Some of the happiest memories of my youth revolve around two aunties who have long passed away.
My “Che Che Lucy” or Elder Sister Lucy was an orphan, a distant relative who stayed with us whenever she returned to Singapore from her various stints as a senior nurse in Brunei.
Lucy would bring us lots of gifts and chief among them were clear plastic boxes. In them were greyish silvery woven “combs” of bird’s nests, nearly completely intact, and speckled with fluffy down.
Our Ah Sam Chey* in her uniform of white top and black pants, would loudly voice her unhappiness, as it was her job to pick out miniscule brown and grey feathers from them with a tweezer.
Every spare moment would be spent sitting at the dining table, hunched over and squinting her eyes as she strained to dislodge them.
We children would be thrilled, as we could look forward to a sweet dessert made from rock sugar, and jelly, which was what we associated the gelatinous strands with.
It was also an adventure to be awoken at 3am in the morning, and served a bowl of the delicious brew, each spoonful savoured, and then be patted back to sleep.
I never understood the reason for this ritual until I recognised that they were the same as the nests showcased in glass cases in Eu Yan Sang.
The other aunty whom I absolutely adored was my paternal aunt, Jenny Tan Siew Boon.
Having had the run of the huge showroom and her office, I must have been a real pest, cajoling the attendants at the counters for slivers of ginseng to chew on, and getting in their way.
I loved inhaling the strong herbal scent of the medicinal brew in which hard boiled eggs were bobbing up and down.
I loved to crack and peel them, just to see the veins of brown, marble like patterns, each so beautiful in their composition. But I would refuse to eat them, thrusting the denuded egg back to the offeror.
Though we are Peranakan, my aunties imbued in me the love for these restorative tonics, as they would double boil the sweet broths on the charcoal burner. After their passing, I did not get the sweet treats any more.
The best results from consuming birds’ nest are when the stomach is empty, so all the goodness can be absorbed and thus the logic for drinking it on an empty stomach.
Drinking the bird’s nest straight from the bottle was an absolute delight. There were thick skeins of bird’s nest in a barely sweet broth.
It is understandable how bird’s nest could be so beneficial, as the saliva contained so many nutrients, vitamins and antioxidants.
My Mako+ also brought home herbs from Eu Yan Sang to treat minor ailments as well as for delicious herbal soups. My favourite was, and still is, “Lok Mei Tong”, six flavour soup, made from a clutch of herbs, including:
So simple to prepare and yet a tasty and nourishing soup. We would blanch a slab of lean pork and some chicken feet, and then simmer the meats together with the herbs for about an hour on the stove.
Often the above ingredients would be put into a crock pot, and the soup would be ready to drink by the time we all assembled at home.
During my lunch break, I would pop by Eu Yan Sang, and the ladies would expertly wrap up the individual items in a piece of pink paper and then all together with a bigger wrap.
Today, they are ready packed in air tight containers which make soup making even more convenient.
Just when I thought that making the soups cannot be more convenient than having the herbs on hand, I discovered that Eu Yan Sang has a range of double boiled soups which can cost less than $10 per pack when they are on special offer at $29.90 for three packs.
Each of them contains my favourite ingredient, dried longans, which give a natural sweetness for a rounded balance to the herbs, some of which could have a slight medicinal bitterness.
Poured into a pan, chunks of chicken breast can be added for the protein; so good to have with rice.
As they are packaged in pouches, the soups can be heated up in a bath of boiling water, and served piping hot.
Always appreciated at dinner parties as a starter, the goodness is retained without the herbs being too overpowering.
I make it a point to nip into Eu Yan Sang branches whenever I am in the malls, to evoke memories of my wonderful aunties, and as a reminder to indulge in restorative tonics effortlessly.