Food and prayer

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  • Published 20100302
  • ISBN: 9781921520860
  • Extent: 264 pp
  • Paperback (234 x 153mm)

LIKE A HINDU goddess, the scrawny old cook seems to have multiple arms. In no time flat, she’s fried the prawns and the orange curry paste and is hurling noodles into her enormous wok. She splashes in a dark-coloured sauce and pumps up the flame. Two eggs fly through the air; shells break on the side of the wok; the contents land in the middle of the noodles. Bean sprouts, spring onions and three squirts of liquid follow. An assistant stands by with a plastic plate covered with a banana leaf. Then a cloud bursts overhead and rain starts drumming on the tin roof. The cook doesn’t seem to notice; she’s already halfway through the next order.

All the Chinese of Penang know what you mean when you say you’re going to eat char kway teow at the Sisters’. ‘They’re so old now,’ the driver who drove me to their restaurant said, and sighed. For more than fifty years the two women have been preparing the same dish alongside the same busy roundabout. In the morning, the thin one does her conjuring act; in the afternoon, it’s the plump one’s turn.

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