Morning comes…

When morning came that first morning when my missus and I were in Bintulu, we had to go to the airport…

Bintulu airport 1

…to pick two aunties of mine from Kuching, one Ah Ee (mother’s sister) and one Ah Kim (mother’s brother’s wife), as my cousin was busy and I offered to do that for her.

The Bintulu airport is nice…

Bintulu airport 2

…smaller than the one in Sibu but it is as good as new, unlike the one in Miri

Bintulu airport 3

It was very cold inside when we were there that day, a welcome change from the hot and dry weather that we are experiencing here currently.

When the two ladies had landed, we took them to the hotel to check in and then, off we went for breakfast here…

Breakfast

…which was in the same commercial area as the hotel where we were staying. I could not see any name anywhere so I do not know exactly what it is called. Most of the stalls were closed (on Mondays) except for one bak kut teh stall and since we did not fancy that, we settled for this one…

Kampua stall, Bintulu

…instead.

I had the piansip mee, dry (RM4.00)…

Bintulu piansip mee

…which was in fact, kampua mee plus pian sip…even though on the stall, it was listed as mee wanton which it definitely was not, not at all!

My missus and aunties had their chao chai bihun (RM5.00)…

Bintulu chao chai bihun

…and all in all, we thought that what we had were all quite good but yes, things in Bintulu are obviously more expensive than in Sibu and I did think that my noodles had too much msg in it, so much so that I had to endure the lingering taste for quite a while before it disappeared.

After breakfast, we dropped by this bakery…

Chef's Secret Bintulu

…which was right across the road from the coffee shop.

I remember my very dear friend, the late Jimmy, bought these pineapple cakes

Bintulu pineapple cakes 1

…from there for me when he was still teaching in Bintulu. Good grief! They’re RM2.40 each!!! The ones in Sibu are selling for RM1.50 and I already feel that is mighty expensive. I certainly would not want to fork out all that money for that one small mouthful when I can go for a nice plate of kampua noodles in Sibu for the same amount or maybe just a bit more, depending on where you go.

They do have the mini ones as well now…

Mini pineapple cookies, Bintulu

…and a whole lot of stuff that people would go to Taiwan and buy and cart home…

Taiwan-style biscuits

…to give to their families and friends.

I loved the sun biscuit that my friend, Alex, gave me many years ago when he came back from Taiwan after a trip there so I bought two boxes of these (RM2.00 a piece)…

Sun biscuits, Bintulu

- one for my parents and one for my mother-in-law though I do not know whether they are any good or not as I did not get myself any to try.

My missus bought these panggang sambal (RM3.00)…

Bintulu panggang sambal

…and we had it in the hotel that afternoon for our afternoon tea. It was very nice – the sambal was very fragrant and spicy but of course, the pulut had none of that panggang fragrance…and at RM3.00 each, I certainly would think many many times before buying one.

After that, we headed to the market…

Bintulu market

…to see if there was anything we could buy and take home.

Evening comes…

We arrived in Bintulu at around 5.00 p.m. that day and after checking in at the hotel, my missus and I went on a random drive around the old town and we ended up here…

Tanjung Batu Bintulu 1

If I am not mistaken, the locals usually refer to this place as the Tanjung Batu beach. There is another one at the Similajau National Park, but we did not bother to check that one out.

It being a Sunday evening, the place was crowded and I was quite put off by the rampant littering all over the otherwise very beautiful park located at such a scenic seaside location…

Tanjung Batu Bintulu 2

There are some stalls there…

Tanjung Batu Bintulu 3

…and to put it mildly, they did not look very clean nor presentable. I only saw one stall selling satay and stuff, run by some Chinese boys so my guess would be that there should be more but they were not open as this is the Muslim fasting month of Ramadhan. The rest were selling drinks, ABC and so on. I saw this man cutting a coconut…

Tanjung Batu Bintulu 4

- he certainly was enjoying brisk business selling his coconut drinks in the current hot and dry weather that we are experiencing here right now.

As I have mentioned in my previous post, I do think the town authorities should pull up their socks and take some drastic action to improve the state of affairs in this town…especially at this beautiful beach…

Tanjung Batu Bintulu 5

…which would have been such a pleasant place to relax or go for a stroll…

Tanjung Batu Bintulu 6

…had it not been spoilt by the crowd that frequent the place.

After a brief stop here, we went back to the hotel to bathe and get ready for dinner here…

Mandarin Restaurant Bintulu

My cousin’s children, the son from KL and the eldest daughter from Penang, and their families were arriving that same day and they were going for dinner at this restaurant right across the road from the hotel where we were staying and she had asked us to join them.

I enjoyed the midin, fried with garlic…

Midin

…so much as it was very nicely done – very “sweet” and crunchy, absolutely perfect. Maybe I was hungry after the long drive and the long day but I honestly thought I had never tasted midin that was nicer anywhere else, ever.

The sweet Thai chili chicken…

Sweet Thai chili chicken

…was very good too and so was their hot plate tofu dish…

Hot plate tofu

I hear this is one of the signature dishes of the house.

The fried bitter gourd with salted egg…

Fried bitter gourd with salted egg

…was fine, as good as any elsewhere but I thought the salt-baked fish…

Salt-baked fish

I had here was a lot better. This was similar to what I had here and if I am not wrong, it was the salt they used. It was good on top but when one reached the lower part of the fish, it would be way too salty with all that salt around.

The so-called Philippine pork leg a.k.a. crispy pata

Philippine pork leg

…wasn’t anything like what I’ve always known it to be. I don’t think it was deep fried like in the case of the usual ones. This came across like roast suckling pig except that we only got the leg, not the whole animal. It was nice, of course, but we were already too full by then…so I just had a bit of it.

After that scrumptious dinner, it was time to head back to the hotel and hit the sack for I had to get up early the next morning to pick two aunties of mine who would be flying in from Kuching. Thank you so much to my cousin, her hubby and family for this very delicious welcome treat upon our arrival in Bintulu.

Straight ahead…

The old hometown looks the same

Bintulu

…but no, Bintulu certainly has changed…a lot since the last time I was here on one of my working trips.

Two Sundays ago, the 13th of July, we sent Melissa to her school which is located somewhere in between which would mean that it is more or less the same distance back to Sibu (99 km) or straight ahead to Bintulu (122 km). After everything was settled and done there, my missus and I drove on to attend my cousin’s youngest daughter’s wedding on the 15th but we decided to go a little earlier so we could spend a couple of days there to see whatever they might have in store.

The road to Bintulu from Melissa’s school was not as good as from there to Sibu and it did not help one bit that there were two long stretches where they were doing repairing and resurfacing works, one 2 km long and the other a kilometre. In the current very hot and dry weather, the dust could be seen from far far away like there was some open burning going on.  Other than those, most parts had all those badly-done patches the rest of the way so it was not really a smooth and pleasant drive.

The town centre has not changed much. I remember staying in that inn with the HSBC branch right across the road and there’s a not-very-impressive shopping complex further up that road but I don’t recall seeing this very nice temple…

Bintulu temple

…at the time. Probably it was there, just that I did not notice and they’ve done it up very nicely since.

While the town itself has remained pretty much the same, many vast commercial areas have mushroomed all over, here and there and everywhere outside the town proper. The roads in the town in some parts were, I’m afraid, not much better than what we went through along the way from Melissa’s school and there were simply not enough signs to help first-timers in town get around so we would end up at some place, unintended and u-turns were the rule of the day. I also noticed in places along the road where the grass was very long, left uncut and many of the buildings and blocks of shophouses badly need a new coat of paint. The town authorities obviously need a paradigm shift and should pull up their socks now that it is no longer the little cowboy town that it used to be…to make Bintulu a lot more presentable and impressive than what it is presently.

We stayed at one of those new(er) areas – the  Assyakirin Commerce Square/Commercial Centre at this hotel…

Kemena Hotel Bintulu

…right next to the one affiliated to that cheap airline.

I used my government rate and got a standard twin room like this…

Kemena Hotel - standard room, twin

…for only RM118 nett per night with one breakfast…at the cafe on the ground floor, right beside the lobby…

Kemena Hotel cafe

Breakfast was supposed to be at 6.30 a.m. but I went in way before then. This being the Muslim fasting month of Ramadhan, it was made available extra early for their pre-dawn sahur

Kemena Hotel - breakfast

I thought the fried noodles…

Fried noodles

…were all right and so were this chicken dish with Thai chili sauce…

Thai sauce chicken

…and the beef rendang

Beef rendang

…or at least, that was what I thought it was. The chicken curry was good too…

Chicken curry

…even though it looked like those who had their pre-fasting meal ahead of me had helped themselves to most of it. Normally, at such hotel buffets, there would be people going round to see if anything needs refilling or at least, they would use a spoon to “rearrange” the food to make it look more presentable…but there wasn’t a single soul to be seen. I guess it was simply too early for anybody to be up and about.

There was nasi lemak too with the sambal, hard-boiled egg, cucumber plus the peanuts and fried ikan bilis (dried anchovies) in the tupperware…

Nasi lemak condiments

…to go with it and there was porridge…

Porridge

…if one would be thus inclined and on the other side, there were the cereal, bread and stuff and there was a free flow of coffee or tea and juices as well.

This was all that I had…

Breakfast at Kemena Hotel

… that first morning in Bintulu as my missus and I would be heading to the airport in a bit to pick up two aunties of mine from Kuching who were also coming to attend the wedding banquet and we planned to go with them for breakfast upon their arrival. Do stick around for my blogpost on that and more.

Incidentally, if you are in Bintulu round this time, you may be interested in their Ramadhan buffet…

Kemena Hotel Ramadhan buffet

…which seemed to be quite popular as I would see quite a number of people having dinner in the cafe those three nights I was there.

Sometime ago…

This was two Saturdays ago when we had a dinner here to celebrate my mother-in-law’s 81st birthday…

Birthday cake

…12 of us altogether – her, my missus, Melissa and I, my brother-in-law and his wife and their daughter, back from Singapore and their son, home from KL and then, there was also my brother-in-law from Bintulu and his wife and one of their sons plus my niece’s good friend.

Luckily, we had made a reservation before hand as the place was packed to the brim (and parking can be such a pain in that part of town) so we had to wait for quite a while before the food was served. As what they would usually do, we were served these Mukah keropok as starters…

Mukah keropok

…which were great, and dipped in the chili sauce provided, they were even nicer.

This restaurant claims to be the only one in Malaysia serving lokan

Lokan

…and everyone loved it!

Some of my in-laws tried umai

Umai

…for the first time and they enjoyed it. I’ve heard people calling this the Melanau sashimi but I don’t think it is the same – the raw fish in this dish would have been “cooked” already by the calamansi lime juice added (some use vinegar but I think it is not as nice).

We ordered another specialty of the house – the paku in santan (coconut milk) but when we were served, it turned out to be midin instead…

midin in santan

Well, it was perfectly all right as it tasted great. In fact, personally I felt it was a lot nicer than paku which I had had many times already on my previous visits.

Another specialty of the house would be their roast lamb…

Roast lamb

…which Melissa enjoyed so very much. I would have to take her back there again sometime for more.

We also ordered their sea cucumber soup…

Sea cucumber soup

…and their creamy butter prawns…

Creamy butter udang galah

…using the very expensive freshwater udang galah, were really good too.

Everybody sang praises of their fried chicken with onion rings…

Fried chicken with onion rings

…though I was not too thrilled by it. When I said that, Melissa remarked that it was definitely much nicer than the colonel’s, case closed.

On the other hand, I absolutely loved the sweet and sour fish…

Sweet and sour fish

…so so so much. My Bintulu brother-in-law brought a huge one over, I think it  was a red snapper, and got them to cook it for us. I really feasted on it from head to tail.

People always say that the prices here can be quite steep but ours that night, inclusive of drinks (some had more than one) and rice (quite a lot of it, really), came up to RM325.00 for 12 persons which I thought was very reasonable. That prawn dish alone would have cost quite a bit already. To me, that was, without doubt, a truly awesome dinner – a delightful change that was so much nicer than the ones we had before and I certainly would love to go back there again and again.

Open…

We wanted to check out this new chicken rice place in town the previous weekend when Melissa was home but it was not open for business yet. In the meantime, my friend, Rose, had been there but judging from her review, it certainly was not something to look forward to. However, when Melissa came home again the following weekend, her mind was already made up – that she would go there to give it a try, so there we were…

CKCR 1

…that Saturday afternoon.

The service was quick and efficient and in no time at all, we were served.

I ordered the Jumbo King set (RM15.50) which was intended for big eaters but the girl said that there would be enough for two…and that included a big glass of herbal tea…

Herbal tea

…and a big plate of chicken rice and a big bowl of soup…

rice & soup

…plus a big plate of their steamed chicken – one drumstick plus breast…

Steamed chicken

Looking at the amount of everything, we felt that there was, in fact, enough for three.

Melissa and her mum shared that while I ordered the drumstick set (RM6.00) for myself and got the rice, only slightly less and a plate of chicken that looked almost as much as the jumbo set – just the bowl of soup and the drink were much smaller.

I also asked for the chicken liver, small (RM2.00)…

Chicken liver

…and good grief! They gave so much of that…and I was kind of worried that I might end up with a gout attack. Thank goodness nothing of the sort happened. We also had their bitter gourd fried with egg (RM6.00)…

Bitter gourd with egg

…for our additional vegetable dish. They have a few types of herbal soups on the menu too but we did not order any as they all had chicken claws in them. Eyewwwwwww!!!!!

Rose was complaining in her blog that everything was bland and I would agree with her but I think that was because of the lack of seasoning used. To me, that would be a good thing – less salt and less or no msg. One would be able to taste the flavours of everything, just that it seemed they just used the normal kind of chicken. I think if you use the better and more expensive type, the meat is sweeter and nicer and you can just eat it on its own. Like Rose, we had to resort to the use of the blended chili dip…

CKCR chili dip

…which, unfortunately, was not hot enough for us – we are more accustomed to stuff a whole lot spicier. The liver was fine and the bitter gourd was ok – not great, just ok…and yes, we had had better chicken rice elsewhere, I’m afraid.

If I am not mistaken, this is a Miri franchise and looking at this review, it certainly seems to be very popular among the people there. As for us, all things considered, let’s just say that we are in no hurry to go back there again…especially when we do have some nicer places of our own here.

You can’t make old friends…

A friend of mine came to town on a short holiday. She has been residing in Australia all these years. We go back a long long way to our requesting time on the radio and a-go-go dancing days in the 60′s and early 70′s. I was away in Kuching when she arrived but when I came back, we did manage to get to meet. She wanted me to take her and her nephew to go and eat the best kampua noodles in town…and of course, I just had to bring them here for the one that I like best.

Both of them had the kampua (white/original) tossed in chili sauce…

RTM Cafe kampua mee

…and they loved it! They also shared a bowl of piansip soup…

RTM Cafe piansip soup

…between the two of them while I had the Foochow-style fried noodles…

Foochow fried noodles

…with dark sauce/gravy.  I had this once a long time ago but the kampua lady (who also made the drinks – a one-woman show) was frying it herself then and I did not think it was all that nice and I regretted not sticking to her kampua noodles at the time.  I noticed that lately, there is a guy there cooking all the fried stuff so I decided to give it a try and yes, it was pretty good, definitely a lot nicer than what I had before.

We sat there and chatted and gossiped, catching up on old times and news about old friends of ours from around 9.00 a.m. till almost noon. It had been so long and there was really so much to talk about.

The next day, she contacted me again and asked me if I could join her for lunch. I asked her what she wanted to eat and she replied, “Kampua!” *faints* That, however, is very typical of people from here who have been away for a long time, either working in the peninsula or in Singapore or living in any country overseas. When they come home, they would want to go all out and feast on the kampua noodles with a vengeance.

This time around, she said that she wanted to drop by here…

Ah Chin Kopitiam

…where there was this guy…

Ah Ching Kopitiam kampua stall

…who used to sell kampua noodles at the coffee shop next to the fire station and later at another one behind HSBC right across the lane from the Singapore Chicken Rice shop there. A new owner moved in from elsewhere and took over the shop bringing along his own kampua seller so this guy had to make way and moved here – in the Sibu bus terminal area, opposite the Public Bank branch there, somewhere between WeCare and Chung Bakeries.

When I was small, I grew up eating the kampua noodles at a stall at one Kiaw Siong Coffee Shop (opposite the one across the road next to the fire station where they moved to later) and the man was called Ah Kow. Then another guy started a beef noodle stall and they called him Ang Kau (monkey) and the little son who helped to serve was nicknamed Kow Kia (puppy). Somewhere along the line, some confusion arose and the younger ones would talk about Ang Kau kampua while we, the older folks, would only be able to recall Ah Kow kampua.

Well, I asked this man for an explanation and that was what he told me, that Ah Kow was Ang Kau and vice versa – all of us were all talking about the one and the same person. If I’m not wrong, this man took over the kampua stall when Ah Kow was forced to retire owing to illness and later passed away…but many would tell you that if you want that same taste of Ah Kow aka Ang Kau kampua, this is the guy to look for! If anyone is interested, the stall opens very early, at around 6.00 a.m. till past noon but it will reopen at around 4.00 pm. till 10.00 p.m.

My friend had the kampua noodles…

Ah Ching kampua mee

…again white/original and tossed with chili sauce. Pssstttt!!!! Don’t tell me I told you but she had TWO plates!!! I could not believe my eyes! Muahahahahaha!!!! But she said that once she had gone back to Australia, she would not have any more kampua noodles to eat until the next time she gets an opportunity to come home. Poor thing! So very deprived!!!

She also shared the piansip soup…

Ah Ching piansip soup

…with her nephew and he had this plate of piansip kampua with dark soy sauce…

Ah Ching piansip kampua

It was no-meat Friday for me that day so I ordered something from this stall at the back…

Ah Ching Kopitiam stall 2

- their fried kway teow with cockles…

Ah Chin char kwayteow

It was all right, same as fried kway teow anywhere else in town, the better ones, nothing more and nothing less…but with cockles added.

It certainly is so very nice to see you again, Jasmine…and if you’re tuned in, this song goes out specially to you…

The message is in the song. Take care and God bless always.

Lastly…

On our first morning in Kuching, Philip and I went in search of the celebrated kolo mee, since moved from Carpenter Street to Padungan, but it was nowhere to be seen. We asked a man at the kolo mee stall in the first shop in the block and he was so nice as to give us the directions even though we were not going to eat anything from him. It seemed that it was somewhere in the middle of Padungan around that junction where one would turn left to Longhouse Hotel…so in the end, we decided to abort our plan to go and eat there.

But since we were in the vicinity, I insisted that Philip should stop by here…

FH1

…to try what everyone would cart home in boxes and boxes even though I am definitely not a fan of anything from this place myself – I can never understand why since time immemorial, people think everything here is so so so nice.

We had the sio bee (meat dumplings)…

FH sio bee

…and the har kao (prawn dumplings)…

FH har kao

Honestly, I do not have to make any comments or anything. The mere appearances of those would say it all.

I wanted their most popular big bak pao (steamed meat bun) but Philip wanted the char siew pao so we ordered both…

FH paos

…and he tried a bit of each and left the rest on the plate. He did not like the filling…

FH bak pao filling

…and the skin was not quite like the old-school one that he loves so much – the kind he grew up eating way back in those long gone days when we were a lot younger. To be fair, I actually thought it was not all that bad (I did not say good, do take note!) eating these things there on the spot unlike when some people gave me some and I re-steamed them to eat at home…but no, I definitely would not buy any to take home myself, thank you very much.

Later that same morning, when we went for our stroll down India Street, I took him into this lane…

Kai Joo Lane, Kuching 1

This used to be called “kua cha hang” (coffin alley) as all along the lane…

Kai Joo Lane, Kuching 2

…most of the shops would be those making the traditional handcrafted Chinese coffins – the ones with the curved-up ends at the sides. Truth be told, I always avoided walking down this lane then as it made me feel somewhat eerie…with all those coffins here, there and everywhere. I think there may be one or two or more of those shops there still, if I am not mistaken.

My intention that morning was to drop by this place…

Chong Chon, Kai Joo Lane, Kuching 1

…for Philip to try their sio pao (baked meat pastry)…

Ching Chin, Kai Joo Lane, Kuching 2

…but unfortunately, there was none available. A guy came out and spoke to us. He was not a young man…but I thought he was good looking and very pleasant. Probably, that was the son or the son-in-law. I remember the couple who used to make the paos on a table (which doubled as a mahjong table once they were through making the paos for the day) right there in the middle of the shop and though they were not unfriendly, I thought they looked kind of sad and never seemed to smile.

Anyway, this guy told us that the paos would be available around noon and that is one thing about this place. If you want anything from here, it is best to call them and book first. You may see a lot on display sometimes but they’ve all been booked by some people and you would have to go away empty-handed.

I was not craving for any as my cousin sent me a whole lot just the other day through her brother when he came to Sibu on a day trip. In fact, on the day I arrived in Kuching, she booked some of those century egg ones for me…but because she went to collect them late, they had sold them off to somebody else already. Tsk! Tsk! So what she did was she made a fresh booking for me to take home…

Ching Chon cnetury egg sio pao

- all wrapped up and packed nicely for storage in the freezer to be re-heated in the oven and enjoyed slowly…one by one as and when the need arises.

They may look different…

Century egg & regular sio pao

…but actually, it is the same pastry, except for the sprinkling of sesame seeds on top and the filling is exactly the same except that one has bits of century egg and traces of or nee (sweet yam paste) inside. My guess is that somewhere along the line, they tried it out and since it was so very well-received, they have been making them since.

My cousin also made this hummus herself…

Hummus

…for me to take home to give to Melissa who enjoys this kind of stuff. She met us while we were having the kolo mee at the Green Road shop that morning just before we left Kuching to pass me everything. Thank you so much, cousin, for going through all that trouble and everything – much obliged and very much appreciated.

This is the last post on my brief Kuching trip and I would, at this juncture, like to extend my thanks also to Philip for the sio bee from the Open Air Market and the big pao for me to try and though totally out of context, to my friend Peter – one-time blogger but no longer active, as well for sending me these…

From Pete

…all the way from KL and again to Philip, this time for giving me these…

From Philip

- he went on a drive to Kanowit two days after we returned from Kuching and he tapao-ed my favourite red kampua noodles from there for me. My sincere thanks to the both of you too.