December 31, 2017

Sibu Tales : Home Made Beef Curry

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    Beef curry and rice, great combo.
  • When roti canai first came to Sibu in the 1980's the Foochows found it very interesting but did not really go for it.
  • However my mother, as she likes food made from flour loved the roti canai and would often get my sisters to buy for her or go to the shops to enjoy some roti.
  • sometimes they would buy a few pieces home and my mother would cook curry.
  • A good recipe is the following (to make a good thick curry
  • 1.5 kg good beef - cut into cubes

December 30, 2017

Sarawakian Local Delights : Steamed Torch Ginger and Salted Fish

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this is a special dish for those who love Dayak cuisine. The freshly salted fish when steamed becomes aromatic and the bones of the fish very chewable.

Dayak style salted fish is easy to make. Usually fresh river fish is used, be it big or small. The small river fish is tastier actually. The fish is cleaned and drained. Coarse salt is then mixed with the fish, a bit of squeezing and massaging is good at this stage. The fish will be allowed to remain in a covered basin for a day or so after which the salt will be scrapped off and the fish squeezed dry. The fish is then placed in a bottle or jar. Roasted rice grains are added to the salted fish. In a week the salted fish is ready. It can be deep fried, or steamed, or even shallow fried.

the special aroma of the dish will come from the chopped ginger, chillies, torch ginger flower, stalk of the torch ginger and garlic..

Arrange the chopped salted fish with the aromatics on top of it in a glass bowl, add a bit of water.

Steam over high heat for about half an hour.

this dish is good for the festive season. The pinks and reds of the chillies will make it rather Christmassy.

December 29, 2017

Sibu Tales : A Piece of Land for a Sarong

There were so many tales about people selling their land for some very urgent matters in Sibu.

We heard stories of Malays who sold their extra tiny plots of land, far away from Sibu, to pay for their passage to Mecca, or their Haj. That was a very honorable and normal thing to do in those days. "Naik Haji" is a mandatory life obligation for a good Muslim. And in those days when a Haj was long and difficult, many would try their best to find means to perform it, unlike today, when the educated would save from as early as possible with the Tabung Haji.

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A sarong is a good thing to wear when you take a bath in the river in Sarawak

Then there were stories of Malay and other indigenous men who were quite happy to let go of their piece of padi land to a friend in order to buy a car or when they went on a transfer out of Sibu .

Those were old tales of the 40's and 50's when land was only about 200 dollars per acre. We also heard of a man who bought a small piece of land for 500 dollars from his Malay friend who wanted to give the money to his daughter for her wedding.

Now there was a man who was very afraid of his wife. And he had also a very bad gambling habit. One day he must have suffered from a lot of abuse from his wife and he promised to stop all his bad habits. His wife made him promise to get her a really good and authentic batik sarong and not drink or gamble any more.

In fact the scoundrel had been owing a lot of money, left and right, to every other gamblers and towkays, according to the local people. He had also been black listed by all his relatives.

Finally he got hold of one of his land titles given to him by his later father, from right under the nose of his wife, and went to a business man who was his gambling friend to settle all his debts and to obtain some cash. As the piece of land was valued at only a few hundred dollars, he had only enough money left to buy a sarong for his wife.

He never wasted his time nor gambled after that because his wife would always remind him whenever she wore the sarong...He lost a piece of land for a sarong.

December 28, 2017

Sarawakian Local Delights : Emplams

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A thick paste/chutney made from cooked emplam with spices, chillies and salt.

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These are Sarawak mangoes which are usually eaten when they are still unripe. Once they are too ripe, they are not so tasty. Emplams are a bit like buah kedundong, and are often used in the making of Rojak.



Emplams are mangoes which are found mainly in Sarawak. It is a fruit that won't grow too big. It has a big stone. It is best eaten when it is still unripe. Most of the time it is served as part of ulam or part of rojak. Shredded it can be cooked and prepared as a kind of chutney. It will be really nice eaten as a salad loaded with pounded dried shrimps, chillies and belacan.

Many years ago before the fruit was introduced at 5 Star hotels as part of their kerabu dishes, the emplam was considered poor man's lunch item alongside ikan bilis, salted fish and raw cucumber. Today the price of emplam has gone up and might even be unaffordable by some of the poorerst people in Sarawak!!

December 27, 2017

Sibu Tales : Making Marmalade

The American missionaries impacted the lives of many Methodists in Sibu. Interaction with them allowed many women to learn some culinary arts. Mrs. Edwin Temple, as a Girl Guide Captain , demonstrated the making of butter cakes, cookies to the Girl Guides. The new recipes were gladly welcomed by the starry eyed girls, some of whom had never tasted butter before.

GREEN AND SWEET: Bintangor oranges ferried across the river by a longboat.
Thin skinned Bintangor oranges/tangerines
One recipe passed on to many Sibu women was the making of marmalade. Many cannot remember which missionary actually taught the Society of Christian Women how to make marmalade from the green oranges which were plentiful in Sibu, Bintangor and Sarikei.

Interestingly many teachers continued the art of making marmalade in the Methodist School, Sibu.

The recipe called for 10 big lemons, 4 cups of water and 4 cups of sugar. The peels of the fruits must be cut into thin strips of 1/8th inch x 1 inch and all membranes or pith must be removed from the fruits. (or use 8 green Bintangor oranges and 2 big lemons)

Adjust if you like.

Ingredients:
10 large lemons 4 cups water 4 cups sugar
Preparation:
Using vegetable peeler, remove yellow part of peel in strips from lemons. Cut strips into 1-by 1/8-inch strips. With knife, cut off all white membrane, or pith, from peeled lemons.
Cut peeled lemons crosswise into 1/4- inch-thick slices. In heavy pot, combine lemon peel, sliced fruit, and water. Cover and refrigerate 3 to 4 hours.
Heat lemon mixture to boiling over high heat, stirring frequently.
Reduce heat to low; cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, until lemon mixture is very soft, about 1 hour.
Add sugar to lemon mixture and increase heat to medium-high; stir until sugar dissolves. Heat to boiling and reduce heat just so mixture boils gently. Boil uncovered, stirring frequently, 45 to 60 minutes. 


This recipe makes four jars of marmalade.

December 26, 2017

Sarawakian Local Delights : Banana hearts and chicken

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Banana hearts and chicken - a wonderful dish

When a bunch of bananas is ready to be harvested, the tree is chopped down too as each banana tree bears only one bunch of bananas in its life time. So it is very logical that if the heart of the plant can be eaten, it should be eaten. However, one must realise that it is a good vegetable.

It may be a bit of a mess to cut the harder layers of the stem away. Only the innermost layers are cooked.

You can use a banana leaf or two to layer the top of your working table top to do the cutting of the stem. the sticky part of the stem may stain table cloth, clothes and other textiles.

Once cut, the banana stems must be submerged in water and sprinkled with a bit of salt, or even a bit of lime juice to prevent rapid discolouration.

Most housewives would suggest blanching the stems first. It is adviseable to cut the stems  in half
inch sizes.

Prepare the chicken soup and then add the banana stems. Cook over a fairly strong fire until the stems are soft. It makes a very tasty and sweet dish.

It can also be cooked in a curry with chicken.


December 25, 2017

Sarawak 's fruits for birds - Fig like fruits



Sarawak has an abundance of fruit trees. Although most of the fruits are edible some are strictly for birds and animals.

This particular fruit which looks like figs are for birds only.



December 24, 2017

Kuching : Remembering the Hawkers of Satok Market


The Satok Market was a kind of must visit venue for years in Kuching. It was a sprawling market place where people could find the best of bargains. To many it was a good place to make a living. Different races came together to provide colours and diverse traditions to this spot in Kuching. In fact for many it was a part of Kuching which "made Kuching". With the Satok Market many felt that a part of their life was gone.

And so the Satok Market was moved to Kubah Ria. And an era of "marketing" for many Kuching people was removed from the social history and map of the city.

These are some photos I took many years ago....

Christmas is a time for nostalgia, a time for memories to be taken out to shared.

Wonder if all these friendly and helpful vendors are still around and enjoying their business.



December 23, 2017

Sibu Tales : Old Government Quarters of Sarawak


In the 50's many Sibu people were envious of those who obtained jobs with the government. The civil service was respected and few people were qualified to join the government. Firstly in the 1950's English was an important qualification and not many could pass the Form Five English as a subject. Then in the 1970;s the Malaysian policies changed and Bahasa Malaysia became a qualification that all Civil Servants must have.

The older civil servants  soon retired and moved out of the government quarters which were by then rather run down. The old Chai Koo/Government servants became a dying breed.

The 1970's were transformational years. As time changed, people started to have different attitudes towards everything, be it material or spiritual.

By the `1980's the Malaysian government started to encourage Civil Servants to own their own houses, and the Age of Technology soon set in by the 1990's. People's lives changed dramatically.

Thus  the beautiful government quarters become derelict. Piece by piece, beam by beam, pole by pole, many of the abandoned houses were cannibalized. Some were even deliberately burnt down,and according to the news, by drug addicts. And the government land became sadly emptied of life.


By the 21st century, most people would look at the government quarters like they are abandon housing waiting for demoliton. Many Sarawakians would not know what they were for too. In a few years' time these wooden quarters would be completely obliterated from the social map of Sarawak.

December 22, 2017

Sibu Tales : Siblings visiting each other Ensurai



My third aunt, Pearl married into the Lau family and lived in the huge Lau Mansion in Ensurai, before the Second World War. My aunt's father in law was none other than the famous Foochow Headman, Lau Kah Tii, who was later to become my maternal grand uncle in 1948 when my father married my mother.

The wedding of Aunt Pearl and Lau Pang Kwong was sort of wedding of the decade because it was a huge church wedding well organized at the Masland Church and the banquet was sumptious and attended by hundreds of well wishers, friends and relatives. My maternal grandma later told us , " Every one up and down the river was invited."

Just before the Second World War, my other aunts enjoyed visiting the big mansion from time to time. Ensurai was 2 hours by boat from Sibu and a visit would mean staying over night, or for a few days. There were so many rooms in the Lau Mansion that most of my aunts who were of school going age, and still boarding in Yuk Ing School, were really impressed.

Aunt Pearl's husband, Uncle Pang Kwong who owned a camera, took many photos in those days. One of the photos taken was this one of my 4th Aunt visiting Aunt Pearl. My 4th Aunt, Maggie was to leave soon after, before the Japanese dropped their first bombs on the Rajang. According to our family stories, she was able to get onto the last boat out of Sibu bound for Singapore. She studied nursing and was safe from being married off to someone she did not even know.

During the Japanese Occupation, the Lau Mansion gave refuge to many scholars and celebrities because grand uncle, Lau Kah Tii was a very generous and accommodating host. Being 2 hours from Sibu, few Japanese soldiers would come and bother the people of Ensurai without good reasons.

Aunt Maggie eventually married a wonderful man of her own choice and has two children. Uncle Ang passed away a few years ago. Aunt Maggie is now 94 years old.

December 21, 2017

Sarawakian Local Delights :Sharks' Fin Melon Soup with Tahai


Tahai is a special product of Lawas of Sarawak. It is a dried fish harvested mainly from the Bay of Brunei.
This is Sharks fin Melon.


It is interesting that shark's fin melon is a rather new vegetable sold in the markets of Sarawak.

One amazing feature of the melon is how the vegetables will become fine shreds when prepared and cooked. It is a very delicious vegetable to cook as a soup.

In Limbang and Lawas, tahai is used to make the soup base for most soups. And to cook this new vegetable, many of the housewives use pounded tahai to make the soup base.

The best way to cook this melon is to prepare some chicken stock and boil some slices of this melon. It is sweet and delicious.

December 20, 2017

Baram Tales : Logging Roads in Sarawak



Logging is still going on in several parts of Sarawak. Roads get damaged nearer the towns.

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Heavy trucks of logs coming through small roads near Miri/Bintulu coastal road.
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Dusty ulu road in Sarawak, built by "company"
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"company lipan" building roads in the ulu. A typical scene in the 60's in Sarawak.


Old styles of logging in the past. Rails pulled logs in the traditional method 1960's.

Some photos to show you about logging in Sarawak Timber logging used to be flourishing business in the 50's through 90's. Today only some companies are doing logging. Logging roads opened up a lot of the interior, bringing people in the interior nearer to the towns and modernization.

Now it is considered a "sunset business".

December 19, 2017

Sarawakian Local Delights : Daun Bungkang

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I have this tall tree of about 75 feet tall and birds come each morning to sing, probably the tell the tree to fruit quickly. I enjoy the bird song and especially the arrival of the blue kingfisher which will cry out to its mate to come and dance.

The sighting of the kingfishers make my day.

The leaves provide a special taste to my cooking, if I have a piece of wild boar meat or just some kind of pork from the town, or a chicken .

Life is lovely when you have your own bungkang tree and you can even give away some of the leaves to friends who ask for them. And you live in the suburb of a resort city.

In most cases, one can only find bungkang trees in the kampongs. The original, and wild bungkang trees can be found in the jungles of Sarawak if they have not been taken away by bulldozers which cannot recognize original native trees.




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December 18, 2017

Cotton Flour Sacks - Memories of Yesteryears





This posting is dedicated to all my neighbours who lived in Kung Ping Road or Brooke Drive in the 60's. They will remain always in my heart as VIPs of my childhood and in particular Ah Chuo Pak and Ah Chuo Moo the parents of Andrew Ting Boi Hua who were the kindest people I have ever known in my life!




My Hainanese friend Ah Choon and I have great conversations and often reminisce about our childhood. And one of the stories we swapped not long ago was about our growing up years in the 50's when most frugal mothers and grandmothers would seek out cotton flour sacks to make underwear and sleepware for children!! Many mothers made rough quilts and sewed the pieces of flour sacks together as the reverse side.

I remember my neighbours the noodle makers (mien sien) - Ah Chuo Moo and Ah Chuo Pak - who used up more than 5 sacks of flour each day. Their children (some of whom are millionaires now) happily wore pajamas and shirts made out of these nice and really "tahan" or strong cotton materials. The cotton was so good that their pajamas never seemed to tear!

I carried a bag made from the flour sack and we had some nice pillows made from the cotton material. We used several to strain our home made soy bean milk. Another neighbour sewed pieces of these sacks together to form a nice huge awning over her small kitchen and yard. At one time after Woodstock young people started to wear little jackets fashioned out of them so that they looked hippies!! Those were the days when many Sibu people looked like John Lennon.

Indeed there were so many things we could make out of these versatile cotton sacks. Ah Choon remarked that even if we wish to have these cotton flour sacks today we cannot have them because the importers no longer use them. Instead they use raffia sacks. How we wish we could have them again.

Some things to share with you.


In the United States many women could still have the opportunity of buying some of these feedsacks from vintage stores.

Here is an interesting poem from the 1930's found on a very nice blog called "Crafter by Night". I hope she does not mind me borrowing it.......

1930 flour sacks
by Colleen B. Hubert

IN THAT LONG AGO TIME WHEN THINGS WERE SAVED,
WHEN ROADS WERE GRAVELED AND BARRELS WERE STAVED,
WHEN WORN-OUT CLOTHING WAS USED AS RAGS,
AND THERE WERE NO PLASTIC WRAP OR BAGS,
AND THE WELL AND THE PUMP WERE WAY OUT BACK,
A VERSATILE ITEM, WAS THE FLOUR SACK.
PILLSBURY’S BEST, MOTHER’S AND GOLD MEDAL, TOO
STAMPED THEIR NAMES PROUDLY IN PURPLE AND BLUE.

THE STRING SEWN ON TOP WAS PULLED AND KEPT;
THE FLOUR EMPTIED AND SPILLS WERE SWEPT.
THE BAG WAS FOLDED AND STORED IN A SACK
THAT DURABLE, PRACTICAL FLOUR SACK.

THE SACK COULD BE FILLED WITH FEATHERS AND DOWN,
FOR A PILLOW, OR T’WOULD MAKE A NICE SLEEPING GOWN.
IT COULD CARRY A BOOK AND BE A SCHOOL BAG,
OR BECOME A MAIL SACK SLUNG OVER A NAG.
IT MADE A VERY CONVENIENT PACK,
THAT ADAPTABLE, COTTON FLOUR SACK.

BLEACHED AND SEWN, IT WAS DUTIFULLY WORN
AS BIBS, DIAPERS, OR KERCHIEF ADORNED.
IT WAS MADE INTO SKIRTS, BLOUSES AND SLIPS.
AND MOM BRAIDED RUGS FROM ONE HUNDRED STRIPS
SHE MADE RUFFLED CURTAINS FOR THE HOUSE OR SHACK,
FROM THAT HUMBLE BUT TREASURED FLOUR SACK!

AS A STRAINER FOR MILK OR APPLE JUICE,
TO WAVE MEN IN, IT WAS A VERY GOOD USE,
AS A SLING FOR A SPRAINED WRIST OR A BREAK,
TO HELP MOTHER ROLL UP A JELLY CAKE,
AS A WINDOW SHADE OR TO STUFF A CRACK,
WE USED A STURDY, COMMON FLOUR SACK!

AS DISH TOWELS, EMBROIDERED OR NOT,
THEY COVERED UP DOUGH, HELPED PASS PANS SO HOT,
TIED UP DISHES FOR NEIGHBORS IN NEED,
AND FOR MEN OUT IN THE FIELD TO SEED.
THEY DRIED DISHES FROM PAN, NOT RACK
THAT ABSORBENT, HANDY FLOUR SACK!

WE POLISHED AND CLEANED STOVE AND TABLE,
SCOURED AND SCRUBBED FROM CELLAR TO GABLE,
WE DUSTED THE BUREAU AND OAK BED POST,
MADE COSTUMES FOR OCTOBER (A SCARY GHOST)
AND A PARACHUTE FOR A CAT NAMED JACK.
FROM THAT LOWLY, USEFUL OLD FLOUR SACK!

SO NOW MY FRIENDS, WHEN THEY ASK YOU
AS CURIOUS YOUNGSTERS OFTEN DO,
‘BEFORE PLASTIC WRAP, ELMERS GLUE
AND PAPER TOWELS, WHAT DID YOU DO?’
TELL THEM LOUDLY AND WITH PRIDE DON’T LACK,
‘GRANDMOTHER HAD THAT WONDERFUL FLOUR SACK!’

I think all over the world women in particular would have special memories of flour sacks. Thoughts of them just warm me up and help me value my old neighbours in Sibu even more!! Frugality and thriftiness are values we need to pass on to our next generation.

December 17, 2017

Sibu Tales : Lau King Howe Hospital and Flowers

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Shui Mei has always reminded me of my father's hospital stay. I first caught a whiff of the fragrance of shui mei which was grown in the Lau King Howe hospital when my father was admitted. He was given one of the First Class Ward rooms. Outside, there were many shui mei planted in large salted egg jars. I had often wonder who planted those beautiful flowers and other flowers like canna lilies in the hospital. 
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My father there and then told me that the fragrance of Shui Mei reminded him of Fujian, where it was a common plant and found in every household. He also told me that bonzais of Shui mei were popularly groomed by many academicians and especially poets. Years later bonzai became a craze and in fact even newspapers reported cases of people stealing shui mei from houses, from public places etc.
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Photo of Shui Mei from Jong Shiau Chin
My pragmatic maternal grandmother said that only the rich and famous would grow a garden of flowers to look at. The poor must grow vegetables for food. My mother said it would be very advisable to grow fruit trees if we had the land and we did not have to buy.
Some how perhaps,was it Lau King Howe himself who introduced shui mei to Sibu in 1926??

December 16, 2017

Sungei Merah : Grand father's Pomelo

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My paternal grandfather was very fond of growing fruits in all the properties he purchased over the years. He grew lots of pomeloes in Hua Hong Ice Factory land. My mother remembers collecting a few pomelo which dropped during high tide and she had to swim in the water to collect them. My mother, in those days, was a good swimmer. Our house in Hua Hong was a stilted house and flood waters would reach the first landing. Fruit trees grew well long the raised banks of Pulau Kerto.

Not long after my parents were married , my paternal grandparents moved to Sungei Merah. There he planted four pomelo trees. It was this special home that we used to visit as his noisy grand children every weekend until he passed away. Grandfather actually lived in that house for slightly more than 12 years, if I am not mistaken.

Whenever we visited them during the weekends, there would be lots of fruits for all of us to eat.

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My grandfather was particularly fond of pomelo. And Grandma Siew would always peel the big fruit and place the segments in a small dish for him and for the rest of us.

Grandfather was a very gentle eater. He would use a tooth pick to get a small segment of pomelo and slowly put it into his mouth. Perhaps it was his mannerism that many of my aunts and uncles inherited. They were all very careful eater at the table. And they seldom talked in front of him.

My 7th Aunt told us that Mrs. Hoover had made sure that the girls studying in Yuk Ing Girls Schools were trained not to laugh or giggle. And they must put on a very serious face.

My grandfather did have a very serious face.

The pomelo grown in Sg Merah by my grandfather was especially sweet and juicy. My father used to tell us that Grandfather was good in planting the best of fruit trees.

December 15, 2017

Sibu Tales : Losing a Child

Sandbars along the Rajang River are not uncommon. There are a few famous ones where school children enjoyed having picnics and great thrills in the by gone days.

Pulau Kerto was in those days a romantic place for many to visit because it had a sand bank. Scouts and Girl Guides had many precious memories of their activities there, especially cooking on the river beach.

As a few friends would say, "Sibu in those days had no swimming pools, no mountains and no seas for any one to enjoy."Image may contain: sky, cloud, twilight and outdoor

Getting to the sand bars using small boats borrowed from friends was already a thrill in itself. However teachers had to be very vigilant whenever they brought kids for picnics like this in the 1960's. I remember my cousins had a great picnic when they were in Senior Middle School and they were accompanied by their Chinese language teachers.

A few incidents , very tragic ones, took place in the 60's. there were several drowning cases. But that did not deter many others to enjoy the thrills of visiting a sand bar during the holidays, with or without teachers.An aunt lost a very bright daughter because the tide came up too fast . While the rest could swim in time to the river bank, she was carried away by the current. It was a family tragedy.

After the 70's with bad political instability in Sibu, children learned not to seek thrills outside their homes if they could help it. They took to the streets, cinema halls, gambling dens and for thrills, probably some also went underground.


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A sand barge along the Rajang River


Today these sandbanks are no longer playgrounds but "industrial sites" where machinery dredges sand for a profit. Sarawak and all its development projects need a lot of sand. River sand is a very profitable business.


December 14, 2017

Nang Chong Stories : Tiffin Carriers

School meals in the 1950's and 60's were simple fare. No Foochow activist like Jamie Oliver would have fought for better school meals because every one was rather poor. To be able to have some cold rice, a bit of salted fish and some vegetable soup was already a God sent meal!!

But how was food brought to the school by the students? And how was it like to be a teacher in those days? There were no microwave ovens, or even electric food warmers.

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The Chung Cheng School and several other schools had hostels to provide accomodation and food for  students who live too far away from the school. Families who lived in 16th Company, and as far away as Bintangor, Tu Lai sent their children to Chung Cheng School.

The cooks of the Chung Cheng Hostel in the 1950's and 60's were very benevolent and kind. Most of them were sympathetic especially towards students who came from poor backgrounds. Some teachers also stayed in the hostels with the students, but they had a separate wing. Some teachers who lived further away would also pay for their school meals. They would bring their Cheng Ark or tiffin carriers for their food. A couple would place the containers on the shelves of the school kitchen and the school cook would place soup at the bottom tray, fish and vegetables on the other containers and finally rice at the top. The enamel of the cheng ark kept the food warm and even if the teachers had their lunch at 2 p.m. their food would still be hot, especially if the cheng ark was placed on the huge stove which would still have coals smouldering.

My aunt Hung Yung had her lunch in this way with her husband. Both of them taught for a long time in Chung Cheng School. This kindly service helped my aunt to worry less about her food and she and uncle could concentrate on their teaching.

Some students who had many siblings in the same school also brought their own cheng ark, with food already placed in the containers by their mother. According to one former student, she and her brothers only had a lot of rice and some salted fish. When they saw hostel students having chicken soup or fried eggs, she was very envious. But some how she managed to grow up strong and determined to do well in school.

Some very hard working mothers would cycle half a hour from their rubber garden hut to the school just to deliver the food in the cheng ark by 12.30 so that their children could have a meal before they started their afternoon classes.

It must have been very hard for mothers to plan ahead how to prepare food for their children. They must also be careful with their time management too.

In most cases, children carried just a mug of cold rice and hard salted fish in their bags. Did their rice box ever get "Cheu tieu"or sour? Would they then forego their lunch and remain hungry until they went home in the evening?

As a busy mother, I had felt for the mothers and children and their school packed lunches.

December 13, 2017

Sibu Tales : Water Chestnut

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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)


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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

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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.

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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.

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). ...