September 21, 2018

Sibu Tales : Thrice Cooked Fish

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The belt fish was one of the cheapest fish available in Sibu in the 60's and 70's and most people would sneeze at it, calling it "Poor Man's Fish". But to us children who were not exposed to this kind of snobbery at that time, we gobbled up every piece of belt fish in front of us. My mum would swallow a lot of  the bitterness in life as a widow and she would not repeat what other people say to us. She kept her counsel and made us study hard and be thankful of what we had on the table. There was never a time when we had no food on the table.

My mother would buy the whole fish for probably one dollar and the fish would last three days or more!! She would first carefully deep fry the fish. A few pieces would be placed on the table for lunch and dinner and the remainders put in a glass bottle. The next day she would cook us our favourite fish dish - fish with black soy sauce. This sweet fish dish would be so fragrant and flavourful and we would enjoy the sauce. What a rice pusher!


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But most remarkably, as if by magic, on the third day, the remainder of black sauced fish would be steamed and we could even chew the softened bones.

Whatever fish we had left in the big bottle would be presented to us again, but we were happy with this fish because it is so tasty. Sometimes, the fish would just be heated up and we would enjoy the crunchiness of the skin and fresh. Leftovers never tasted so good!!

That was how we were brought up to value every single morsel of food on the table by our remarkable, awesome, innovative, creative and resourceful mother.

August 26, 2018

Sibu Tales : Cold Feet in a Motor Launch

Typical way of taking off shoes in a motor launch. Foochow style


Here is a story about travelling in the early morning down the river in Rajang to teach in Kwong Hua School. My sister was a secondary school English teacher for many years in Kwong Hua School. For six days a week, every morning she had to be in the motor launch by six a.m. Sometimes it was extremely cold. On other days it would be wet and rainy. But she was able to bear it all.

On cold days, she had a special way to warm her feet. She would take off her shoes and put her feet under the cushions of the seat in front of her. And naturally she would be able to get some warmth out of the cushions without many people noticing.


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 One day, her cold toes touched the butt of an Iban who was wearing just a loin cloth accidentally. He jumped up as if a snake had bitten him. My sister quickly pretended that nothing happened and kept a straight face, putting her own feet under her skirt. 

If her students had known this story, they would have a lot to say and laugh about!! It has been a well kept secret and she has been retired for more than 10 years now.

August 9, 2018

Sg. Merah Tales : Police Station

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This Sg.Merah Police Station has served the people well for more than 60 years since the Japanese Occupation.

According to some women police officers, many people believed that the cells of the police station were a little haunted.

During the Communist insurgency in the 60's and 70's some people even found shelter in the station on top of the hill. It has always been a very strategically located.

One day there was a big fight between gangsters in Sg. Merah. The losing gang ran all the way from the shop houses and up the hill to the police station. Without saying much to the police, the quickly locked the gates themselves. In that way they saved their own lives. This story was told to many trainees who were doing teaching practice in Tiong Hin School during that time. It was quite a worrying place actually in those days because Sg. Merah did not really have a good repution.

During the Tomb Festival or Ching Ming, the police became very active because the population of Sg. Merah would more than triple. Every Chinese who had relatives buried in Sg. Merah would make their way to the cemeteries. In fact Sg. Merah was known as a place where the dead are buried.

So it was only normal for the Police Station to have more manpower during those few days.

A few murder cases were handled by the Police Station.

August 3, 2018

Sarawakian Local Delights : Three Chillies and Birds' Brinjals with Ikan Bilis

Birds' brinjal or terong pipit can be grown very easily in the upper valleys of most rivers in Sarawak. Thus the longhouse people are blessed with this special vegetable. Tiny little pearls of terong pipit can be harvested and carried home by the farmers as they completed their day's farming.

One of the easiest ways to cook terong pipit is to stir fry the vegetable with chillies, some belacan, ikan bilis (ikan pusu), lots of onions and some slices of ginger. This dish can become a good side dish and stored for several days, especially  if it is made quite salty or with lots of soy sauce. This side dish is a real rice pusher.Image may contain: food

Besides, the dish, which can be eaten cold is often carried in the back packs by the farmers for their afternoon meal while they are at the farms.

Vinegar can be added to the dish, to change its tastes and flavours. It is an amazing dish. It is just so practical to cook quite a bit of the terong pipit before the birds come and eat them all up from the tree.

August 1, 2018

Sarawakian Local Delights : Tumeric Chicken and Terong Pipit

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Small holders and local longhouse residents often cannot get curry paste easily. But they can usually grow their own tumeric or kunyit in their small farms. Hence they use this ingredient to add special flavours to their chicken. Tumeric is a very flavourful natural spice.

Traditionally tumeric or kunyit is used for medicinal purposes. A rhizome, it is of the same family as the ginger and is therefore considered a heaty herb,used by mothers who have just given birth. It is pounded and made into a tea for the new mothers.

Besides, warm turmeric tea helps to expel wind from the body. Thus it is a very important ingredient in the preparation of many different kinds of jamu (local herbal concoction). Sometimes pounded fresh turmeric is used as a poultice over boils and wounds.

When a chicken is available for a meal, the longhouse housewife would also look for terong pipit or Birds' brinjal, those little green pearls, from a tree which can be easily found everywhere, she can put together a dish that is very tasty and flavourful.

This dish is simple to do. Stir fry bite size pieces of  chicken with 3 tablespoons of freshly pounded tumeric, two or three stalks lemon grass, some ginger,one large Bombay onions and some chillies. Add water and two cups of coconut milk (optional). Simmer for 20 minutes or until the chicken is cooked. Finally add the terong pipit and cook for a further 5 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Scientists today have found that the active compound of turmeric curcumin have many scientific proven health benefits such as the potential to prevent heart disease, Alzheimer’s and cancer. It’s a potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant and may also help improve symptoms of depression and arthritis.

Besides many research has been made to study its positive effects on reduction of  inflammation of the bones and muscle aches.



July 28, 2018

Sarawakian Local Delights : Terubok

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Terubok, a unique fish species which changes gender from male to female when it reaches maturity or 27cm or 600g, is a delicacy in Sarawak and fetches high prices, especially for its prized roe. This means that it is a protandous hermaphrodite.

aTerubok afficionados are worried about its decreasing population in the seas around
Sarawak. There has been reports of overfishing in Malaysian waters because the roe
is highly priced. Besides the salted terubuk is a delicacy for the local people.

The fish is a toli shad or Chinese herring (Tenualosa toli). It is found in the Indian Ocean, 
the Bay of Bengal, the Java Sea and the South China Sea. It is also found in the Cambodian Mekong. It prefers clear coastal waters.

The bigger ones, weighing more than 1.5 kgs. are often served in good Chinese restaurants, steamed or barbequed. Over the years, the terubok has maintained its high status as a party food, for wrapped in banana leaves and cooked over an open fire, the aroma of the cooked fish fills the air, creating a festive mood!

July 24, 2018

Sarawakian Local Delights : Chicken stir fried with Tapioca Leaves

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A typical dish in a longhouse is stir fried chicken with tapioca leaves.

Chickens are quite readily available as a source of protein in the longhouse. So when guests turn up a chicken is quickly slaughtered to welcome them.  However the chicken, after having been killed must pass the ring of fire, to scorch the skin to get rid of the small downs. This process also makes the meat more flavourfull. It could also mean that the meat is also sanitized.

The chicken is then cut into small pieces and sauted in a big pan with lots of ginger. When the meat is cooked, a few cups of shredded tapioca leaves are added to the chicken. After simmering for more than 30 minutes, the dish is ready to be served.

Salt,sugar, pepper, chillies and may be even mushrooms can be added to this dish.

Sibu Tales : Thrice Cooked Fish

The belt fish was one of the cheapest fish available in Sibu in the 60's and 70's and most people would sneeze at it, calling it ...