January 31, 2016

Foochow Roots : Everything from Bamboo

This is a kind of shop only found in Minqing. This photo was taken in 6 Du, the home of Wong Nai Siong and many Wong and Lau clans.

Traditionally the Foochows use the bamboo to make almost everything they need at home. Most Foochow elders used to tell me that they were able to make "simple things from bamboo". What great skills our elders and ancestors had!!

From the leaves - hats
From the stalks - brooms
from the stems - ladders,beds,chairs
from the splitted bamboo - chicken cages, baskets, boongki etc
the smaller splits from the bamboo stems are used as strings.

What an amazing God's creation!!

January 30, 2016

Sibu Tales : Liver and Poached Egg Soup

There is a special Foochow delicacy called liver and Poached Egg soup with Foochow Red Rice Wine. This can be eat as a breakfast item . But it is usually a soup made for a daughter by a loving mother when her first menstruation appears. This soup will ensure that her young womb would be warmed up and that she would not have any menstrual pains.

My grandmother often made this soup for us girls, especially when we came to visit her with a tray of eggs and some fresh liver. My mother never failed to make us bring some liver and eggs (and also soh Mien) for my maternal grandma.

According to my Fujian born grandma (ngie mah) daily consumption of eggs was good for longevity. Indeed she lived over 86 years...She died in 1985. We still miss her.

 Every now and then Foochow women , and I too, would make a bowl of this soup for themselves if and when they have some "wind" or some pains relating to the womb.

January 28, 2016

Miri Resort City : "Tunu"

The Ibans have a way with chicken and any other meat.

Before cooking and cutting up the chicken the cook will "tunu" or singe or burn the skin until a little burnt. This will add a special aroma to the meat.

Perhaps it is a good way to "kill some of the germs" a young Iban man told me.

Chicken soup cooked in bamboo with this preparation step often has a very unique and delicious taste and flavour.

January 24, 2016

Sarawakian Local Delights 10: Paku or Wild Fern

In the cooking of the indigenous wild fern called paku, the most important ingredients must be "well fried and crispy" the Iban chef told me. She also told me that one must not spare the cooking oil It shoud be about a small bowl!! And the other secret tip is the use of boiling water when necessary when the fern is wilted in the kuali. The kuali must not be covered as it would turn the fern yellow.

And indeed when she finished her demonstration, the fern dish was green, crispy and tasty.

She also said that it was not necessary to add any ikan bilis (dried fish) as what she used would be enough to bring out the natural taste of the ferns.

This brings to mind some spiritual thoughts.

The well sliced onions, garlic and ginger remind us how well and carefully we must prepare our youth for  work, each one must be grounded in our  principles.

The oil refers to the basic truths and main values of mankind..

The ferns refer to our total work for the world.

And finally the hot water represents added encouragement, moral support given to any  work like social service, church work, government service, teaching ,etc. One must never pour "cold water" on any one who is trying her best.

I would also like to use the metaphor of an uncovered wok to represent work which need not be hidden, as work must be seen and be transparent. When the general public has a good view of on going work, or work in progress, they will be able to see what is going on and be touched.

At the end of the cooking demonstration I was touched by the fact that God's given fern, which is free from the jungle, has a place in the centre of the table for all to partake and enjoy.

The result of our work is indeed something worthy of praise. And you feel so thankful to God for his gift to us.

But on the other hand all of us must try our best to bring out the best taste by using good ingredients, careful thoughts and well executed steps.


January 23, 2016

Sibu Tales : The Nail in the Wall

We used to live in a shop house, on the first floor along Brooke Drive in Sibu. And one of the favourite places we would hang out (lepak) in the evening would be the western balcony or the back balcony where my mother would use as our laundry place. It was very airy too. In the morning it was especially cool because this balcony was oriented to the west.

When my maternal grandmother came to visit especially to make zongzhi, she would sit on a stool and face a door post which had just the right nail for her to hang her salty grass (geng chow) and she would so gently and daintily tie her dumplings.

An aluminium bucket would be filled with the soaked glutinous rice in front of her, and little bowls of cut mushrooms, soaked chestnuts and slices of pork would be placed on a low table for her.

We would watch her work on the ingredients and soon she wold make ten dumplings all tied together, to be cooked in a huge pot.

By noon time, we would have lovely dumplings. The whole afternoon the whole flat would be filled with the aroma of the season's special - the boiling of bamboo leave wrapped dumplings which conveyed to us that it was the fifth month of the year and a second festival was already on its way.

And by evening, about 100 meat  and red bean dumplings would be ready to be shared with my aunt's family.

Grandmother's love was magnified by the large number of dumplings hanging from a bamboo pole, to cool nicely before they were sent off in cloth covered baskets.

We also learned the beauty of sharing food and going to an aunt's house to share that grandmother's love.

Today a nail on a door post, or on a wooden wall would just remind me of my patient grandmother making hundreds of dumplings for the festival and her love for her grandchildren.

Her favourite statement : when you can make something, you are somebody because you do not depend on any one.

January 22, 2016

Sibu Tales : Longevity and a Bowl of Overnight Porridge

My maternal grandma (Tiong Lien Dieh) was a barefoot philosopher who had been well educated in the University of Hard Knocks. Most of the early Foochow Pioneers who came to Sibu had so much wisdom and knew so much!! Actually, their frame of reference was awesome.

Very early in my life I learned a lot from her about the importance of living and human relationships.

Usually she used stories froim China and from local background to teach us.

So whenever she visited us we would beg her to tell us stories.

One of the heart rending stories she told us was the old grandmother who was given cold porridge to eat in the evening.

The story went like this : Once there was quite a wealthy family and they had plenty to eat. But once the daughter in law grew older and was given more power in the family, she started to give less food to the old grandma. Every night she would give the old grandma only cold porridge hoping that she would die faster.

However strangely, the old grandmother seemed to get healthier and even her grey hair started to turn black. The gods must have been with with her.

So one day, the cruel daughter in law ordered her own son to ask the old grandmother  whether she had been stealing food from the family.

The grandmother old the grandson, "Grandson, do not think that your old grandmother would steal food. That is too lowly you think of me. The God of Heaven has been blessing me. Every time I ate cold porridge, I felt I was eating ginseng and birds' nest. Cold porridge is actually the best nourishment for old age and good food for longevity."

The little boy went back to tell his mother what he was told and in no time, the daughter in law also started to eat cold porridge from time to time in secret. But she became gaunt and sickly looking.

Moral of the Story : A good person who does not do harm to others would live a long life, no matter
what she eats.

Foochow mothers always tell their children never to Jor Kuo Leh (Do not do harm)

January 18, 2016

Sibu Tales : The Heart of a Herbalist

My great grandfather Tiong King Kee came to Sibu with his two sons, and a few nephews,. They were led by the famous Foochow patriot Wong Nai Siong in 1903. Altogether in three batches 1188 Foochow men and women came to settle in Sibu.

In those early days in Sibu, while the pioneers were getting acclimatized and suffering from all sorts of insect bites and even snake bites,they immediately set to fell trees to prepare land for rice and vegetable cultivation. My great grandfather, besides being a builder, like many other Foochows, also provided herbal treatment. Coming from the mountains of Wun Chieh, he had built up a good knowledge base of herbs. Today in Wun Chieh in 14 Du, Minqing, our Tiong relatives continue to dry herbs and mountain vegetables for sale.

Sadly, he did not leave much record, although he was instrumental in writing a book of our family's genealogy. In this small book, he wrote about himself as a humble herbalist. He also left a remark in the book that the family members must make sure that the book is properly filled from time to time.

A page from my great grandfather's book of genealogy of our family.
In later years, my great grandmother told stories about how people would go to Hua Hong Ice Factory in Pulau Kerto,(where they lived most of their lives) and .instead of paying fees, most of the grateful patients would bring eggs, ducks, chickens or whatever they had. Good herbalists according to him must never receive cash reward.

Great Grandmother, being a small feet (bound feet) woman, had problems walking fast, but she was able to cook pretty well. However, according to our adopted cousin, Yew Ping,  great grandfather was very simple in his tastes. A very interesting memory of Great Grandfather's disciplined attitude was his "special treats tin".He kept a small tin of biscuits and sweets up above the reach of children. Any child he wanted to reward, he would pull down the tin and give a token reward to the obedient child,using his specially designed pulley system. Cousin Yew Ping found it very interesting.

Great Grandfather also in his life adopted two orphan girls.One of them is still very healthy and in her 80's. The other one had passed on. Because of this kind of family tradition, my grandfather also  adopted 4 or 5 other girls. It was a charitable way of saving them from extreme poverty. To date, two of them have prospered and these two aunts have children who are medical doctors, teachers ,etc

In those days, many poor Chinese families would either "sell" their daughters to rich families or Sibu brothels, or throw them into the Rajang River. So in a way my great grandfather saved two lives.

The good road BS  to Wun Chieh. In 1918 my great grandfather went up the mountains by sedan chair. When he and my grandfather and granduncle joined Wong Nai Siong at 6 Du in Bangdong, they must have walked a number of days from home. Photo by Chang Yi
Great Grandfather also made sure that his grand children went to school. He valued education and would often have good discussions with Rev Hoover, the Methodist pastors, the Foochow doctors and fellow herbalists.

Like most Foochow pioneers  who were disciplined and baptised Methodists, Great Grandfather , according to Great Grandmother Wong (who lived not only in Hua Hong, but Bintangor and later Sibu and Sg. Merah) was also a very strict person who was careful with money, and a patriotic man. He was extremely heart broken when my father was imprisoned by the Japanese.But by then he was already very ill and he soon passed away. If he could he would have taken up arms to fight China's greatest enemies.

It was only recently that we found out that he went to make a visit  to our relatives in Minqing in 1918 to help restore our ancestors' graves up in the mountains of Wun Chieh . By then he was able to fill in two names of his grandsons in the family genealogy book - Tiong Poh King (my father) and Tiong Siu King (second Uncle). According to our Minqing cousin, Great Grandfather had trekked down from the mountains with grandpa and grand uncle and their relatives to meet up with Wong Nai Siong in Bandong..but on his return journey 15 years later, he was carried by sedan chair. That was a symbol of economic and social success.
My  great grandfather's line. Great Great Grandfather was Tiong Kek Jeh.  My great grandfather brought Kung Giing, his own two sons, Kung Kiew, Kung Liing, and Kung Nguong to Sibu. (this is only hearsay as I might have gotten the names wrong) Photo by Chang Yi at Wun Chieh

The family felt blessed that when he passed away in 1944, Rev Yao Shiaw King and Dr. Chiu Nai Ding were by his bedside, besides his grandchildren and great grandchildren. He died in Pulau Kerto very peacefully before the Japanese surrendered.

The Wun Chieh Tiong Family Home. Uncle showing my friends and I the Tiong genealogy book , kept in Wun Chieh - all handwritten. Photo by Chang Yi at Wun Chieh

January 16, 2016

Sibu Tales : Kon or Yah Koo This is for Duck Feed

Yi Chang's photo.
This is Yah Koo or Copra waste
This is rice bran or Kong.

When we lived in Pulau Kerto, my mother and Cousin Yew Ping reared a lot of ducks. Both of them were very fond of feeding the animals well and both really knew how to call the birds home for the evening meal especailly Cousin Yew Ping.

Meal meant that cooked rice was mixed with rice bran and copra waste. Both would bulk up the feed but there was a certain smell in the food that some people may find offensive.

My mother was special carefull too about duck feed, because she believed that her ducks must also have green vegetables in the feed. So she would chop green vegetables like kangkong (which she got from the river banks) and any vegetable waste from the cleaning of vegetables daily.

One day there was a terrible argument in the front yard because our aunty who lived one house away accused Yew Ping of calling her ducks home.

Mum being a peace maker, asked aunty to take "her duck"
 home. Actually Aunty could not tell which one was her duck because she was not really that alert. Mum having been a primary school teacher has a good memory and when she counted her ducks later, it meant that Aunty had taken one of our brood.

But any way, Yew Ping was also very alert. She went to Aunty's house and counted their ducks. They had one duck more.

Mum and Yew Ping kept MUM...and peace reigned.

My mother said, "Never mind, one less duck would not make a difference, because our ducks were growing fatter every day because of their good food. Two of our ducks were more than three of aunty's ducks..."

(Today, people who rear ducks may not depend on rice bran or copra waste because they us chemical feed)

January 12, 2016

Sarawakian Local Delights No. 9 : Kuih Jala

Kuih Jala is a famous snack especially in Sarawak. Kuih means cake and Jala means net in the Malay language. Literally translated it is Net Cake because the pattern of the cake is like a net.

Photo from Google
The ingredients used are very simple. Mis rice powder with some gula apong (nipah sugar) and water until the batter becomes dense and gluey like that of pancake.

Place the batter in a coconut shell mould made for kuih jala. The coconut shell has holes for the batter to sieve through. You must move the shall mould quickly over the cooking oil. The batter will drip into the oil like thread. Move the shell in a circular motion for a few seconds and the threads will form a layer on the oil.

When the sizzling stops and the threads turn golden, use a stick to fold the kuih into a half moon shape or a triangle shape. This kuih can even be rolled into a tube shape. Drain the kuih in a colander or basket.

It is sweet, tasty and crunchy with a nice aroma.
photo from Google. This Kuih Jala mould comes in a set, as a Knocking Wood is necessary to make the batter come out of the holes in the shell. It is really a very interesting way of making a kuih. Innovative and Creative!! In the next Borneo Food Festival in Sibu, there must be a competition and demonstration on the making of Kuih Jala. Best in Borneo.

It is usually served during Gawai or when important visitors come to the longhouse.

Today most Iban women make kuih jala with great passion, either for home use or for commerical purpose. It is now readily available in tamu as the demand is good.

January 8, 2016

Sarawakian Local Delights No 8 : Old Chicken cooked in Bamboo

Old layer hens are sold at RM12 each, at the point of writing,in what the local people called Lelong Price, or Auction Price.

Today it is a good way farmers get rid of their old layer hens quickly. And the society reacts quickly to this supply, which is quite a recent phenomena.Most Chinese would buy the chickens to prepare their superior stock for the making of soups, especially in restaurants. The old layers can be cooked in many different ways.

The Ibans use bamboo stems to cook the old chickens and the resulting "bamboo braised chicken" is soft, tasty and very aromatic.

The chicken is cleaned and cut into bit sizes and marinated with ginger, upa kechala, lemon grass, salt and pepper for a few hours before being placed in a long bamboo stem. A cup of water is finally added to the meat. A clump of young tapioca leaves is then used to stop the opening of the bamboo stem. This bamboo stem is then slowly heated up by a wood fire. It usually takes two hours to bring out the best of the chicken taste.

The result is very well cooked and tender chicken, with a good sauce which will gurgle out of the bamboo stem. It is a very aromatic dish because of lemon grass, some pandan leaves and ginger.

Served with rice, every one would enjoy God's providence.

January 7, 2016

Sarawakian Local Delights No.7 : Sayur Keladi

Sayur Keladi is actually a special yam shoot, grown only for cooking of its stems. It does not have a root, like the Betel Nut Taro or Bilong Wo.

Many people do not know about this.

Sayur keladi is favoured by the Malays, the indigenous people of Sarawak and many of the Chinese too. The Hakkas and Nyonya and Baba love this special dish.

There are many ways of cooking this vegetable. The most common one is cooking it with coconut milk and lots of chillies and spices.

Another way of cooking this vegetable is to stew it with ikan bilis together with sweet young corn and some slices of pumkin.

It can even be prepared as a soup with dried prawns and lots of onions, and garlic.

January 6, 2016

Sarawakiana Local Delights No.6 : Pig Intestines with Pineapples

Pig intestines should never be wasted as it can be cooked in so many different ways in the longhouses of Sarawak and even in homes of people who live in town.

Both Chinese and the Indigenous People of Sarawak love this delicacy.

Today this delicacy is enjoyed by town people who frequent fast food stalls.

The tasty intestines cooked with pineapples is a "good rice pusher". The sourish sauce which result from the combination of stewing pineapples and pig intestines is very delicious and memorable.

January 5, 2016

Sibu Tales : White or Normal Grated Coconut

In the 70's we would always buy freshly grated coconut because the packet santan was not available.

We would buy the grated coconut from the wet market where the vendors would be selling this commodity in an area fairly near the chicken market.

We often referred to that portion the Chicken Market.

Life was pretty busy for almost every decent housewife , It would even be difficult for many as money was never enough due to the sluggishness of the economy then. Most women had to be frugal, hence to get half a coconut was not unusual. The vendors would be most understanding. Unlike some vendors in many part of Sarawak who might sneeze at the poorer customers.

I remember my mum would only buy freshly grated coconut a few times a year to cook chicken curry. While some mums would buy it every week.

I remember once when my mum went to buy this item in the chicken market the guy smiled and asked,"Cooking chicken curry todsay?" This sort of friendliness is not so easily found to day unless you know the vendor personally.

Another memory I have of the grated coconut stall in Sibu was the day I forgot to tell the vendor that mum wanted "white" grated coconut.

White grated coconut refers to scraping off the brown skin of the coconut flesh and then have it grated. The result is a pure snowy white stuff. Black grated coconut is the one with all the brown flecks and your kuih esp onde onde would not be presentable.

Well, you can imagine the cold war between mum and I...she would not let me forget my carelessness and forgetfulness..One cannot get rid of the brown flecks easily..it can be considered impossible...

...TSKTSK  TSK TSK...silly girl award.

January 4, 2016

Sarawakian Local Delights No.5 : Old Chicken and White Gourd Soup

The Ibans in Sarawak are subsistence farmers since time immemorial. Today if they have a plot of land available for such use in the urban area, they can plant enough vegetables for their daily needs.

However in the past, they would have a main crop for cash e.g. pepper, rubber and today they have lots of oil palm. In their sub plot they would grow vegetables, pineapples etc depending on the size.

If they have only enough land for vegetables, their best crops would be pumpkin, long beans, yams, and leafy vegetables which are easy to take take of.

Gourds and winter melons are also very easily cared for.

At one longhouse, not very far from a town, which we visited we were served a lovely soup made from white gourd and old chicken. With pepper and a bit of chillies, the soup was very delicious.

The chicken was first cleaned and "burnt" or tunu, to give the skin a scorched look and a special fragrance. This release of oil from the skin gives a special "taste" to the soup. This is also a good way to ensure that the chicken is "clean" according to an Iban friend who loves to prepare his own chicken this way.

January 3, 2016

Sibu Tales : Getting a caged bird to tell fortunes

Photo from Google.

One evening as we passed through the Island Road of Sibu and walked towards the Channel Road, my grandmother decided to stop by the fortune teller who had a bird in a cage. He had a small candle light next to him also,. The flickering light actually attracted people towards him. I found the situation rather eerie. I was then about 7 years old.

Grandma was interested in fortune telling and it did not cost much, perhaps only a dollar. She asked the fortune teller to ask the bird to tell my fortune.

The bird hopped around and then came out to pick a piece of hard board.

Of course I could not read anything in the darkness but the fortune teller seemed to have very good eyesight. He told my grandmother that I could overseas to study and that I was capable of shooting birds from the sky.

Well having said that, he stretched out his hand and my grandmother put a dollar in his palm. Next he gave the bird something to eat. Or did I imagine it in the darkness.

Grandma was happy that my fortune had been told and she told me to study hard.

to this day I remember the incident very clearly but I do treasure my grandmother's concern about my future.

Later as I exchanged my views about foretune telling with my Christian friends, I found out that most grandmothers would secretly do this...perhaps just for some kind of assurance that their grandchildren would do well.

January 2, 2016

Sungei Merah Stories : Well Water

This is the story of a well dug by my paternal grandfather in Sungei Merah.

When he first moved to the hill in Sg. Merah, piped water was not yet availalbe so he took special pains to find some well water. By the blessings of God, he managed to find water seeping out at the foot of "his" hill (Foochow call this San Kah". He was very resourceful.

For household use, he also had a concrete tank built inside the big house and he had pipes all over the house , which later became very useful when piped water was supplied by the government. 

During extremely dry weather, all the people in the Kwong Ang area , as this place is called even up to today, used his well water.

I remember helping my aunts do some laundry and carry water up the hill during the dry season. My grandfather was very generous and he never grudged any one using the well water.

May God bless all those who lived around that area and all those who enjoyed using the well water.

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). ...