replied and closed the sliding gate behind. “If you’re tired, have a nap in the bed. You’re going to fall if you doze off sitting on a chair!” He was half sleeping on the chair when I opened the gate.
“I’m not sleeping. I’m just listening to the radio.”
He was not but I rested my case. “Where’s mum? In bed? Sleeping?”
“In bed.”
I drew back the curtain and she stared at me. “Alright mum?”
She strained her cheeks for a few moments and whispered my infant name.
“I thought you’re sleeping.”
She fixed her eyes at mine for a moment and said, “No…just resting.” A smile returned to her cheeks.
“Would you like to sit out? I’ve brought you something.”
Her face went vacant for a while and then she murmured, “Ye…s… G…ood.”
With some effort, I walked her to her chair. I could feel that the tremors in her hands were coming back and her legs were dragging on the floor.

“Guess what I’ve got for you?”

She looked at me and tried to find an answer in her mind. She smiled shallowly and reached out to my hand.

“Guess what?”

She smiled and replied softly, “I don’t know.”

“It’s red bean congee. I cooked it this afternoon.” I took out two thermoses from my rucksack. My father laughed and my mum did as well.

“It’s still hot! Smells nice! Ha…ha…ha…!” I said as I unscrewed the lids and sniffed dramatically. “I’m getting the bowls and you want it now?”

“Good!” My father replied affirmatively but mum just looked at me with her eyebrows moving closer together.

“Try it while it’s still warm. You don’t have to finish it all. I know it’s not very nice.” I tried to speak unusually tenderly.

“G…ood.” She said softly.

The congee was still quite hot when I poured it into the bowls. My father couldn’t wait to try it and finished it to the last drop. “It’s delicious! Not very sweet. Delicious!” He said with a big smile.

My mum spooned a small amount of congee into her mouth and started chewing it. “Oh! I forgot your dentures. Let me get them for you,” I said. She waved her hand to signal no. It took her nearly a minute to swallow that small spoon of congee.
“Is it good? You like it?”
She nodded minimally with a discomfort smile and put another small spoon of congee into her mouth. It was hard seeing her like that.
She stopped eating after the third spoon and started slowly stirring the congee with the spoon. “You don’t like it? It isn’t good, is it?” She didn’t answer but looked at me with embarrassment and continued to stir the congee very slowly.
“You don’t like it?”

“I do…I was eating…I...I...”she whispered, and I finished her sentence in my mind - but I could not swallow anymore of it now! Her body was drifting swiftly into the stiff and trembling state in front of my eyes and her voice was off. It was ten to five and I knew she was not capable of eating anything for the next one to two hours.

“Mum, you don’t want any more of it now?” She looked at me with agony all written on her face.
“That’s fine mum. I’m glad you have some already. I’ll cook it again in another day.”

G...ood!too sweet!” The words burst out from her throat after some gurgling. I laughed but was saddened.
Red bean congee was a big dish for the five of us for a long time. We were always tired of having plain congee and preserved vegetables or a week old salted fish for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  We never complained about the meals but always looked forward to the red bean congee. Maybe we had little other dishes to compare with. I guessed she must feel blessed when we were all chasing after the last scoop of the congee. Isn’t she an amazing chef, my mum, who kept us happy and content with the red bean congee when there was so little in the kitchen cupboards? She gives everything she has to us. That’s the mother in my memories; she hasn’t changed. Only her body changes; only her body fails her. How much I hope she felt the same when she was eating my red bean congee. How much I hope she knows that her red bean congee is not forgotten. How much I wish she could eat better and were free from the relentless bodily tortures. Nevertheless, I believe that Saturday was well spent - I'm not sure if she can swallow more than 3 spoons the next time.  
Mum, thank you for the red bean congee.


39 則留言:

  1. Nothing is going to taste better and sweeter than this to your parents. You made their day.
    For me, I wouldn't even have a chance anymore to do something like this. This guilt always comes back to haunt me.

    1. Hi Crystal,
      I'm surprised and grateful you came and shared; I thought that you are fading out from this blogging world. Of course, your visiting and sharing are and will be most welcome.
      I guess a minor kind of guilt (that they are getting old fast and I am not doing enough what I should do) also drove me to do this silly thing. That may be a compensation I want to make myself feel better.
      Well, if that guilt comes back again, which as you said is likely, think of it as a reminder that you had people who had loved you dearly in their ways. In somewhere they would be moved and grateful that you appreciate their love and still remember them.

  2. Handle with tissue. This text evokes my memories of my old day.
    It’s so happy for you to prepare the congee for your parents. The congee that is boiled by you, is full of love & care. And keep on cooking for them.
    In your previous writing, you always described your father as “the old man”, now you call him as “my dad”, you have the greatest respect for your father. That’s fine.
    I’m sorry for myself as I notice that your congee is better than my oats.
    Have a sweet night & nice holiday!

    (P.S.: Have you seen uncle nine recently?)

    1. I'm sure your oat meal is equally good if not better than my congee. They must like it very much and are still smiling above. I believe you must have made them oat meals more than once!
      I did that partly because I really wanted them to feel that someone still care about them. The other reason is that I want to make myself feel better - I spend much more time at work than for anyone else, including myself. And, this is bad!
      Yes, I have seen him several times since last writing about him. He called me quite frequently in the past month but I couldn't find the time to visit him. I guess he feels that he is getting weaker and weaker and ...
      Hope you have time to relax and enjoy life in this short autumn.

    2. Hey, Happy Halloween! Gravel :))
      Have a relaxing weekend :-P

    3. Thanks Joyce.
      Hope you have had a peaceful week and relaxing weekend to come.

    4. Hi! Gravel, good evening :))

      Wishing you & your family peace, joy and happiness through Christmas and the coming year !

      Have a happy 冬至 !

    5. Hello Joyce,
      Thank you! I wish you merry Christmas and a joyful new year.
      Run like a rabbit!

  3. 令人看得感動的埸面,很高興 Gravel 你動人 的手 ... 所煮的紅豆粥是充滿愛與關懷 , 心意像春日的和風 ... 溫馨地吹拂過你的父母的心 , 甜甜在心呀 ...!!

    被觸動了內疚的我 .... 是樹欲靜而風不息 ... 子欲養而親不在 ! 奉勸每 一 位父母還健在的人, 要好好珍惜啊!

    1. 一時的衝動而矣! 但真有點希望他們有一點意外的快樂,不然亦不會把物件和過程拍下。
      近日經常在想: 對他們真有很多虧欠,尤其是見他們的身体狀況愈來愈弱, 真要好好努力。

  4. Dear Gravel! How are you doing? I think you were very busy all the time....You writing and the red congee were full of love...Gravel! Are you a 潮洲 man as I felt that you are...: )

    1. I'm doing fairly OK 翔流! Still survive!
      Indeed I'm very busy at work. So are you !?! It may be because I'm too old for the job already! Time for retirement?
      You are correct, my parents are both born near 潮洲, so I can be considered as a 潮洲 man.
      How can you do that? How can you tell I'm one? Can you feel the 6 numbers for this week? Ha...ha...
      Have a great autumn and keep writing!

  5. Heheheh, should attend a cooking class---specially for dessert????? Just kidding !!!My children always said why we ate red bean sand when we had dinner out in Chinese Restaurant !!!!! Anyway, you did refresh our memory about our parent's interaction especially the different stages of our development.
    life goes on, let it be.!!!!!!!

    1. Well, first of all I am too embarrassed to attend a cooking class. Secondly, my taste for food is 1 on the scale of 1 to 10 and 10 is highest! A dish of fried rice or noodles will make me very happy already!!!
      Sometimes it is sad to see my ageing parents gradually lose their health and ability to look after themselves. Wish them well.
      You are right, life goes on!
      Wish you enjoy life wherever you are.

  6. 動人的畫面 , 令我想起父母親.......可惜已經沒有這機會再去孝順他們 !!

    1. Betty, 多謝到訪和分享!
      他們現在另一個世界必定為你感到自豪和安尉! 你的思念他們必定知道.

  7. 煮一鍋甜豆粥給父母親吃,樂聚天倫,爸媽吃了甜在心 !
    很難得考順的好兒子。感謝到訪! 祝安康!

    1. 也感謝秋葉阿姨到訪!

  8. The red bean congee is secondary. It’s the thoughtfulness that counts. My late parents used to have their own homemde “afternoon tea” almost everyday (擂茶 --- a kind of native drink with boiled meshed tea leaves plus other ingredients such as sesame seeds, peanuts and parched rice). It was their favorite drink and also the only treat for visiting friends. And the drink could last for a couple of hours, usually amidst chats about thing passed. I used to pop up at my parents once in a while for an “afternoon tea”, not so much for the drink itself but for that sweet moment of togetherness, the familial intimacy, and the stories about my childhood days which my parents were never tired of retelling. Gone are those days with the passing of my beloved parents. I could only end this passage with a couple of lines from an elegiac address by the Qing shcolar袁枚: 然而汝已不在人間,則雖年光倒流,兒時可再,而亦無與為證印者矣。
    Have a pleasant weekend!

    1. Thanks Peter.
      The week has been more than "busy", so only manage a late reply.
      My Chinese literature is next to zero, but your quoted verse made me learn about this elegiac address. That is such a sorrowful description only the speaker can appreciate. They must be proud of you, even now!
      Somehow I envy you - for some reasons my parents never tell stories about my childhood or any of my siblings. Maybe this is why I have so little recollection of how I was.
      雖然兒時可再,而亦無與為證印者,I believe the mental pictures are always as vivid as yesterday's for those who love.
      You have a busy but pleasant week too.

  9. It is sad to see our beloved aged parents to lose their health as time goes by. Your red bean congee reminded me of the salted cabbage my mom always made to us for congee diets. In recent months, I initiated to ask my mom to teach me how to make it. I successfully made a bottle of salted cabbage which contained an unforgettable memory between her and me. I have taken photos and would like to make it regularly in future. It is one of good heritage foods from our Chiu Chow people. During the salted cabbage making process, her contribution to the family was being recognized. I am happy to see the smile and pride in her face. Although your red bean congee might not be so tasty, your love to your parents is more important and it can make them happy indeed.

    1. It is very thoughtful of you to allow you mum to show you how to pickle cabbage in her own way. It must have made her happy and feeling good about herself. Guess even the old folks still have their place and importance in this fast changing world - to make us feel good about ourselves as a son or daughter or as a person that we still have the affection for others. And, she has passed down a heritage to her children. She may not ever think that can happen. Well done.

  10. It is a bowl of heartwarming red bean congee for everybody.

    1. Indeed. And it's not expensive though often ignored.

  11. A good sharing Gravel I think there is a double happiness to your dad&mom, mostly is your visit, also you bring an unforgettable memory to them as well! For them, even Jade Garden Restaurant is not boiled better than you.

    By the way, I like red bean congee very much, however, I did not taste it again since I go to work. In my childhood, we used to be eaten red bean congee as lunch, I don't know why, may be eaten rice was a bit expensive at that time, I am not sure. But I like it. Now, I only try red bean sha when in yum cha!

    1. ykk,
      So, how about cooking some red bean congee for yourself for once to taste the memories of old days! Of course, it is time consuming and you are likely to waste the leftover...ha...ha...
      I believe they are happy. But, I don't think they can say it is better than those in Jade Garden Restaurant as they have never been to that level of restaurants before. It's too expensive - my father would argue.
      Have a pleasant week. Thanks for your visit.

    2. I will try, but not sure when, I tell you a secret, I seldom to cook after I get mariied, ha ha!
      But I can tell you that Red Bean Sand soup & Red Bean congee is absolutely 2 differents kind of things. The first one is just a gift after your expensive meal from Restaurant, the latter one is our parent cooked for their kids to warm their hearts...

    3. Ha...ha... ykk, Get someone to cook the red bean congee for you then!
      Make sure that person knows you want red bean congee, not red bean 'Sand'.
      Have a great new week.

  12. 這是愛心紅豆粥、老人家吃到的並不單只是其味、更多的是那一份愛。

    1. 我的老人家要的真是不多,但滿足他們這些微少的需要卻往往未能如願,想起也有不少歉意。

  13. 回覆
    1. 多謝Teddy兄到訪,都不是甚麽愛心,是責任多些!

  14. You are a good son, no matter if the red bean congee was tasty.

    1. Thanks 百了! I'm just a son and the congee can taste better.
      Season greeting to you.


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