March 31, 2017

Sibu Tales : Black Dunlup Cake or Longhouse Cake

Agriculture Home Demostrators did a great job in the 60's and 70's. They went around the longhouses especially to help educate the women in healthy cooking and imparting special health knowledge. One of the recipes inherited by many Iban friends in Sarawak from this era is this special Black Dunlop Cake.

Many people would simply call it  longhouse cake.

Indeed, one can make this kind of cake any where in the world without precision weighing scales and superior oven.
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You will need

3 glasses of flour
10 eggs
l tsp baking powder
3 glasses of sugar
l tin of Golden Churn butter
2 cups browning sugar (melted in some warm water for 3 minutes)
1 tin of condensed milk


Beat butter and eggs in a basin.
Add sugar and then flour slowly
Bake in a make shift oven (use a large curry pot -fill the pot with about 3 inches of river sand; put over charcoal stove and the place some charcoal on the lid)
this will give you a good hot oven.
Once the cake is about to be cooked remove some of the charcoals and allow a slow fire to cook the cake more evenly.

however now many longhouses have their kerosene ovens so the method is still the same.

Have a try!!

This cake can last for a long time without refrigeration too.

March 30, 2017

Miri Tales : Bian Niik Wrappers

For many years people could not buy bian niik or wan ton wrappers in the market during the off season. Today every one is lucky because these wrappers are easily available either in the super market or even in the wet markets.

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However, here is on recipe which you can use to make your own at home. It does take some practice, trial and error to get to a good texture of the lovely wrappers. Recipe yields about 24 wonton wrappers.

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  • 1 egg
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup water, as needed
  • Extra flour as needed

Lightly beat the egg with the salt. Add 1/4 cup water.

Sift the flour into a large bowl. Make a well in the middle and add the egg and water mixture. Mix in with the flour. Add as much of the remaining water as necessary to form a dough. (Add more water than the recipe calls for if the dough is too dry).

Form the dough into a ball and knead for about 5 minutes, or until it forms a smooth, workable dough. Cover and let rest for 30 minutes. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Roll out until very thin, and cut into 3 1/2-inch squares. Store in a plastic bag in the refrigerator or freezer until ready to use.

March 24, 2017

Nang Chong Stories : Har Chien or Cincaluk

During the Japanese Occupation, life was difficult for every one especially in the Chinese villages. The Japanese hated the Chinese and would love to kill them if possible. But usually, most of the Japanese would just slap them when they had a chance. This enmity between the Japanese and the Chinese was from ancient history.

When the Japanese arrived in Sibu, they were very much into taking over the town and running their government as they liked.

Food was scarce, people were scared and there was lots of bitterness too.

Girls were quickly married off for fear of rape and being forced to become comfort women.

My mother and her younger sister chose to be dressed up as boys and worked in the padi fields, with blackened face.

They worked hard but food was scarce.

One of the food on the table was the fermented shrimps which we Foochows called har chien. Cincaluk in Bahasa Malaysia. They had to be very frugal with even this dish.

They could only dip their chopstick into the sauce and ate some sweet potatoes. Sometimes when the har chien was gone, or had gone bad, it was only salt and sweet potatoes.

However after 3 years and 8 months, the Allied came and the Japanese surrendered.

Miri Tales : White Ducks with Yellow Beaks

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Pekin Duck swimming happily in a pond.
Peking Duck  is a very popular dish which one can pre order in most Chinese restaurants in Miri. The eating of the duck is rather elaborate as the skilled waitress or waiter would carve the duck for the diners. The service is usually impeccable.

Interestingly the Peking duck aka Anas platyrhynchos domestica is good for egg and meat production.

According to Wikipedia, the ancestors of these ducks (Chinese Mallards) orginated from the canals which linked waterways in Nanjing and originally had small bodies and black feathers. A write-up on the origin of the White feathers of the Pekin Duck is most interesting. " With the relocation of the Chinese capital from Nanjing to Beijing, supply barge traffic increased in the area which would often spill grain on which the ducks fed. Over time, the ducks slowly increased in size and grew white feathers. By the Five Dynasties, the new species of duck had been domesticated by Chinese farmers.(Wikipedia)
A reference in history states that in 1873 nine ducks were exported from China to Long IslandNew York in the United States and the animals and their meat are sometimes referred to as "Long Island duckling". Around 95% of duck meat consumed in the United States is Pekin duck.

Back in Sarawak, not much historical reference can be made to the history and origin of the duck population of the state. Although many Chinese can say that the yellow beaked white feathered ducks found in our state were first brought to our shores by the Chinese settlers in Sibu in the early days of Brooke rule and the population of this domesticated ducks spread all over the Borneo Island.

March 22, 2017

Sarawakian Local Delights : Rantau Kemiding, Kanowit

Rantau Kemiding is a lovely longhouse not too far from Kanowit town. The long house chief is TR Benjamin Angki Kaboy, the first Iban man with a degree from East West Centre of Hawaii.

He and his relatives have turned the longhouse into a special homestay business. Recently it won an award from the Ministry of Tourism, Malaysia.

These are some of the activities you can choose from:
Day One
  • Welcoming drinks
  • Cultural dance
  • Accommodation
  • Foods and drinks
  • Longhouse tour & story sharing session
  • Trekking
  • Entrance fees
Day 2 Blowpipe demonstration
  • Handicraft making
  • Indoor traditional games
Optional Activities
(Can be arrange upon guest request)
  • Fishing safari
  • Rubber tapping & processing the rubber
  • River cruise using local boat
  • Ranyai and betaboh session
  • Try yourself Iban traditional costume
if anybody happens to be interested, you can log in to their website: and if you want to drop by on a visit, the tuai rumah‘s contact numbers are 084-753563 or 013-8823076.

March 18, 2017

Sarawakian Local Delights : Mengkudu

the sudden trend in using mengkudu for all sorts of health benefits brought a sudden cash income for many local natives.

Mengkudu a terribly smelly fruit suddenly has become very well sought after. Not only that, not long after the discovery that it has health benefits, many local pharmaceutical companies started packaging mengkudu capsules for sale.
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Also known as noni or Morinda citrifolia, its juice and noni-related health supplements have created a buzz in Malaysia in recent years. Actually, the plant is nothing new to rural Malays and Ibans who have long discovered its medicinal values.

The Malays  in particular, commonly use noni or mengkudu to treat variety of ailment. They eat the leaves, young shoots and fruit of the "healing herbs" which they use to make local salads like rojak or kerabu.

Noni leaves are commonly used by women after childbirth to treat flatulence and "return" the womb to its original position. The leaves are also used to wrap minced fish to be steamed. It is a delicacy especially during the fasting month in Sarawak.No automatic alt text available.

The essence of the flower is used to treat eye inflammation, while a decoction of the bark is used for dysentery and malarial fever.

The fruit is blended together with the seeds and the juice extract is used as a remedy for a host of ailments, including hypertension, diabetes and rheumatism. The fruit and seeds are consumed by women in confinement.

A cousin who is a dietitian in a local hospital believes in the healing powers of noni. According to her, she blends the fruit for its offensive smell. She add honey to the concoction  recommends it for sore throat and high blood pressure."

March 17, 2017

Sarawakian Local Delights : Young Cempedak in Coconut Milk

Young immature chempedak, a local fruit in Sarawak is often sold as a vegetable in order to allow fewer to grow to maturity. Chempedak fruits from a stalk on a tree trunk or a branch and they grow in large numbers. Hence they must be manually plucked so that a few could grow to maturity. Usually the poorer formed ones would be plucked first. These little "pillows" would then be sent to the market in gunny sacks to be sold.Image may contain: food

The hawkers would then cut open the fruit and chopped up the inner part of the fruit into a basin of water. These chopped up immature fruit would be sold . Today Rm2.00 would be just the right amount to make a nice dish of young chempedak in coconut milk. With a bit of belacan, this dish is very exotically aromatic and pleasant to eat. Loved by young and old, it is considered a delicacy in Sarawak.

March 16, 2017

Hua Hong Stories : Horse Power

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I was trailing behind a huge car towing a speed boat and its outboard engine in Brunei.

The term horse power is probably an old term many younger people who not be able to connect with it.

In the olden days youngsters were used to thinking in terms of horse power. It was was originally defined as the amount of power that a horse could provide.

Our Chinese mind is quite connected with horse power. It is recorded in San Guo Zhi (The History of the Three Kingdoms) that Han Ji advocated Shui Pai: “Horse power was used at a very early time and every time, one hundred horse would be needed for igniting coal and blowing up the fire; then horse power was replaced by manpower, but it needed too much manpower ...

The earliest outboard engines in Sarawak could probably be only 5 horse power called Eagle. Evinrude, Johnson, Yanmar, Yamaha, Mercury were other brands.

The Hua Hong Ice Factory had a small motor launch and a long boat with a fairly small powered outboard engine. There was another small long boat owned by one of the Malay employee who would take other staff members across the river and for other emergency uses. My grandfather did not like to use the long boat, although according to some stories, he preferred the more sturdy motor launches which provided daily trips from Sibu. Being a frugal man,he was not keen to spend too much money on running outboard engines. However we often wondered if he was a good swimmer or not.

But we know for a fact that my father was a good swimmer.

March 11, 2017

Nang chong Stories : Cockscomb (Celosia) 鸡冠花

It is quite possible that this flower was brought over to Sarawak, and in particular Sibu, from the Fujian province by the pioneering Foochows. But many have also stated that this particular flower might have been brought by the Ming Nang or Hokkien people earlier.

I remember both my paternal and maternal grand parents planting them around the old wooden homesteads. The various Methodist Churches also had them growing outside in the church gardens, and/or in pots.

Then these flowers became "out of fashion" because chrysanthemums,roses, orchids, carnations, and other hybrid species came into the market. Even the bai yu lan or michela magnolia lost its value, as it is a big tree and residential areas become more crowded and homes have smaller gardens.

However a field of cockscomb is often a very attractive sight to any visitor. I wish our villages would again be covered by these lovely cockscombs because they are actually very easy to plant and the flowers do last for more than 2 weeks!!

In fact the cockscomb is a small genus of the edible and ornamental plants in the amaranth family. In our Foochow dialect the amaranth plant is Hern Chai. The flamed like flower heads are very pretty and because of its crested flower heads, it is called cockscombs. the others which have flame like flower heads, in yellow, orange and red colours, are not as fascinating.

 In Chinese traditional medicine, the cockscomb is used as a treatment for intestinal worms,mouth sores and eye problems,etc (Wikipedia) the leaves can be boiled and eaten as vegetables. They are said to be slightly diuretic. The leaves are also used as dressings for boils and sores. In fact in olden days, when Foochow farmers cut themselves with parang or axe, they had quickly chopped up some Hern Chai leaves or the Cockscomb leaves as dressings.

In Nigeria, their variety of cockscomb leaves are cooked as a vegetable called "soko yokoto" meaning "make husbands fat and happy"!!

March 7, 2017

Sarawakian Local Delights : Buah Salak

buah salak (Salacca zalacca) is a palm tree species, native to Java and Sumatra. Years ago when the Indonesians first came to Sarawak, they brought the seedlings to their new land. Hence we can find buah salak growing in Bekenu and Lambir as early as the 1960's when many of them came to help cultivate oil palm.

The palm is not very tall, about 20 feet tall. The fruits grow in clusters at the base of the palm.

The skin of the fruit is hard but can be opened by finger nails. The local Sarawakians have also grown to love this fruit. Some are really sweet and aromatic. Some are sour and a little tart to say the least.
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Because of it being a delicacy to the Indonesians, this fruit has quite a high value.

Some people call it snake fruit.

March 6, 2017

Miri Stories : Indigenous Food

One of the most interesting leaf wrapped food in Sarawak is called Nuba laya. The leaves used are called Daun Long in Iban,isip or itip in Kelabit.

Rice is cooked and when it is still hot and of a certain consistency, the cook with stir it until it is like mashed potatoes. So it is actually "mashed rice"

Nuba laya is usually cooked by loving mothers from the Lun Bawang, Kelabit and Kayan communities.
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It is only very recently tht Mirians and visitors can buy them in eateries which have sprung up in the resort city serving indigenous food.

There are many more Borneo dishes, undoubtedly considered wild and exotic by foreign visitors, some are common while some are less common to the public.

"Nuba Laya" sounds like Nu-bak La-yak. Nuba means "wrap" Laya means "rice". Hence Nuba Laya is wrapped rice. The dish comes with a small bowl of porridge, beef floss, a piece of fish, a service of vegetable of the day and of course a wrapped rice. It sounds like there is a lot to eat but its just that.

The porridge are really good especially a type which are slightly bitter. The beef floss is what I really love most in there.

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). ...