October 29, 2015

Food of Sibu : Jiang Lok or Chendol

Many people would nowadays want to make their own chendol (jian lok) at home.

regarding the pronunciation of the original word which is Malay. It is Chendol but the Hokkien says it in a very corrupted form, Jian lok. The Mandarin/Chinese words are interesting : transliteration of Chendol has become Sauce Happy.

The green chendol (must be green because the colouring comes from pandan leaves juices.

The best chendol is served with gula apong.

Chendol Recipe :-
20 pandan leaves, roughly chopped (aka screwpine leaves), blend to make juice with a bit of water.
1 glass rice flour
1 small teaspoon kapur
1/2 tsp salt
3 tbsp sugar
(some green colouring)
3 glasses water.

1. Set aside a basin of cold water
2. Add all the ingredients into a non stick pot and stir over slow fire.
3. Cook until the dough is sticky and shiny on surface.
4. When still hot push the dough through the chendol "maker" or sieve into the prepared basin of water.
5. The little strings of chendol can be stored in a bottle with the water for one or two days.

How to serve Chendol
1. Prepare bowls for individual servings.
2. Prepare boiled sago pearls, cut grass jelly in each individual bowls.
3. Prepare some ice shavings, or ice cubes and place in the bowls.
3. Add brown sugar syrup or maple syrup, some evaporated milk to make a full bowl of tropical dessert.


October 28, 2015

Nang Chong Stories : Chien Mien Gang

Braised pork,belly pork and some ears with salted soy beans and soy sauce.

Foochow domestic noodle industry - dried noodles popular in town and in the rural areas popular in the 20th century in Sarawak. AKA Mee Sangol.

Braised pork rib noodle/kueh tiau, WET. (you can also have the dry version) 

The flavours of yesteryears. How they bring one down memory lane.

My maternal grandmother would boil about 6 bundles of these chien mien gang (dried noodles) in the morning for breakfast. There were at least twelve boisterious children in the house, some from the town and others from Third Uncle and Youngest Aunty during the holidays. The visiting cousins would never want the holiday to end mainly because of the food and the space.

She would then use some of the left over braised pork (with preserved soy beans) as a nice sauce to toss the boiled noodles with. How we children loved the Sanba breakfast...And that was not the only kind of breakfast we had. Grandma and Third Aunty would come up with many different kinds of Foochow breakfast.

The third photo is a 21st century spin off of my grandmother's noodles from Nang Chong..

And then (in those 20th century days)  we could not wait for lunch!! What was for lunch? Something good definitely.

October 25, 2015

Sibu Tales : Fillings for Baos and Zongzi

During my childhood, my maternal grandmother and an aunt made the best baos and changs (zongzi) for the whole extended family. Grandma would use the zongzi as her annual gifts to her daughters and sons-in-law and grandchildren.

This aunt would get up early to collect the pork from the village butcher well ahead of the other villagers. And the whole morning the mother and daughter-in-law would be busy wrapping up the changs. By noon, the changs boiling in the large tin would be ready. Children would eat first. The process of boiling the changs would be right into the night as many batches had to be made.

Early the next morning my maternal grandmother would bring the changs to Sibu by motor launch, to distribute them to her three daughters and their families. It would take her at least two hours by the slow boat. This was our May festivity and we looked forward to it.

Later as Sibu developed, and as grandma aged, she would come to Sibu to make the Changs for us, while Aunt would make for her growing children in Nang Chong. Grandma could not make so many by then and my sister had already learned to make changs. My mother and I were not very good with the wrapping of changs and we gave up making them..

Also by then things were more expensive and grandma also made less. The grandchildren were growing up and moving away, so she did not have to give so many to each of her daughters.

One of the greatest lessons I learned from grandmother and especially aunt was the love we should put into the fillings : the best of lean meat and the best of mushrooms.

As for changs,we must always put in a whole chestnut together with the meat slice amd mushroom.

With this kind of cultural background and family culinary home education, today we actually find it hard to accept the commercial baos which contain all sorts of poorer quality meat and tissues in the fillings. It would be very hard to find baos with a good slice of meat as filling nowadays.

Love is putting the best meat in the fillings for baos and changs.

(However, the biggest red beans must be found to make the best of Foochow Whole Red Bean Chang, which is very iconic and special for us, who had enjoyed our maternal grandmother's changs...now that's another story.)

October 24, 2015

Sibu Tales : Good Siblings

Tales from Wooden Houses (1) Good Siblings

In Sibu there are often stories of mothers who have favourites amongst their children.

When we were young we used to visit an elderly woman who sold kuih and fruits from her wooden house. She was not really an unpleasant woman but she was what we called LI Hai (superwoman)

We also never knew who her husband was but she had 7 children. It was reported that he died an early death. She never remarried.

All her children worked like ants in the house, especially the oldest son, who actually looked more or less like the slave of the family.

The children grew up and got married and moved away, but the eldest son and his wife continued to live in the house, but at the back, an extension of the kitchen.

We continued to walk past their house and continued to buy snacks for one reason or another. The wife of the eldest son continued the small business from home and she included selling of chickens and ducks, which brought in more income for the old lady.

However, at times, we could even see the old lady hitting the head of her eldest son.

As time went by people always talked about this old lady having "big eye and small eye", or having "big small heart".

We would never know why she disliked her son so much.

Her eldest daughter in law actually was her carer for more than 8 years when the old lady was bed ridden. This wonderful woman never complained and she continued her business of selling chickens and ducks.

After the old lady died, she left her property only to her other five sons, but nothing to her eldest son. She also sold her house and her eldest son had to move to another part of Sibu quite far away to rear chickens and ducks.

So we wondered if the eldest son was an adopted son. No one would know the real reason why she hated this son so much, not even the daughter-in-law. He was not poorly educated because he could do clerical work for a towkay.

But the beautiful part of the story was, all the siblings put together their shares and carved out a new share for their big KOR KOR and SOH, for they considered him their surrogate father. They even bought the couple a car, for their old age.The eldest brother and sister-in-law lived up to a very old age,garnering a lot of respect from their neighbours.

This is one story of good siblings. It is really a very good example of filial piety.

(Story told by the neigbhours of the eldest daughter in law)

October 23, 2015

Sibu Tales : Juo Buo (Blacu)

Blacu or Jua Buo is a rough cotton material which the Foochows use for funerals.

The blacu TODY is cut into 2 yards for waist bands, and for handling of the coffin (casket) by the pall bearers. All immediate family members would tie a piece of blacu on their waist. The ladies would cover their head with another piece of this cloth.

In the past, the wearing of blacu was more elaborate. For example in the 1960's the children would wear mourning clothes made from blacu for 100 days, at least. It was very heart breaking to see mourners wearing these badly made mourning clothes.

In fact some families even engage a special tailor to make all the mourning clothes for three days before the funeral.

There would be a lot of wailing and moaning when the funeral clothes were put on.

As part of the funeral rites and rituals, relatives would be given one piece of blacu cloth to take home, after they had given a token of money, called White Gold.

Families who were well related i.e. with big families and therefore having more funerals to attend, would collect a lot of these blacu materials.

As a result, the frugal mother would make blacu pajama trousers for the children to wear.

After my father's funeral, my aunt made several pairs for us and we actually wore them for many many years as the material is very lasting.

Any left over material would be made into bags, pillow cases, and even the backing for quilts.

This is because the material is long lasting or in Foochow it is very tahan.

October 20, 2015

Sibu Tales : Seller of Ginseng

The bian dang was a great lever used when the Foochows first came to Sibu in 1900's> Led by Wong Nai Siong and Lik Chiong, the Foochow pioneers were very honest people who worked hard and were very religious and disciplined.

Most Foochow men were glad they could cut many shoulder poles from the bamboos found along the river banks of the Rajang in the early days.

A shoulder pole or bian would help the men and the women carry more load as they walked from place to place. It was considered an earlier "vehicle" than the wheel barrow.

This photo from Google reminded me of the stories told by our teachers in school about the early days in Sibu . The late Mr. Lau Tieng Sing, Mr. Lu Yew Nieng, Mr. Eu How Chong and even Mr. Deng Wang Chiew, during more relaxed times like Sit-ins would regale us with stories of the pioneering days of the Foochows in Sibu.

One such story was about men and women who sold goods from village to village.

And this particular one was related to the man who sold ginseng and other herbs. He would obtain his supplies from Poh Nguong and then he would walk from house to house. Ginseng was not really affordable in those days, but Pak Ding (8 Treasures), Chow Yi Jar (Smelly Root) and Perillia were more affordable. Besides, it was cheaper to get from this kind of peddler than for a housewife to take a boat to go to Sibu. It would have really be a waste of a good day's labour!!

Why did he sell ginseng and herbs and walked from village to village? Probably he had no other skills like tailoring, or carpentry. And he claimed to earn just a few cents from each packet he sold. Cheap but good

And he would call out in his loud Foochow voice, " Seng", "Yong Seng", "Pau Seng", "Seng Di" AND SOMEtimes he would sing a few Foochow folk songs under the cool shady leaves of the rubber garden roads.

That was even before the coming of the bicycle to Sibu.

And then one day, he just did not come again to one village.

And the reason was because he accused one relative of stealing his ginseng. This ginseng seller would go from house to house and when night fell, he would get accomodation from a relative, where he would stay for the night, and of course get a free meal.

But one day he found he had some precious ginseng missing and he started to accuse his relative of stealing.

In those days, theft and telling lies were the worst sins any Foochow would commit. And it was very rare actually to find a thief amongst the early Foochows. Liars were often reprimanded by none other than Rev James Hoover himself!!

The social mores then were very strict Methodist culture.

Perhaps his accusation was wrongly directed and he was advised not to come any more. Or perhaps he got a new job or move some where else.

No body liked to be wrongly accused of stealing.

October 16, 2015

Sibu Tales : Over night bread

My father was a man of good taste, quiet disposition, taciturn and a great reader who kept to himself most of the time. He actually did not like to socialise with people. At one time, an uncle came to his work place and said, "Why are you so happy sitting on a rock like that?"

My father answered,"There is a lot of peace sitting on a rock, over looking my workers in the quarry. It is better than sitting on a chair, which may be removed from under you by crafty men!!"

My father was all for peace and harmony, reflection and kindess to others. His pet hate, if he had any, for people who were usurpers. He had studied too much Chinese history.

One of his joys was food. And he once told a friend that one of his favourite meals was breakfast. He would buy eggs from his good friend Mr.Cheng Kuok Kong,who lived along Queensway. His bread was always from Tiong Huo Hin, his cousin. He would buy bread in the evenings , on his way back from Kiong Ann Brickyard, and later Takang Quarry in Sg. Aup.

We did not have a toaster in those days, so he used his own home made rack, made from three small pieces of iron rods which he placed over charcoals. He could either use the Foochow stove or the small portable charcoal stove.

I remember how he and my mother would together make the toasts at the back of the kitchen in the morning, chatting softly and perhaps whispering a few jokes to each other. My father was conservative and he made sure that we kids did not listen to some tales not "fit for our ears".

His breakfast eggs were always done in the Foochow way, i.e. eggs placed in an enamal cup and boiling water poured into the cup. The eggs would stand in the hot water for about 6 minutes and the perfect half boiled eggs would result.

He would get up as early as 5 a.m. in the morning. And he would always make  the first cups of coffee for  himself. He would bring up a cup of coffee for my mother upstairs .

My mother was allowed to be in the bed room for a longer period of time so as not to rouse the younger children and only later my mother would come downs stairs to pour the cooled  boiled water into the sunkist bottles for the day. She would later boil another kettle to fill the two Chinese hotwater flasks. The Foochow stove would have the live coals until time for my mother to cook lunch. It was her way of ensuring that the fire did not have to be started all over again.

The morning would be half gone by the time my mother sat down for her newly toasted bread, with kaya and butter. And we would all be in school. Dad would have gone to work in Sg. Aup too.

WE would never throw away bread from Sg. Merah for some of the overnight bread would still be so edible the following day. Sometimes my father would even buy the left over bread from his Hainanese friend in town. They would also make such nce extra toasts for the family.

Mornings were good times for her and the younger children at home.

October 12, 2015

Sibu Tales : Minced Pork, Jak Niik

tok tok tok tok

The sounds of chopping meat on a wooden chopping board were such good music in our ears. We would have minced pork (Chak Niik) for lunch.

Those days before the mincer was available, or before minced pork could be store bought , Mum had to mince pork using the cleaver...Some how whenever we heard her making the tok tok tok noise on the chopping board we would have our smiles on.

Minced pork is just so versatile in Foochow kitchen.

It can be used to make a good dish of steamed minced pork with egg, it can be part of a soup, or it can be stir fried with the long white cabbage. Your imagination can bring the minced pork to any level you like!!

It is a life saviour for me in my kitchen. It is so dependable if I have some portions of it, cooked and frozen, or freshly frozen....

I like mine cooked this way, with lots of salted soy beans...I can just eat a bit of rice, and pick on every salted soy beans. I dont mash the beans.....The medium sized pieces of garlic also help me to enjoy my meal..hence, not minced too.

October 11, 2015

Sibu Tales : Dining Table turned Upside Down

In our younger days we were often told tales about step mothers and step sons. We were told secrets we had to keep.

But some of the tales had to be told so that we learned many lessons from them.

Although step mothers were common in Sibu amongst the Foochows, and most step mothers were of excellent character, some were the worst step mothers in the world.

One story that was passed around at dinner table was the story of a step son who could not stand the food placed on the table by the stepmother any more.

This is our family's quality control story and about the heart of a mother. It is more about kindness and affection

The young man was home visiting the family and especiallyto see the father, who had recently acquired a new wife. This wife was born in China but had been sold into one family by her father, who found her "difficult" to raise. She was 8 years old when she landed in Sibu and she went to live with the towkay's family. She was indeed a difficult girl, head strong, sharp in tongue and unwilling to do work. She was already trying to catch the eye of another man servant and was trying to bully the other maidservants.

Her adopted parents tried their best to get rid of her too.

However many years later, this young lady left her own family in order to marry a towkay who was widowed. She was eyeing his money.

By the time the young son by the first wife came home from another town where he was working, the new mother had already two children of her own and was enjoying her life as the new trendy wife of the owner of a shop.

She would cook wonderful dishes for her new husband and her two children.

On the day of the step son's visit, she served petola soup and rice. No chicken soup to welcome him , as would have been the correct or appropriate courtesy.

When the step son came to the table, he ate the petola slices and they were as hard as wood. The vegetable was too old to be eaten.

He was so angry, he turned the table upside down and created havoc. He was a righteous man and he thought injustice had really been done.

The father came into the kitchen and saw the disastrous scene with the step mother having a hue and cry dramatic scene. She had her story, of how unfilial the step son was.

"You did eat the best of petola slices, didn't you? Towkay?"

The old man, only wanting to please the new wife, said,"Of course, you serve the best and freshest of all foods."

The step son upon seeing the scenario, left without saying anyting. He never spoke to his step mother again and made his own way in life.

His next visit to the family was when the father passed away. And even then he was very reluctant to come home.

However, his father did leave him a small share of his property, although the step mother and step brother and sisters had the bulk of the property.

Someone was smart enough to carry out the unequal division of property through her wiles and personal relationships.

October 9, 2015

Sibu Tales : "Make the Porridge more watery"

It was common for the Foochows of Sibu to practise frugal life style.

Porridge was a way to keep the household budge really low.

Most Foochow families lived on porridge for breakfast and dinner. Only lunch was a full meal. Perhaps that was how many men and women were very slim then.

Eating out was really a luxury and any way the conservative women in those days were also never seen in coffee shops. Then, the coffee shops were the haunts of White Faced Women or Street Women looking for some money in return for sex, i.e. sex workers. We were so conservative then , we even used a euphemism, Bah Ming Boh (Whie Faced Woman).

Now back to watery porridge.
Gutian's mushroom porridge

The Foochow porridge we had when we were children indeed was watery . Hostel porridge was watery. Condiments were a small plate of fried peanuts, some preserved Hu Cheo or toufu, some salted eggs and perhaps an omelette. Salted vegetables were usually served and all in, the cost of a Foochow watery porridge breakfast was probably only $1.00 for the whole family. Evening meal would be a repeat of our breakfast. And usually to save the wood, we would just add extra water to the morning's porridge and make the porridge MORE watery. If we had saved some food from the afternoon, it was considered again, something good for the family.

A good Foochow woman was able to budget well. She could even calculate well enough to prepare 9 meals for her family. That's the saying referring to an intelligent Foochow housewife. Thus my mother was really careful with her money and we had food on our table. The proverbial dollar was stretched to the limits.

The very frail and old people would just "drink" the thick gruel or soup of the porridge. This is called "Ang" in Foochow.

Recently I visited Fuzhou and discovered that some vegetable soups were actually thickened by this Ang. Hence the term Ang Tong (soup made from thick rice water).

Yes it is still with us...when we need to stretch our budget, we must make our porridge more watery.

October 8, 2015

Sibu Tales : The Harmonica

We all need opportunities to perform and go on stage!!

Confidence building.

Cheers every one.

October 5, 2015

Nang Chong Stories : Geng Niang (Seat of District Office)

My paternal great grandfather and grandfather , maternal grand father came to Ming Chiang Geng (town of Ming Chiang) to meet Wong Nai Siong, after hearing about Wong Nai Siong's mission to bring Foochow pioneers to Sibu. They must have done some official documentation here before leaving for Nanyang.

They would not have imagined that their poor county seat would be this prosperous in 120 years' time.

They left in 1901.

I used to hear my grandmother mentioning Geng Niang this and Geng Niang that...

October 4, 2015

Sibu Tales : Buttered Rice and Butter Fried Rice

Butter was a novelty in the early days of Sibu.

In my family at Kung Ping Road, we always enjoyed lots of butter and bread since my father loved bread for his breakfast.

The Gold Churn tin of butter would last some time. Once  the butter was almost finished we would either make fried rice, or just mix our hot rice in the tin and that was for one person.

the fried rice was a nice evening meal, accompanied by a kang kong soup or cangkok manis food.

Love the aroma of butter and hot rice.

October 3, 2015

Foochow Food in Miri Series : Hoong Ngang Long

This specialty is made up of chicken soup with chicken meat slices, a whole egg or two omelette, some vegetables, some praws....to which a good bunch of soft coarse rice vermicelli is added. The rice vermicelli if from Char Kou, will not disintegrate in the soup.

It will retain its Q-ness. That's the beauty of the authentic early rice (grown in spring) vermicelli.

October 2, 2015

Nang Chong Stories : Wood Planer

In my mother's days in Ah Nang Chong, she knew two great carpenters, Hii Tien Chii (my uncle Hii Weng Hui's father) and Jing Muk Sah. Both were builders who were fairly well known, trustworthy, did quality work and there was never talk of how expensive they were !!

My grandfather's house in Ah Nang Chong was built by Hii Tien Chii and Jing Muk Sah with their team of workers. While Hii Tien Chii had his own house farther in land as he had his own rubber garden, Jing Muk Sah stayed in one of the 4 coolie houses built by my grandfather for his coolies who tapped his 200 acres of rubber garden.

My grandfather first cleared more than 400 acres of land with his older brother, Lau Kah Tii and other relatives before clearing his own 200 acres.  Because grand uncle Lau Kah Tii was the headman then, my grandfather and later, some of the other relatives were easily given land titles to the land they cleared. Much of the land clearing was done by my grandfather and his closest cousins and later by "coolies" who were brought out from Fuzhou through the Rajah's permission for legal landing in Kuching and then in Sibu.

Rev Hoover and my Grand Unlce Lau Kah Tii actually helped many Foochows to land in Sarawak legally. They later prospered.

Jing Muk Sah was one of them.

Hii Tien Chii and Jing Muk Sah were responsible for building many of the nice wooden houses in Nang Chong area. Every plank of wood was cut by hand, and every piece was planed smooth using this simple tool.

I miss my grandfather's house.

October 1, 2015

Sibu Tales: Kang Kong 马来风光

We have a lovely vegetable known as Kang Kong, or Woon Chai in Foochow, or Kung Sing Chai in Mandarin.

It is water spinach in English.

For as long as I know, my family started having this vegetable on the table from our days in Pulau Kerto, where we lived by the edge of the river. Mum grew the kangkong on the mud plots, while some of the spinach could be gathered wild from the creek too. Both were such edible vegetables. We could have it as soup, stir fried and in our noodles. Mum's cooking was plain and healthy.

In those long ago days, we children could forage for this wild organic kangkong in the creeks and we would just be so happy to go home with a huge bundle under our arms,both in Pulau Kerto and in Sibu.

For several years we also reared rabbits in our Brooke Drive home and we shared our foraged vegetables with them.

Aother good memory of kangkong was how cheap it was to buy them in the Sibu wet market from our friendly vegetable sellers, especially our Mr.Sia who was nicknamed Lakiang (he gladly answered the name too). He and his mother sold vegetables for decades and were friends with my mum. Each time we bought vegetables from them, we would always get a few stalks free after the weighing.

Can you imagine buying 20 cents worth of kangkong per kati and then get about four or five stalks more? It was buying one kati and get 1/4 free....such was the good Foochow neigbhourliness of those days.

We often had kangkong soup for lunch and for dinner. It was a cheap and healthy dish for all of us.And we never got tired of the vegetables. Later I learned from my food expert friend, that a green vegetable dish served after a big banquet is a must in Fujian, to act as a detox or "ching" dish. Kang kong is full of fibre and is really good for us.

 Even though many people also said that eating too much kangkong would cause weakening of legs and bones, none of us so far have orthopedic problems. Mum is still strong in her legs and still has an excellent mind. Praise God.

Today this vegetable is a restuarant dish, known as Malay Splendour orSambal kangkong (马来风光). It is almost our national dish!! And my paternal grandfather, if he were alive today, would really have a chuckle!!

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). ...