This dish, pan fried mackerel fish stuffed with minced chili, lemon grass and shallot is one of my favorite food since childhood. In my family, we just refer to this dish as the chili fish or in Hokkien, my native dialect, “han chio hu”. “Han chio” for chili and “hu” is fish. A mere mention of “han chio hu” will send me and my cousins salivating and reminiscence about the days when grandmother’s kitchen at grandfather’s shop was still in operation.
A cook was hired to cook for the big family and we were allowed to request for the dishes that we fancy by telling grandma who will then make sure that the ingredients were prepared. Thus, it was very common that my cousins coming back from Kuala Lumpur will request a week or two in advance for our favorite dishes such as this one, pig stomach soup with pepper, “bak kian” (fried minced meat, prawn with other minced vegetables carefully folded with a layer of oily pig skin) and “chap chai” (sourly soup made from leftover dishes) to be prepared during their stay.
Alas, those were the days when grandpa was still around and grandma was still in robust health. When grandpa’s old shop close for good, cooking became decentralized. For a long time, we didn’t see these dishes anymore except “bak kian” during Chinese New Year when we will have reunion dinner with grandma. Mom will avoid cooking all these dishes because they require tedious preparations. Mom is not a good cook. Daddy used to say that her talent is at investment and managing the family business instead of the kitchen.
It wasn’t until the arrival of our maid that we get to taste all these dishes again. Our maid, who had previous experience working for a Hokkien family in Penang before working for us know more about cooking these dishes than mom. Today, upon waking up at around 11pm, I am just so glad to know the maid cooked this dish for my brunch. I ate the whole fish without even a tiny bit of flesh and the delicious minced chili left.
Related post: The nostalgic "chap chai"