Surprise, Pa! The winner of the chef award goes to you because you are a chef at heart, if only Mom allowed you in the kitchen.
Not many people know this – I have cooking genes, both from my father’s and mother’s side of the family. Both my Grandpas were famous chefs! I have teamed up with my father to write the following article. Actually, Mom and Dad did most of the writings for me. Dad’s penmanship is much better than mine and they know the facts first-hand. I think this is a nice post for my kids to have, to know about their Great-Grandpas. I also thought it will be a good introduction to the Bah Kut Teh dish that I will be sharing in my Malaysian Food Page. If anyone is familiar with Klang Bah Kut Teh, guess what? I am the grand-daughter of the late Lee Boon Teh!
I think it is nice for my kids to know a little about their Great-Grandpas. They were both noble men and at the time of their funerals, streets were filled with mourners. I remember Grandpa Lee. He wore the traditional black Chinese outfit and he was super tall.
When Grandpa Lee died, I was only 5. I did not understand that solemn occasion but I enjoyed the puppet show, parade with men walking on stilts, yummy Lumpia (Poh-Piah in Hokkein) and meat balls (Bah Wan in Hokkein). Grandpa Chong died before I was born, but I can imagine he was a nice man, just like my father.
Grandpa and Grandma Lee married in Eng Choon under the rite of arranged marriage, in the province of Fujian and then emigrated to Klang and settled down in Klang, 30 minutes from Kuala Lumpur. They started to work as hawker plying the Ang Ku Kay cake and Chinese New Year glutinous rice cake business. (I did not know this fact until now. Perhaps, this is the reason why I have a deep passion for this dessert.)
Later, they started the Bah Kut Teh (肉骨茶) business at the Malay Street, Klang. I learnt from mom that they are the first one who started the Bah Kut Teh business in Klang under the trading name of Der Dee (德地), which translates to Virtue Earth.
Since his death, the family Bah Kut Teh business is being run by his eldest son and following his death, the business is being operated by his grandson. Mr. Lee Boon Teh has a big family, 7 sons and 5 daughters and around 50 grandchildren. (I am one of the 50 grandchildren.) Almost all his sons are in the Bah Kut Teh business.
Their eating shop is well established and well known to all the patrons who enjoyed a meal of Bah Kut Teh. Everyday, at the crack of dawn, all the tables and seats at the shop will be fully occupied. The patrons traveling from far and wide from cities next to Klang will come to taste the authentic Bah Kut Teh.
Their recipe is authentic with Chinese herbs to boil with the pork ribs and other delicacies to placate the taste bud of the eating public. This stall is renowned for its delicious taste and their reputation is well-known as the foremost Klang Bah Kut Teh. Now, with the demise of the first generation of the pioneer, the business is being taken over by the second generation of the Lee’s family. One of the landmarks is the stall located-down the bridge at Klang and another famous stall is situated at the Malay street where my late grandpa started his eating business many decades ago.
My other grandpa, Mr. Chong Yoon, died in a motor car accident prematurely at the age of 46 years old. He worked as a caretaker (chef and administrator) for Shell Company at Mallaig bungalow at the famous hill resort -Fraser’s Hill in the state of Pahang. He emigrated from the town of Xian Nin in the Province of Kwang Tong at the age of 26 years old. Grandpa Chong traveled to Kuala Lumpur by boat from Xian Nin in 1911.
He traveled back to China and married grandma two years later. He accompanied her to Malaysia by boat, which was quite dangerous in those days where airplane was unheard off. Grandma Chong used to describe to my father how precarious was her journey from China to Malaysia. In those days, life was very hard and difficult to earn a gainful employment in China. Therefore, Grandpa Chong chose to leave China and ventured forth to K.L. with the spirit of adventure to look for “greener pasture” to start a new life and family in Malaysia.
In the beginning, he worked as a hospital assistant helping to take charge of patients in one of the private hospitals. Therefore, he was very proficient in dressing wounds for people who have minor injury and cuts as a result of accidents.
Later, grandpa Chong and family moved to Fraser’s Hill, where he became a chef/caretaker in Mallaig bungalow. His oldest son was two years old and my father turned one. In those days (1940’s), life was tough and during the Japanese occupation, my grandparents had to learn to survive under very trying circumstances. My grandma helped out in planting vegetables and rearing poultry to survive under the repressive and oppressive Japanese regime, while grandpa worked hard to keep the whole family going. Grandpa acted as an honorary treasurer for the only Chinese school at Fraser’s Hill. He also raised funds from the general public to subsidize the Chinese school in order to give the children a better Chinese education. His generosity and zeal for Chinese education was a household word at Fraser’s Hill.
He was a good chef who excelled in cooking both Occidental and Oriental foods. His specialties were the Hakka Yong Tao Foo, Hainam chicken rice and exotic Hakka Pork with Yam cooked in the traditional Chinese style. He also cooked Western style cuisine with flourish. On grand occasion like Chinese school anniversary, he will be invited to cook for the whole Chinese community in the school kitchen. He was also a Chinese scholar well-versed with the Chinese calligraphy. He was a paragon of virtue and taught his children the ethics and good family values.
(Great-Grandmas were remarkable women as well and I will team up with my parents again to write an article about them. Prepare tissues because the next article about great-grandmas will bring tears to your eyes.)