Today I cooked sweet potato porridge in memory of my Kinmenese grandmother.
Where she came from, the soil was not conducive to rice farming, but good for growing sweet potato, yam(taro) and groundnut.
Adding sweet potato to rice porridge created bulk that filled the tummy. It also sweetened the plain porridge, and augmented the aroma of cooked rice.But most of all, it kept big families with little money from going hungry.
Each day after school, we would come home to my grandmother’s sweet potato porridge. Whatever meat side dishes were reserved for the evening meal when everyone was home. For lunch, my brother and I were happy with fried eggs and fermented bean curds or braised groundnuts to go with our porridge.
I can still see my brother in my mind – crew cut and bare torsoed in his primary school maroon shorts fanning his piping hot porridge with his exercise book impatiently.
Sometimes on a hot day, a watery bowl of rice porridge with sweet potato bits in it was all the nourishment I needed.
Over the years I’ve seen the humble sweet potato porridge listed in restaurants and hotel eateries. Many people who have the means to order far more superior staples on the menu gush over the sweet potato porridge.
Like some ritual food that binds a people to their cultural origins, the sweet potato porridge is more than a comfort food to me.
It reminds me of the generosity & ingenuity of Providence, and the faith of our forefathers that life would improve despite being confronted with evidence of scarcity & uncertainties everywhere.
If people before us could survive on such humble food and open up so many opportunities for others, our generation will definitely do better.