As I got nearer, I could smell the aroma wafting from the boiling oil. I was on my way home. I stopped my bicycle right in front of the cart where the pleasant smell emanated from. The cart strategically occupied a spot under a tree at the spacious car park outside the teachers’ training college in Hamilton Road. I think it was called Malaysian Teachers Training College, MTC in short, or something like that. The base of the trees were ringed with bricks and cement.
Right across the road was Convent Green Lane. School was in session. I could hear voices of teachers and students. I could see their heads on the first floor over the tall hedge and through the louvered glass windows. Towering casuarina trees lined the fence inside the school. They provided shade and littered the place with pines and tiny cones at the same time. The two-lane road was rather quiet, save for the occasional cars or motorcycles passing by.
The sizzling from the big black kuali pulled my attention back to the purpose I was there for. The uncle, as we would call all middle-aged men irrespective whether we were related or not, was gently feeding the bubbling oil with slices of batter-coated sweet potatoes. A cluster of ripened bananas hung from the roof of the cart. Some of them were already turning dark. Greasy fumes rose from the boiling oil as it simmered and frothed.
Uncle lifted his eyes off the kuali and looked at me, his hands still deftly feeding the slices of potato into the oil. I pointed to the wire tray where the crusty pieces of fritters were laid out. There were bananas, sweet potatoes, yam, cekodok (mashed banana fritter), lek tau (green bean patty) and tnee koay (glutinous rice cake) sandwiched in sweet potato and yam, all nicely browned.
“Keng jio,” I told him, indicating I wanted one with my index finger.
He nodded but did not speak as he slid the last slice of sweet potato into the oil. The fritters bobbed up and down in the oil, slowly turning a golden brown. He picked a banana fritter off the tray with a food tong and placed it in a bag made from brown paper. I dug into my pocket and fished out one 20 sen and one 10 sen coins. I handed him the money with one hand and received the bag with the fritter with the other. The oil began to soak through and stain the paper.
I let half of the fritter slide out from the bag and sank my teeth into it, rolling the piece in my mouth from side to side to prevent my tongue from getting burnt. The crust was fragrant. The pisang raja within was slightly sourish and still piping hot. I could see vapour escaping from the bitten off end. A few more mouthfuls and all that left was the greasy brown paper bag with morsels of crusts at the bottom. My appetite satiated, I continued on my ride home.