October 31, 2012

Cooking Chicken in Bamboo (Pansoh)

 Buy a stem of bamboo (make sure that the ends are fresh..check the colour of the cut) One should be enough for a whole chicken. There are two sizes of bamboo. The bigger one is for cooking meat and the smaller or slimmer one is for cooking rice (lemang)

 Cut this chicken into small pieces. Sarawak style...no need to debone. But if you wish to have only chiken meat just buy lot of breast meat..and add a few pieces of chicken thighs.

Season with cut torch ginger and ginger. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add one cup of water.

Add crushed tapioca leaves in between each addition of chicken in the bamboo.

Make a round of tapioca leaves to add as a "stopper" at the mouth of the bamboo stem.

Cook slowly over a low wood fire for more than 40 minutes or until the tapioca leaves cook through. Steam will come out of the bamboo. If you add too much water the soup will overflow. Usually we add only one cup of water. Sometimes no water at all.
This is a good angle to cook food in bamboo. A steel frame keeps heat controlled. This is my sister-in law 's (Pantan) backyard fireplace. She usually cuts a stem of banana to keep the fire safe and the bottom of the bamboos out of the charcoals or fire. The banana stem also prevents the bamboo stems from slipping. Ingenious and environmentall friendly. When ever we cook this way (also pulut and ordinary rice) we enjoy the whole picnicking ambience....

The longer you cook the better the chicken( flavoured by the natural nutrients of the fresh bamboo)

The dish does not look very good in this photo...but actually it is very tasty ...and very fresh because the chicken used is good chicken from the kampong...can buygood chicken in Batu Niah or Sibuti..but you have to do more work like driving up to the kampong stalls and then dress the chicken yourself.....( So you can go to the Boulevard Supermarket in Miri and buy one like  in the photo above...but that chicken is ok too if you wish to cook bamboo chicken in your own backyard...)

October 27, 2012

Nang Chong Stories : Kunday or Mashed Dabai

I wonder if you ever feel deja vu whenever you make a dish or buy a special item. I felt as if my grandmother was next to me when I prepared the kunday the other day for my children. I felt as if it was a moment I was sharing with my grandmother...separating the dabai from the seeds and mashing the flesh with a fork. The only thing missing was a ceramic jar!!

Years ago in the Nang Chong Village of Sibu ,food was very basic for the rubber tappers. There was no KFC or Sugar Bun. No fast food and no take aways.

Melanau and Iban fishermen paddled their boats and sold fresh fish from their boats from Rantau Panjang to Sg. Bidut and down to 16th Company (Sek Lurk Kong Si). Fresh Toufoo was made by two or three men who lived in Nang Chong and some of it was sold at Chung Cheng School canteen. Most of the villagers were subsistence farmers. Once a week these villagers would take a motor launch ride to go to Sibu to source for more imported food and other supplies.

this kind of life changed dramatically because of political upheaval due to communistic insurgency in the 1960's and 70's. The life of the people changed completely when roads were built in the 1980's and 1990's. The youths of those days moved out of the villages scattered along the Rajang and a real migration of the Foochows went out to Miri and Bintulu and even Limbang. in the 1990's many families moved to as far as Kota Kinabalu and Tawau.

My grandmother who lived all her life in Nang Chong after arriving from China at the age of 5 was saddened by the atmosphere of an "emptying village" and she lost not only her eyesight (glaucoma) but her appetite for life and food!!

As she turned 82 she started recounting the tales she knew and told stories to whoever came near her. We loved listening to her stores of the olden days Sibu - the good , the bad, and the ugly (occasionally) . Most of us kept her stories in our hearts.

October 25, 2012

Canarium odontophyllum DABAI

The dabai fruit is a unique fruit found in Sarawak only. Its scientific name is canarium odontophyllum

Found only on good soils this cultivated fruit is much loved by the indigenous groups in Sarawak especially the Ibans who have been growing and selling this fruit for so long that most Chinese call this fruit the Native Gar Rang (the Chinese way of calling this fruit). The Chinese of Sarawak who are of Fujian origin had never seen this fruit before so they name the fruit after their Olive (Gar Rang) which can be eaten right off the tree.

The fruit is found in bunches and is white when immature. Midway the colour changes to pink and light purple (some say violet) and when ripe it is black. Breaking the fruit off the stalk will reveal a yellow spot. According to an expert the bigger the yellow spot the better the fruit i.e. more flesh and more succulent and definitely tasty.

Any wrinkles on the fruit would indicate dehydration and many days of having been plucked from the tree. Dabai must be plucked to retain its best taste. No one ever picks fallen dabai from the ground. It would be a rotten mass.

It is quite a skill to prepare the dabai for eating. Wash the fruit and pour warm water just enough to cover the fruits in a deep bowl. Use a glass bowl if possible because it can retain heat better. Cover the bowl until the fruits become soft. Once soft the dabai is ready to be eaten with salt or soy sauce. Or it can be peeled and be used for fried rice which we commonly call "Dabai Fried Rice" or in local terms "Oo Gar Rang Cha Buong or Gar Lan Chow Fun"

We also prepare a mashed dabai like we prepare mashed potatoes and this dish goes very well with hot and steaming rice!!

A flowering dabai tree
The dabai fruits must never be smothered. The chapan is the best tray to use for show casing freshly picked fruit.
The white trunk of some dabai trees
This is the usual way of selling dabai - 1 kilo bag...like onions.
cooked dabai...

October 24, 2012

Hin Hua Food in Putien Restaurant (lUtama KL)

Signature dish - golden fried salted pig's trotters
Soup made from fried soy bean puffs and long cabbage with milky superior stock
This is the specially made sausages of concentric rings of small intestines. Acquired taste.
Special brinjals with meat floss topping.
Amaranth with century eggs and garlic and mushrooms
Excellent deep fried salty trotters...lots of flesh
Special Hin Hua Mee Hoon - not oily at all with lots of flower clams.
Deep fried oysters...hundreds of them to form this omelette...very crispy.

A lot of interest has been generated in Hin Hua food recently because Sibu is going to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of Hin Hua Settlement in Sibu in November.

The Hin Hua Association has published two books in conjunction with this special celebration. The two books : A History of Hin Hua People in Sibu (1912-2012) and A Hin Hua Cook Book will belaunched on 3rd November.

I took some photos of the Hin Hua food I ate in KL recently and you can be assured that the cookbook will tell you more about how the Hin Hua people prepare their food.

The Hin Hua food found in Putien Restaurant in lUtama KL is excellent and highly recommended....

October 23, 2012

Floating Toilets in Ulu Mukah -

Photo courtesy of Steve Ling of Sibu

Floating toilets have been very common all over the Borneo Island . They are convenient to use and in many ways they help not only in ablution but in helping bathers to change discretely.

Many city folks find it quite easy to bathe in the river, just jump into the water and swim a little. But when it comes to changing it is a bit difficult. So a little room is comforting . The floating pontoon or dou tau is a safe platform for kids to use as a jumping or diving platform. It is useful as a place to wash clothes. And most important of all a pontoon is the place where long boats can be tied to and passengers can get on and off boats.
It is usually the best place for fishermen to cast their lines and wait patiently for fish to bite.

To me this is the kind of romantic platform for girls to sit and chat until the moon rises and birds sing their song....and it is time to go home before the kerosene lamps flicker out.

October 22, 2012

Durians - king of Asian Fruits

In the glorious days of real durians in the real hills of Sarawak....many elders would say they had eaten the best of the durians of Sarawak ...

It is hard these days to "choose" durians by smell, by the thorns,  by the trees, by anything or by any formula....you have to be quite an expert. (However you have the excellent alternative of buying just the durian without the thorny skins in the supermarket at really high prices!!)

Most people prefer to know the "tree" like what my father used to do...He would go to Kampong Nangka in Sibu and look for Haji whose mother's trees had the best durians in the whole of the then small Sibu town.

And still today when you buy from some kampong folks...they would tell you "these durians are from my mother's trees..and I am not lying..."

In other parts of Sarawak like in Miri where durains come from as far away as Kuching or even Sabah..you have to ask..where are these durians from?

Many of the fruit vendors would say..."These are from Serian" (another well known durian producing place in Sarawak)...or "These are from Long Lama..."

Years ago in Sibu as active youths we waited for the evening motor launches from Kapit. where some of the best Sarawak durians were found in the 60's..and baskets and baskets of durians would be taken up the wharf to be sold along the temporary sheds built just for the year end fruit season...and some folks made a large fortune out of that. And nights in Sibu would be really different for a season.

Today many Chinese farmers in Kapit are still bringing their best durians to their favourite politicians in Kuching. Some will certainly keep some for their own children and relatives. If you have some such friends it is always a good reason to cultivate some durian based friendship. A very good durian tree can bear up to 600 good fruits.

Back again to the 1950's and 1960's Sibu, people gathered by the wharf side to buy and sell durians, to talk about durians and enjoy the smell and taste of this wonderful fruit...and some friendships were made too. And some do become sworn enemies caused by some dishonorable sales!!

The friendliness of the durian sellers and some middle men was as temporary as the Landas rain...and soon, like the wet season, the wharf area became a monocultural activity centre of people with hardworking faces eeking out their living...the excitement of the durian season is gone. It would be...may be next season I would see your face again..and renew a friendship...or may be not ....such is life because the motor launch might not bring such good baskets of durians any more!! or where memories serve...one had bought a bad basket of durians and one would wish to punch a face or two!!

Excellent Isu from the farm of a friend - many people like the isu for its special texture. Some people never like it.
The Nyekak is a special durian whch is favoured by the older generation. It is an acquired taste. It is like the blue cheese of the durians.
The nyekak has small and short thorns and is very light to handle. Some are yellow skinned while others are green. The trees have low slinging branches.
These are the thorns of the ISU - long and thin and rathr sharp. Some Isu  fruits are hard to open. So you need to wear gloves.
This must be the Prince of the Durian Royal Family - D168. People are willing to pay lots of money for the fine textured and pleasantly fragrant flesh...very succulent and huge ..if you can eat only a few durians...two of these would just be a whole lunch for you....The durian season this year in Sarawak is a bumper season..There will be a second wind of it soon. But with global warming even the durians are suffering. One finds it even more difficult to CHOOSE a good durian. You need a lucky gambler's luck to buy the best...and to your taste. You have been cautioned. Or you will have to form your own formula to find the best for yourself. Hence the wonder of buying durians..and parting with your well earned money....

October 19, 2012

Nang Chong Stories : The Abandoned Japanese Slippers

What was it like being a school teacher during the Japanese Occupation?

Stories - both tragic and joyful ones - have been told over and over again by grandparents.

Generally speaking the Chinese school teachers in Sibu  and in other parts of Borneo were all under suspicion as "spies for Mainland China" - the greatest enemy of the Japanese, Homes were searched for evidence and very often the teachers were not even given a free trial!! Some were beheaded but most were tortured. Fear therefore spread far and wide.
A tragic scene....slippers left on a pontoon by the Rajang River - seting of a suicide? (Photo courtesy of Steve Ling)

Many tried their best to hide in the ulu amongst the Ibans or the Melanaus. Some died in their desparate efforts to run away from the enemy soldiers. A few even managed to reach Indonesian Kalimantan(some historians have unearthed stories already).

Mr. Lau Hieng Yiin, was a scholarly Chinese teacher of Tung Hua Secondary School in Sibu. Furthermore he was born and educated in China . These qualities were dreaded by the Japanese. One evening his good friends, a community leader and local Chinese Traditional Medicine Practitioner, Mr. Hii King Lien 許慶廉 and a local Methodist Pastor, Rev Ting Siew Jeh, conspired to save him.Mr Lau was to "commit suicide" by jumping into the Rajang. And his two friends would be waiting for him with a small sampan further down stream. When he surfaced from his under water adventure it was already quite dark and he was taken across the river to Nang Chong where another one of my Lau relatives was staying. (He laid low for quite number of months until the Japanese surrendered to the Allied Forces who swept down from Kapit to Sibu.)

Mr. Lau left his Japanese slippers near the river bank  thus sending a message that he "left this world by jumping into  the Rajang river". He would rather die than fall into the hands of the Japanese.

True enough every one in the village believed this tale and the Japanese also accepted the story - which was a repeat of the legend of Chu Yuan.

In fact many years later we children of the next generation realised who actually helped Mr. Lau to hide in Nang Chong village, a village where my mother's family lived.

 Mr. Lau was to be Principal of the Chung Cheng Secondary School (also Nang Chong) for many years after the Second World War. Both he and his wife contributed a great deal to the education of the Foochow people in this area and they have been fondly remembered for this. Their eldest son was the well known photo-journalist Lau Sie Kiew who was quite a star of the 1960-70's media scene.

Would  you get agitated and suspicious when you see a pair of slippers left on a path to the river side?

October 18, 2012

A Light "Melanau" Lunch

.Once in a while I have an opportunity to eat a meal with a friend...not really the uninvited guest..but just a "happening to drop by" kind of friend...and the friendly hostess kindly extend the invitation...this kind of lunch is very memorable indeed and most valuable in the memory bank


Every morsel of the lunch is tasty especially ...and here are the photos to show them....

                                            Ikan bilis....

Just dropped embawang
Freshly made tempuyak (there are many recipes of making preserved durians..and as many ways of cooking the fruit)
Whole meal with white rice...one dish at the bottom is the famous salted gamah fish..I am afraid my one single shot of the dish is damaged by some glitches in my memory card.....I wonder if I could ever have a chance again to take a photo of this special dish.....
Sibit - a popular Melanau dish....
Preserved Ikan Gamah (sibit)  in brine.

October 14, 2012

Feast for my eyes....an Old Sugar Belian Bucket

A flash from the past...this is an old sugar bucket made from belian which can last forever.... Found in Padungan Road of Kuching. (The old price of sugar @ RM2.40)
This is an old measure used by Chinese in China and Malaysia ...to measure dry goods like rice and sugar. Each measure is called a Dou...we therefore used to buy One Dou of rice at a certain price.

This is a photo taken in the Pertanak Market in Kuching. This toufoo fah maker has his wooden tub in his family for two generations!!

Old Chinese outlet using an wooden bucket to sell toufoo fah.

October 11, 2012

Mang Kwong's Methodist Church (Bintangor)

Mang Kwong is a small Foochow settlement a little outside Bintangor. In the 1930's the Foochows had to go by a small motor launch or paddle a small boat themselves to arrive at the jetty leading to Mang Kwong which was a rubber and pepper growing area. The early Foochow settlers had to walk all the way from the jetty to their own farmsteads. Some were as far as two hours' walk. Later a cement path was constructed and an improvement on transport was made - the bicycles became a mode of transport to the delight of the settlers who carried their smoked rubber sheets on the handlebars  and the back of their bicycles to the motor launches. The bicyle was a boon to thoe who were sick and elderly who could be put on the bike and pushed by another person.
How did this settlment come about? In 1928 a group of enterprising Foochows expanded the Bintangor Foochow Settlement towards Mang Kwang situated alongside a smaller tributary of Sg. Bintangor (formerly Sg. Binatang) after Ling Doh Liong(inspired by the pioneer Ling Ming Lock) was given a grant to the land which he applied for. About 40 families came to settle down here and most of them being Christian Methodists they immediately set about building a church called Ming Kwong Methodist Church. Several of the Foochow leaders in this settlement also approached Rev James Hoover to help apply for more land to build not only a church but a school. By 1932 the Church and the primary school were running smoothly.
The present day parsonage. Today Ming Kwong Church has a lady pastor.
The present new school building. A Church based school has a board of Directors which help manage the school together with the headmaster. Nowadays the headmaster is appointed by the Government upon approval from the Board of Directors of the School.
The first Headmaster of the school was Rev Lau Hung Ang who was also the first pastor of the Ming Kwong Church.

Today Mang Kwong continues to be a peaceful settlement served by good roads which run from Sarikei and Bintangor to Sibu and the rest of Sarawak. People no longer use the old jett and motor launches no longer ply alon the small river.

Rubber is still being harvested although oil palm and other new crops have been growing in the last thirty years. Cars have taken the place of old time bicycles. Education has been improved and many educated people have moved out leaving only a few remnant people. However newer families have bought over some of the land and have started new lives here.

TheMang Kwong Cooperative Society's building is still there and a little shop operated by a business woman has taken over.

An old rubber smoke house can still be found but lovely brick houses are springing up to give the area a new look. Slowly the old wooden houses of the 1930's  would be phased out.

October 10, 2012

Sibu - as a Shipbuilding Hub

Sibu has become an important centre for ship- building. Dotted along the Rajang River are several ship building companies which build tug boats and express boats. A ship yard called The Far East (Wong Tung) was already very famous when I was a child...) and we used to visit the ship yard and enjoy stepping onto its toh tau or jetty (floating pontoons).

In spite of the siltation and sedimentation this thriving industry in Sibu is quite a pride to the local people. This shipbuilding scenery is now changing the normal scenery of the Rajang river banks which used to be dotted by sawmills and little padi fields and some rubber trees.. The floating pontoons or jetties are long gone. Without photographs of olden day Rajang Valley, it would be hard to describe our lifestyle to the younger generation.

But on the other hand how many young people are really interested in history and historical knowledge?

This is a tug boat in the process of being completed.

Not many people know that tug boats are actually built in Sibu by order.

In fact Sibu tug boats can be found in many parts of the world today. Orders have come in from Saudi countries. Lots of tug boats are used in Malaysia. A tug boat is near completion in this photo...

it is quite different from the Little Red Tug Boat we used to read in school...or to our children. And one of the best toys to buy for our little boys is the Fisher-Price tug boat....to play with in their bath tub together with little toys ducks......

But then when you think of tug boats they are indeed strong little heroes. They can tow huge giants into the harbour safely.

Do you know of any real heroes ( who captained tug boats)  who have helped giant ships reach the safety of harbour?

Never sneeze at something small like a tug boat.

October 8, 2012

Tai Ping Eggs

The Special dish for a Full Moon of a Foochow baby (one month) has to be the Tai Ping Egg and Noodles with Chicken soup.

Many Sarawak restaurants in fact have forgotten about this dish because the chefs are either from West Malaysia or another places where this specialty is not known.

A special Full Month Foochow Dish - Tai Ping Eggs and Chicken Soup Noodles
Photo courtesy of the happy Grandfather Lawrence Ding.

I remember many of the Ming Chiang (Foochows) celebrating birthdays and especially Full Moon of baby boys in Hock Chu Leu in Sibu. And the special and very tasty dish is this Tai Ping Eggs. For a table of 10 there would be 10 eggs which are first hard boiled and then deep fried to make it like golden balls...very auspicious looking.

The mee sua would be served separately or already in the chicken soup. A whole local home grown or organic free range chicken would be used to make the soup. Other ingredients would be shitake mushrooms of the best quality and some dang kui and may be red dates.

This Full Moon feast is to thank relatives to have brought gifts (of chickens and eggs) to welcome the new born baby boy and to announce the safe delivery of a baby boy to carry on the family's surname.

More ang pows (money gifts) would exchange hands and more toasts made....the feast is always such a good gathering of relatives to share their blessings and good fortune.

The tai ping eggs are symbolic of Peace of Earth...and all is well.

Wishing you all lots of peace and harmony.

(There is no harm to cook this dish at home any time of the year....)

October 5, 2012

The Wooden Tubong of Sarawak

Many people in the world and even most people of Sarawak have not seen this "wooden instrument".

Image may contain: 1 person, standing
My friend Wilfred Mulling and the Tubung of Bario.
This is the "gong" or "bell" or "instrument" of the highland indigenous peoples (Penans, Kelabits, Kayans and Kenyahs".

A hollow tree is scouted for when a headman wishes to have one installed for a new village..some tubong in Sarawak are as old as 200 years old!! Tubung  is a multi-tasking instrument -  to call for meetings, to rise the people up to gather for emergencies or for defence (in the olden days), to gather for Church service...to wake up for morning prayers..(This one gives the wake up call at 5.30 and the pastor is the one who will beat the tubong for the village. This house belongs to the SIB church)

The elders would take time to look for the perfect hollowed tree to make a grand tubong (although some spell it tubung)....

Recently a new one was found for a special occasion.

This new tubong is now hanging in a new "astaka" in Bario for the Bario Food Festival 2011....

Datuk Seri Idris Jala beating a tubung to announce the beginning of the Bario Food Festival.  in the background is the Chairman of SEDC Datuk Talib  Zulkilip. A Kelabit man wears a cultural bead necklace which is passed from generation to generation. Photo courtesy of Borneo Post

October 3, 2012

The Last Chimney Standing in Sibu

This house along Pedada Road might not be around for very long. Plans are already in the pipe line for demolition and urban development.

For many people who are over 30 from Sibu they might remember the old Foochow wood stoves which require a chimney.  This is probably the last one left in Sibu.

A closeup of the wood stove chimney. Soon it will be a thing of the past. In fact many people do not know what this is now.

Good bye Foochow wood stove.....good bye chimneys....and good bye big kualis......

October 1, 2012

A Foochow Rubber Smoke House

Most rubber smoke houses along the Rajang Basin have either collapsed due to disuse or razed to the grounds by vandals.

smoking of rubber sheets is no longer a "done" thing. After the rubber industry collapsed due to the Communist insurrection in Sarawak, many of the Foochow rubber tappers moved to Sibu and left their rubber trees to turn wild and unkempt.

Today a new spate of rubber tapping has occurred and many Ibans and Indonesians are back in the rubber gardens tapping rubber!!

But smoked rubber sheets are no longer in demand.

This is the side of a rubber smoke house which was still in use a few years ago. It can still be used. The wood fire can be started on the left. Rubber sheets are hung inside in the "brick" enclosed area...and for drying before smoking in the wood portion in the forefront. This smoke house is owned by Mr. Chieng of Mang Kwong (Bintangor)
Raw rubber sheets now fetch a hefty sum of 800 ringgit per ton or even more. The car industry in China has sent the demand for raw rubber to new heights.

(Mr. Chieng is about 82 years old and is a friend of my uncles...He also knows my grandfather. He is also friends with my cousin who son is working in Bintangor...all of them have connections with Mang Kwong)

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). ...