IN THE SPIRIT OF CHRIST­MAS

SALT Magazine - - A Day With -

Like­wise, for 68-year-old Mary Gomes of Mary's Kafe (open since 2008), Christ­mas is the sea­son to spend qual­ity time with her fam­ily, and of course, feast. "Food brings unity," she says pas­sion­ately. Gomes' fam­ily is a close-knit one. "Dur­ing Christ­mas, our house is the head­quar­ters for our en­tire fam­ily. They would stream in and out, some­times be­gin­ning as early as the morn­ing, im­me­di­ately af­ter break­fast!"

When she was younger, the fes­tiv­i­ties started on Christ­mas Eve, af­ter mass. At the supper ta­ble would be pie filled with a tasty stew of spare ribs, smoked sausages, ba­con bones, egg wedges, chicken, car­rots and cab­bage. Un­like the rus­tic English chicken pie, the Eurasian ver­sion uses a mix of Asian spices, in­clud­ing star anise and cloves to give won­der­ful depth to the stew. The best part? The thick and but­tery pas­try that is baked to golden per­fec­tion.

And yet, for Gomes and her fam­ily, hav­ing pie was con­sid­ered a bonus, as they came from hum­ble be­gin­nings. She says fondly, "My mother ab­so­lutely loved pie. She would have the left­overs for lunch, tea and din­ner the next day. Of course, for her, it was never com­plete with­out achar (pick­led veg­eta­bles)." Christ­mas Day brought with it other dishes that the fam­ily rel­ished, in­clud­ing pigs' trot­ters cooked with kiam chye (pre­served veg­eta­bles) and sour plums, served with pip­ing hot rice, sliced red chilli and black sauce.

Now, with a fam­ily of her own, Gomes con­tin­ues this Christ­mas tra­di­tion. But her spread on Christ­mas Day is more elab­o­rate: the muchloved feng, roast beef, shep­herd's pie, and most im­por­tantly, de­bal curry (this spicy dish is usu­ally cre­ated with left­over Christ­mas meats. The word ‘ de­bal’ means ‘left­overs’ in Kris­tang lan­guage, but it was some­times mis-heard as ‘devil’). She says fer­vently of de­bal curry, "You must add ba­con bones! That is what lends flavour to the dish."

In the Gomes' house­hold, the de­bal curry con­tains babi pang­gang (grilled or roasted pork) as well as smoked spare ribs, and is cooked with a rempah com­pris­ing onions, chilli, mus­tard seeds, gin­ger and vine­gar. She ex­plains this is dif­fer­ent from some Eurasians, who pre­fer to use heav­ier flavours, like bela­can, lemon­grass and can­dlenut. And even though there is no right or wrong, she will not com­pro­mise on how the rempah is cooked. Therein lies the se­cret to a good Eurasian curry, Gomes says. "If you don't fry your rempah well, you will find that the dish re­tains the taste of the raw spices, and it won’t taste good."

Gomes de­vel­oped her pas­sion for be­ing in the kitchen at a young age. She rem­i­nisces, ”On Sun­days af­ter mass, we would fol­low my mother to Tekka mar­ket to buy that evening’s din­ner in­gre­di­ents. I started peel­ing pota­toes and onions when I was six. I was her as­sis­tant!” Six decades on, Gomes' pas­sion for Eurasian cui­sine is still strong. "When some­thing is a pas­sion, you are happy to do it, with­out feel­ing like it is a chore." She ex­plains of Eurasian food: "Our style of cook­ing is truly unique, be­cause it's in­flu­enced by many, and yet, we've made it our own."

Mary Gomes

Gomes’ rus­ticChrist­mas Pie

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