Some girls are Daddy’s little princesses — as for me, I was more like Daddy’s little eating partner.
My dad and I, our obsessions are numerous. But the one dish that we find ourselves constantly craving is ta meepok (also known as meepok ta), a tagliatelle-like Chinese noodle that’s tossed with bits of crunchy, fried pork lard in a chili-soy-black vinegar sauce and topped with fish balls, fish cakes and bits of minced or sliced pork.
It’s a simple dish by the Teochews, an ethnic Chinese group, that we’d eat for breakfast in Singapore every day if we could. (More important, if our bodies could handle it.)
So the moment I landed in the Teochew city of Shantou, China, for our trip back to the village where my great-grandfather was born, I knew what we had to eat right away.
The noodles are not hard to find in Shantou, as you can imagine.
Just half a block from our hotel, the Golden Gulf, we stumbled upon a promising display of fishballs on the sidewalk.
When we peeked in, we spotted another promising sign: a massive banner that proclaimed its fishballs and noodles a “famous snack for long history in China.”
Now, I’m not one for hyperbole — but I do admire chutzpah.
So we sat down for an afternoon snack and the dishes began arriving.
First, there was an assortment of fishballs that we’d picked out in the display case. They generally tasted the same — which was to say they were all good — but mainly varied in degrees of springiness and density. (I prefered the lighter, springier ones.)
We also had a few lovely fish “dumplings” in which the dumpling wrapper was made out of minced fish pounded with flour and then rolled out flat. These were cut into squares, filled with scallions or minced pork, rolled up and boiled — just delicious.
Next up, we had regular dumplings filled with minced pork and chives and topped with a vinegar-pepper sauce that was slightly peanutty.
And, of course, there was ta meepok.
Now, this version tasted very different from ta meepok you’ll find in Singapore. Instead of a salty, vinegary sauce, this was tossed in a peppery peanut-based gravy that was similar to satay dipping sauces.
Not that we were complaining — the noodles were tasty and very comforting. The perfect panacea for a rather long flight.
As the eating wound down and we gauchely licked our spoons and chopsticks, I thought about the days ahead — we would travel to my ancestral village, take part in a ceremony commemorating the first Tans from centuries ago. We would meet our very distant cousins.
We would be going home.
But first, there were other pressing matters at hand. We paid our bill and wandered out into the gray Shantou streets.
Somewhere out there, a good dinner was to be had.
Jing Hua Yu Yuan, located on Mei Shi Jie (which means “beautiful food street”) near Chang Ping Lu, about half a block from the Golden Gulf Hotel in Shantou. Tel. No: 88369739.