In the summer of 1967, I was an eager young man with dreams of becoming a bank manager. A youth filled with obedience and hard work had paid off, just like my father and mother told me it would. Hong Kong was proud of turning into a Westernized society, but we held on to our traditional Chinese principals of respect and values. I was very proud to be living in this city. Every morning I would wear my freshly pressed suits and carry my briefcase on my way to work. Our unit was humble, but we all knew each other like family on the 60 floors. I would pass by a nice old man who was half-blind, cutting ground beef just outside his opened screen door. "Skinny Mo. Going to work?" he would ask. It was a rhetorical question which I only needed to answer with a smile. I was 16 years old. The rest of my life had been mapped out for me.
One of those summer mornings, the Wong family from floor 18 had moved out and a new family had moved in. It was a large family, but I fell in love with their eldest daughter, Lai. She was very opinionated and an activist among world politics. I was intimidated by her so it made me shy and nervous. But this did not stop the opportunist Kelvin from taking pursuit. Kelvin was another young man from our building. He was one of those new type of Hong Kong guys who had an English name and listened to English music. He worked at the Vitasoy factory and spent all his money on funny clothes. Naturally, Lai was impressed by his confidence and found him interesting. My world became shattered. Even though I worked hard and listened to my parents and authorities, I had nothing interesting to share with Lai.
"Why are you so sad, Skinny Mo?", asked the half-blind old man when he saw me looking at the stars from our building's corner. He was cooking something delicious and he liked chopping meat outside his screen door like always. I told him about my love for Lai, but her interest for Kelvin. Kelvin knew so many things, especially about Western life. He was not rich and I was not rich, but he spent a lot of time reading magazines and watching foreign films. What was I supposed to do? I was just a relic from the past. What good was being respectful and obedient when I could not win the one I love?
"Skinny Mo. You should never be ashamed of being respectful and obedient. But I agree that you will have to be more interesting. You say this young lady of yours has interest in foreign things? Let me tell you, the secret to winning a woman's heart is through gourmet. Everyone in Hong Kong knows how to cook, but there are only a few who can achieve gourmet status. I may not look like much today, Skinny Mo, but when I was younger I was an amazing chef. I've served through the occupation of Japanese forces and served Western foreign embassies. One, in particular, won over a Western ambassador and his wife. It is a love potion dish created by Chinese immigrants in Hawaii. If it's good enough for them, it will surely win you the heart of this young lady. I shall write the ingredients on a list and you will bring them to me tomorrow," said the old man.
The following recipe is what he showed me. It is an old Hawaiian dish adopted by Chinese immigrants. Some call it Pineapple Boat Fried Rice. To lovers everywhere, we call it a love potion. This Valentine's Day, consider this dish as a strong romantic choice to cook for your loved one.
1. PREPARING THE PINEAPPLE
- Large pineapple
- Scooped chunk of pineapple
A pineapple can be a very hard thing to cut if you have never cut it before. Be sure to use a very large knife, about eight inches long minimum and very wide. Make a clean cut to split the pineapple in half vertically. There is a correct method to cutting a pineapple and an incorrect method. If you do it incorrectly you end up like my friend Nine Finger Wong. It is obvious why he has that name. The correct way is to hold it the knife perpendicular to the pineapple and chop with a thrust from the wrist. Be sure the hand that is not holding the knife stays on top to assist pushing the hand with the knife down. If the result finds you with two perfect halves of the pineapple and your fingers intact, congratulations, you have done it right. If you injure yourself, do not blame me for your stupidity.
Using a spoon or scoop, take out the chunks of pineapple from both sides. Put these chunks on the side for seperate cooking.
2. PREPARING THE OTHER CONTENTS
- Bowl of steamed rice
- Yellow Onion
- Green Onion
Use a rice cooker to steam the rice. Put the uncooked rice into the cooker and add in the water. To measure the correct amount of water to put into the rice cooker, pour the water until it goes to the first 1/3rd of your pointer finger. Too much will make it too soggy. Too little will make it too dry. You want the perfect amount of rice. Let the rice cooker steam your rice. There should be a light that tells you when the rice is done steaming.
Okay, while you are waiting for the rice to cook, chop the yellow and green onions into little pieces. Do the same with the tomato. Beat the egg until it is scrambled.
If you want to, you can steam the rice over night and put inside your refrigerator. This makes it easier to cook the next day and it will taste better too. This is optional.
3. CREATING THE SPECIAL FRIED RICE
Put the contents from Step 2, a pinch of vegetable oil, along with cooked shrimp to stir together. This will create fried rice. Stir fry the rice until they start dancing up and down.
- Contents from Step 2
- Chunks of pineapple from Step 1
4. FINISHING TOUCHES
- Soy sauce
- Black pepper
- Sesame oil
- Green Onion
Add the salt, soy sauce, black pepper and the sesame sauce onto the rice. Do this for about 30 seconds. Okay, eliminate the fire from your stove. You are done.
With the two empty pineapple halves, put the fried rice within them. For special effect, add a cherry in the middle of both. Like Stevie Wonder say, My Cherry Amore. This is the twin love boat pineapple special. Very romantic and win the young girls' hearts!
It took all the courage I could muster, but I invited Lai to the 19th floor to eat with my parents. I had practiced the Pineapple Boat Fried Rice dish several times, so it helped my confidence that she would like it. My father and mother really liked her and invited her to eat more with us. Thankfully, they said only two embarassing things about me. Even though this did not win her over, she saw the good side of me and also my appreciation for Western culture with the Pineapple Boat Fried Rice. I read three magazine articles about Hawaii and memorized the facts of it as much as I could. I even knew who John Lennon was.
It would be another five years until Lai finally became my girlfriend and later my wife. After our first dinner with my parents, Kelvin soon lost interest in her and moved on to another girl, and then another girl, and another. He dated almost every girl in our building, each time with the patience of two weeks. Lai came to our house several more times, each with me cooking for her the Pineapple Boat Fried Rice dish. She exclaimed how much she wanted to go to Hawaii, and for our 25th anniversary, took her there to celebrate. As for Kelvin, he married my wife's younger sister and we are family now. I tolerate him, but he is still a bit young at heart. About the half-blind old man, not long after that first dinner, I did not see him chopping meat in front of his screendoor one day. I found out later that night he passed away. He was a widow, living alone without a wife or child for 40 years. He meant so much to me not only because he helped me win over my wife, but because he gave me a love for being a gourmet chef. Being a chef led me to see the world and it has made me an interesting person while keeping my values.