December 13, 2017

Sibu Tales : Water Chestnut

No automatic alt text available.
Fresh water chestnuts in Miri

Years ago it was hard to get fresh water chestnuts in the market in Sibu. Usually mothers would desperately look for water chestnuts for their children who just had measles. The best TCM "cooling antidote" for after measles is water chestnut juices.

In those olden days, the blender or juicer was not yet in the market. So at home, the hardworking mother would crush small chopped pieces water chestnuts with a mortar and pestle and then use a handkerchief to squeeze out the juice.

And naturally it would have been too pricey for the poor to buy fresh water chestnuts to make juices for their sick children. Well you see, most siblings would get measles at the same time and it would be hard time for the mother.

However the wise women would be able to find other means of cooling down their children. Fresh coconut water, sugar cane juice would be the alternatives.

There was even a common comment that when fresh water chestnuts appear in the market, measles was in the air!!

Fresh water chestnut is a delicacy for the Foochows. It is a good ingredient for the making of meat rolls, and when a mother wants to prepare a good minced pork dish, a few water chestnuts, chopped fairly well would give the minced pork a bit of crunchy texture.

One of my best memories of my second sister's knife skill and patience was the way she peeled water chestnuts for our maternal grandmother. She was so meticulous and fine in her work, even when she was only in her teens.

Those who often have ulcers can eat a few fresh water chestnuts after a meal, treating them like fruits.

Today in some places water chestnut juices are available in packet form.

December 12, 2017

Sarawakian Local Delights : Tapioca (Ubi Kayu)

No automatic alt text available.

Ubi kayu or tapioca used to be one of the cheapest snacks Sarawakians could have.

Tapioca is easily grown wherever farmers grow their padi in the past. The tapioca would be grown around the padi fields forming some kind of boundary between lots. Land would be put to good use. The leaves could be eaten as vegetables too.

India is now the largest exporter of tapioca leaves and root tapioca which is the main ingredient for making starch and other by products.

There are two kinds of edible tapioca in Sarawak, one which will yield roots and the other just good and delicious leaves for cooking.

Then there are two kinds of root tapioca. The more desired ones are those with yellow roots. The whiter ones are edible and slightly bitter. They become woody more easily.

Whenever Sarawakians see the yellow tapioca, they would not think twice to buy.

The yellow tapioca can be fried, boiled, steamed and cooked in soups, or as part of bubur cha cha.

December 11, 2017

Nang Chong Stories: My Ngie Goong Donated a Piece of Land

Image may contain: 20 people
The Lau Clan of Sibu. Headed by Lau Kah Tii (Headman). 1933. Photo most probably taken by Rev. Hoover who was a good friend of the family.
Back row: Lau Kah Tii (second from right), Grandaunt, Moo Or (lst on right) Middle man with beard, Lau Kah Miik My own grandparents, on the left, Lau Kah Chui and Tiong Lien Tie, holding Lau Pang Sing.
Front Row : from Left, Tang Chok Hung, Tang Chok Ching, Lau Pang Ding, Lau Hung Yung, Lau Pang Hung.
Second Row : Lau Pang Sii, Lau Pang Kui, Lau Hung Ngo, Nau Hung Toh, Lau Hung Chuo.
Third Row : Lau Pang Soon, Sia Nguok Kiee (Child bride of Lau Pang Ping),Lau Pang Biu, Lau Hung Ing, Lau Pang Ping.

The Foochow pioneers were very closely knitted when they first arrived in Sibu in 1901, led by Wong Nai Siong. the First Batch settled in the land allocated by the Rajah although they landed in Sungei Merah about several hours walking distance from the island of Sibu, which we now know as Sibu Town. My maternal grandfather and his brother, Lau Kah Tii, who later became the Headman of the Foochows until he retired, settled in Ensurai.

My maternal grandfather Lau Kah Chui was a very quiet man who liked to have a bit of drink in the evenings. This was because he worked very hard from dawn till dusk, the Foochow way. He was attached to his brother very faithfully and worked hard for him. Even when he married my grandmother and had several children, he was still part of the BIG ROOM or tui boon dieh, meaning they were all together as an extended family. All meals were prepared in the same kitchen (the 20th century definition of a household in Asia "a group of people eating from the same rice pot") and all cash earned was managed by Grand Uncle. Any incidental was paid for by the family petty cash. Hence my grandfather never exactly earned a salary.

In 1926, with a bigger family in his care, he decided to leave the extended family (tear from the family is the Foochow term) and start on his own. He was fortunate that through his elder brother's influence and contact he was able to get a grant for 100 acres of land, across the river from Ensurai, now known as Lower Nang Chong. He worked very hard to clear the land and he did indeed achieve what he wanted. By the 1930's with the rubber boom, he was quite a wealthy man!!

He donated a piece of land to the Methodist Church to build a school, Tiing Nang Primary School and a Church, call Hook Ing Tong (The Good News Church) Tiing Nang school is no longer in existence although the Hook Ing Tong is still functioning.

December 10, 2017

Sibu Tales : 8 Treasure Duck

One of my memorable Foochow dishes of Sibu is the 8 treasure duck 八宝鸭. It would be a dish that I would look forward to whenever I was invited to a Chinese wedding in Sibu in the olden days.

Nowadays I still look forward to eating this special duck in Sibu. Some how I would never have a chance to eat it in Miri and it would be a bit too much of a challenge to make one all by myself.

Furthermore, this dish is not often on the banquet menu in Miri or elsewhere because people nowadays are very health conscious and don't actually like to eat duck.

Image may contain: food

The duck is first marinated, fried, stuffed with 8 different ingredients (hence, the "treasures" or "jewels" of the dish) before it's steamed or braised till soft and falling off the bone. Absolutely DELICIOUS. The stuffing of 8 treasures or jewels would be dried scallops, Chinese ham, gingko nuts, dried prawns, Chinese sausages, chestnuts, shitake mushrooms, and dried longans. However the stuffing can be anything a chef can think of.

It must be noted that the duck is usually marinated with five spice powder, pepper, a bit of sugar and soy sauce or any kind of marinade you would like to have. It need not be absolutely Fujian flavours. Besides it really depends on what kind of kitchen equipment you have as the duck can be baked or steamed or may be even microwaved! A good 8 treasure duck is so tasty and aromatic that most diners will find it memorable.

And you don't really have to debone the duck, because the bones add more flavour to the dish.

December 9, 2017

Sibu Tales : Squids and Cuttlefish

We always have problems identifying dried squids and dried cuttlefish because we come from a multi-lingual society.

Cuttlefish is called Meh Ngii 墨鱼(which gives out black ink). Dried squid  

is called Yiu Ngii. Cuttlefish is rounder, soft and jelly like when re-hydrated.
Dried Cuttlefish - See the cuttlebone in the middle
The main distinguishing feature of cuttlefish is that they have a large calcareous internal shell called a cuttlebone, whereas true squids have a light-weight internal shell called a gladius or pen, which is made primarily of chitin. Cuttlefish also have a W-shaped pupil, while squids have pupils which are round or nearly so.

Sarawakian Local Delights : Areca Nuts

Image may contain: fruit and food
Areca nuts or pinang sold by the plates in Sibu.

Image may contain: one or more people
The kapur is spread on a betel leaf/sirih leaf
No automatic alt text available.

the chewing of areca nuts or pinang is a social activity carried out in the longhouse .

It can be a useful activity when every one is sitting at the ruai or living room and both men and women can sit and talk casually.

Some people say that the chewing of pinang keeps most women addicted to it calm and cheerful. Some men concentrate on the chewing and talk less.

Whatever it is, the almost ritualistic chewing of the nuts is an interesting sight, whether it is formal or informal, whether it is a personal addiction or a casual activity just to join in the fun.

The betel nut or pinang is rather bitter. To some people it is a pain killer, surprisingly.

December 8, 2017

Sarawakian Local Delights : Wild Boar Bone Soup

Image may contain: food

When a wildboar is brought home by a hunter, the bones would be a precious gift to all , old and young.

The best way of cooking the bones would be to get a big pot of water and home grown ginger boiling. Once the water is at a roaring boil, the bones, usually cut into  big chunks by the parang, would be washed and cleaned and dropped in the big pot. This will be boiled for hours until the bones can drop off from the flesh.

Hot rice and some salted vegetables like native mustard green or ensabi, and some bamboo pickles would be served with the wild boar bone soup.

A friend said laughingly,"We Ibans are very basic people. Food is food and in the past our elders did not go into the refinement of reflection on which food was nutritional in the past.

December 7, 2017

Sarawakian Local Delights : Braised Wild Boar

No automatic alt text available.

The backyard of any longhouse dweller would always have fresh ginger growing. I would always remember how fruitful my friend's backyard was. She had tumeric, chillies, ginger, lemon grass, green onions , some tapioca trees, sirih, and even a pepper vine and a lime tree growing. Her grandfather had started the longhouse and she said when the families moved into the area they brought a lot of seedlings, seeds and cuttings from Skrang to plant around the longhouse. How provident the elders were. She continued the tradition and made sure that she has all the "ingredients for cooking in the backyard".

"We dont have to buy much if we are hardworking," she said.

Every now and then, the farmers would be lucky to shoot a wild boar in the secondary jungle near their farms. Wild boards are very destructive to their farms.

Today with the availability of electricity, they have a freezer and they can stock up some wild meat, and food from the town.

A simple dish of braised wild boar meat with lots of fresh ginger is a refreshing welcome.

December 6, 2017

Sarawakian Local Delights : Peanuts and Nasi Lemak

No automatic alt text available.Image may contain: food

Nasi lemak means coconut rice, with a sambal made from chilli and onions on the side. It is topped by deep fried bilis or anchovy, peanuts,slices of cucumber and half an egg or one full egg.

It is the national dish of Malaysia and is beloved by all the Malaysians, including many overseas people. The ingredients are considered "humble"as they have always been food eaten by "ordinary" people.

The sambal may different from region to region, from household to household. Some prefer the sambal to be sour, others sweet, and some even come up with extremely spicy ones. However a touch of tamarind juice makes a lot of difference to the total overall taste of the sambal.

The chilli oil gives the plate of rice its iconic colour.

Nasi lemak can be sold in the roadside, pre wrapped in banana leaves to give it a special flavour. It can be offered as special national breakfast in five star hotels. Nasi lemak is best prepared at home by the loving hands of mothers. In school canteens, nasi lemak is often the most well loved and nourshing snack.

It can have add on side dishes like rendang, curry, fried chicken, or even other kinds of vegetables like the water spinach (aka kangkong) and long beans.

But the most important characteristic is coconut milk which makes the rice extremely special or lemak.

December 5, 2017

Sarawakian Local Delights : Beef Bone Soup

Image may contain: food

We often have the basic spices in our homes. So whenever we like to cook Sarawak style beef bone soup, it is quite easy. Even if we do not have all the spices,and we only have the basic four of  coriander seed, cumin, star anise and cinnamon our soup would taste good and is flavourful. The spices will cover the gamey smell of the beef. That has been the chef's trick since the ancient days of Spice Trade.

One or two potatoes can be added to the soup to give is a smooth feel. Tomatoes will add a sourness. And the garnish of Chinese celery (Kiing Chai) will make the soup extra nice. Deep fried onions would be a MUST.

So take out a pot and fry some ginger, garlic and onions. Add the spices . Add beef and beef bones to the pot. Stir in the cubed potatoes. Add hot water to the pot. Slowly simmer the ingredients until the beef is soft and flavourful. Add tomatoes. Add pepper before serving.

This is a nourishing soup for both young and old. In fact, even for a large gathering, a big pot of beef bone soup and tang hoon/kueh tiaw/mi hoon would be sufficient. That would be a party!!

December 4, 2017

Sibu Tales : Duck Blood and Nanjing Noodles


When we were young and visited our Ngie Mah very often, we were exposed to the food customs of the Minqing people. 

Image may contain: food
Photo from Google : Duck blood noodles, Nanjing.
My Ngie Mah being China born and my aunts being very frugal, duck blood, pig's blood and all the internal organs were common dishes on the table. We were never queasy about these rustic food. Duck soup was especially tasty, fresh from the farm.

My grandmother's favourite dish was duck blood cubes, toufu and beansprouts fried together. She would say that such good ingredients should not go to waste.

And naturally we would see how Third aunt would easily cut the throat of the duck after plucking a few feathers from the neck of the poor bird. Before the actually slitting, grandma would put some salt and water in a basin....We would watch the blood dripping from the neck. And soon a basin of coagulated duck blood would be on the stove. This massive piece of exquisite item would be turned into the kuali ready with hot water. 

The blood cake would be cut into cubes and cooled.

A large duck (serati or chuong nguang) would actually provide a lot of blood.
Image may contain: food
Duck blood with Kai Lang. Google photo.

The blood cake would be cooked with bean sprouts or any other vegetables available or even on its own, or just simple kang kong, which is readily available in Miri at the moment.

A favourite way of using the duck blood then was to eat it in our Hoong Ngang or rice vermicelli soup. It was only years later that I learned about Nanjing Duck Blood Noodles.

December 3, 2017

Sibu Tales : School recipes Exchange - Cucumber Pickle

Recently I discovered a lot of on line business which women can take part in. One of the businesses is the Sarawak Acar Timun. This photo really brought a lot of memories back to me.

Image may contain: food
On line photo. Google.

When I was in secondary school, we girls used to exchange recipes. Some even wrote down recipes in books for each other. A friend had a special recipe book all typed. It was an exceptional feat for a school girl and how we admired her.

Most of us just kept an exercise book and some pictures were pasted for fun. We loved the New Straits Times which had a good recipe section. But not all of us had English newspapers at home. So, every recipe from the newspapers was handwritten into our exercise books. But we did not really have that many.

Perhaps we were instinctively preparing for married life. The old saying is "The way to a man's heart is through his stomach." I wonder if it is still true today.

One of the first recipes I learned was this cucumber pickle. And for old times' sake, I am sharing this with you.

5 cucumbers
15 red chillies
1 carrot
3 Tbsp dried prwans
5 cups vinegar
2 cups sugar
some garlic
2 candle nuts
4 dried chillies
some ginger
one knob of kunyit
Oil for frying

1. Prepare early in the morning : Cut cucumber into finger lengths, 1 cm thick. Remove all centres. Soak in 3 tbs salt for a few hours , squeeze .
2. Dry  the sliced cucumber in the sun for half a day.
3. Cut carrot and chillies into thin strips and dry for a while too.
4. Pound garlic and ginger with the dried prawns.
5. Pound candle nut, some more garlic,dried chillies and kunyit.
6. Heat a bit of oil in kuali, fry (4), put in a bowl.
7. Heat a bit of oil in kuali and stir fry (5) until aromatic. Add sugar,vinegar and bring to the boil. Remove the gravy and leave to cool.
8. Add in cucumber, carrot, chillies, (4) and mix well.
9. Keep the pickle in a clean bottle.

If you like you can add some roasted sesame seeds to the pickle before serving.

Our secondary school girls' acar timun....Well, some girls did get the boys they wanted to marry.

For whatever reasons we may have, it is good to be able to make our own cucumber pickles from scratch.

December 2, 2017

Sarawakian Local Delights : Indigenous Red Ginger

Image may contain: plant, food and outdoorImage may contain: plant, flower, outdoor and nature

Halia merah or red ginger is grown by the Ibans in the high lands, where land is undulating. It is known as zingiber officinale var rubrum. It has a sharp taste and is more aromatic than nrmal ginger. It is also found growing wild in the hills of Sarawak.

Red Ginger is highly valued by Iban women and is used during traditional confinement especially. It is consumed as a warm tea and very often, a large amount is pounded and wrapped around the stomach area to give heat. It is believe that this will help shrink the uterus after child birth and at the same time warm up the body.

The Iban also boil the hairy fern or paku uban/kubuk with red ginger to help mothers increase lactation.

Scientifically. this ginger, like most other gingers, has excellent anti-inflammatory properties and is know to be effective for those with arthritis, carpal tunne;,etc. Drinking just a glass of juice from one knob of ginger on alternate days will help lessen pains.

Many healers have pounded the juice of red ginger and add it to apple cider vinegar. The redness with be preserved by the acid, whereas fresh red ginger juice when exposed to light will lose its colour very fast.

Red ginger can be added to salads, used for ordinary cooking and even made into a fragrant tea.
  It can be added to apple cider vinegar.  The red color seeps into the vinegar and is preserved by the acid.  Fresh red ginger exposed to light will fade within hours.

It is also an important ingredient in the making of Jamu in Java. The President of Indonesia Jokowi's jamu or secret herbal drink contains red ginger.

December 1, 2017

Nang Chong Stories : The Bombing of the Chung Cheng School

Image may contain: house, tree, sky, plant and outdoor
Upgraded and Modern Facade of the Chung Cheng School, where my mother and her siblings received their education

No automatic alt text available.
Chung Cheng School.1957

During the 1970's when I was studying in Kuala Lumpur away from the curfew days, I worried about my aging maternal grandmother who lived in Nang Chong and my cousins who went to Chung Cheng school on foot. Life was difficult as the curfew could be imposed any time by RASCOM.

Food had to be stored, but not too much because the soldiers could check. There was a campaign to curtail all movement of food supplies so that the CCO could not get their food supply from sympathizers. All food flow was recorded and monitored. Motor launches were blocked and checked . This was to starve the CCos out of the jungle!!

Gun fire was not uncommon. One day several bombs were dropped around Chung Cheng School area and the kitchen was partially destroyed. God is Good. No one was killed.

For many days students did not go to school. Political turmoil caused interruption in school. Many of my cousins did not finish their secondary school education, while some were lucky to have relatives in Sibu. Upon transfer, they went to Catholic High School where they could complete their education. Catholic High School, a private school saved many Chinese youths of the Rajang. In those days it was hard to get into the English Mission Schools if a student's English was not good.

November 30, 2017

Sibu Tales : Empawah, Killings in the Backyard

Today Empawah is headed by Penghulu Wong Tung Sing with several other community leaders under him. Empawah is translated to Chinese words White Lily River. Bai Hua He.

The security of the area is so much better now with proper roads, police surveillance etc. Today one can reach this village in 20 minutes by car as the road is very good.

The Rascom days are over, the Gurkha soldiers are gone and the Malay Regiment gone too.

The days of CCO are over.

Empawah was known as a black area in the 1970's when gunshots,and even machine gun fire could be heard frequently.

Families were really scared in those days, Schools like Tien Jing was in danger of being closed down for good (one of the reasons why it was moved to Sibu) Su Lai school was also moved to Sibu. Many children had their education interrupted and many girls were forced to marry earlier. Boys were sent away so that their lives could be saved. Some were sent as far away as Sandakan. Some poor families kept their children in Chung Cheng Secondary school as boarders, when in those days, they could take the early morning motor launch to school at 6 a.m. and the last boat from Sibu before 6.
Image result for old houses of Empawah 24 acres sibu rajang
Thian Jing school looking very desolate today

These students carried their own lunch boxes, known as tingkap or cheng ark.

One story I have been told was the story of how my relatives' house was riddled with bullets. If the house is still there, you can still see the bullet holes.

My aunt was in the jetty washing clothes and of course life was scary in those days. Any time the Malay Regiment would come by the jetty and shoo her off as it was bad curfew time.

That day the gun fire was really near the house but she and the children were able to hide under their wooden bed. Luckily no stray bullets caught any one of them. There were about 12 bullet holes on the wall facing the road, near the front door. The family was petrified and they could not sleep the whole night.

In retrospect, even civilians were not spared. There was no investigation as to why the guns were fired at their house.

The next day, it seemed there was a celebration among the Malay Regiment. Three corpses of purported CCO were carried out from the interior tied to poles like they were wild pigs. My relatives had very little food for a few days as they could not go out and the soldiers were camping along the village roads waiting for their boats to come.

My aunt (May God bless her soul) told us that she could remember the smell of the dead corpses for years. She told her children not to peep out of the windows. And she told the family not to make any noise or move around too much.

Soon after, the family moved to Sibu and rented two small rooms after the incident at the advice of the headman. In fact many did move away for good.

November 29, 2017

Sarawakian Local Delights : Bitter Vine

No automatic alt text available.
This bitter vine grows wild around many homes in Miri. The leaves are heart shaped.

This is a bitter vine sold in local indigenous markets. According to many people, including the Chinese, this vine can be easily planted in our backyards.

Boil small slices of the vines as a drink and your high blood pressure can be lowered.

This is also sold in many Chinese shops in Bekenu, Niah, Miri and Marudi.

November 24, 2017

Sarawakian Local Delights : Haruan or Leh Ngii

Image may contain: food
1.7 kg. is quite a big fish, now costing  about 45 ringgit at least.

It is interesting how the haruan or leh ngii has always been eaten in the rural areas of Sarawak as part of a meal. No one in the past had actually considered it as a health giving special fish which could help in healing wounds.

Perhaps the Malays have thought of the haruan as a fish with healing properties.

Today many people have come to believe in the fish giving benefits to women after child birth. It is believe that eating the fish would also help reduce pain in wounds.

Many health product companies have in the past few decades produced essence of Haruan, in the same way as Essence of Chicken. The essence in bottles cost quite a bit of money.

The haruan is usually steamed and must be freshly killed for best effects. All haruans are sold live in the wet markets. It can also be fried and salted.

It is nice if cooked in a soup with lots of sour fruits like terong. A clay pot would be a good way of bringing out the best flavours of the haruan. I like it when shallow fried and than braised in soy beans and a sweet sauce.

The fish flesh is white and has no smell.

Yes ago the haruan swam freely in the clear streams and not many people actually looked for it.

November 23, 2017

Sarawakian Local Delights: Ikan Buntal

Photo of Yellow Puffer fish , taken in Lingga.

These are yellow ikan buntal or the yellow buntal. According to the locals, they are very delicious. The buntal is one of the few fishes in Asia which have yellow varieties. Some buntal are white with black dots on the body.

Ikan buntal kuning are prized by the locals and it is found mainly in the Second division of Sarawak. Its roe, when salted, is great sought after by most Ibans, and other Sarawakians.

The salted buntal or pufferfish is another local delicacy . It is most abundantly found around Spaoh, Second Division of Sarawak. The fish is the mascot of Spaoh.  Every year there is even a Ikan Buntal Festival in Spaoh.

November 22, 2017

Sarawakian Local Delights : Wood Ears

Image may contain: flower and food

Local wood ears are found all over Sarawak.

They are usually used to flavour vegetable dishes in Iban cuisine, especially in the longhouse.

Very often, the native vegetable sellers already match the vegetables in a platter for their customers. And in fact it is a nice customer service because the customers just need to buy the combined vegetables which are already sliced and cut, take home, wash and then cooked.

Wood ears are normally boiled with pumpkin leaves, sweet young corn.

November 21, 2017

Sibu Tales: Recipe from Bukit Lan

Image may contain: food

Some time ago I re-connected with my cousin who  was married to a guy in 24 Acres, or Bukit Lan. We did not meet all the years she was bringing up a family. She was in Sibu and later I was in Miri. I found a photo of hers on a page in Google with her son who was then working in KL. What a delightful find.

We later met up when she and her sister decided to visit Miri.

She told me that she learned a lot about cooking traditional dishes while in Bukit Lan. Her in laws made dieh bian, fresh noodles etc. To her making dieh bian is simple, and today she often helps with church activities, producing kuihs for tea!! How dedicated she is to the Methodist Church. It is good to know that her sons are all very godly and that she is blessed by having a son who is a pastor.

Whenever I see the Foochow dieh bian, or UFO, I would think of her. 

(Recipe in English,simplified and adapted from " Rejang Delights 3"  by Yii Ming Yuek - available in the Methodist Book Room in Sibu at RM13.00)

1. Blend A and then add in B

A. 5 0z soy bean (soaked for 4 hours)
2 oz cold cooked rice
12 oz water

B. 250 g rice flour
1 1/2 tbsp fish/squid gravy
2. Add in some chopped chives


150 gm minced pork mixed with 1 tsp corn flour

6 small onions finely sliced
1 tbsp chopped garlic

some light soy sauce and sugar.

Heat up 4 tbsp of oil. Saute sliced onions until golden brown. Dish up.
Saute chopped garilic until fragrant. Add the minced pork. Cook until dry and then mix in fried onions. 

Heat oil for deep frying. Heat the round ladle for a while. Remove. Fill the ladle 1/3 full with the batter and then add the filling. Add some more batter till full.

Deep fry in medium heat till golden brown. If the oil is too hot the skin of the fritters would be dark brown and smoke will fill up your kitchen!!

Your UFO will float beautifully. Have a few good turns a some quality checks. That's the satisfying part of the cooking. Drain well on nice kitchen paper. Serve piping hot.

The best part of growing up in the rural parts of Sarawak is having cousins getting together and learning to make traditional kuihs.

November 20, 2017

Sarawakian Local Delights : Sago Palms

Image may contain: plant, outdoor and water
This is a photo by Peter Lee. Look at the sago palms which are cut meticulously, same length.

No automatic alt text available.
sago worms
Image may contain: food
Sago palm, cut and cleaned ready for cooking (further trimming needed to get to the pith)

the Sago Palm is an important palm to the Melanaus and most of the natives of Sarawak. Firstly it gives a suitable habitat for sago worms to grow. Sago worms is a delicacy to the Melanaus and others who love them. Secondly the pith or heart of the palm is a good vegetable and is consumed especially during festive season. Sago palms grow abundantly so it is fairly economical to cut down a few for food. Besides the sago palms grow fairly quickly. Thirdly the sago logs can be sent to the factories where the pith can be scraped or processed and sago flour is made. Sago flour from Sarawak is of high  quality and is exported to the USA, Taiwan and other parts of the world.

It is indeed God's gift to the people of Sarawak.

Sarawakian Local Delights : Fresh Terubok from Lingga

According to local legends the male terubok can change sex from male to female. Kids used to say that the terubok caught in the sea is male, but when caught in the river it is a female.
And today, Scientific studies have shown that the male Terubuk or big-mouthed shad, aka tenualosa toli, can change into a female when it reaches maturity.
Scientifically the terubok is thus a pro­tandous hermaphrodite, which means the male can evolve into a female when it reaches maturity.
No automatic alt text available.
Photo by Sarawakiana. Terubok at Lingga, Sarawak.
There are two breeding seasons per year and terubok is found in abundance at the estuaries of Batang Lupar, Batang Lassa.
Lingga a small town in Sarawak has adopted the terubok as its town symbol.
Terubok is valued by Sarawakians for its roe which is highly prized and priced. Its roe is sold separately and in the salted form usually. Tourists and locals alike buy the roe as gits for their loved ones. It is also commonly believed that the roes have aphrodisiac properties.
There are many ways of cooking fresh terubok : steaming with a lot of ginger and chillies, deep frying, shallow frying, and barbequing. Wrapped in leaves and cooked over a slow fire is a great way of eating the bony but sweet fish is probably the best way.

November 19, 2017

Sarawakian Local Delights : Kasam Tapah

No automatic alt text available.

Tapah is a big fish in the Baram and Rajang rivers of Sarawak. In the past there were enormous supply of this delectable fish. Usually tapah is caught by fishing hooks as they are fairly big in size. Good size tapah weigh more than 4 kg while smaller ones can be only  1 or 2 kg. Some fishermen had in the passed caught tapah weighing more than 40 kg. In fact one local story even claims that a tapah had eaten a baby boy in the Baram.

Having said all that, the tapah is a good fish to eat. The flesh is white when cooked and it is very tasty. Tapah found in the Baram and the Rajang are darker in colour and because they swim more they are not that fat. Some fishermen also claim that their skin is thicker. Tapah is a scale-less fish.

The Foochows usually steam tapah steaks with ginger, and some Foochow red wine.

Tapah steaks can be fried and they taste good too.

In West Malaysia, the Chinese look for Wong Lim, 鲶 meaning yellow tapah which has 3 rigid white lines from body to tail. It has a yellowish and slimy body. This variety is found in muddy rivers and has more fat according to local fishermen.

The Ibans like to cook tapah in bamboo and any excess would be made into salted tapah or kasam tapah.

Salted tapah is fried with lemongrass like in the photo. It is really a nice dish and people would always ask for extra serving of rice.

November 18, 2017

Sarawakian Local Delights : Paku Ikan with Pork

Image may contain: food

When you have guests and your only vegetable is paku ikan at the back of your house by the river side, you can always create a lovely dish with pork, mushrooms and paku ikan, a recipe I took from Google and I have cooked it a few times as suggested by the chef..

When visitors dropped by and my friend and I decided to cook with what I have in the fridge. Frozen pork was taken out and thawed as we foraged for some paku. The two of us told each other that our elders would have done the same thing and friends dropped by in the olden days. They would have taken a look at what they had in the backyard and rustle up a meal in no time.

I had some kasam ensabi and kasam babi. Out of the kasam ensabi I had a lovely soup with pork bones. The kasam babi  was cooked with kechala flowers and kechala shoots, also from the backyard.

A fresh fish was obtained at the tamu not far from my house and we had it barbequed on banana leaves out in the backyard. Fresh fish is nice and easy to prepare.

We made a salad with big onions, chillies, kechala flowers, dried prawns and slices of cucumber.

A huge omelette was made with some chives growing in the pot.

that's for a fast dinner with good friends who "don't mind anything". The paku ikan and pork dish was a winner......

It was a happy get together.

November 17, 2017

Sarawakian Local Delights : Hill Tumeric

Image may contain: plant, flower and nature

Botanical name : cucuma pseudomontana. Family Zingiberaceae (Ginger Family)

Hill tumeric is an Indian herb used in local and tribal medicine and is a source of arrowroot starch.
It is different from the ordinary yellow turmeric which we cook with and can easily be found in the markets.

According to some Indian friends, this plant can be used to cure jaundice and can treat body swellings.  Boiled tubers can help women to increase lactation. The tuber past among the Khand tribes is applied on the head for cooling effect. It would be nice to be able to grow this.

However I am wondering if it is the same as what the Ibans call Entimut.

Ref :

November 16, 2017

Sarawakian Local Delights : Rojak Sauce

For a long time many of my friends wonder why the rojak sauce recipe is hard to get.

Many cooks say that their recipes are family secrets and they would not give to any one. I had a hard time to get some one to give me a recipe. In fact a few times I was so broken hearted because I just could not make my own sauce for a plate of rojak I might want to serve at home.

Well today, Google does not keep any secret.

Here is one simple recipe, which gives you a rojak dipping sauce, without any cooking.

2 tbsp shrimp paste/belacan
3 tbsp tamarind mix (1tbsp fresh tamarind juice with 2 tbsp warm water)
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 ½ tbsp. white sugar
1 stalk of chili padi (optional)
2 tbsp toasted peanuts

All you need is just to mix or blend these ingredients together.
Image may contain: food
My photo of a nice rojak in Miri.

Another recipe from Google is this one.

1. Pour the water into the saucepan and place it over high heat. Bring the water to a boil and reduce the heat to low. 2. Add the dark brown sugar to the saucepan and stir with a whisk until it dissolves.3.Add the oyster sauce, shrimp paste and tamarind paste to the saucepan and continue whisking for two minutes. 4.Stir the Scotch bonnet pepper into the contents of the saucepan and simmer the mixture for 10 minutes. 5.Remove the saucepan from the heat and allow the sauce to cool for 30 minutes or to room temperature before tossing with rojak.

things you will need: 

November 15, 2017

Sarawakian Local Delights : Pedalai

Image may contain: flower, plant and food

The Pedalai is a fruit which is known as the cousin of the terap, a very sweet, fleshy equatorial fruit only endemic in Borneo Islands. After the flesh of the fruitlets are eaten, the seeds can be boiled as a lovely snack with just a bit of salt. It is full of good protein and carbohydrate.

the tree is a huge equatorial tree which grows more than 150 feet tall. So far commercialisation of this fruit tree is not known in Sarawak.

The Ibans do know where some of these fruits are grown and wait for their fruition. Usually the fruits are plucked when they are a little ripe. Fruits which have fallen to the grown cannot be eaten any more as they are too ripe. Since the trees are very tall, only the best climbers can get to pluck the fruits. Hence the pedalai are not commonly found in cities and towns.

Lingga, and some of the more rural bazaars would see some of them brought to the native market from time to time. However with the rapid rate of deforestation in the state, this wild fruit may be near extinction.

Artocarpus sericicarpus

November 14, 2017

Sarawakian Local Delights : Slow BBQ Belly Pork

Image may contain: food
BBQ belly pork from E Mart area, Miri.

Today, Rumah Asap or Smoke Houses have grown all over Sarawak. These outlets sell all sorts of meat cooked over an open fire. And often in the smouldering coals, one can get overcooked and smoked meat, which some people like. Ikan Keli, Ikan Sultan, and all available fish in the markets can be bbq over these open fire.

The customers order and pay for their food by the kilos. Selections are made from the meat already on the charcoals.

Vegetable dishes are prepared by other stalls.

At the time of writing, bbq belly pork is being sold at 36 ringgit per kg, Usually large pieces of the belly pork are bbq on the racks, and the meat would be weighed according to the order, and then sliced in this way.

In an interesting way, this kind of open fire bbq renders the belly pork very tasty and without the greasiness one would imagine.

The seasoning of the meat is probably a trade secret and the dipping sauce of soy, sugar, limes, and chillies vary from stall to stall. But the tastiness of the dipping sauce is usually uniquely Sarawakian.

A few men can easily consume 2 kg of belly pork and down a dozen tins of cold beer while sitting down for a good chat over the weekend.

November 13, 2017

Sarawakian Local Delights : Ikan Belida

No automatic alt text available.
Photo by Inggol Ranggong

Ikan Belida pr knife fish (also known as featherback fish) is a fresh water fish found in many rivers in Sarawak, especially in the Baram, Murum and Loagan Bunut (a national park near Miri). Where the rivers are clean with sunken wood bottoms the belida will survive well and reproduce. It feeds on small fishes, insects and vertebrates, mostly at night. Hence fishermen with torch lights can catch several of them with nets when the river water is clear.

Today the indigenous people of the Bakun area from time to time can enjoy netting a belida for their dinner.

Belida is a very clean fish and its flesh is good for making of fish balls. Sliced into steaks, deep fried belida is a delicacy. An expensive delicacy, belida fish crackers have become very rare. Belida fish balls are also a great delicacy favoured by Sarawakians who in the past have caught belida in their nets.

However today it is also a good aquarium species and its various varieties are all very pretty.

It is known as  the feather back and its scientific name is Chilala lopis.

It is also found in Vietnam, Cambodia, Peninsula Malaysia, Kalimantan, Sumatra and Java.

November 12, 2017

Sarawakian Local Delights : Oil Palm Hearts or Upa Sawit

Image may contain: foodImage may contain: food

It was in 1988 when I moved to Miri that I had my first taste of a lovely dish, with a delightful fine textured and creamy shoot which looked like bamboo shoot but it was not. It did not have that sourish bitterness of the normal bamboo shoot that I knew.

That was my first taste of the palm heart from Oil Palm or upa sawit. In those days palm oil was new to many Sarawakians as it was a crop grown by government estates and some private companies.

From then on, it became a common dish at my new home as it was readily available in the market.

Image may contain: food
Palm shoots cooked with wild boar meat
Image may contain: food
Palm shoots cooked with fresh pork ribs
Image may contain: food
At Ruas Kitchen in Miri, the palm hearts are cooked with wild torch ginger flowers, shoots and chillies with pork

Many friends of mine cook Upa Sawit cooked in a mild coconut milk based curry with chicken, local wood ears, some fu chuk (bean curd sticks) chinese dried mushrooms in chicken broth is a hearty soup for the family and large number of friends in a gathering. That is indeed a really memorable dish to share with good friends and loved ones.

November 11, 2017

Sarawakian Local Delights : Ikan Sultan, Upa Kechala, and Bunga Kechala.

Image may contain: food

Ikan sultan is a very bony but tasty fish. It is a fish that is sold either fresh or frozen in most markets. A cousin is Ikan Padi which comes from most rivers in Sarawak also. The bigger cousin of Ikan Sultan is the wild Jelawat which is a prized fish in most of the rivers in Borneo, especially in the Kapuas. Ikan sultan can also be commercially reared in fish farms or cages in rivers and lakes.

A good way of cooking fresh ikan sultan (around 1.5 kg) is to slice it into steaks and braise with wild torch ginger flowers and stems which will take away the fishy smell.

The sauce is very appetiizing especially when mixed with freshly cooked hot rice.

One has to be very careful with the fine bones of the ikan sultan.

November 10, 2017

Sarawakian Local Delight : Leaves for Table

Image may contain: 1 person, sitting, eating, table, food and outdoor

What a lovely idea using lovely leaves to line a table.

This family of Kayans are enjoying a picnic near a secondary jungle in Sarawak. Look at the lovely tiles used for their table.

But my friends are using leaves as their natural table cloth.

These leaves are called Daun Buan in Iban and Daun Simpor in Bahasa Malaysia.

Sarawakians use a lot of leaves for many purposes and the leaves are also from many different kinds of trees.

November 9, 2017

Foochow Tales : Fill Stomach Fully 填饱 or Tien Bah

Image may contain: food

Image may contain: food

No automatic alt text available.Image may contain: food

The generosity of a Foochow host is superb since time immemorial in Sibu. Ten courses were often prepared by a band of villagers who came together on a communal volunteer basis to help with a birthday or wedding banquet. Even tables and benches were borrowed from each other.

The ten dishes would be the best the chefs could cook, including sharks fin, no less.

Very often several pigs, more than 20 chickens and ducks would have been slaughtered for the event.

One important dish which must not be missed out was the penultimate dish which the Foochows called Tien Bah. This dish was prepared especially by the host who was reluctant "to let his guests go home with a half filled stomach".

The Foochows often asked each other, "Have you filled your stomach?" "Or you full?" "Did you eat enough?

Hence this dish, which may be a famous mun mien dish, or a simple fried rice or fried noodles was in those days An Act of Love.

When it was not touched, the host would quickly come and pack for those who had a long way to go in the village or for people who could not attend the event due to work .

It was always touching to see how kind the host was to his guests. It was good to see this custom, which might not be practised nowadays due to some practical reasons.

Sibu Tales : Water Chestnut

Fresh water chestnuts in Miri Years ago it was hard to get fresh water chestnuts in the market in Sibu. Usually mothers would desperat...