February 24, 2019

Nang Chong Stories : Warming Lunches on the Foochow Stove in Chung Cheng School

When my youngest aunt and her husband first started to teach at Chung Cheng Secondary School in the 50's, they had to bring their lunch to school. They had their own speed boat and would return in the evening after school. Life was simple.No photo description available.

Students who were day scholars also brought their own packed lunches.Image may contain: 2 people, indoor

The hostel warden was a nice lady and she would place the tiffin carriers and the food containers on the stove to keep the food hot.

Some families have four children in the school, so the mothers could pack quite a bit of vegetables for them. In those days meat was not eat every day.

It was a good service which every one appreciated. Many of the former students remember such caring people throughout their lives.

However some students were to shy to put their containers on the stove because they felt embarrassed by what they brought.

One of my cousins said that her food was just cold rice, with some salted fish and some kangkong. So she would rather eat the cold food than show the hostel what her poor mother packed for her. She was worried that the hostel warden would peek at her container.

Everyone had free thin tea from the school. There was a tea dispenser in the hall.

February 23, 2019

Nang Chong stories : Okinawa Spinach

Have you ever reflected on the wisdom of your elders?

When we were young we took everything for granted. Knowledge was gained in school. Home was where we lived and worked. Many of our elders were older people who had never been to school. Most of them were willing to learn for their children.  But I must say we children have a lot to learn from them orally.

We can learn a lot of medical uses of our local vegetables if we pay attention to what our older generation plant and collect in the jungle.

One of such precious vegetables which my mother and aunts had grown in our gardens and formerly in Nang Chong is Lang Ging Hern or Okinawa Spinach.

Image result for okinawa spinach
Photo from Google
This is not a common vegetable in Miri where the Foochows migrated to in the 1970's. But it is a common market vegetable in Sibu and around Sibu.

In the past the Foochows loved this vegetable as part of their daily food. When fried with hoong ngang or the thick rice vermicelli this vegetable turned the rice vermicelli to a lovely pink colour. As children we liked to only drink the soup which in those days seemed to be very savoury and  tasty.

In most households in Nang Chong there would always be a row of this pretty vegetable. Sometimes if there was a surplus  or a sudden flood which submerged the vegetable plots my mother would pick them quickly and chop them up for the pigs she was rearing. She did not know then that this vegetable was actually very healthy and organic food for her pigs (rich in iron). No wonder they grew so fat and huge. Mum used to say that they were tired of this vegetable so they would share with the animals and ducks which seemed to like it too.Image result for okinawa spinach soup

I used to be on the look out for this vegetable in Miri. But it is quite hard to find.

It can be used as a salad vegetable, with cheese, tomatoes and a bit of lime juices and fish sauce.

When a new mother is lactating, she can eat a lot of this vegetable too. It will help her build up more iron. The Foochows believe that red vegetables help increase red blood cells.

February 20, 2019

Sibu Tales : Making Indigenous Rice Wine

The making of rice wine is an ancient art.

I derive great pleasure from this art and have tried several times with great success because I have a good mentor in Gertrude, who is also married to an Iban man.

Together we made two batches successfully and later I mentored a few other friends in the making of fine rice wine.
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I took this photo of our Fuzhou City adventure. The glass pot is filled with warm rice wine. My Sarawak wine is almost the same but better tasting in my opinion.
I have made rice wine for many years since then but not so frequently. In fact I even made one batch for a friend whose daughter-in-law was in confinement and she had found the rice wine very fragrant and tasty for their soh mien with chicken soup.

Our shared recipe is quite different from the Chinese Foochow red wine.

Here is the recipe for the glutinous rice wine:
1 kg good glutinous rice
2 pkts of 200 gm raisins  (optional)
1 1/2 kg Iban rice yeast or ragi
2 -3 liters water to boil with 1 kg of sugar - cooled

1. Cook and cool the glutinous rice (over night)
2. Blend the rice yeast into fine powder
3. When the rice is cooled, mix with the powdered rice yeast  and raisins well in a large glass jar.
4. Let the combination ferment.
5. After 2 days prepare the sugared water and add to the rice . Cover the glass container well.
6. Wait for 3 weeks and watch the fermentation closely.
7. Strain after the 4th week.
8. Bottle after the 6th week or when the wine is clear.

I will be making a batch or two soon, so I will probably adapt this recipe.

February 8, 2019

Tikar Bemban

Sarawak is famous for many different kinds of mats made from many different kinds of jungle materials.

Bemban is a water reed, or water bamboo which when processed become fine strips. These fine strips can be turned into mats, baskets, trays and even handbags. The bemban is not easily processed because it takes many days for the weaver to get the raw materials ready.

The Bemban is grown in water logged, swampy areas. Sometimes it is quite dangerous for the women to harvest the reeds.

Most Iban women over the age of 40 who live in longhouses learned from their mothers how to make good bemban mats with awesome patterns.

The leaves of the bemban.
A businessman in Miri tried to grow the bemban in his backyard and was successful. As he passed away recently, the knowledge of how to grow bemban in large areas will be buried with him.

Perhaps in the modern times, plastics will take over from the bemban, and the art of making bemban mats and baskets might be left aside.

February 5, 2019

Sibu Tales : First Chocolate Cake

My mother was not English educated and when we moved to Sibu from Pulau Kerto she was exposed to a more urban kind of lifestyle and many English speaking people both men and women.

She was also exposed to for example, a modern bakery, Kim Guan Siang, which sold many different kinds of western cakes and tinned cakes, imported from the UK. She was rather nervous about reading all the English labels. My father was very understanding and he literally made himself a shopper for my mother. He happily volunteered to do all the marketing for her but of course he was not a hen pecked husband.

An aunt who was a teacher lived with us  at the beginning of our life in Sibu. She made the first chocolate cake we ever tasted.

Soon after that my father acquired a second hand oven, New World brand, from an English officer who was leaving Sarawak. My mother was over the moon.  She tried roasting but never baking. And most of the cooking was on the stove top, although we continued to enjoy food cooked with the traditional wood fire Foochow stove.

Later when I went to secondary school, I learned how to bake and used the New World oven to the fullest but I was not allowed to bake too often because it was a luxury.

It was also during those times when we would copy recipes in a thick exercise book, or cut recipes from newspapers to make a scrap book.

I remember fondly the first cakes my sisters and I made for the Chinese New Year.

Here is an old Chocolate Cake recipe.


1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil or butter
1 cup cold water
2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons vinegar

Preheat oven to 375F.
Sift together flour, cocoa, baking soda, salt and sugar into a mixing bowl.
In a small bowl, measure and mix together the oil, water or coffee, and vanilla.
Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix the batter with a fork or small whisk.
When the batter is smooth, add the vinegar and stir quickly. There will be pale swirls in the batter where the baking soda and vinegar are reacting. Stir just until the vinegar is distributed evenly throughout the batter.
Pour the batter into a greased pan or muffin tins.
Bake the cake for 25 – 30 minutes (20 minutes for cupcakes).
Cool before serving.

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We made three cakes, a butter cake, a chocolate cake and a coffee cake. I believe we were quite proud of ourselves. By that time our aunt had gotten married and we did not have anyone to advise us. But the cakes were "secondary school girls' standard" of course and our domestic science teacher Miss Mamora would have been very proud of us.

All secondary schools in Malaysia should teach Domestic Science or at least have a Domestic Science Club.

Furthermore,"Being Domestic" is not a lowly idea.

February 2, 2019

Sibu Tales : Bottle or Breast?

The Foochows in the past lived in villages on the banks of the Rajang River of Sarawak. After the Communist Era from 1968 to 1988 many of them moved to the towns like Sibu, Bintangor and Sarikei and even further away like Bintulu, Miri and Limbang, Lawas.

Life in the villages was simple. Babies were fed mother's milk, ie.breast fed, rice porridge and condensed milk.

When mothers worked in the rubber garden and rice fields, the babies were left with a milk bottle like this one. It was a miracle that many of them did not get sick with their cold milk.

The rubber nipples were a matter of concern for the mothers . Often the babies choked because the hole in the nipple was too big. If the hole was too small the babies would cry because it was hard for them to suck.

Sibu shops carried many different types or brands of nipples. And they also sold many different kinds of milk bottles.

I was mainly a breastfed baby because we lived on an island and my mother was very frugal. She did not find breast feeding a burden as she did not have to tap rubber or plant padi.

In fact breastfeeding was a normal part of many Foochow women's life and was not big deal in those days. Women were comfortable breastfeeding their babies in public and no men would stare. It was so much part and parcel of life unlike today when everything seems to be offensive to everyone.

Though I was breastfed, in between, as a baby, I was given treats of glucose water, grape juice, honey in glass feeding bottles fitted with nipples. My mother even said that she fitted some good rubber nipples on the aerated water bottles for me drink carbonated orange! My bad dental health must have come from that in retrospect.

It was only later that when it became more convenient and more "fashionable" to feed babies with tinned powdered milk that my mother started to give my younger siblings milk in bottles, although she continue to breast feed. She had said,"Why waste good milk when I have plenty?"

The most popular brand in those days was KLIM (MILK in reverse). And very much later, it was Dumex.

It is quite a body of knowledge how we have reached the 21st century and how mothers in the past used different kinds of bottles and nipples to replace human breasts.

Nang Chong Stories : Warming Lunches on the Foochow Stove in Chung Cheng School

When my youngest aunt and her husband first started to teach at Chung Cheng Secondary School in the 50's, they had to bring their lunch ...