Many years ago, I was in Agana, on the Pacific island of Guam, for a work trip. While there, I was out for lunch one day with my local colleagues, the majority of whom were Filipinos. The bulk of these Filipinos were sort of in transit, living and working in Guam, while waiting for their green cards to go live permanently in the US. Due to the number of Filipinos on the island, it was not a surprise to find a prevalence of Filipino food being proffered at the lunch place.
“What’s a Behen?” I asked my colleagues, on seeing this unfamiliar, yet potentially delectable item listed in the menu. “Is it a chicken?”
“No, no, no,” two of my colleagues chuckled simultaneously. “It’s like Pansip, except different.” They knew I knew what Pansip was, having introduced that to me the day before. “It’s a bit like Sotonghoon,” they knew I had had that too. “It could have chicken in it. It’s good. Try it. You”ll like it.”
They were right. I actually needed no persuasion. It was delicious. It was a food I was actually familiar with. In fact, it was my favourite food. Except that I had not ever known it as Behen. It has always been Beehoon to me.
Back then, I was, and even now, I am, a sucker for Beehoon. Offer me Beehoon anytime, cooked any style, and I will eat it. I can have Beehoon for breakfast, lunch and/or dinner, and then again for supper. I can eat it anytime, any day, everyday. I can eat it fried, with soup, or plain with nothing, or little or plenty of garnishing. As a matter of fact, I’ll eat it so long as I know it is Beehoon.
So, imagine my delight the other day when Chiew Ping offered me fried Beehoon for lunch. But I was both surprised and incredulous. We, she and I, and our daughter, Lin and her family, had all left her London home over the long weekend for a short camping holiday in the eastern part of England. I knew we had packed no food there, and brought none back – not that I was aware of anyway.
“Whose is it? Where did you find it?” I asked.
“In the fridge. It must be Lin’s. Maybe they ordered in Chinese at the camp – we wouldn’t have known, since we were camping separately at our B&B, and this might be the left over, which they packed home. Or maybe this was from some time ago. Anyway, what’s the difference? Beehoon’s Beehoon. Do you want it not?”
You’re kidding me? It’s Beehoon! Not only that. It’s fried Beehoon! I need no further persuasion. The big tupperware full of fried Beehoon was gone in next to no time.
Was it good? Chiew Ping asked. You bet. It was delicious!
Chiew Ping and I had been away from home for close to a month by then. So, no familiar home-cooked or Singaporean hawker food for a while. Also, I had been on a low-carb diet, which included no Beehoon, which, translated literally, means rice in powdered form. Except that when we travel, we are less observant. And, anyway, I wasn’t going to quarrel with anybody who offered me Beehoon, wittingly or unwittingly.
That evening, we had our little family chat around the dinner table. Chiew Ping thanked Lin for the tub of Beehoon which we had commandeered. To which, Lin responded, “What tub of Beehoon in what fridge? I don’t recall leaving any tub of Beehoon in the fridge”
“You mean it’s not yours?” asked Chiew Ping, just to make sure.
“Then whose is it?” Chiew Ping’s eyes grew big, as she stared in my direction, “Then whose Beehoon did you just eat?”
“I dunno,” I shrugged my shoulders, “I simply ate what you told me to eat.
”“Oh my God!” cried Chiew Ping, clutching her forehead with one hand. “I think you just ate Siew Bee’s lunch!” Siew Bee was the cleaning lady who came in once a week.
“Oh my God!” cried Chiew Ping again “She saw you eating it, right? Didn’t she say anything to you?”
“Mm, mm.” I shook my head vigorously, the flavour of the Beehoon still lingering in my mouth.
“Poor Siew Bee,” Chiew Ping was practically wailing now. “Robbed of her lunch. And not uttering a word about it. How can we ever make it up to her?”