February 29, 2016

Sibu Tales : Cuirry Puffs

Photo by CT Hanoom Zainal

I have several Sibu stories about curry puffs.

First I thank Miss Ida Mamora for teaching us Domestic Science, I subject I dearly love..and I still have the Form One book in my cupboard. She taught us 2 recipes, the bake ones and the deep fried ones. She was careful in telling us that many people would not have ovens at home in those days...and we should also make curry puffs by deep frying them. We were happy to learn all that she could teach.

When I was a teacher in the Methodist School in Sibu, I had a NZ (New Zealand) exchange student called Daniel in Lower Sixth. He loved curry puffs so much that he could eat many in one day. I think he even got a friend to sell him his mother's home made curry puffs. I am sure he still holds the Sibu record of a student eating the most curry puffs in ONE single year! He was a model student. Very bright and very polite. I hope one day he will get to read this posting.

A very creative neigbhour made a special filling for her curry puffs - she used mashed pumpkin,onions and chick peas with some curry powder. I thought her curry puffs are rather awesome.For those who love potatoes, some chicken and potato curry puffs would be the best. As beef is too expensive now, I have not seen beef curry puffs for a long time.

There are many different kinds of recipes for making curry puffs. Some are better than others. Some curry puffs are entirely hand made, Other pastries are made by machines. Today there are even plastic moulds to help make the perfect shapes.

What is your favourite recipe for curry puffs? And what are your stories?

And now for my favourite question...Who invented the Curry Puff?

February 26, 2016

Nang Chong Stories : Ern Chow Muong Ngii

My maternal grandmother, Tiong Lien Tie got along very well with my Third Uncle Lau Pang Sing.
One of their favourite activities at home was to make Foochow red wine from time to time, sometimes by request from relatives who were expecting a new birth. Chinese confinement in those days would require at least 30 bottles of red rice wine.

Thus the family would have a lot of the residue or lees left after the wine was sent away to the relative. The red coloured residue would be given away free to any one who would like some. Grandma's red wine lees was very popular for she had a good reputation as a red wine maker.

From time to time, she would buy a whole muong ngii (eel) from Sibu (2 hours boat ride away) and deep fry the slices in an ern chow batter. Those were pre-KFC days. And we kids would enjoy eating the deep fried fish as snacks.

The Foochow call snacks as Siak Ka Liu. That was one of the reasons why we Sibu kids loved to visit grandma and uncle in Nang Chong. There would be lots to eat, and lots of space to run.

Sweet food memories.

February 23, 2016

Nang Chong Stories : Visiting Friends

The making of rice vermicelli in Sibu in the first half of the 20th century was a home based industry. A few of this cottage industry were found along the Rajang River from Sibu to Bintangor.

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There was one such cottage industry and the aunty who was the chief Hoong Ngang maker was even nicknamed Hoong Ngang Ying. She was well known all over the Rajang Valley for her excellent Hoong Ngang.

My mother and her daughter were close friends and they went to school together. Hoong Ngang Yin's daughter would row the boat, cross the Rajang River from 24 Acres, a distance of about 1 mile. and then walk with my mother to school in Chung Cheng. They were really life long friends.

During the weekends when my mum had not much to do, she would follow the tide (ebb) to row downwards and the about 6 hours later, she would follow the rising tide to come home , usually in the evening. Most of the time, she would make that journey to buy some rice vermicelli for the family. She would usually get a very good discount. It was a good one hour of rowing.

Mum always tells us that home made hoong ngang is very tasty and fragrant. And they don't break so easily. And she would laughingly said that as children, they enjoy slurping a long strand of hoong ngang into the mouth...It would take them some time to chew properly.

That's a story of the 1930's and early 1940's ....

February 22, 2016

Sungei Merah Stories : Death of My Paternal Great Grandmother

15th Day of the First Lunar Month.

Today at lunch on the 15th Day of the first month of the Lunar Calendar, my aunt, mother and sisters got together for a meal. We paid tribute to our loving great grandmother by swapping stories about this very refine matriarch.

Aunt Carrie came back from Hong Kong and we were delighted she could join us at our simple lunch and there were only 6 of us. All ladies. We had a good time sharing stories and telling jokes.

One of our first thoughts was with our late great grandmother who was with my mum for the first few years of my mother's married life in Hua Hong Ice Factory. My aunt Carrie was also her "helper" towards the last few years of dear Great Grandmother's life. In those days when the flush toilet was not yet a part of any household, old parents and grandparents needed some one to clear and clean the spittoon, and tampoi. It was even more important because Great Grandmother had bound feet.

Aunt Carrie related to us at the table, what Great Grandmother's last day was like.

That morning, Great Grandmother took her bath with Aunt Carrie's help, as usual just before lunch.

At lunch time, Great Grandmother sat on her stool for her lunch. Aunt Carrie was getting another dish ready for the meal, when she heard a loud crash. When Aunt Carrie turned around, Great Grandma was already blue black in her face.

Great Grandma, who had had a weak heart, must have suffered a massive heart attack. She breathed her last. And Aunt Carrie was asked to run to the car workshop near Kwong Ang Primary School where the nearest telephone was available to call up her sister, Aunt Pearl, my father and Uncle Siew King.

When every one was rounded up, Grand Father was almost speechless. The funeral was planned and many relatives came to help.

the house on top of the hill was a hive of busyness with a mournful silence when everyone spoke in low tones. The coffin was brought over from Hua Hong Ice Factory, where it had been kept. Her funeral clothes had already been ordered some time ago. This was a kind of preparation the family would have done for an elder.

Great Grandmother was to be buried with the traditional Foochow layers of funeral clothes.

Soon relatives brought all the yellow and blue materials, the belaju mourning cloth...Gunny sacks were trimmed to make hoods.The sewing machine was brought out and most of the ladies started to sew the mourning clothes.

The coffin was brought into the house and candles lit. Great Grandmother was laid on some planks and Aunt Carrie made sure that the family cat was kept hidden in a cage. It was a belief then (and perhaps even now) that if a cat was to jump over a dead body, the corpse would rise up and start jumping around.

 All the young children and aunts and uncles knelt around the coffin to pay respecrts throughout the wake.

Grandfather did an important ritual to welcome Great Grandmother's relatives to the wake. Old as he was, he knelt on the concrete steps in front of the main door when Great GRandma's relatives arrived. This was important for the closing of the coffin. If her family members were not happy, in Foochow style, they could say a lot of nasty words on her behalf.

A great matriarch had passed on.

(Grand Aunt Yuk Ging, her only daughtger, who came back from medical treatment in Singapore one day after the funeral,was inconsolable.)

February 20, 2016

Sibu Tales : Mah Long (Horse Eggs)

My maternal grandmother used to teach us Foochow folk rhymes when she came to visit us.

This one is about Mah Long, or Sesame Balls, a lovelyFoochow snack made from glutinous rice flour and sesame seeds with bean paste filling.

Mah Long Huaren tong,
Wu Chieng doh li Meh
Moh Chieng moh nii chong.

Come back sweet snacks (sesame balls and peanut brittle)
Have money come and buy,
If you have no money, you get none.

This rhyme teaches us the importance of money and how we must work hard to earn money so that we could have something sweet to eat at the end of the day.

Work hard and have something nice to eat.

We would always repeat the rhyme before we have nice snacks when grandma came to visit.

February 19, 2016

Sibu Tales : Cooking Pig Head

Get a whole pig head in the morning from your good butcher. He will clean with a torch flame for you. Take the pig head back and then blanch in a huge kuali of hot water.

Once done, cut the head into 6 smaller pieces and cook in a pot half filled with water, 5 cups of thick soy sauce, some black vinegar, 10 star anise seeds, 3 pieces of cinnamon (or more if you like), some pepper and 1 cup of sugar.

Simmer under the pork is soft which may take more than one hour depending on your pot and stove.

The sauce will be thick. Add more of your own favourite seasoning.

You can also add black mushrooms, black and white fungi. And even Chinese rice wine.

slice the pork into thin slices. Serve.

Eating of Pig Head means Getting Ahead.

(This is a very cheap dish to prepare especially if you have the time. It goes well with beer. Often it is considered a celebration dish, when some one gets a new job, or for Chinese New Year.)

February 16, 2016

Sibu Tales : CNY Goodies Tray

A lesson from Chinese New Year visiting.." The Goodies Tray"

.I will always remember the lesson learned from a last visit to one of my relative's house. She took out a tray of goodies like this. And she quickly passed it around the small children. (I was about 16 and extremely sensitive). One look at her face all of us children did not dare to take any goodies. A few minutes later, after finishing our soft drinks, without any instruction from any one, we also ran our separate ways without even taking any ang pow from her.

And I truly believe until today, 50 years alter, that she never meant to give us angpows.

Later I discussed this issue with a fellow lecturer (in Psychology) and she said that the impressions children get when doing social visiting could scar them for life!!

I cannot agree more with her.

I appreciate aunties and uncles who smile non stop during Chinese New Year.

Goodies are meant for children who in turn will call "aunty" and "uncle" nonstop ....in the future. We are paying forward.

February 12, 2016

Foochow Roots : Dream Mountains

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My Chong uncles and aunties were an important part of my life when I was growing up in Sibu. Uncle Chong Chong Sing played the church piano in a sorrowful mournful way. We often wondered who taught him the piano. His daughter Dolly became our Wesley Church pianist too.

When we heard that the Chongs originated from Fuqing, China, we thought that it was very very far away from Minqing, and especially from Sibu. But we did not note any difference at all. Except that Grandmother Chong was every inch a Nyonya.

The Chongs are very academic and part of the family was Roman Catholic.

We never learned much about the Chongs because my father lost his mother when he was only 16. And he seldom talked about his mother's family any where. And we had few photos of the family from that period.

In later years I found out more through the grapevine.

I learned more when I visited Fuqing myself.

The county of Fuqing is a lovely place. It has a special mountain called Mr. Shizhu which is 10 km to the west of the Fuqing City. Made up of a series of mountain peaks it is now a very famous tourist place. Its highest peak, Zhuangyuan Peak rises 534 meters above sea level.

"The stones on the mountain can retain traces and are frequented by cranes, and its bamboos seem as if they scrape the sky and transform into dragons."

Fuqing is also famous for some very important award dishes like Noodles, seafood soups and other snacks.

Mt. Shizhu Taoist Temple looks like a castle in the air, with a special pink colourization which is very unique in this world. The temple is a shrine to 9 brothers who first practised Dao in Fuzhou. These nine brothers attained immortality, rode on a dragon and manifested themselves on Mt. Shizhu. Many people continue to come to this stone mountain and pray for immortality.

"Quite a number of scholars leisurely visited Mt. Shizhu in the past dynasties. Numerous carved stones on cliffs are still kept on the mountain at present. Zhu Xi of the Song dynasty, Ye Xianggao, Wang Shimao, and Xie Zhaozhe of the Ming dynasty, and Chen Baochen towards the end of the Qing dynasty all left behind precious inscriptions or poetical works. Xu Xiake, the great traveler and geographer of the Ming dynasty, sightsaw Mt. Shizhu out of admiration in middle June in the first Taichang year (1620). He called Mt. Shizhu "the most wonderful of cliffs".

Today, instead of climbing the long footpaths up the mountains for three or four hours, people can use the cable cars.

My paternal grandmother would have heard of Mt. Shuzhu from her parents and grandparents who migrated out of Fuqing but I hope that she is still looking out for her descendants, now spread all over New Zealand, Australia, the USA,Sarawak.

And I hope she would also smile knowing that her naughty grand daughter went up to Mt.Zhizhu to say a few prayers for the family on a very wet rainy day in 2015.

February 11, 2016

Sarawakian Local Delights No.15 : A Coffee Story of Sarawak(Teck Lee Seng )

The coffee brewed in the longhouse would usually be a local brand. Nescafe or any other imported brand would be considered too expensive.

Teck Lee Seng Coffee powder is often given as a gift by children to their elders in the ULU (Upriver). So whenever visitors arrive, the kitchen would be very busy and the first thing that is made is the coffee. A big kettle is used to boil the water, and soon after boiling perhaps half a packet of coffee powder is added to the boiling water.

After boiling for a short while, the KOPI is mixed with lots of sugar. This is then served to the guests in a glasses or small enamel mugs. A huge enamel tray, the pride of the family, would also be used to bring out the mugs/cups.

This is longhouse style of brewed coffee, or Kopi Masak.

Once when my friends and I were stranded by low water as our longboats could not pass , we were invited up to a longhouse . We had to wait for the rain to stop and the river to rise. The hospitable family, without any electricity, lit a small kerosene lamp, gave us very thin but hot kopi masak, some very thin soup and cold rice. It was way past their dinner time.

That was truly a life saving moment. Five us were refreshed and by the next morning, we were on our way. After much persuasion the family accepted a small token of appreciation from us.

That special kopi masak was so refeshing that it remains in my heart forever.

Now a few words about Teck Lee Seng of Kuching.

Teck Lee Seng is a Sarawak brand, founded in 1969 in Kuching.

It was founded by Mr. Goh Kim Sin. At the beginning, coffee was sold delivered from door to door. Today it is a high technology company using the best of machinery and famous throughout Malaysia.

In most coffee shops in Kuching, TLS coffee is used. It has a good aroma and a great flavour, perhaps due to its unique roasting style and the beans used. It is not as black as some West Malaysian coffee.

So when you go to your favourite sundry shop or supermarket, you might like to look up Cap Tangan Coffee Powder. That's something made in Sarawak.

In Malaysia, a cloth filter makes a lot of difference when local coffee is brewed. Perhaps that is why the coffee shops always have such an attractive aroma which beckons early morning coffee drinkers.

It is so relaxing to order a cup of Kopi-o, Kopi-C, Kopi (you will surprised if you are not a local, this is Coffee with Condensed Milk), Kopi-0 Kosong (Coffee without sugar and milk). They come in Big or Small cups/mugs. In some coffee shops you can even order the very healthy 21st century, Kopi-Tou Leng (Coffee with Soy Milk)

February 10, 2016

Sibu Tales : Food for Children - Just the Sauce please!

My father suffered from a heart attack and he died pre-maturely at the age of 56. It left all us kids very devastated and my mother unconsolable.

for a few years my mum had to stretch the proverbial dollar. But we were not in the least defeated by the hard knocks.

Mum devised all sorts of ways to get us to eat our rice so that we could grow steadily. All grew taller except me. I remain the shortest, just about 5 foot tall.

With the little money mum could collect from letting out rooms we were able to have food on the table and pay the small amount of school fees.

The lovely food my mother cooked remain very important in our lives.

The Number One food that we continue to enjoy is the Ern Chow Niik, or Pork cooked with Red Rice Wine lees.

Early in the morning mum would prepare the dish and we would just run home from school for the expected delightful lunch. She would lace the dish with lots of sugar to make it more tasty.

We did not need slices of meat on our rice. Just the sauce would do.

To this day, my siblings and I and now my children too, would always want to have more Ern Chow sauce on our rice.

Just the sauce please!! And that request would really make mum the happiest mother in the world!!
 And another plate of rice too.

February 8, 2016

Sibu Tales : Pork Knuckle and Dried Squid Soup

In Western Culture, the better cuts of pork were for the upper class and the poorer cuts like belly pork,trotters, tails, heads were for the lower class. Even food did not enjoy egalitarianism!!

This was not so obvious in the Chinese society which would normally include the whole animals in the menu. Perhaps a difference could be found in that the poor would eat more greens and less meat, while the rich and upper classes ate more meat,seafood, exotic food etc. That was in the past. Today with political, economic and social development, food has become more universally available.

The Foochows have always been very frugal in food and have devised grand recipes for all cuts of the pig.No automatic alt text available.

Pork knuckles and trotters for example have been used by coolies, wharf labourers,rubber tappers, farmers to make a nourishing soup to energize their bodies. With dried squids and Chow Yi Char (a herbal fragrant root), the bony and poorer cut of pork is transformed into an awesome dish fit for kings!!

In my family, whenever my later grandmother desired some pork knuckle soup, my father would go to the butchers to "carry back" guan tii kah, we knew that it would auger in an awesome dinner with this special brew. It was usually done over slow fire for more than 3 hours. Grandma would also always say that having this soup would energize us and make us more willing to move our feet and work hard! So motivating.

My mother would always have a good stock of fragrant root and dried squid in the food safe. I would always remember how my parents bought these  in Sibu. My father was a man of habit and careful spending and he planned his shopping and visitation well.

A visit to Chew Hock Choon in Bank Road was in the offing before my parents visited Grand Aunt at the Methodist Primary School. They would give her some of the squids as Ming Neng (or gift). It was good to visit relatives with my parents.

Recently I went to Minqing, Fujian and enjoyed this soup several times at different places. The soup was not exactly the same, but it was welcome warmly by all with lots of aplomb.

The fragrant roots kept us rooted to Fujian.

(Written First Day of Lunar Year of the Monkey 2016)

February 6, 2016

Sungei Merah Stories : Seaweed Soup

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Seaweed is called Chie Chai in Foochow and as a young kid I thought that it was really purple vegetable. It took me quite a long time to acquire a taste for seaweed soup especially the one served by Grandmother Siew who was actually an extremely good cook.

When holiday with Grandfather in Sungei Merah, we were amazed by her stir fried cabbage, deep fried brinjals, pork ribs in soy sauce and the occasional Chicken. Christmas time would see extra good food on the table. We would have two or three different rounds of eating as the elders ate first if they were ready . If not the kids would be served first. Then followed by the others. Grandma would supervise which dishes would go onto the table so that every one would have a  good share of the food she prepared.

What was most amazing was the soup that she had boiling in the wood fire on the huge stove. That could be just a simple seaweed soup which later became extremely tasty for me. 

The soup would be cooked in the largest pot she had and left simmering or being heated up from before lunch time until dinner time. The seaweed soup would be enhanced by a bit of minced pork, or one or two beaten eggs (laid by her hens in the backyard).

She would chop up one or two big orangey onions to cook the seaweed soup. Lastly she would add some pepper and green onions to the soup.

It was truly a good Foochow soup which could feed more than 15 people in those days.

February 5, 2016

Sarawakian Local Delights No.13 : Ikan Empurau

The most expensive fish now in Malaysia is Ikan Empurau (The Chinese uses 3 words for its Name : Wan buliau or Cannot forget or another 3 words for Yuen bulau - never grow old).

Occasionally in the upriver regions of Sarawak, especially in the Rajang valley the longhouse folks might be blessed with a good harvest of empurau as shown in the photo.

Empurau is best steamed, Chinese style.

The sizes of the empurau are significant in the pricing system in the local market. Below 1 kg Empurau does not fetch a good price, may be around 30 ringgit per kg. Between 1 and 2 kg, the price goes a bit higher to 80 to 100 per kg. Anything above 3 kg would be 800 per kg. or even more. Some records have been broken in recent years.

The colour of the Empurau is also important. The golden ones are superior to the black ones. The white ones are mid range. And again the discerning Ibans would also judge the sweetness of the empuraru by the region it comes from.

But a good meal with boiled or steamed empurau caught by a lucky longhouse man is a blessing from God.

February 4, 2016

Sibu Tales : Expired Goods

Stories about expired goods :

Once we went on a mission into the interior and we wanted to buy some biscuits in bulk as rewards for the families who would come to help us with our work. When the shop keeper loaded our box with our purchases, I noticed that some of the biscuits were already " expired". He was most unhappy when I put them back and told him not to sell them...He then scolded me and said that "any way those people up in the ulu would not know the difference".

Years later I was given some "expired biscuits" too. My friends and I were doing some charity work for an organisation. The organisers, whether they knew it or not, gave out goodies bags to the helpers and to those who came to support the food fare. When it was time for our break we opened the goodies bags and found that almost all the biscuits were expired. I told my colleagues not to eat them and we had to buy our own snacks from the stalls. But actually that was not the only occasion when volunteers are given expired goods to eat. Organisers have to be more caring and more careful.

Through out our lives we would have received many hampers for Chinese New Year, for one reason or another. My mother received a large hamper from a bank she patronised and we checked for her. Every thing was not expired and we okayed the gift. When  schools in Sibu did up hampers, teachers would go to Ta Kiong in Sibu to buy the best products for  Lucky Draw Hampers, for example. Almost all teachers are well trained by the Consumer Association to be very observant. But once in a while some friends would tell us that they had some expired goods in their hampers.

Sometimes poor relatives get gifts from their richer relatives. The conniving relatives would even mask the expiry date by using a marker or even using a knife to scrape off the date. How mean can people be. They might as well not give gifts. I believe this happens all the time because I read articles about this matter and students have written essays about such low down behaviour. When we give gifts, we must give the best. 

Do you get "gifts" of expired goods from bosses, relatives, and in Chinese New Year or Christmas Hampers? What would you do?

Photo from Google.

Sibu Tales : Cleaning House with Bamboo

During my GRandfather's time, we would all practise the cleansing of the house by using bamboo leaves.

He told us that bamboo leaves could get rid of all the evil spirits in the house.

So it was true, just before Chinese New Year, every one would be asking people who had bamboo groves for some bamboo leaves and stems. My grandfather had many groves of bamboo because he enjoyed eating bamboo shoots and he was also in the hobby farming business, selling bananas, fruits and bamboo shoots.

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Cleaning the house also means driving out misfortune or traces of bad luck.

My paternal grandmother and my aunts would be busy cleaning the house from top to bottom. It was a huge house to clean actually.

However my father would be the one cleaning our house. He would fashion a long broom using some of the small bamboo stalks and leaves from our bamboo hedge. Our neighbours would also come around to ask for the bamboo as our hedge was the only one along our road. He said he would just get rid of some of the cobwebs and dust on the ceilings and corners and the rest of us would wipe the windows, ledges etc.

It was good to do spring cleaning once a year.

I particularly like the smell of our wooden stools drying in the hot sun after being washed and scrubbed with OMO.

February 3, 2016

Sarawakian Local Delights No 12 : Wild Boar Bones and Fermented Bamboo Shoot Soup

In July in Sarawak, bamboo shoots would be readily available and especially in the ulu (mountain areas). Proud mothers would ferment and salt (kasam) the freshly harvested bamboo shoots. Once ready for cooking, usually after three days, the sourish bamboo shoots would taste fantastic when boiled for a long time with wild boar bones.

This is an excellent dish to serve guests and VIPS who come to the longhouse.

And indeed this is one of those memorable kampong dishes. Sometimes when wild boar bones are available in the towns and cities, the stalls selling indigenous food would grab the bones and in no time the item would be taken.

February 2, 2016

Sarawakian Local Delights No. 11 : River Snails

River snails are found amongst the rushes in the river banks. After the Iban farmers have completed their day's work, they would bathe in the river (mandi sungei) and if they could, they would collect some snails for their evening meal.

River snails, before the polluted days, were fresh and clean and very well loved. Cooked by frying some ginger and chillies, add the cleaned snails, stir fry for a while, add some sugar and soy sauce. Soon they are ready for the table.

Good for table conversation and slow eating. A good evening of fellowship ensues.


February 1, 2016

Sibu Food : Bak Gui


Bak gui is a traditional Fujian festive cake. Perhaps in the past it was only eaten during the festivals like Chinese New Year!!

The Koreans actually call this cake New Year Cake. And they prepare it as a soup.

Most Fujian elders can make bak gui or white cake, any time of the year. Many new generation Foochows do not know how to make bak gui nowadays.

However many people say that it is very easy to make this household product. You actually do not need a mould. But to have a mould is like having a family heirloom. And I do not have one myself. I keep wishing I could have one and start making.
Photo from Google. Fried Gak Gui, a Chinese New Year Dish
I have asked a lot of people to teach me but I have not found a willing teacher. In the past I myself was at fault because I was not really determined enough and I was too busy any way. Making a kuih or cake needs plenty of time and patience.

Perhaps I just need to find Bak Gui making on Youtube.

Well it is now the Youtube Age for food preparation.

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). ...