If held at gunpoint and told to pick the one thing I miss eating most when I'm not in Singapore, I'd have to pick hum, or the Asian blood cockle. (I was hallucinating -- humming to myself? -- about the stuff for weeks in India before we arrived in Singapore in February.) Mostly because I simply haven't seen it anywhere outside of Southeast Asia.
I'm quite happy to snack on its English cockle cousin -- often pickled -- but its more rubbery white meat lacks that bloody edge of the Asian variety.
I suppose there's the porn version in Japan -- the giant akagai -- but the Japanese tend to purge the cockle's insides and slice it up, keeping its lovely sweet crunch but missing its slightly drippy, briny, earthy, slightly-disgusting-but-I-can't-help-myself-I-love-it guts.
Hum is a crucial ingredient in several Southeast Asian hawker dishes. @EatingAsia reflected my sentiments best when she said, "If it don't got blood cockles it ain't Malaysian curry mee... or char kway teow." Damn straight. You might prefer these dishes without. If so, I will try not to judge you, but let's face it, I will.
My favourite dish among these is Singapore-style char kway teow, a darker, sweeter version of its Penang rival. Because the amount of kay hum (extra hum) I ask of char kway teow hawkers is never enough, my brother and I have increasingly relied on my Mum's rendition to get our fix.
Short of you fellow humbugs bringing your own hum stash to your favourite char kway teow chef, I hope this recipe serves you as well as it has me. Let me know how yours turns out!
For each portion of char kway teow, you will need a handful of
Kway teow, or wide flat rice noodles (at Singapore wet markets they are usually sold by the same people who sell beanspouts and tofu)
Chinese sausage, thinly sliced
Fish cake, thinly sliced
Chives, cut into finger-length sections
Beansprouts, preferably roots removed
(Looking at this photo below it's occured to me that Singapore hawkers also usually use a few pieces of pre-peeled, pre-blanched shrimp and a few squid rings, but I've never noticed till now that we don't use it in our home rendition. Add some if you like.)
You will also need
A generous drizzle of olive oil (my Mum's guilt-free substitute for the more purist-style pork lard)
Finely chopped garlic
Dark soya sauce, to taste
Sweet sauce, to taste (we use Tiger brand, below)
Chili belachan to taste; and...
As many blood cockles as you can convince a purveyor to pre-shell for you
Sourcing pre-shelled hum in Singapore in recent years takes some effort due to the government's tightened regulations after a particularly nasty food poisoning scare.
Mum buys all our pre-shelled hum from this lady below at Marine Terrace Market.
You have to pre-order your pre-shelled hum in person. Placing an order on the phone is out of the question because she refuses to give out her phone number. And why does she refuse to give out her phone number? Because asinine clients in the past have pre-ordered pre-shelled hum from her and then stood her up, leaving her with very perishable inventory and a lot of time wasted. (Evidently a 2nd phonecall to at least cancel their order was too hard to make.)
Even if you show up in person, she may feign ignorance about offering hum-shelling services. She deals with us as all because of my mother's cajoling and (obviously) never having left her hanging with an orphaned bag of hum.
"Forget getting her number," I told Mum when she related the situation above to me, "Surely the thing to go is to give her our number instead, and tell her to call us anytime she has unclaimed hum!"
Char-ing the Kway Teow
- Best to cook no more than 2 portions at a time in the wok
- Get the flame under your wok really high and get the wok really hot
- Drizzle a generous amount of olive oil in the wok, to keep the kway teow slippery
- Chuck in 2 teaspoons of chopped garlic, and let sizzle for a minute
- Add 2 handfuls of kway teow, and 2 handfuls of chinese sausage spread out on top (to let the sausage juices and oils seep through the kway teow). Let sit for a few minutes until surfaces start to brown, then turn over the kway teow and repeat
- Crack 2 eggs over the kway teow and break up the egg over the noodle, then turn over the kway teow again. Let the egg cook through and start to break up
- Add 2 handfuls of sliced fishcake, and a teaspoonful of belachan if desired. Stir the kway teow
- Add 2 handfuls each of beansprouts and chives
- Drizzle in dark soy sauce (for saltiness) and sweet sauce (for sweetness) to taste
- Keep turning over the contents!
- Now, and only now, add your desired amount of hum. Adding them last (after you turn off the stove, even, so they cook in just the residual heat of the wok contents) will ensure they don't emerge grey and rubbery
- While our longtime housekeeper Aunty Kiew Moi has her back turned, I chuck in extra hum. Muahahahahaha!
- Do a few last stirs to mix the hum through, then serve up!