Of ‘kacangma’ and change

·4-min read
Malay Mail
Malay Mail

JULY 27 — The dreary weather we’ve been having made me crave warm and soupy things.

There are chicken soups for the soul but for me, kacangma or motherwort chicken is a chicken soup for the heart.

Funnily enough, it is often prescribed in traditional Chinese medicine for cardiac issues and high blood pressure.

I have fond memories of my Sarawak housemate who would make it ever so often and it was fitting that I shared my first attempt at it with my long-time housemate.

What is it about kacangma, a dish that used to be primarily a confinement dish among the Sarawak Hakka and Tionghua, that has made it beloved among the natives?

Perhaps it’s the mix of flavours, the bitterness of motherwort, the burning subtle spice of ginger, the distinctive scent of sesame oil — all combined to make perhaps the ultimate Sarawakian comfort food.

Bak kut teh’s distinctive taste is mostly defined by dong quai (angelica root) and so is the case with motherwort in kacangma. The herb is bitter so you have to be careful about proportions or else the bitterness will be overwhelming.

It took me hours to find a variation of kacangma I found doable. While the basic ingredients (ginger, motherwort, chicken) are the same, the preparation methods vary.

There are chicken soups for the soul but for me, 'kacangma' or motherwort chicken is a chicken soup for the heart. — AFP pic
There are chicken soups for the soul but for me, 'kacangma' or motherwort chicken is a chicken soup for the heart. — AFP pic

There are chicken soups for the soul but for me, 'kacangma' or motherwort chicken is a chicken soup for the heart. — AFP pic

Some people insist sesame oil is indispensable, while others swap the cooking wine with chicken broth for a halal version. The steps also often differ — one recipe called for grinding motherwort while another one said it was good enough to lightly toast it.

My recipe choice (taken from, of all places, Foodpanda) was simple but still mildly laborious.

It had me peeling and mincing 200 grams of ginger, blending it with just enough water to create a paste and squeezed the liquid out, using it to marinate my chicken for two hours.

My mother’s remark when she saw the recipe: “I would have used less ginger.”

What intrigued me was how, try as I might, I could not find a single definitive recipe. Many of the posts I read stated, “This was how my mother made it.”

I wonder if someone else’s mother also decided she didn’t need quite so much ginger.

The good and bad of creative interpretation

Recipes are wonderful things in how versatile they can be, adapted to suit taste buds and allowing for a fair amount of creative interpretation.

I feel less enthused about overly creative retellings of history in the entertainment industry and a certain infamous purveyor of misinformation who somehow gets away with poorly researched books and blog posts.

Adapting recipes for different palates is one thing but misrepresenting historical facts in the name of propaganda is distasteful.

One of the latest assertions I’ve seen by the aforementioned distorter of history is the claim that Srivijaya was never a Buddhist kingdom, instead making up a farcical claim fitting their own racial agenda.

It reminds me of the time some blogger insisted Malays were descended from a lost tribe of Israel and it is frankly quite tiring seeing how the internet is misused to rewrite the past to current agendas.

While I believe it is important to document and learn from history, is it really history when facts are traded for fairy tales and false narratives?

I am also tired of certain quotas concocting fables of the past instead of focusing, rightly, on the future?

What use is there to wallow in fancied achievements when we urgently need to start living in the present and map out new things, to tell new stories about things that really happened and actually tangible dreams?

Our youth, as I wrote last week, seem to be starved of dreams. I still remember being a child and one common dream, as simple and naive as it was, was to change the world.

The thing is so many of us, young or old, do not realise just how much power we have to do just that.

Whoever created the internet, changed the world.

Whoever created canning technology, changed the world.

So many inventions and acts had impacts on how we live our lives now.

It grieves me then to see our former prime minister obsessing about building yet another national car and our youngsters mostly chasing their five seconds of TikTok fame.

One food entrepreneur bemoaned Twitter lately was more about current affairs and controversy instead of “fun sharing.”

Honey, maybe change who you follow on Twitter.

What makes Twitter a lot more empowering, at least until Elon Musk turns it into Donald Trump’s version of TikTok, is that the algorithm doesn’t distort what you see as much as Facebook or Instagram.

You can shape what you see by simply curating who you follow.

If you do not like current affairs, stop following current affairs pundits or news outlets. You don’t like spicy takes? Don’t follow spicy people.

Like how we can shape our Twitter experience, I believe people can also shape their own worldview, characters and personal direction.

Choose good things. Choose good people. Choose your own heart and mind, make your own kacangma.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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