April 30, 2010

Fuzhou : Special Niik Yien (wantan) in Three Lanes and Seven Alleys

1118 Foochows led by Wong Nai Siong came in three batches in 1901 to settle in Sibu. What were their thoughts? Even though they were leaving a great land impoverished by Manchu rule and even though they had been ravaged by famine and starvation the greens and the water of the Rajang must have seemed more a paradise than a impossible unbreakable jungle.

Would they have thought that they had jumped from a frying pan to a fire?

110 years have passed. Today 1118 stars have been embedded in the Wong Nai Siong Memorial Garden in Sibu to represent each one of them. Both my paternal and maternal grandfathers had a star each. As a young but keen listener their stories and their lessons made imprints in my mind - imprints of the food and of the humble homes that they left behind in China. My parents themselves had never been to Ming Chiang to see for themselves. Now I am in my senior years I am able to go to Fuzhou alas as a mere tourist-researcher of a different nationalisty even - not to return home (or tuon Dong San). Although I still speak the fossilised version of Ming Chiang Wah (my grandparents' accent) my Mandarin is only passable as I have been like my uncles and aunts educated in English.

When meeting face to face with any mainland Fuzhou or Chinese I had that kind of stranger's fear in my eyes!! We are similar in our blood and yet we are thousands of miles apart.

Even when taken to a "wantan shop" I was surprised that their Niik Yien was not what I thought to be - its making - its texture - and its taste although we were prepared by Mr. Huong that what we were about to eat was different from the Nanyang fare.

My Foochow forefathers must have missed their Niik Yien during the early days of the Sibu settlement. Did they miss the taste as much as I would miss steamed Foochow Red Wine kampong chicken when I was in England? Did they miss hearing the pounding of the wooden mallet on the chef's block during a festival like I missed hearing my mother's Chinese cleaver chopping on her ting peng? I know my maternal grandmother used to tell us that she missed the bamboo clapper and the Foochow songs . She missed the telling of the time when the "watch man" went around striking the LOH for the "watch" or every three hours.

For those who have not read up or who have not heard stories about this dish it would be an interesting study. Eating it is another matter in Fuzhou.

You will be so surpised that this is NOT wantan or wonton or Yun Tuan or bian niik! The skin or wrapper is entirely out of this world tasty. It makes all the difference. It was like a great gastronomical discovery.

Famous chef who is very charismatic and talented. The wantan skin is actually minced meat pounded to micro thin film with a wooden mallet. It is a very long and tedious process and it is no wonder that he has won many awards both in China and abroad!! He came to the front of the shop to welcome our group from Sibu. He is a personal friend of Mr. Huong who took us around this tourist area. Bless their hearts.

This is a bowl of Niik Yien - very different from the wantan that we have in Malaysia. So please have a few bowls of this wonderful Niik Yien in Fuzhou City....

 The poster says it all in Chinese - Old brand and award winning business.

April 29, 2010

Fuzhou : Three Fruits of Ming Chiang

Seasons come and seasons go. And if you live in Fujian for sometime you will know that soon a season ends by the appearance of a fruit or a disappearance of a favourite flower. Nostalgia can set in when you see that people are eating the last of your favourite fruit. And then you give a sigh - time passes by so quickly. And when you look at the mirror the first white hair has appeared!! Age has surely and firmly come upon you!

Or hope springs in your heart when you see your first watermelon! Perhaps your heart will give a stir for a summer adventure.

We are all different in how we perceive our world. Perhaps happiness for me is seeing the first rosebud.Perhaps happiness for you is seeing the first little rabbit jumping in the field!

With Spring and early summer many fruits will be harvested in Fujian.  April in  Fujian has given me the opportunity or even once in a lifetime chance to eat the glorious Fujian fruits of my ancestors. One of the popular ones is the peach:

This is the Fujian Pipa. Sweet and juicy. Even its skin can be eaten. But I understand that Taiwanese are particular. They will peel the skin off.

And this is the pride of Fuzhou : the Kana...still green it is tangy and has as little stickiness. I suppose it is an acquired taste. Having been brought up only to enjoyed the preserved types I find the fresh one a little difficult to eat. The juice too is not what every one may like. However people over there order it like we order Kalamansi  juiceor Air Limau here.

There are other fruits like little Li or li tzi and apples. I bought some nice plums and pittaya.

April 28, 2010

Fuzhou : Min Opera (Pin Ju)

After a lovely lunch we headed towards a Pin Ju Theatre or Min Opera Theatre whose consultant is non other than our talented Mr. Huong (who is also an opera singer).I was literally transported to another transfixing fantasy world!! Mesmerizing indeed! Good music! Happy and sad stories! Intelligent bantering! Beautiful performance.

Yeh Fang standing at the beautiful door. The Chinese signage says "Fuzhou City Opera Troupe"

This is the frontage of the lovely refurbished Foochow opera theatre funded by the government and supported by the Foochows.

The wooden structure is the public gallery of the Foochow Opera House. All wood and very airy this is of the ancient design.  It overlooks the main hall downstairs. In the olden days landlords and wealthy families (sponsors of the shows) would have the front seats in the main hall and drink their tea while being served by their servants. The poor people crashed in and would stand shoulder to shoulder here to have a view of the beautiful opera. Today it is a nice verandah but its function is still the same except that there are fewer viewers and interested fans looking for a place here. Fans now can sit in  main hall which can sit more than 300 .

Mr. Huong welcoming us with the manageress of the theatre standing on his left. On his right is Wong Meng Lei looking at a Fuzhou product. The performance was personally and specially arranged by Mr. Huong for the visiting Foochows from Sibu. We are indeed very honoured by this welcome and warm gesture. One of a kind in this world.

This is the opening number - fairies landing on Fuzhou!! with all the major musical instruments. I have only seen this kind of performance on CCTV9 (but in a different dialect)!!

This young man is very talented and is following his famous father's footsteps - sing Foochow opera songs with the help of bamboo clappers  and  bronze gongs.

This is a beautiful and young singer who sings as she plays the very complicated Chinese "Chen" a string instrument.

"Chi liu pek liu mae bi hook chiu......" (Say that in Foochow) Do you know what that is?

It is so good to see young and beautiful people taking up the challenge to perform in Min Opera.

A part of the audience - obviously enjoying a great afternoon of Foochow entertainment - the benefits were greatly felt by the Sibu visitors.

Min opera, known as Fuzhou drama, is one of major operas in Fujian Province. It enjoys a good popularity in Fuzhou, Middle Fujian, East Fujian and North Fujian where Fuzhou dialect is spoken, as well as in Taiwan and Malaysia and Indonesia. It became one of the major Chinese operas (besides the most famous Peking Opera) in the early 20th Century.

The music for voices in Min Opera mainly consists of Yangge, Jianghudiao, Douqiang and Xiaodiao, with accompanying musical instruments including horizontal flute, suona, touguan, erhu, yehu, Qing drum, war drum, gongs, cymbals and chime stone.

Roles in Min Opera are also classified into "12 roles": Xiao-sheng (handsome gentlemen), Lao-sheng (virtuous old men), Wu-sheng (young warriors), Qing-yi (sedate ladies with dignity), Hua-dan (either vivacious young girls or viragos), Lao-dan (old females), Da-hua (actor with a painted face, category I), Er-hua (actor with a painted face, category II), San-hua (actor with a painted face, category III), Tie, Mo and Za.

There are more than 1000 plays of Min Opera, most of which originates from folk tales, historical novels or ancient legends, including such traditional plays as "Making Seal", "The Purple Jade Hairpin" and "Switching Fairy Peach with Litchi".

(You can improve your Foochow dialect by attending this kind of performances!)

Fuzhou : Juchuangyuan Lunch

 psst......I am borrowing this picture from Amoymagic...until I get a good one from my Sibu friends. On the day I took the outdoor photos my Sony went into a coma.

A special lunch was arranged for us by Mr. Huong (the man who has magical Foochow connections) at Juchuangyuan where we were putting up. Juchungyuan Hotel was established in 1860's.

It was a Foochow banquet with exquisite imperial cutlery and table settings. The lazy Susan is one of the biggest I have seen and the table was for twelve . It was the first time for many of us to have a taste of Fuzhou Olive Juice - one of the treasures of Fuzhou.

The hors doeurves(appetizers) were placed carefully and one by one on the table with a proper and almost imperial introduction by the pretty and well poised waitress.

Litchi Pork

Oyster Pancake - Fantastic.


Fresh and tender wine lees pork slices for the bao.

the lovely hot pot for the Big Combination Soup.

The Chak Hui Tuai Tong (Big Combination Soup)
This is a soup you can have several helpings because it is just too good. Drinking the soup in a cold day would remind you of your grandparents and send you down nostalgic memory lane! The goodness of the soup includes the expensive  razor clams and pig stomach and fish maw hides itself discreetly. The taro pieces will provide the sweetness of the fertile land.

I learned from Mr. Huong that Foochows eat razor clams before August for after that month they get pregnant and the taste of the flesh is changed entirely. I think we have to learn from our elders the wisdom of eating seasonal food and the biology of our seafood!!

Famous fish steamed Foochow style with soy sauce and tomato sauce with vinegar. Foochows have great fish for their banquets because it is a city  by the Min River and the sea is just a few miles away. You can be served two fish dishes even.

The juice of the local Fuzhou Ka Na - olive . Exquisite.

The impressive lunch with snippets of information from Mr.Huong and good wine made  the meal so unforgettable!

P/S The Big Combination Soup or Chak Hui Tuai Tong is a Big Dish for the Foochows since time immemorial. (Stay tuned for the recipe).

April 27, 2010

Flower Lane Church in Fuzhou City

Prayer meetings at Flower Lane Church : 6:30-7:30 and 7:30 - 8:30 every day from Monday to Saturday.

I had the opportunity to join these prayerful folks. Those who wanted to pray aloud would take turn to pray loudly and very fluently either in Mandarin or in foochow.

The moments I spent here were really intense and I felt that God's presence was amongst the people who were sincere and earnest in their prayers.

After the prayer meeting Meng Lei and I had a chance to speak with a few ladies outside the church.

The government has funds to improve the old church and indeed has plans for a huge new church in this plot of land but the congregation is not positive about demolishing the ancient buildings. Perhaps another piece of land could be given by the government for the purpose of a new church building. More 10 000 believers worship here every Sunday.

I was very touched by the caring attitude of these praying Foochows who come every morning to pray together and to petition to the Almighty for forgiveness and blessings. Many would kneel in the front after the session is over to say more prayers quietly.

I have walked on hallowed grounds with the ancient ones. Indeed a holy moment.

Foochow Long Yien (Home made Foochow Egg Pancake Noodle)

My documentation is not chronological . I am writing about the best and most impactful events first like the one that I am going to relate below.

During the early days of Foochow settlement in Sibu not many of the frugal rubber tappers would spend their hard earned money on snacks in the town . At the most they would buy a few cents worth of kong pian (guang bing or kompia). At home their wives and  their old China born mothers would be able to  make a special snack called Long Yien or Egg Pancake Noodle if they did not have mien sien or mee sua in their keep safe(recycled biscuit) tins.

My translation of the term "long yien" is still short of the real meaning of the term. (The name on the menu list is the second one from the right in the first picture.)

This trip to Kutien in Fuzhou gave my team and I a chance to taste the Long Yien Soup several times. Indeed we were glad that one contact in Kutien even arranged for a demonstration. How nice it was to taste once again the snack my grandmother and aunts used to make so long ago downriver in Ah Nang Chong (Lower Nang Chong Village).

Here the nice cook prepares the batter of egg and flour for the pancake. (22/4/20l0)

She fries the pancake using a wok. - This is what we call "long yien".

Long Yien waiting to be cooled and cut into strip-like noodles.

A deep wok of soup is prepared (clams and vegetables and minced meat) when it is boiling hot the egg noodles are added. Fantastic!

Here we are enjoying the bowls of long yien. The sweet Kutien lady standing tells us the intricate details of the long yien.

Sitting down next to the road with my friend Yeh Fang and Frank Shu I just cannot help but clarify my memories of my grandmother and how she cooked for us in the bygone days. The texture of the egg noodle is soft and gentle like the love of a grandmother.

suggested ingredients:
  • tea cups of  plain flour (cup could be any size you’ve at home, just make sure you use the same cup / size throughout)
  • tea cups of  best tapioca starch
  • 2 - 3  eggs
  • 1 tea cup of light veg oil
  • 6 – 8 tea cups of water (add in the water until the flour mixture is runnier than pancake mixture)
This dish is usually served on birthdays a long time ago........My grandmother Lien Tie loved this dish. My second aunt (Mrs. Lau Pang Kui) is best in making this as she was born in Fuzhou City. As far as I remember not many other people in Sibu can make this dish as well as she can.

Today long yien is still popular as a street food in Kutien (Fuzhou China)

I welcome my dear readers to give me the English name of this dish. Thank you.

For my readers who can read Chinese and for my children especially :
蛋燕是永泰县一道名闻遐迩的特色菜,而以古镇嵩口最具特色。蛋燕也叫太平燕,不管是结婚乔迁升官贺寿等喜庆宴会,还 是朋友相聚家庭接待等一般聚会,蛋燕都是一道必不可少的压轴菜,都是一道争先点名的大众菜。蛋燕象征着幸福美满,平安吉祥,健康长寿。     蛋燕本来是叫蛋面,它改名换姓是跟脍炙人口的“铁印直行”故事有关。我想,太平燕不叫太平面可能受此影响吧。 
    传说明朝正德皇帝曾来嵩口古镇,正值嵩口巡检司周大人下田耕作,司衙大唱空城计。帝令随从衙门口击鼓,紧接着,对面响起鸣锣,遥相呼应。不出一刻时辰,周大人与众兵丁,挽着高泥腿,握紧长锄头,齐集衙门口。帝见巡检司与众兵丁,官不官、兵不兵、农不农,心中纳闷,细问 之下,方知巡检司、众兵丁俸禄少得可怜,要靠自力耕作,艰难度日。再看厨灶锅中,仅蒸着数条番薯当午饭。乡民纷纷诉说,周大人为官不易,勤政爱民,廉洁奉 公,不涉民脂。帝心方悦。周大人猜想来头不小,愧无物奉敬,只能献上蒸熟番薯,暂且充饥。紧挨衙门的邻居煮了一道祖传蛋面送到衙门敬客。正德帝正皱着眉头 啃两口番薯,一看到黄澄澄、香喷喷的蛋面,立即举筷,啧啧赞叹;细细询问,乃知嵩阳名菜叫蛋面也称太平面,龙颜大悦,或许是乡音南北差异,帝将面听成燕, 连连称赞:“蛋燕,香也!”金口御言一出,从此蛋燕名动四方,扬名大江南北!帝返京都之后,颁下一枚铁印给嵩口司,嘱其有紧事直奏天听,行文无须经由府 县,嵩口司铁印直行遂风行闽省。
    小时候,家庭贫困很少做蛋燕,即使做了,也只下少得可怜的蛋;但记得母亲在灶台熟练搅拌、泼浆、翻煎、起锅,起锅时蛋燕就势手掌上转了一圈,啊!简直是在 欣赏艺术品制造。偷偷的摘下一小块,高高的举在空中,轻轻的放到嘴里,慢慢的品嚼着,幸福感迅速弥漫开来。现在,老婆经常做蛋燕,看到女儿吃得津津有味, 顿觉得家庭充盈、惬意、和谐。在酒桌,一遇见色彩黄橙,芳香四溢的蛋燕,就有一种回到家里的安逸感觉。
既可以充饥,又可以配酒;既可以干炒,又可以水煮;既有传统意义,又有现实需要;既可以独自出戏,又可以联袂登台; 既可以登大雅之堂,又可以作家常便饭。
    蛋燕色彩鲜艳,味美爽口;营养丰富但经济实惠;色香味俱全,老少壮皆宜。蛋燕取材容易,应用广泛,灵活多样,寓意深刻,是永泰人民生活,乡村文化底蕴重要 组成部分。在游览青山绿水、乡间民居之后,亲手制造并倾心享用一碗美妙的蛋燕,实在是人生的乐事。
    现在,蛋燕已走出了大山,挤进了都市,逐渐成为人们生活不可或缺的一部分。好友文想抓住商机,创办蛋燕生产,我相信这对丰富永泰文化,推动农业发展,加快 农民致富,改善饮食结构,倡导健康生活,都具有十分重要的意义。小小蛋燕可以做称大文章。我朋友也一定生意兴隆,财源滚滚。(Source: http://zhangpeifen.blog.sohu.com/142267296.html)

April 26, 2010

Mr. Bao's Gallery

It was an interesting day starting with a visit to a huge cultural heritage gallery belonging to the Bao family. Mr. Bao has been collecting artifacts and antiques for a long time. His love for history and culture can be seen in this gallery.

Mr. Bao relating an important point.

An old "ching" or daching which was a common Chinese weighing scale.

A long lacquered bamboo pillow. Lacquer ware is one of the three important industries of Fuzhou .

Mr. Bao points out that this costume has huge sleeves to help nursing mothers to discreetly feed their babies "inside the sleeve".

A small hall is dedicated to photographs of famous actors and actresses of the past. Steve Ling is impressed.

A piece of Sarawak woven scarf for Mr. Bao from the Foochow Cultural Gallery Director Mr. Tiong.

Mr. Huong and others enjoy a light moment over good Fuzhou tea served by Mr. Bao's daughter.

A Rainy Afternoon in Fuzhou - Visit to Zhenhai Building

The skies broke and a soft early spring rain fell on a very cool (18 degrees celcius) Fuzhou as we slowly crawled by taxis through the streets towards Zhenhai Building which has long been reckoned as a building "overlooking the river and controlling the sea". It was built as a sample tower for all others to follow by Emperor Hong Wu of Ming Dynasty in 1371.

Manicured gardens line the upward winding path towards the Zhenhai Building. We climbed more than 400 feet to reach the top. This building is found within a renown historical and scenic spot in Fuzhou called Pingshan Hill Park.

Buildings in Old Fuzhou were often razed to the ground by fire as they were mainly constructed with wood.  The Seven Jars arranged in the form of a big ladle to convey an implicit sense that holding water just like the ladle are endowed with a magic power to subdue fires. They also convey the best of wishes from the people of Fuzhou.

Photographers Meng Lei and Steve Ling  working hard.

Meng Lei presenting a set of books written by himself and other Sibu writers to Mr. Lu the curator of this building. Looking on are Mr. Deng Wang Chiew and Mr. Tiong Yong Ching.

This three panels are part of 8 calligraphy scroll screens handwritten by Wang Renban a Chuang Yuan (top scholar) of the Qing Dynasty.

This building has undergone many devastation and reconstruction. Today the Fuzhou Municipal People's Government has raised this building by 10 meters of its original height.

This building is located in the north end of the central axis line in Fuzhou on Pingshan Hill ("Screen like Hill") which is like a screen topographically standing up along the north side of the Fuzhou City.

Mr. Lu Mee Soon kindly briefed us on the history of this building. One could listen to him for hours because he has such a great style of relating (impeccable) history to the audience. The tidbits on the huge rosewood table are all Fuzhou products which came in dainty packaging.

According to an ancient geomancer in one historical document "The capital city of Fuzhou was surrounded by mountains except for a locality short of something in the geographical true north hence a building came to complement  the missing link."

Having been there there is no doubt I gained a deep understanding of the word "Fu" or blessing. How blessed are the people of this "city of blessing". The rain seemed to be telling us to stay longer. But as we were hard pressed for time we had to move on.

1. http://www.gl.gov.cn/subsute/wqgylc.html
2. Tourist brochure : Brief Introduction to Zhenhai Lou
3. Photos courtesy of Shu Yu Chuang

April 25, 2010

Courtesy Call : Mr. Huong the Fuzhou Expert on All things Foochow

The various Sibu / Sarawak Foochow Associations' contacts with Fuzhou City have long been established since the opening of the Republic of China. Many clan associations have also visited Fuzhou in the last 30 years. And many of the Fuzhou Associations and Cultural groups have visited Sibu in particular.

The World Fuzhou Heritage Gallery of Sibu and the Sarawak Foochow Association were instrumental in this special tour to research on the tastes and flavours of Sibu Foochow forefathers.It was an enriching experience for me to be part of the team.

The first Fuzhou expert the group met was Mr. Huong Ping Kuoi of Fuzhou city. He "opened many doors" and his admirable expertise opened my eyes. Our meeting was held at the old branded and four star Juchuangyuan Hotel which was established in 1867. The famous dish "Buddha Jumps over the Wall" was created  in this hotel.

Mr. Huong has been awarded the special title "A Good Chinese Man" and is a consultant for cultural advancement and many other cultural and literary activities in Fuzhou. Besides he is also an exemplary model of ethics.

Exchange of books. Mr. Huong presented the Sibu group with his works. World Fuzhou Heritage Gallery Director (Mr. Tiong) presented a set of books written by Sibu Foochows.

Mr. Huong is 81 years old and he "wakes up at 2 a.m. and before he sleeps again he has worked 3 full half days". He has written more than 20 books since his retirement at the age of 65. Admirable!! It was a humbling experience to meet him.

These are the appetizers (hors d'oeuvres) served before a Foochow lunch/banquet hosted by the remarkable and very helpful Mr. Huong. He is a natural and talented organiser with emaculate leadership skills.

 Braised cold cucumber

Cold Preserved Papaya slices

Braised flat fish in soy sauce served cold.

Chinese radish slices braised in soy sauce served cold.

Dainty but delicious yellow eel slices braised in Foochow rice wine and coated in wine lees  (chow) - excellent  with a lasting wine flavoured after taste

Cold chicken slices

Pork Soup with quail eggs

Special cauliflower with kidneys and black fresh mushrooms

Well presented braised pork

Traditional Foochow combination soup (tuai chak huoi) of taro+pork stomach+ fresh seafood+chinese cabbage+ fresh mushrooms

Specialty Foochow fresh liver (only the middle parts of the liver is used) stir fried with spring onions and rice wine.

Foochow Spring Rolls.

World renown taro dessert (hot)

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). ...