July 24 was the birthday of my maternal grandmother. Had she lived beyond 2005, she would’ve turned 88 this year. That morning, I asked my mother if she was cooking something special to observe Mommy’s (I called my grandmother Mommy while I call my mother Mama) birthday. My mother said she wasn’t planning anything because she had already offered a mass for her. I insisted on making something, even a simple noodle dish to celebrate Mommy’s birthday. In the end, I decided to cook the dish myself, using ingredients that were available in our pantry and refrigerator.
Fortunately, we had the most vital ingredients on hand: the vegetables, the noodles, and some shrimp. No pork belly, though. And the chicken had been set aside for another dish so I couldn’t touch it either. I also realized that I had run out of Khmer sausages, which adds another layer of flavor. Chinese sausage is a good substitute.
Because I was using shrimp, I needed kinchay or wansuy to get rid of the lansa. But may aunt hates the taste of these herbs so it was again fortunate that I found some celery, which is a good substitute because it acts the same way and it’s something that my aunt likes.
I usually cook the vegetable recado before cooking the bihon in a broth of the combined juices of the recado, shrimp head extract, soy sauce, oyster sauce, and salt & pepper.
When the noodles have cooked and absorbed the cooking broth, I usually add half of the vegetable recado and leave the rest for topping. But this time, I decided to add all of it. A dash of sesame oil in the last seconds of cooking finished the dish.
Tradition tells us that noodle dishes on one’s birthday symbolizes the wish for a long and happy life. I think, celebrating the dearly departed’s birthday with a noodle dish symbolizes our undying love for that person.
Happy birthday, Mommy! Love you!