Saturday, June 12, 2010

Classic Comfort Food: Fried Vermicelli with Narcissus Brand Pork Trotters

The real McCoy: Narcissus Brand Stewed Pork Trotters
An imitation: Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery
Artery-clogging it may be but it's comfort food par excellence

A stall serving this iconic dish with its stack of cans of the pork trotters, to ensure that you know the cook is using the real thing.

Fried vermicelli with Narcissus brand stewed pork trotters. The mere thought of it is enough to conjure up images of mother, family gatherings, festivals, homes full of aunties, uncles, cousins, babies, grandmother and grandfather to many Chinese in Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia. For generations, this canned food in its distinctive yellow packaging has been a staple of home festive cooking. Chinese New Year, weddings, birthdays of the elderly and the new-born have all been welcomed by a big dish of fried vermicelli with Narcissus brand stewed pork trotters. Cans of pork trotters are also used as gifts and symbolize that you wish the recipient a long and prosperous life or, for the newly married, a happy marriage with lots of children.
The origin of using canned pork trotters as gifts and as food on auspicious occasions can probably be traced to the Chinese tradition of giving and cooking real legs of pork on such occasions. I suppose, over time it was simply more convenient to give canned pork trotters instead of the real thing. But what makes Narcissus stand out to be the only acceptable brand to use? There are many imitations of the real thing, complete with yellow packaging and design and the second image from the top shows one of these. But giving or using imitations of the real thing would be tantamount to an insult. They just don't taste the same. The gravy of Gulong brand above is more diluted and is not redolent with the smell of subtle combination of spices. The cuts of pork are not tender nor are they sufficiently tender.
Iconic status aside, how does a dish of Fried Vermicelli Narcissus brand stewed pork trotters rate as a classic dish? In my opinion, this is one of the few instances when canned can be said to be better than fresh. Try cooking the vermicelli with fresh pork trotters and something is missing. Maybe it's true what they say, that delicious-ness is always tainted by cultural experiences, and associative memories. Which is why I never understand why Americans like their Hot Dogs and Hamburgers smothered with Chili and Cheese and why Hawaiians and other some South-Sea Islanders consider Spam a staple food . Nevertheless, no one can doubt that the combination of pork, mushroom and chestnuts, when absorbed by vermicelli and with a hint with bitterness from the garnish of Mustard Greens is in accordance with general principles of cooking on complementary tastes and textures.

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