November 30, 2009

Rajah Ciku : A Majestic Fruit Indeed

The ciku is one of the sweetest and nicest fruits from Sarawak in particular and South East Asia in general.

Ciku or Sapodilla is usually consumed fresh after it has been plucked and softened or ripened to a certain softness. In fact it is a fruit which is consumed across the board - by the very poor and the very rich. It is also commercialised for its flavour in sherbets, drinks, butter and ice-creams. Very often we would put our home grown cikus or the hawker bought cikus in our rice bins for one or two days. When they soften they are ready to be eaten. We do not usually eat the unripen cikus as they are full of the sticky latex. Even when they are fully ripen and soft they still have some sticky latext especially when we do not pare off enough of the skin.

My mother once had a sticky slice of the ciku and the latex stuck onto her upper palate. She has always worn dentures in her adult life (poor dental care during the Japanese Occupation) and her dentures and the sticky latex caused her to choke. She almost died ! We felt so sorry for her then because we did not know what to do as we were still small. Ever since that episode we never bought cikus or brought them home. We were traumatised.

I found this rather huge species of ciku in the Muhibbah Tamu recently. They are bigger than the normal traditional ciku. The vendor called them RAJAH Ciku. They taste the same as the original ciku but fetch higher prices.

According to this farmer-vendor cikus are getting rarer now because the older trees are getting too old and have not been replaced by new ones in most gardens around Miri.

These fruits in the photo are easily 5 cm in diameter and weigh about 200 gm. So a kilo of them was roughly 5 fruits. They were sold at RM6 per kilo. And on the following day I could not find the fruits any more.

Some creative cooks and homemakers have also used it to make pies, syrups, sauces, jams and is fermented to get wine or vinegar. You might be surprised that in Indonesia, the young shoots are eaten either raw or after steaming with rice.

If you like chewing gum you might even be further surprised that it is the latex of the tree M.balata, that coagulates into what is known as chicle, formed the base for chewing gums before synthetic materials came to be used. I would actually prefer chicle to be used. Remember the chewing gum product Chiclets? That is where the name come from.

Medicinally in Java the ciku or sapodilla flowers are used in a powder with other ingredients that is rubbed on the stomach of women after child birth. The seeds, flowers and bark contain tannin and saponin with medicinal properties.

The elders of the Malay and Peranakan communities use the seeds in treating fever. Seeds are also diuretic. Unripe fruits are eaten to stop purging and to treat mild diarrhoea. The Chinese use the bark to treat diarrhoea .

If you remember the man who was responsible for bringing rubber to Malaysia - Henry Ridley - he wrote in his book that Manilkara kauki timber was used in coffin making in Malaya.

The ciku tree has a huge canopy and therefore uses up a lot of garden space. And I will always remember my Grand Aunt (Mrs. JB Chong) having a good ciku tree in her garden. It was a good time for many of us in the late 60's because her daughter-in-law Aunty C S Chong or Aunty Meng Toh used to invite us kids to eat cikus and rambutans. She would slice the chilled cikus nicely and we would enjoy the fruit along with their excellent rambutans. (They also have one of the biggest home refrigerators in Sibu at that time.) I believe she must have blessed many of the Methodist Children's Home children too with her fruits.

Somehow you cannot forget your generous elders who have given you lots of things to eat in your younger days. Thus I  remember Aunty Meng Toh for her generosity and kindness and the Chong Villa for its fruit trees. This special property has been sold to Datuk Hii Yii Peng and Datuk Wong Tuong Kuang. It forms a special island between Queensway (Jalan THO) and Rose Lane.

November 29, 2009

Women Who Brighten Up the Pasar Tani

Have you noticed that women control most of the Pasar Tani((at Serbakas Commercial Centre) business in Miri?

Having a nice evening out in Pasar Tani every Friday evening is a nice past time for me . If you are not bothered by the smoke and the narrow spaces you can actually enjoy the weekend market. By spending some of your money there you are consciously supporting the actual food producers like the coconut garden owner from Bekenu and the fruit garden owners from Sibuti. To me most of the more senior vendors have been doing their small trade very independently for a long time and the fact that they have survived shows their determination. Thus we should all the more support these small businesses.

Sometimes my friends and I would meet up just to have teh tarik and enjoy the hustle and bustle of the evening market. We do pick up some vegetables and local fruits on a Friday evening so that we can free up our weekends for other activities.

What I like about Pasar Tani especially is the way many  lady hawkers  do enjoy explaining about their products when they have some breathing space to chat with their customers. They have a nice way to tell us about their vegetables or where they themselves have come from. I call this my own Travel and Living close encounters.

Today I pay tribute to these ladies who make a difference in my life!!

This lady sells bananas and other fruits. She also sells jaring and will advise you how to prepare jaring for dinner. I enjoy some small talk with her.

This lady sells fruits like jaring too which she collects from the secondary jungle of Bekenu besides other fruits and vegetables from her own garden. She is the first person to introduce me to the vegetable called "daun mandai".

This cheerful lady sells small bits of limes and yam or "whatever she can get hold of". She is chatty and cheerful. And a very good source of information if you have the right questions.

This is my Nasi Kerabu lady (the blue rice) and she is already training her daughter to help her in the business.

Kuching on Astro Programme : Enjoy

I was very excited about this on Youtube....but then it has been removed....

Anyway you can have the skeletal remains of a good video....I hope you will be able to catch it on Astro sometime later in the future. I missed it too....Let us inform each other ...

You can however try this:

November 28, 2009

Rubber Seeds

My two grandfathers came with the Pioneering Foochows and experienced the first harsh and uncertain years of rice cultivation and jelutong harvesting. Those were dismal years but yet they were determined to struggle on. Later they  again struggled with land opening under the Rajahs with all the others. Land was acquired for the miracle plant called rubber and children born. Rubber trees were planted and soon ready to be tapped to the happiness of the Sibu Settlement in the 1910's and 1920's. They saw the rise and fall of rubber prices and the effects of the First World War. They saw the changes of the governments in China while living in the feudalistic regime of the White Brookes but very practical social welfare system of Rev James Hoover. Rev Hoover wrote in his report that the Foochows were trying their best and would see success.

These seeds I picked up recently are the new rubber seeds which burst from their seed pods .  It was fun for me to go looking for them on the wet grounds.  Fifty years later I was to renew my acquaintance with them. How wonderfully they have provided for the first Foochows of Sibu and created the first seed money for prosperity which continues to grow and put Sibu on the world map.

When we childen went to the rubber gardens to collect the latex most of the times we were barefooted. The Japanese rubber slippers were not in the market then. Nor were the Sarawak Adidas which became the common wear of rubber tappers and farmers later. (watch out for another post on this) . Our bare feet were often pricked by sharp ends of these seed pods.

I was lucky to collect this whole pod of rubber seeds.

Today rubber seeds have become tourist souvenirs packed in clean plastic bags in Kuching and Miri airports and many other tourist shops. They are also available as necklaces and bracelets.

100 wonderful growing years have passed since the time the first thousand seeds were brought to Sibu. I am proud that my grandparents were part of
this history. It was the right crop at the right time. We had the rubber barons who spear headed the economic development of a small little community called New Foochow.

Some how I will always get that special aromatic scent of rubber sheets smoking in the Smoke House. And I can still remember all the happy smiles and laughter of my relatives when they loaded their smoked brown translucent rubber sheets into the wooden motor launches like Sing Hai Huong.

Whenever I stand by the banks of the Rajang in the early morning I can still imagine the old ways of life. I can still hear the fog horn of the motor launches piercing through the misty morning air of the Rajang telling us that a boatful of rubber sheets was on its way to Sibu. The rubber sheets were usually sold to Hock Chiong (Datuk Lau Hieng Ing)along Bank Road and my grandmother's account would be recorded on her page for reference. The Foochow accounts clerk some how kept diligent accounts in those long ledger books. They were good at writing down the records and using the Sempua (abacus) clicking away the numbers adding or multiplying. Somehow their honesty was absolute.

After collecting a handsome profit my grandmother would buy adequate groceries for the family and returned by the afternoon boat. All of us kids would rush out to the jetty to welcome her home and helped unload what she bought.  When there was wonderful food on the table we forgot the pain we suffered when we stepped on the sharp rubber pods.

As I end this posting I would like to raise my wine glass to the hardworking and suffering grandparents and relatives of the Foochows of Sibu. A toast...

November 27, 2009

Nang Chong Stories : Foochow Home Made Steamed Buns

What would remind you most of your happy childhood?

For me it can only be homemade steamed buns. A whiff of steaming buns or the sight of a huge steamed (without filling) bun would just work that kind of magic on me. And I would be transported back to those special growing up years.

those long ago years when my numerous cousins spent holidays with my maternal grandmother in Sg. Maaw we would have steamed buns for breakfast whenever my grandmother was able to buy a huge sack of flour for my uncle to make steamed buns. We would have a good supper before we went to sleep. Uncle pang Sing would make the huge buns immediately after our 5 p.m. dinner.

That was memorable for me because I would stay next to him and follow every move he made. He would throw the flour from the cotton sack and probably used 5 kilos of flour. The dough would be divided into three huge pieces and steamed in the huge Foochow wraught iron kuali! The smell of steaming buns is unforgettable till today. Kneading was so easy for him because he had the strength of an ox.

Holidays by the river banks of the Rajang were fun. We would swim when the tide was high. We would paddle our small boat across the river or even try bring a few logs home for firewood.

Our playground was the huge Rajang River. Strangely we never met any crocodile. Play time was not determined by the clock but by the sun. Aunty Pang Sing or Grandma would call us to come home for lunch or for dinner. Or it was time for us to help with the farm animals. We were often told that chickens knew how to come home to roost but not us kids.

This photo shows a steamed bun (without filling)my uncle would have made and which we would slice and steam the next day for breakfast.

Each slice would be smeared with a lot of Golden Churn butter from a tin and a few unhealthy teaspoons of white sugar or kaya. The butter dripping from the slice of steamed bun and the melting sugar is the epitome of good comfort food of those long gone days. But today Ican still recreate the nostalgia...But the shadows of my late uncle Pang Sing are still there ...if only I have a Foochow stove.

A nice slice of buttered steam bun. Hot enough for the butter to melt thoroughly. A few bites sent me back to my days with Grandma and Uncle.

A nice pot of tea and a bottle of English marmalade.

"Below is a pork filled bao I reserve for you!" This is a loving statement from a loving relative which I treasure...going to grandmother's place is experiencing aunt or uncle would always say this...."I have kept one bao aside for it...." Love of the highest level....

In our family we would always "save" something good for those who are late for meals. It is our Foochow way of saying "I love you" or expressing our unspoken love. It is hard to say these three words out loud .

November 26, 2009


The rambai is an indigenous fruit of Sarawak in particular and Borneo in general.

Very sour most of the times and therefore not as popular as the langsat or duku langsat this fruit is now put at the back of the shelves in the market because other fruits have surfaced in the last ten years. The skin is rather thin and the flesh chewy (not crunchy like some of the best rambutans). Furthermore the seeds are usually swallowed with the flesh because the flesh does not come off easily.

The rambai tree is small and branches are brittle. Quite often children have fallen off the small tree because of breaking branches. However ytoda this fruit, a common backyard tree in the kampong , has even been considered "out of fashion" by even the Ibans and Melanaus! In fact many of the older trees have been cut down and never replaced. In this way the rambai might even been on its way to extinction.

A few adventurous and enterpreneurial Ibans I know have tried to process the fruit into local rambai rice wine. Like the pineapple the rambai is usually on the sour side and is just as suitable for making tuak. The rice wine (tuak) turns out to be quite palatable. In fact if a greater effort is made I suppose this little homemade wine industry can be quite lucractive. Pineapple tuak has been sold at RM 8 per bottle (Johnny Walker bottle). And I have been given one bottle of rambai tuak several years ago. Somehow I can still remember its white wine quality similar in body to a Riesling in fact. The flavour of course was similar to that of sake.

The name of the fruit must  have been adopted by one of the mukims of Brunei . Today Rambai is a mukim in the Tutong District of Brunei. It is located in the south bordering Mukim Lamunin to the north, Limbang, Sarawak (Malaysia) to the east and south, Mukim Sukang (Belait District) to the south-west, Mukim Bukit Sawat  (Belait District) to the west and Mukim Ukong to the north-west. Mukim Rambai contain one of the largest lake within Brunei called Tasek Merimbun or Merimbun Lake (in English) and also one of the largest dam in Brunei as well, which is Empangan Air Jubli Perak Benutan or simply the Silver Jubilee Benutan Dam (in English).

A friend said that  her grandmother used to cook river fish or even prawns with the skin of the rambai. She remembered that the soupy dishes tasted very good. She and her family continue to eat rambai whenever they have the opportunities. For sometime they do not have a kampong to return to because they have lost their land to timber logging in the Baram. Now they have their own low cost housing in Miri and have only one belimbing tree and some vegetables in plots in the backyard.

According to one of the hawkers  who brought some rambai for sale from Ulu Balingian many younger Sarawakians are strangers to this fruit. Only the older consumers have come looking for rambai. To him it is sad that such a refreshing fruit has this kind of fate. May be the govenment should consider doing research on how to improve the breed.

November 25, 2009

Buah Entimun Betu (Indigenous Borneo Cucumber)

The Buah Entimun Betu or indigenous Borneo cucumber is more a melon than a cucumber. Perhaps not many urbanites know about the great value of this cucumber. In America it would be called a squash.

A very hardy plant the entimun grows almost every where in Sarawak. But it definitely does not like too swampy land. The fruit can grow as big as a elongated rock melon in the best of fertile soils and the fruit has similar texture but is not as sweet or juicy as a rock melon. The flesh is red and green and at times thoroughly orange.

When eating the entimun raw one has to be very careful with the seeds because they may "burn the lips" as that is exactly the meaning of the word "betu" in Iban. So scrape away the seeds before eating. Wash the cucumber with some salt too. This may also enhance the taste of the vegetable.

I usually like to cube this cucumber and add to other vegetables like tomatoes and lettuce. The dressing can just be plain cane vinegar and some olive oil with finely chopped olives and capers. Some basil and coriander leaves would really make the whole salad fantastic!!

these two are huge buah entimun betu bought in Bekenu at RM1 each. They are able to stay fresh for as long as two weeks without refrigeration. So they are indeed very useful when one is planning a long camping trip in the ulu. This cucumber is eaten raw most of the times when the farmers are planting their rice. Just a bit of salt and chili and rice a part of a good afternoon meal.

I have these two slices of entimum for dessert - tastes like rock melon actually. I had some asamboi powder. It is really delicious and very very economical too.

I am keeping the rest of the entimun to make a small bowl of soup tomorrow.

This Indian cucumber called dosakai is the nearest relative of the entimun betu.

November 24, 2009

"I'm going to catch a chicken for you for your birthday."

Just one picture can bring back a thousand memories.

And today this picture of Rhode Island Red Chickens does just that to me.

You can find most of the Sibu or Miri wet market chickens of this breed which are physically sturdy and resilient. Furthermore they are fast growers and have more meat than other breeds. The hens lay huge tasty brown eggs. May be it was Rev. Hoover who introduced or chose the breed! Because it was after 1924 that this breed was introduced to the world from the USA. We will never know.

I do have sweet memories of backyard chicken rearing. My mother was good at it and we often had four or five of them with most of them freely walking in the yard. A few would sleep on the mango trees and one or two of the hens would have their coops. If we had a male bird we would enjoy the energetic and punctual crowing in the morning - announcement of the beginning of day. He would be the last to be slaughtered.

Whenever we had hens we would beg mum to allow them to lay eggs. We did have a few which laid eggs but most of the time they were slaughtered for food or given away as gifts to relatives. How handy it was to catch a chicken from the backyard and sending one (by bicycle) to an aunt's house for her birthday!

It was common Foochow or Chinese thing to say "I'm going to catch a chicken for your aunt's birthday." Translated it is "I need to buy a chicken as a gift for your aunt on her birthday." But it can really mean "going to the backyard and catching a chicken..."

Then I remember the one time when my father had to quickly grab his gun and run downstairs to the chicken coops and open fire!! There were three or four resounding shots and he came up huffing and puffing.

"Got the python!" He said.

I believe that was the only time I ever saw him making fast moves and behaving seemingly hurried. Most of the times he was very careful and measured in his movements. This was in Pulau Kerto in the Hua Hong Ice Factory.

The python was given to the ice mill workers who had a feast that night. Mother would not dream of having a single spoon of the snake soup. And we kids (then all below the age of 5) had already by then  curled up (coiled up??) in our wooden bed under the mosquito net.

Chickens always remind me of how well my mother got along with her own siblings and in -laws. She also had the opportunities to give gifts to her parents in law when they were alive. She would always remember their birthdays . And as was the fitting thing to do she would  always send a live chicken tied with a red piece of red cloth(a significant Chinese auspicious and blessing symbol)and two bundles of fresh mee sua.

This Foochow norm and token of love and appreciation would seal good relationships amongst the siblings and in-laws. More often than not it was always reciprocated too. Some definitely would have a poorer memory but all would be easily forgiven.

With these memories in my head I went to the wet market to have a look at chickens and ducks again. Failing to find anything interesting I went to Tamu Muhibbah and visited an old hawker friend of mine.

She had some small chicks for sale. Times are not so good for her. The Municipal Council is very strict on backyard chicken rearing in Miri and so her clientele has shrunken over the years.

She had at one time sold hundreds per week to mothers--in-law who would have to rear chickens for their daughter-in-law's confinement! Nowadays that kind of business seems to be a thing of the past especially in Miri. She thinks that modern young mothers are no longer as fortunate as young mothers of yesteryears when it comes to confinement.

Here are two photos I took of baby chicks - Bird's Eye View of Little Birds.

These Rhode Island chicks are RM2.70 each. They will develop their red and black plumes as they grow. Their meat would be RM10.00 per kg after four months of rearing. (By economies of scale the profit margin is too small for business.)

These chicks are RM2.40 each. They grow into the white feathered chickens which we know quite well.

So dear readers - the days of a relative bringing you a chicken for your birthday are over! Modern technology and urban administration have made so many of our social customs obsolete.

However I really wish I could rear chickens in my backyard and have chickens to give away.

But I do indeed have a good example of a great nephew. He diligently rears good confinement chickens for his wife whenever she is pregnant. She is indeed so blessed. Now that's a gold medal from me to him ....And he is a very busy professional. His Foochow roots are really good. (Smile).

There is a Foochow belief that if the chickens have more males in the brood then the baby would be a boy....More often it is very accurate!!

If one day you were be brought to a KFC outlet on your birthday you will remember that that is very Chinese - for we Chinese love to give chickens to the birthday girl or boy.

or at best we get sent  a cyberpicture of this:

What chicken stories do you have?

November 23, 2009

Disappearing Old Miri : Wooden Folding Shop Doors

I am going to start perhaps something called Disappearing Old Miri (DOM) in my blog.

It will consist of images I take of Miri - of things - of people - and of buildings which I think will soon disappear or fade away from our memories.

Before it is too late - here is one : those old foldable wooden slats which our elders designed as convenient walls and doors to protect the shop fronts. I don't think there are many left.

Behind these wooden slats or foldable doors are two units of small shops. Each shop is owned by a shopkeeper who has been serving here for more than 30 years. So it is really very historical to talk to them and ask them about their views - they have seen Miri growing and changing. But their shops remain quaintly aged but very unique.

Our memories are made pleasant by these.

These foldable doors only remind that in the olden days security and safety was just a padlock and chain. And wood was strong enough to keep thieves away.

How simple life could be.

November 21, 2009

Steamed Buns

The Steamed Buns story behind this photo(10 p.m. 20th Nov) started early on Friday morning.

At 8 in the morning I was ready with my renewed strength and very high spirits for pao making! Using a 30 year old aluminium basin for the dough  my Mentor taught me the rudiments of Chinese Steamed Bun making. I have made paos before but this is a special refresher course with new ingredients and new tips. New culinary kung fu that is!!
Like an experienced teacher her lesson plan was very well executed and well timed. She looked at the clock consistently and we worked without any stalled moments. I was her assistant all the way - never once did I feel excluded or demoralised in this project.

Her vegetables were laid out and prepared for me to grate with another great utensil: a grater made/improved to become a very practical and convenient gadget by her husband - it thus becomes an age-old Foochow wood based grater which I think Jamie Oliver would be envious of. It sits beautifully across the sink and the vegetables can be grated easily and captured by a bowl below. Cleaning thus becomes minimal. It is really a good piece of engineering work (which I think my blogger friend David Chin would agree.)

After grating the vegetables we fried the filling .

By the time we finished cooking the filling the dough is ready for kneading - everything by hand.
No hooks and no machine. (Sorry Chef Wan)

Here are the blessed hands which make the best pao - famous in Miri and even in England and Australia. More than 38 years of experience in pao making!!

My mentor has kept this old old flour sack as the tea towel for keeping the drying wind out of the rising buns. We must never allow the dough to dry up. According to her doughs are very sensitive (like babies) and any little disturbance would cause the dough to stop rising and the paos would turn out "kik kik" meaning depressed and dented.

Her daughter had a steamer whose bottom piece was burnt. She took the top layers and recycled them (on the left). Another child also burnt the bottom piece (right) and now the top layers are sitting beautifully on top of a kuali!! All the pieces have been in her kitchen for more than 15 years. How resourceful she is. I would give her a gold medal for recycling and saving our world.

Our now cooked buns - at 11 a.m. (The steaming took 25 minutes ) And we made 62 palm sized buns.

Pearly and Aminah relaxing  and eating the lovely buns after the cell group meeting at 10 p.m.. Yum yum.

Below Miss Ching (soon to be a bride) singing the praises of the buns.....Best in Miri.

Whisper : Would you like to have the recipe?

P/S I hope my friend's Monday TEA GANG in Sibu would enjoy these photos - since ML likes paos...I am opening a window for him to look at the beautiful hands which make paos in Miri!! ML - no paos this time - just photos....Cheers.

Sibu Tales : Making Bah Gui from Scratch

The pioneering families of Sibu Foochows continued to practise the  adoption of girls from poor families who become their maids (slaves). ...