December 31, 2015

Sarawakian Local Delights No.4 : The Golden Brinjal or Terong Dayak

A dish of the Sarawak golden egg plant, or the wild Sarawak golden brinjal is a home cooked delight. Foragers can easily go into the wilds and, today in abandoned farms even, to collect a few of these round golden brinjals. They can be used make a simple soup, or just boiled brinjals, or a simple stir fry for a good meal with rice. In Sarawak they are called Terong Iban.

This berry (the brinjal is from the berry family) is sourish sweet and the best quality ones are fit for restaurant use.
Today local restaurants in Sarawak prepare fish head curry with them. The specialty ThaiTomyam would have a special taste if some slices of this brinjal are used.

In most longhouses, a good hospitable host would never forget to serve a large bowl of terong cooked with pork bones, or chicken .

There are so many ways of cooking it.
Just boil the terong with some garlic and onions and you can have a huge pot of sweet sourish vegetable. Every one will love it.
And also it can be easily cultivated nowadays.

And so perhaps to most Iban longhouse dwellers, this terong is the easiest dish to prepare for guests, even if they drop by unexpectedly.

December 30, 2015

Local Delights No.3 : Rice cooked in Bamboo

Photo taken by Sarawakiana at Matop, Julau.

In longhouses in Sarawak, and across the border, in Kalimantan too,the Ibans serve rice cooked in bamboo called lemang when there is a special occasion. This is  because it is more manageable and easier to serve. Scooping rice out of a pot is a little clumsy when there are hundreds of guests. With time constraints, guests can just pick one or two or more if they like.

 Besides this way of serving rice is also very convenient. It is very practical.. In the days before refrigeration, this lemang could remain fresh for more than a week. Farmers who had to walk many miles to their farm then could pack a lot of lemang for their farm work for three days or may be even for five days!! Lemang is very potable and so easily packed.

Once cut into this length (4 inches), and the outer skin of the bamboo peeled, it is very easy to "open" up the inner bamboo skin. The stump of rice can be handled by hand, dipped into a soup or sauce...and a meal is very easy, eaten with hands.

Rice cooked in bamboo is very tasty. Both ordinary rice and glutinous rice can be cooked in bamboo. The best lemang is actually made from newly harvested rice.

Local Delights Series No.2 : Cooking in Bamboo Stems

The Ibans and most of the other ethnic groups of Sarawak use bamboo stems to cook meat, vegetables, and fish in lieu of a cooking pot. This could be the result of the life style during the ancient days when cooking pots (of metal and clay) were not available. The Ibans do not have a pottery culture. Brass ware came after the Chinese started to trade in Borneo in the 11th Century or later. Pottery was started perhaps only after the Chinese settled down after the arrival of Islam in 1400.

Cooking in Bamboo is very much a popular culture now amongst the the Ibans.

However not all bamboos can be used for cooking. The best bamboo used as a vessel or receptacle for cooking is the young payang bamboo which measures an average of 2 feet from node to node and the thickness is just nice. Payang is good in retaining heat besides giving the dish a special aroma.

Most Ibans when they start constructing their longhouses would plant a few groves of payang. This is very pro-active and a sustainable manner of living.

Two Iban ladies at Matop Methodist Church, Julau, extracting pork from bamboo stems.

Food cooked in bamboo sheaths is very delicious and no oil is used. More often than not, crushed tapioca leaves are mixed with the meat. A ball of fresh tapioca leaves is used to stop the soup from leaking. All the juices are from the meat or fish and the tapioca leaves.

The fire is usually made from wood and an open fire place is always a good place to meet up with friends and nice conversation.

In a way, the men would look after the cooking of the food in bamboo while the womenfolk continue to prepare other dishes in the kitchen.

However serving is done by the women folks.

Local Delights Series No.1 : Buah Kundur and Chicken Soup

The Buah Kundur or Buah Ensaya (named after the Bisaya ethnic group) is easily grown in any longhouse garden. Each vine can produce at least 8 or 9 fruits. Some growing on very rich soils have known to produce even 20 fruits of very respectable sizes like 3 to 4 kilos. Some vines have known to produce fruits of more than 6 kilos.

Vines and root vegetables are beloved by the Indigenous people of Sarawak. Besides the Winter Melon can last a long time after being harvested without refrigeration and often friends and relatives are given them as gifts after visiting.  Hence their popularity as an ulu vegetable. Today slices of winter melons are sold in open markets, and not whole fruits.

The Ibans in particular love Buah Kundur.

In any longhouse a quick dish could be cooked over a wood fire in no time . The vegetable can be stir fried or boiled as soup (the normal method) and it can go with pork, ikan bilis, chicken, wild boar or just any game.

It is good for VIPS as well as for any strangers who happen to drop by the longhouse. Any respectable Iban longhouse dweller would never allow a stranger to leave his or her home without a simple meal.

According to a long time Iban longhouse chief, he related to the writer some time ago, "I am proud to say that as a Christian Iban, my longhouse people and myself would always ask a stranger the first question of 'Have you eaten"'. After that welcoming remark, we will proceed to the living room or dining area and what ever food we have, we will serve. This is our way of showing our respect to strangers who have come to our longhouse. It is very much like 'Peace,brother. We welcome you in our simple ways."

December 26, 2015

Nang Chong Stories : As Big as Heaven and Earth

When growing up in Sibu we often spent our holidays visiting our grandmother in Ah Nang Chong. Sometimes as many as 14 of us cousins would be visiting grandma. We were children from 3 sons and 4 daughters of my grandma. So you can imagine how noisy we could be. We would run up the wooden staircase to the upper floor which has a wide space for rice storage. There were 4 rooms too for Grandma and her visitors. Actually this double storeyed big house was made up of 5 units of double storeyed terrace house, in modern day terms. Furthermore the wooden house was stilted. In other words, it was a three storeyed house.

And in the evenings we would share stories with each other, or just listen to stories from Grandma and Third Uncle. We would all be sitting at the Lang Doh or adjoining balcony, enjoying the river breeze, under the large kerosene pressure lamp. Sometimes we would sit there and enjoy aroma of the steaming of huge baos which by 9 p.m. would be ready for supper. Third Uncle would always make enough for supper and breakfast the next day.

Somehow we could never get the same tasty baos any where in the world. Only in Ah Nang Chong. A well known baker in Miri told me that today, flour is different from the flour of yesteryears and he could understand what I was talking about.

The baos were as big as heaven and earth together!!

Here's another exaggeration. One of the stories we heard was about how big the land of a land lord in Minqing. Grandma said he was so rich that his land was as big as Heaven and Earth together - Tien Ah Bang Bang Duai. Well all our eyes grew big and we had to imagine how big that piece of land could be...

Later we also used to phrase to describe anything that was big...Foochows can exaggerate sometimes.

December 25, 2015

Nang Chong Stories : Midnight Carollers

Christmas of yesteryears in Sibu during my childhood was very different because of the social, historical, cultural and religious backgrounds then.

While waiting for the carollers to arrive, even after midnight, we would sit by the river banks and enjoy ourselves, watching the stars in the skies if it was a clear night. And from a distance we could hear angelic voices singing all the carols. Sound travels faster over water.

One of the stories we heard and shared all those years ago was this could be a man-made story, it could be a local gossip, and it was never verified as a teacher probably told a class of her students and then her students brought the story back to their families....and I heard it from my cousins one then I already knew about the Methodist Bukit Lan Clinic but I was not too aware about Animal Care...

However now I can tell this story to my grandson and my friend's children about love for animals and relate it to Bible stories...(Suitable Photos to illustrate later)

Carolling at midnight is now an element of a by gone era....

An Unusual Fairy Tale
Once upon a time, in Ah Nang Chong,a village by the banks of the Rajang River lived a poor mother and her children. Her husband was away working hard to bring back a small income.
One day the mother fainted by the river side while she was trying to draw some water for her old mother in law to bathe. She was so exhausted.
All her children were in school, about l hour's walk away.
Then came along an old, thin dog and she started barking for help.
This arouse the suspicion of a nearby neighbour who came down to see for herself and soon raised the alarm to save the woman.
More neighbours came and they rowed a boat to Bukit Lan where they could find a nurse to save her.
The woman was saved and she was given rest and some extra food.
When she was well, she took the old dog into her home and looked after her very well. In time, the dog was to help the family in many ways
The woman started to tell all the children in the neighbourhood not to hit old dogs but to give them food to eat. The dog continued to be the body guard of the woman and her children.
And the woman, her children and the old grandmother lived happily together, ever after.
God wants us to be humble and recognise each other's values even if we were the lowest of the animals.


December 20, 2015

Sibu Tales : The Second Wedding Gown

In the 1950's every bride would be expected to change from her bridal gown after the wedding rituals into a new gown, who could be knee length or a full length gown.

Photo from Google..This was the kind of bridal dress or gown you could rent in Sibu.

It was a hard decision to make: knee length or full length?

All these second gown or reception gown had to be hand sewn and custom made, while the wedding gown could be made to order from Singapore, especially by the richer families. Those from poorer families would have to rent bridal gowns from the shops or tailors who would have stock with suitable sizes. Some tailors would have more, and some only four or five for the year. So some brides actually wore a rented gown which might have been worn by more than 10 brides.

Now the reception gown was a great item for gossip or talk in a small village...too daring, too much exposure of skin, too tight?????

Some brides had poor taste and they would look horrible in their poorly made dresses. Some would look like stuffed bolsters because they chose long sleeves and a superflous skirt, etc etc...

The poor bride would be hot in her dress and her make up would become runny with her sweat especially if the restaurant they were having their reception was not air conditioned. Air conditioning was something new then.

 While some of course would chose a simple dress and look the perfect bride...and the reception would be a breeze.

This reception gown could be pink,peach, red or purple. No other colours would be deemed suitable because all elders like to see brides in auspicious colours.

Today brides try to lose at least 5 kg for her wedding...just to look nice in their wedding gowns and reception gowns..

Some things never change...and some traditions only become better.

December 18, 2015

Sibu Tales...Foochow Girls and School Embroidery

In the primary school in the 50's and 60's girls had special sewing classes.

for a whole year, we learned, one lesson a week to learn the basic embroidery stitches. And for that I was ever so grateful to Mrs. Chee and Miss Mamora for teaching us sewing.

Towards the end of the year, we used the cross stitched material, with our not such wonderful stitches, to make a nice pouch. That pouch was with me years to keep my pencils and other things.

It was a good experience and it was only much later in life I realised how important those basic stitches are.
Blanket Stitch

Today I still do a bit of sewing, and I smile when I need to use Blanket Stitch, or Running Stitch. I believer that whatever we learn well, we never forget.

And the training was good because we girls were trained to make everything by ourselves, to be self sufficient...and not buy anything if possible. That's a great value to have.

If you wanted something, you have to make it yourself. (That's a Foochow saying and that explains why the Foochows are so enterprising.)

December 13, 2015

Sibu Tales : How an Anteater was Captured

Not too long ago, my cousins and friends got together to talk about our village life in the Rajang Valley and the stories really made us feel that we had really great childhood.

And from a friend, who was able to tell another story of her childhood which was filled with innocence, adventure and joy.

She and her brothers went to school early in the morning and saw on anteater climbing up to a hollow of a tree. The siblings then were all below the age of 10.
Photo from my former student Patrick. Ulu Baram.
Her brother could not wait to go home in the afternoon.

Once they got home, the brother got hold of a sarong and some wood. He had decided to smoke the anteater out of the tree hollow. And indeed all the siblings helped each other build the fire and made the smoke go upwards.

And soon enough the anteater dropped from the tree, The boys wrapped up the anteater with the sarong and off they went home.

That evening neighbours came to help slaughter the anteater, some got the scales for medicinal purposes , one particular family asked for its blood. Before nightfall, a big fire was made and a huge pot was on it. The family and neighbours had a good meal.

My friend until today still could not understand how her young brother knew how to get the anteater off the tree and how he thought of using a sarong to bring home the animal.

Such was the life of village children. So innocent, so carefree, and so full of good memories.

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). ...