August 22, 2015

Sibu Tales : Kidney Soup




My grandmother Tiong Lien Tie was a very careful eater and very knowledgeable about new mother's health. When my mother had her confinements for her 7 children, my grandmother was always there for her, to give her all the moral support she needed during the difficult first month, which was also a "confinement month" for Chinese women.

One of the most important soups prepared for new mothers was the kidney soup, spiked with almost half a bottle of Chinese red wine.

She herself said that that was one dish she liked most and she taught several confinement women (those who took over household work and cooking on behalf of the new mothers for a month) how to prepare this dish. My mother learned from her too to make the best of the kidney soups.

In fact, even when no one was having a new baby, my mother would cook the dish - because it was known as a nourishing dish, to help strengthen the kidneys and also the backbones.

During my own confinement I would have kidney soup twice or three times a week. I love the soup actually and would not mind having it every day.

This soup would still be prepared by many Foochow women in the future for the confinement month for new mothers if they know how to prepare it. And especially if the new mothers believe that the soup is good for them.

August 20, 2015

Rattan Business

The rattan business started as early as 1890's when the Chinese came to Sarawak to trade.

Many articles were written about the collecting of rattan in Sarawak from 1824, the time James Brooke founded Sarawak.

The Sarawak Gazette carefully recorded trade in rattan , timber and other natural resources. It also mentioned a lot of other interesting business dealings.

The Penans for example were described as people who harvested "rattan and sold them at tamus, allocated by the government officers."

By 1950, rattan was already exported to Singapore and further afield, perhaps even the UK.

Throughout the 1950's and 1960's rattan was transported from the upper reaches of rivers of Sarawak to the lower parts of the rivers and then exported by selected Chinese middlemen. This photo shows rattan bundles atop a big express boat.

This photo is from Mahmud Yussop of Bintulu.


August 18, 2015

Sibu Tales : Plank Walk and Motor Launch



"You cannot go to the town if you are still unable to walk on this kind of plank walk," uncle Pang Sing used to tell us jokingly.

Indeed think of the logistics. The boat berthed at the jetty moves all the time with the waves, and the plank moves too. Sometimes the plank is even at quite a steep slop when the river water is "high", very much higher than the heavier jetty. Only at low tide will the plank be at a lower angle when walking is much easier.

This kind of plank walk is for both passengers and wharf labourers who carry goods to the boat.

And this method of boarding a boat is as old as the Foochow Settlement of Sibu (1901).

August 17, 2015

Tales of Sungei Merah : Home made Glass Cabinet



Mr and Mrs.Chieng. A Foochow couple who try their best to make kompia, buns and bread for the flourishing community of Sg. Merah...

May they prosper always.

Seen here is a glass cabinet Mr. Chieng designed to keep his product clean and fresh along the five foot way.

August 12, 2015

Sibu Tales : Langing Herng (Okinawa Spinach)

We had an aunty Lang Ging and because her name was such she was referred to as Langing Herng, the important vegetable we had during those long ago days. Langing Herng was easily grown in the garden, when a plot could be made just any time, especially when land was plentiful.



We had plenty of langing herng to eat because my mother and aunts planted a lot of them. They were also sold very cheaply. So it was a good vegetable to have on the table at very little cost. The mee hoon was also very cheap in those days.

Besides eating a lot of this, according to my grandmother would help us replenish our blood, especially the girls who have very heavy menstruation. In those early days in Sibu, calcium tablets were not readily given out by the government hospital to the general public. And at the same, many girls would be too shy to seek medical advice regarding their personal ailments.

One of the easiest treatment for stomach cramps during menstruation was to drink ginger soup, which a girl could easily make for herself.

The Okinawa spinach or langing herng was eaten together with the whole family and a good mother would give a bowl of the soup to her daughter on the quiet.





Today, langing herng has evolved into a salad ingredient!!


Nipah Palms

August 9, 2015

Nang Chong Stories : Where my mother was born

My mother was born in Chieng Nang Chong and not in Ensurai or Ah Nang Chong. She said that my grandparents had moved across the river to help develop more rubber land after he had helped his brother, the Headman Lau Kah Tii clear some 400 acres. Then it was his turn to clear more land with the blessing of his brother. The two brothers were very close and united in their efforts and they would never forget the siblings they left behind.

Besides as soon as they were able, they brought out the children of their siblings to Sibu. The boat journey cost a bit, and the whole journey even took up to 1 whole month from 6 Du, Minqing.

In those days, those who could clear enough land could benefit from the Rajah's government. Each block of land had a ditch surrounding it. Clearing of land or rather virgin jungle was a really hard job to do because the soil was marshy and even smelly because of decayed vegetation. Roots were every where and water came flooding in with the tide. Many almost drowned in those days and many of course were bitten by insects and snakes....

My grandfather built two coolie houses, rather long houses for the new Arrivals or Sing Kah. Sing Kah were new immigrants who either came with loans of money sent back by their relatives, or they were "sponsored" by richer relatives.

These coolie houses had a kitchen on the ground floor and a higher level for the bedrooms for fear of flood. And by the river side were the little huts which housed their pigs.

My grand parents' humble house was next to Aunty Lau Mee Ying's family home. Aunty Mee Ying later married into the Wong family and had a lovely family in Sg. Merah. They owned the San San Rice Mill.

Aunty Mee Ying and my mother were born one month  apart and they were really close cousins. I remember going to the San San Rice Mill in Sg. Merah to buy rice with my mother and they would have long and quiet conversations at the corner.

Mum said in those days, relationships were really good and every one helped every one, especially in time of need. She remembered going to school barefooted with all her cousins before the war. And they were so happy to be in school!!

And from time to time, if a slaughtering of pig occurred for festivals, they had meat on the table.

Those are her great memories.


August 8, 2015

Nang Chong Stories : Sea Cucumber

After the Second World War, the economy of Sarawak recovered slightly, but imported goods were very cheap.

Sea cucumber for example cost very little and most people could afford to buy some, soak them and have a great soup. Many of our older relatives enjoy eating sea cucumber soup because this soup is very nourishing and it was meant for the aged people.

My mother, then a young mother enjoyed buying dried sea cucumber and sending them to Nang Chong for my grandmother and her brothers' family.

A simple soup of the rehydrated sea cucumber was easy to make . Stir fry some ginger (in those days, home grown), add some minced pork, once the meat is seared, throw in the slices of sea cucumber. Add a bit of Foochow red wine and some water and the soup is ready. Before serving add some pepper.
Photo of Sibu Sea Cucumber Soup by Annie Q (Blogger) with thanks.


My mum said "Sea cucumber has no taste of its own and the taste of the dish must come from the other ingredients."

 For the simple soup, eggs are beaten into the soup after it has been brought to the boil. Once added, the fire must be lowered or doused and pot covered. When the soup is poured into a bowl, the beaten eggs make a very nice flowery pattern in the soup. This makes the soup very tasty.

It is very tasty when vinegar and pepper is added to give the soup a great ooomph.

Braised Sea Cucumber prepared by my sister for my mother on Chinese New Year.

Each festival we would talk about the availability of food, and we were proud that we could produce our basic vegetables and meat, but then as the years went buy we had to pay more for imported vegetables and delicacies. We have been worried that may be the sea cucumbers that we used to enjoy would just be photos in our albums and we would forget the taste of the soup.

Writing about sea cucumber brings back great memories. Each time we have a dinner for our elders we are actually passing down good values and virtues to our next generation. "This is food for grand mother. It will make her very happy...." and grandma will beam you the biggest smile ever!!

Sea cucumber can be cooked in more than 101 ways. Your imagination will bring about a new recipe. It is up to you!!

Today the sea cucumber is too expensive for most families due to world inflation of food prices. Are we facing world food shortage?

What are we going to do about this problem?

August 7, 2015

Sibu Tales : Korma Paste

When living in the rural areas of Sarawak I often had to teach my friends to make simple curry paste.
One of the simplest curry pastes to make is the Korma curry past.

And it is also the tastiest in my opinion.





since it is not easy to get coconut milk in some longhouses, you will need to bring packets of coconut milk when you travel. You will also have to bring cumin sees, coriander seeds and garam masala. Fresh tumeric is available in the long house.

To make 100 gm of korma paste :

2 spoons dessicated coconut (from the tin)
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp coriander seeds
3 tsp coriander seeds pounded into powder.
3 cloves of garlic,
some fresh ginger
1/2 tsp garam masal
1/2 tsp salt
25 ml cooking oi.
4 green chilies
some fresh kunyit pounded..
50 ml coconut milk



1. Fry the cumin and coriander seeds over a low fire for a few mins.
2. Blend all the ingredients together.
3. Can use the paste straightaway.
4.  and start cooking the korma chicken.


Recipe for Chicken Korma

1. Cut chicken into bite sizes. and marinate with a bit of salt.
2. cut bombay onions, garlic and a bit of ginger. Pound them into a paste.
3. Heat up a pot, add about 2 Tbsp of cooking oil, Stir fry the aromatics, Add some cloves.
4. Add the korma paste.
5. When the paste and oil separates, add the chicken pieces.
6. Stir until the meat is seared. (These are optional : Add yoghurt or Add a bit of coconut milk or add evaporated milk, Or just warm water.)
7. Simmer until cooked.
8. Before serving, add a tin of green peas. Heat through..
9. Serve.





August 5, 2015

China Series : Green cakes from Gnaphalium 鼠麴草属

Lovely Gnaphallum or Qu Ci Chao or mouse ear grass
It is also called bulbul, and it has nice white and yellow flowers.
The green leaves are blended and the juices are added to glutinous rice to make a dough. Fillings are then prepared and this green cake is steamed. Sometimes families with traditional moulds kept for generations use them to make very pretty green kuih. These cakes are called qu ci guo.

(PHotos from Google)

August 3, 2015

Sibu Tales : Ikan Gonjeng or Hong Boi 凤尾魚

My maternal grandmother was a very frugal house wife from the rubber tapping days of Sibu. She had come from a very poor background in China and was in fact sold off as a child bride.

Because of her early childhoold background, she was very careful with whatever money she had and she worked very hard for herself and for her children. When freshly bought, and the eyes were so glistening and bright, my grandma would say, "Just like in Dong Shan, where we obtained fresh fish..." and she would steam them too for the evening meal.

Sometimes she would deep fry the fish if she had extra cooking oil

At times she would have extra of the fish, she would squirt some soy sauce onto the fish , add a bit of sugar. These little fish would be served at every meal, until they were finished. I remember her eating them lovingly, tail and heads and everything.

She would exclaim, " Even the bones were good for chewing. How clever God was as a Creator...."








My mother still loves to deep the gonjeng or Hung Mui Ngii. This is her small plate of the fish we could hardly find nowadays in the fresh fish market. But when we get them we would always buy for her.





August 2, 2015

China Series : You Nai Li (油奈李)



very often these you nai plum flowers are mistaken for peach blossoms.

You nai li are favoured fruits in Gutian, Fujian. They are also made into popular dried fruits.

August 1, 2015

Mum Remembers Perilla of her Childhood Days

Two childhood memories of my mother . Here I am sharing them with you.

Photo from Google
When my mum,her siblings and her first cousins were young, they were often given a special concoction made from the simple perilla, called in Foochow Jie Ru Poh Hor (Perilla Mint) It was the common cure in those days. My mother remembers that each time they were sick, my maternal grandmother, and her sister in law would brew perilla mint as the concoction of the children to get well. And the whole kitchen would have that lovely minty aroma, very unforgetable and very pleasant. She feels even today, no scents for rooms could beat that perilla mint scent.

Sibu in the 1930's were short of doctors and the only hospital, Law King Howe Hospital was still in its infancy. And most parents, if they could help it, just use herbs to get their children better.

Since my grand aunt had so many young children and many workers for their rubber garden, the meals had to be taken care of by another helper.

My grand uncle, Lau Kah Tii, therefore asked his only sister's daughter and her husband to come to Nanyang to help out in the kitchen.

Each time my mother and I see a woman cooking, mum would remember her cousin from China who cooked for the large extended Lau family in Ensurai.She was indeed a cousin who dedicated her life to her uncle and aunty who brought her from China to Nanyang.
My mother remembers her as a kindly cook, who also had her own children to look after. It was not easy for her to cook food for more than 20 people every day. But she managed.

She would get up every day, carry water from the river and start cooking the first meal without fail. It was porridge for all. Lunch was exactly at noon and then dinner was at 5 p.m.before darkness fell. Whenever my mother remembers this part of her children she would have that dreamy look in her eyes. She would sigh and said, "What a good woman this cousin was. She never lost of her temper and she was so subvervient to every one. She had the real Chinese virtues of a lady. Today we do not have women of her breeding any more."



The Lau Mansion, the biggest house in the Rajang Valley for more than 4 decades from 1920's to 1960's had a wonderful kitchen manned by a wonderful cook from China. The painting here reminds my mother of the stove and the hardworking first cousin of her.

Today this aunt of ours is long gone. She was known as Ik Chiong Soh (her son was called Hii Ik Chiong), and only her grandchildren are still around today.

May God bless the hands which prepared food and medicinal brew for children in those long ago days.