calliope, calliope 2017

Pineapple Tarts

photo credits here.

by tan yongyi

Uncle Leong brings a jar of pineapple tarts
For Chinese New Year.
His scruffy, bearded face,
Pot bellied, alcoholic laughter
He processes the tarts haphazardly
Yellow pastry on red checkered shirt.

My heart twinges.

“So tasty, the Chinese truly are gourmet!”
Of course, in Hokkien,
Did you expect fluent, crisp English?

I sat on the blue plastic chair,
My posterior sinking into the holes
As I bit onto my tongue to stop myself
Like a caught spy would in front of an interrogator.
The iron smell of blood was missing
But one can imagine.

“Chinese pastries are so much better
Than those epok-epok or
Putu mayam frivolities!”
Teochew now, then Hokkien,
then a Stephen Chow Cantonese.
By then I threw myself around in my seat,
Hands clawing at the whitewashed plaster of the wall.
I froth at the mouth, like teh tarik.
And my eyes darted around like a ball
On the ping pong table.

The protest surges,
I beg to differ!
Oh, let me speak, and educate
This man of poor knowledge
And ignorant trait!
For the pineapple tart,
Is Malay in origin!
Enjoyed by ladies in sarong,
And not in cheongsam.
It’s made with silky smooth and sinful
Indian ghee, and flavoured with
Powerful punch-whopping painful pungent
Indian spices.
Popularised by Europeans who
Made gifts out of them in
Tin boxes made by the Javanese.

Filipinos add coconut to them,
The Portuguese perfected it into
Golden, topaz-encrusted, caramelised
Nuggets of buttery, custardy sweets.
French men brought out the complexity
Of never ending perplexity
Through beurre noisette and pâte feuilletée,
Of Crème patisserie and vanilla Chantilly.
And, and, oh let me finish!
Before you start casting your glance away
From my silent protest,
And munch another tart in a huff.

From the wheat, to the milk
From the pineapple, to the oven
From the baker’s to the cashier
None Chinese, maybe the promoter
And definitely the price tag.
So open your eyes, as much as
Sugary pastries dance in those irises,
And admit with dignity
That pineapple tarts are not Chinese!

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