Tuesday, November 11, 2008

brewing the 'horrid' concoction

seems to me like medicine used to taste more bitter in the past. these days, kids are not so adverse to taking their medicine, especially the western type. but if you thought western medicine was bitter, you should try taking the chinese herbal decoction.

today, as i was walking past the spice garden at fort canning, i saw this chinese medicine clay pot on display. however, i remember that the one that my mother used though made of clay was not black but grey. the chinese believe that you should not use a metal pot to brew medicine (chinese herbs) because the chemical changes that take place can alter the nature of the ingredients.

in my younger days, each time i was sick for a prolonged period of time, my mother would go to the chinese medical hall/shop to get the prescribed ingredients to brew them into a black or dark concoction. the overpowering smell of the brew was enough to put me off. to sweeten the bitter taste and to bribe me to take the bitter medicine, my mother would let me have a sweet after i had forced the solution down my throat.

because of the long hours and the effort that she put into preparing the stuff, somehow i would try my best to down the whole bowl even though i hated every drop of it.

first, she would soak the ingredients in water. then she would put them into the clay pot and pour in enough water to cover the content. the pot was kept covered throughout the brewing process. when the water started to boil and the smell wafted in the kitchen, she would reduce the heat. she would let it continue to boil until a certain amount was left in the pot. the decoction was strained and the dregs thrown away. sometimes the same ingredients were boiled for a second time.

one chinese herb or medicine that was also prepared in the form of a decoction was the antelope's horn. i used to watch how the man at the shop use a piece of broken glass to shave the bits off the horn. when i had high fever, my mother would prepare this decoction by brewing it for quite a long time. although the solution was not black or dark, it was still not very pleasant to taste.

when this failed to alleviate my suffering or sickness, then i would consult a western doctor. for this, i would usually visit the outpatients' dispensary at pegu road.

chun see's observation was right: those days, they always used the pink paper to wrap the chinese herbs.


peter said...

Agree with your observations. I needed incentives to go along with this black drink. I dread the day when I had to drink this for good health.

The Chinese medicine shop usually sells "sim buay" coated with a yellow powder. When I managed to finish 1 Chinese soup bowl, not the small bowl but the BIG soup bowl, I quickly looked for the "sim buay". No wonder I am still addicted to chinese titbits like "red kana", "Kat Chye", Cham Pei Mui", "Sim Buay powder" that goes with my star fruit/pear after dinner, "San Char". MY favorite joint to purchase these titbits in 1/2Kg packaging is at the Rochore Wholesale Center. The stall-keeper (Aunty and Uncle) knows me very well because I seem to be the only male customer among the old ladies.

BTW do you know what happens to a man who eats plenty of salty and sourish titbits? Some say got extra energy!!

Lam Chun See said...

I think we still have the clay version of your pot in our house. My wife, who is daughter of chinese medical shop owner is able to make my children, at the older 2, drink the yucksy stuff. Mothers will always be mothers yeah?

nah said...

There was also this powder which was used to cure sore throat. When we had sore throat, my mother would fill a drinking straw with this powder and blew the powder onto the tonsils. There was a bitter but cooling effect on the tonsils.

peter said...

seems dried crocodile meat good for curing children's asthma.

yg said...

on home remedies, i can recall the treatment for mumps, a disease which used to be quite common in the past. now, with vaccination, it is almost unheard of.
they would smear some blue paste on the affected area and the chinese character for tiger would be written, using the same blue paste, on the cheek.