July 30, 2012

Nang Chong Stories : Rice Crust 锅巴

After the Second World War rubber price went sky high and the Foochow rubber tappers in Sarawak accumulated their wealth slowly from their labour. The Rajang River basin became a hive of busy rubber tapping and rubber sheets smoking. My grandmother and my uncles earned extra money by having one of the largest smoke houses in the Rajang.

Each time the rubber tappers left their homes in Nangchong with their bales of rubber sheets in motor launches their children would expect food supplies to come home in the evening. My grandmother would buy a gunny sack of rice which weighed 180 katies. Rice was merely $8.00 per gunny sack at that time. Hence she was always very accomodating to travellers who had a.long way to go ( and by foot). Often these travellers would stay for a lunch and then continue with their 8 hour homeward journey into the interior..or many would stay for the night. The Foochows would call this kind of preparedness and free meals Guo Dow Buong(Pass Lunch) or Guo Mang buong (Pass Night). Today it is B and B but with payments. In actual fact my grandmother gave a lot of guo dow buong and guo mang buong (rice) to innumerable people. Especially those from Tulai. She was generous with rice and other dishes. Grandmother Lian Tie was one of the most generous relatives I have ever known. She had two or three extra  tables in her kitchen. These tables could be taken apart and let stand at the side of the kitchen.

A gunny sack of rice in the 1940's and 1950's Sibu cost $8.00

The rice would be cooked over wooden fire in a large pot which was called Mook Kewk or buong kuo. What was amazing in those days was the layer of very hard rice at the bottom. this is called Buong Pah or rice crust. In Iban it is called Asi Kera. This layer would usually be given to the ducks and chickens (mixed together with coconut bits called Yah Koo. Corn bits only came later in the 60's.
Grandmother would sometimes have a bit of this rice crust (buong pa) with some sweet tea whenever she did not feel  well. I too make this special dish when I don't have an appetite.

And I thought what a marvellous person she was...her ducks ate what she ate too....This is indeed a very humane kind of  animal farming. In the longhouses the same practice continues. A lot of rice is given to the chickens and ducks and sometimes pigs. Rice grown by the local would be too costly to transport to the main towns for sale and the middle men get a good cut. So hill rice and swamp rice harvested by the Iban women is often shared with their farm animals. Some mini lorries charge exorbitant prices to transport the rice to the towns. So the poorer Iban padi farmers who do not have their own 4 wheel are quite handicapped. But their animals become the beneficiaries of their bumper harvest.
My children love eating the ASI Kera ( or rice crust) because it is very tasty on its own. And sometimes when a special sambal and fruit rojak are made the asi kera becomes a side dish!!

I have come a long way from Nang Chong and over the years technology has changed our perception and our attitude towards rice and rice crust....

Korean Seafood and Rice Crust Soup....

Some people enjoy eating  Rice Crust with Tea (Korean Restaurant)...

Most people avoid eating white polished  rice to protect themselves from diabetes.
Many use Japanese Rice cookers which do not give a layer of rice crust. So they do not know anything about asi kera/buong ba.
Many people eat out and so they have never seen rice crust.

And above all...people no longer use Mook Kewk or the old rice pot over wood fire stoves....These are all long gone from our lifestyle....

Can you remember the taste of rice cooked in Mook Kewk over wood or charcoal fire? Can you remember the taste of rice crust?

Perhaps you may have to go to a Korean or Japanese restaurant to eat what my grandmother used to eat in Nang Chong....

In my recent eating escapades  in Miri I have found out for myself how to get a piece of two of rice crust...by going to a real clay pot rice outlet..and ask them to cook the rice a little longer...and at the end of the meal I would scrape the bottom of the small clay pot and get the best pieces of rice crust...eat to my heart's content. I often wonder why this burnt bit of rice can be just so tasty and nostalgic....

Rice like grandmother used to cook....and later to be shared with the ducks and chickens...How humane !!

木甑 (Mù zèng)


Anonymous said...

rice crust with tea in the stone pot is actually Korean, not Japanese

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Thanks Anonymous.....

Ann said...

read from Martin Yan, potstickers, but I never had any.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Did Martin Yan call this pot stickers? May be he had a special liking for it too...

Ann said...

Martin Yan and pot stickers.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Thanks Ann.

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