March 21, 2014

Sibu Tales : Tolstoy and Airag or Mare's Milk Wine

Tolstoy ( drank koumiss for health reasons. My primary school English teacher did not introduce koumiss to us but  Tolstoy's simplied story, "How much does a man need". I remember in class, Mr. Wong asked us to re-enact the story in simple English and I was very impressed by both English teacher, the boys who acted and the whole Russian story.

I would like to thank my primary school English teachers/class teachers for the Class Libraries and the books they "made" us read. Otherwise we would never have been introduced to great writers like Tolstoy, Mark Twain, Jonathan Swift, Rudyard Kipling etc. The list is too long.

"How Much does a Man Need" remains a cornerstone in my life's philosophy.

 Fifty years or more later, I re-connected Tolstoy and Mare's milk as I prepare my posting on Airag.

Please read :

Known as Airag in Mongolia and Kumis in Russia, this alcoholic spirit made from mare's milk is culturally significant to the peoples of Central Asian steppes of Huno-Bulgar, Turkic and Mongol origin (Bashkirs, Kazakhs, Mongols, Uyghurs and Yakuts).

From the West, interesting points can be gathered: 

In the West, kumis has been touted for its health benefits, as in this 1877 book also naming it "Milk Champagne".
Toward the end of the 19th century, kumis had a strong enough reputation as a cure-all to support a small industry of "kumis cure" resorts, mostly in south-eastern Russia, where patients were "furnished with suitable light and varied amusement" during their treatment, which consisted of drinking large quantities of kumis. W. Gilman Thompson's 1906 Practical Diatetics reported kumis has been cited as beneficial for a range of chronic diseases, including tuberculosis, bronchitis, catarrh, and anemia. Gilman also said a large part of the credit for the successes of the "kumis cure" is due not to the beverage, but to favorable summer climates at the resorts.Among notables to try the cure were writers Leo Tolstoy and Anton Chekhov. Chekhov, long-suffering from tuberculosis, checked into a "kumis cure" resort in 1901. Drinking four bottles a day for two weeks, he gained 12 pounds, but no cure.Wkipedia



2014 in Miri - a mare's milk wine and the Year of the Horse came together in my posting.....

I bought this pretty wine skin at a roadside tourists' shop before reaching Kunming a few years ago. There is still some horse wine in it, but I wonder if the wine is still good. Kept it for this year, the Horse Year and a lot of guests have found it very interesting as a conversation piece. But most have declined to take a sip...

Although I make tuak or rice wine, the Sarawak indigenous way, I do not claim that I am an expert in rice wine making. Just enough to produce a few bottles every three or four years. I use my own rice wine for cooking purposes.

Wine from milk is entirely different from rice wine which can range from sour to very very sweet depending on the quality of the rice, yeast and the container used.

A writer has written " Kumis is very light in body compared to most dairy drinks. It has a unique, slightly sour flavor with a bite from the mild alcoholic content. The exact flavor is greatly variable between different producers."

Unlike Borneans, the peoples of the Steppes traditionally sipped their airag out of small, handle-less, bowl-shaped cups or saucers, called piyala. The serving of it is an essential part of Kyrgyz hospitality on the yaylak or high pasture, where they keep their herds of animals (horse, cattle, and sheep) during the summer phase of transhumance.  (wikipedia)

The capital of Kyrgyzstan, Bishkek, is named after the paddle used to churn the fermenting milk, showing the importance of the drink in the national culture.
The famous Russian writer Leo Tolstoy in A Confession spoke of running away from his troubled life by drinking kumis.
The popular Japanese soft drink Calpis models its flavor after the taste of kumis.

Thanks to my Methodist Primary School, Sibu English Teachers for the Class Libraries which they opened every day to "fan" our reading interest.

And here is my Chinese pinyin poem(?)

Lai lai lai...
Wo men lai
He i bei ma nai jiu
Jia yiu Jia yiu....
How pen yiu
duo duo jia yiu.

March 14, 2014

Sibu Tales : A Milk Tin to Measure Rice

A few old stories are related to the milk tin. Here is one memorable one.

 An distant uncle used to tell me stories of how poor he was. He lived in the rubber garden in Deshon Road and the whole family owned only one bicycle for transport. Because he was rather short, he could not even reach the pedals. He had to push one pedal down and hope that the other pedal would come up for him to push it down. It must have been hard for him to cycle like that with his short legs.
And very often when he returned from school, his mother would have tears in her eyes. She would hand her a small cotton bag and asked him to cycle to Sibu to "borrow" some rice from the towkay. The little cloth bag would only be able to contain about 5 tins of rice. So he would cycle all the way to town and back. By that time it would be dark and he would have to take out his torch light. Dinner would be just soft rice from two tins of rice and some salted fish and peanuts. The next few days, his father would have to hurriedly make some wooden buckets for sale and the family would have also to wait for the rubber sheets to be smoked in a neighbor's smokehouse.

My uncle said that it was a very hard life. But now as he looks back, life was not that bad but he would always remember how tough it was to "borrow" rice from a towkay and to keep promises to "pay" back. He comes from a very honorable family and his parents would always make sure that they pay back for everything they borrowed. With that kind of good upbringing my uncle is now very wealthy. He still maintains a very humble life style and speaks with a very gentle tone. May God bless him always.

When we were young, we would collect all the tins for some special purposes like measuring rice for cooking, for putting pencils , or for keeping marbles. We did not have Tupperware, Lock It or plastic containers from the shops.

The Milkmaid tin was the most popular for measuring rice at home for cooking. Housewives would tell each other how many tins of rich were needed for each meal for their family!! Large families might even have to cook 5 or 6 tins of rice per meal. Those were the days when rice was the main food to fill the stomach. Half a tin of rice would make enough porridge for a small family.
Tins needed a good edge like this. If the family did not have a good tin opener, the mother or father would use a small hammer to hammer the edge in so that fingers would not be injured. I even used a small stone to hammer in the edge!!

This would have been an enviable tin opener. The local Foochows call this the American Style tin opener, or the Screw type. Eh Chuo Li kuan Now Tor. It was a very sophisticated kind of equipment to have in the villages.

March 11, 2014

Sibu Girl's Kurma

The Methodist Women's Society every year has a food sale. And one of the most popular items was chicken curry with rice.

During my Grand Aunt or Goo Poh's life time, a few of her friends handed the curry rice stall very well. And she too too cooked curry for us kids often. We loved her yellow curry which suited our taste buds whenever we stayed for lunch at her apartment in the  Methodist  Church 50th Anniversary Building within the Methodist Primary School compound.

But after I went to study in West Malaysia for a few years, I wanted something hotter and more spicy.

However I learned to cook Kurma and I in turn taught her how to cook kurma. Every new year in Sibu, one of the most popular dishes I cooked for friends, was the kurma chicken or beef. My friends called it Green Curry, but it was not that green. For later, when the Thai Green curry was introduced to Sibu, the ladies realised how green Thai Green Curry is.

Here's my Kurma Paste

Pound/blend together these two and then make into a thick paste

1. 2 tsp coriander seeds
2. 4 tsp cumin seeds 
(You can add some fennel seeds for additional flavours)

Prepare the following for the cooking of kurma chicken or beef
1. 2 cloves garlic

2. l thumb sized piece of fresh ginger
3. some pepper
4. 1/2 tsp salt
5. 2 Tsp cooking oil
5. 2 fresh green chillies
6.l or 2 cups of thick coconut milk
7.some coriander leaves
8, one candle nut,if you like
9. 2 tablespoons yoghurt if you like
10. one tin of green peas

800 chicken meat cut into bite sizes or beef cut into your preferred chunks or slices.

You can use half a chicken or about 800 gms of beef. (marinate the meat with some coriander and cumin powder, and salt for about 1 hour)

1.  Heat up oil, fry the garlic and ginger until aromatic.
2. Add the kurma paste and stir fry until oil separates from the paste.
3. Add the marinated meat and sear it. Add coconut milk when the meat is completely seared.
4. Cook slowly for 40 minutes and then add the rest of the ingredients. Add salt and pepper to taste. (Add pounded candle nut.)
5. Cook longer until the kurma is very thick and the meat very tender. Add water if you need to cook longer or if meat is still not tender.
6. Before serving add peas and coriander leaves. 

Enjoy this very comforting food. 

March 10, 2014

Di Gua Jicama

Jicama is an important vegetable for the Foochows and the other Fujian people. Known as di gua or mang kuang, or Seng Kuang to the malays, it is an important ingredient in popiah, rojak and as a filling for baos or dumplings.

On hot days, the Foochows treat it as a fruit and eat it raw. Today many even juice it to cool their bodies down during the Summer.

Photo is from Mr. Pau Chiong sing of Bintulu Emmanuel methodist church.
 In Mandarin Chinese, it is known as dòushǔ(豆薯) or liáng shǔ (涼薯), as sa1 got3 沙葛 (same as "turnip") in Yue Chinese/Cantonese, and as bông-kong 芒光 in Teochew, where the word is borrowed from the Malay, and as dìguā 地瓜 in Guizhou province and several neighboring provinces of China, the latter term being shared with sweet potatoes.
In Japanese it is known as 葛芋 (kuzu-imo).

The extract of Bengkuang is found in many beauty products and usually sold as a facial mask.  And in a more holistic way it is used to treat boils.

Rujak is popular throughout the South East Asian region particularly among pregnant women. 

I love to slice mang kuang very finely and have it stir fried with just a bit of pounded chillies, dried prawns and sliced onions.

March 3, 2014

Wild Ginger

This no simple jungle flower. It is a special ginger from Ulu Limbang which when used (the rhizome) can help heal skin problems.

It is also good for getting rid of itchiness of the skin.

this ginger is not easily found in the urban areas. However some kampong folks who live fairly near the towns and cities may grow them in their kampong.

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). ...