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The old ways…

Life certainly is a lot easier these days with all kinds of appliances and gadgets that one can use but of course, easier does not necessarily mean better. Many will attest to the fact that more often than not, things are much better if done the old-fashioned way but unfortunately, not many are willing to go through the chore and would rather take the easy way out and settle for less.

In the case of cooking, for instance, everyone will admit that it is so much easier and faster just to use a blender compared to pounding everything half dead using a lesung batu (mortar and pestle) even though they know that it will not taste as great. I guess I am old and I am old-fashioned so I would go pounding everything manually as and when the need arises.

The other day, my missus came home with some tapioca (casava) leaves…

Daun Bandong

…that she had plucked in some piece of vacant land behind her mother’s house. These are very easy to grow – sometimes, people, after harvesting the tubers, will just throw the rest of the plants somewhere and lo and behold! After some time, you will see them growing all by themselves like nobody’s business. Yes, these leaves are edible but they must not be eaten raw owing to the cyanide content. This is stated very clearly in this website but they also say that you may derive a number of health benefits from eating the leaves.

We call them daun bandong here and that is probably in the local Malay dialect or in Melanau for the Ibans would call them differently. The latter refer to them as daun jabang but those around Kanowit call them daun empasa but they’re all the one and the same thing. You can buy these leaves very easily at the jungle produce section of the Sibu Central Market at only RM1.00 for one big bundle. I do wish they would sell them in smaller bundles, maybe half that much at 50 sen each for usually, I would not cook all of it and would just throw the rest away. The ladies selling these leaves would sometimes pound them for you – they would do that while sitting there, waiting for someone to buy their stuff. Then, they would display what they have pounded in plates for sale. My missus would never buy those as she insists they’re not very clean – I would not think that is a problem as we could take it home and soak in water and rinse thoroughly before cooking but I have never bought the pounded leaves from them as there did not seem to be a lot in one plate and I would need to buy at least two or three and that might cost quite a bit.

My missus would use a blender but it would be a bit too fine and would not be as nice. I, on the other hand, would pound them, paying extra attention to this part of the leaves…

Pounding daun bandong 1

- the “veins” joining the leaves to the stalks. These are rather hard and would be difficult to chew and that would spoil your eating pleasure. That is why there are places where they cook this and sell but they do not pound (nor blend) the leaves and instead, they would just rub them (like how one would scrub one’s laundry, they say) and I do not really like eating them that way.

You will have to pound the leaves till they are quite crushed…

Pounding daun bandong 2

…but there is no need to do it as fine as when using a blender and that would ensure that you will have something to chew when eating them.

Once the leaves were done that day…

Pounding daun bandong 3

…I pounded the ginger (one whole chunk of it – if you want it to have a stronger ginger taste, then you can pound more) and I also got ready the other ingredients needed – a handful of ikan bilis (dried anchovies) and some chilies, sliced…

Ingredients

…plus one-third of an ikan bilis stock cube.

First, I fried the ikan bilis till golden brown and then pushed them aside to fry the pounded ginger…

Ikan bilis & ginger

…till brown as well. As you can see, I used quite a lot of oil – that would be necessary as the ginger and the leaves would absorb the oil but still, I would not use too much and would rather resort to using water instead. More about this later.

Oops!!! I had forgotten all about the serai (lemon grass)! Actually, I grow my own in my garden but it completely slipped my mind. When I shared the photograph of this dish on Facebook, somebody also suggested adding bunga kantan (torch ginger flower) petals. Of course, adding these, the fragrance would help enhance the taste and you can also add baby corn or sweet potatoes or pumpkin to it as well. There are people who would cook it with pork skin or kasam babi hutan (preserved wild boar) even and the soupy versions of the leaves are very nice too like what I did here. In fact, if you cook it with chicken and a lot of ginger, it would come across a bit like kacang ma, minus the wine.

Anyway, to get back to my cooking that day,  in went the chilies…

Chilies

…and the pounded leaves next…

Pounded leaves

…and after mixing everything together thoroughly…

Almost done

…I added water, a little at a time, just enough to let it sizzle once in contact the hot wok, and kept repeating that till the leaves were sufficiently cooked. In the absence of a lot of oil, stir-frying it till cooked may be a bit difficult but too much water would make it soggy and it would not be very nice – neither here not there, not a soup and not fried dry either…so do remember to go slow with the water and use it sparingly. You can add salt and msg at this point but I think there was enough salt already in the ikan bilis so I just added a bit of the ikan bilis stock cube instead…and once it was done, I dished it out and served…

Fried daun bandung with ginger, ikan bilis & chilies 1

Needless to say, it was very nice…even without the serai. This website says that the leaves are bitter…but no, you will not feel it at all eating it cooked this way with the fragrance of the ginger and the saltiness and taste of the ikan bilis. Somebody asked me if it was like cangkuk manis/mani cai – well, the answer is no. The taste and texture are different, it does not have the sweetness…but it is nice in its own right. Comparing the two would be something like comparing say, kangkong and sweet potato leaves…or paku and midin. They are just…not the same, end of story.

This is the simplest version of the dish, cooked with minimal ingredients and except for the pounding part, it is very easy to come out with your own plus other than the fact that it tastes great,  it is VERY cheap too…

Fried daun bandong with ginger, ikan bilis & chilies 2

One thing’s for sure, you will not be able to find it at a lot of eating places, even here in Sarawak, except perhaps at the ethnic stalls like the ones here or here…or those special restaurants here or here.

Our very own…

Bak kut teh literally means “meat bone tea” but I would think a more accurate name for it would be meat or pork bone herbal soup. You will not find this in China as it is a Malaysian dish, claimed to have originated in (Port) Klang and believed to have been consumed by the coolies or labourers at the port to boost their strength and health.

I have cooked this many times before using those packets of spices and herbs from the peninsula but the other day, I decided to use this…

Sarawak white pepper root bkt 1

My missus must have bought it sometime ago and I had seen it lying around in the house for a while now so I thought I might as well give it a try.

This is packed in Kuching…

Sarawak white pepper root bkt 2

 …and clear instructions as to how to cook the dish are given at the back…

Instructions

Add 3 litres of water, it said but I thought that would be a little bit too much for the two of us in the house – my missus and I, so I reduced that to 2 litres. I reckoned that at worst, it would be stronger in its herbal taste and we wouldn’t mind that very much actually. I could not understand what “4 bits of garlic bulbs” meant…and since I had reduced the water, I just threw two bulbs in. Not one to follow recipes/instructions to the letter, I also put in a handful of goji or wolf berries and a few dried Shitake mushrooms together with the two pouches that came in that one packet…

Step 1

…and brought that to boil.

Nope, I did not let it boil for 30 minutes – after around 15 minutes, I decided it was time to put in the meat and I brought it back to boil once again and when the meat was cooked…

Step 2

…I lowered the heat and let it simmer for about 30 minutes.

The instructions said, “…add 2 tablespoons of soy sauce, dark soya sauce and oyster sauce…” and I could not, for the dear life of me, figure out the difference between soy sauce and dark soya sauce…so I just added two tablespoons of the mushroom soy that we always use in the house plus another two tablespoons of oyster sauce…

Step 3

Finally, add salt and monosodium glutamate powder to taste,” it said. What? More msg??? No, thank you. In my opinion, there would be enough msg already in the oyster sauce and I would not want any more salt either – the soy sauce would be salty enough.

I let it simmer for a long time, 30 minutes, at least and then it was ready to be served…

Bak kut teh 1

…with a sprinkling of chopped daun sup (Chinese celery) on top.

Yes, it was just right – the meat was nice and tender…

Bak kut teh 2

…and it was not too strong in its herbal taste, not too salty and no overload of msg.

However, the next time I use this particular brand of spices and herbs, I would go ahead and add 4 bulbs of garlic instead of just 2 as I would prefer the garlicky fragrance to be a little stronger…

Bak kut teh 3

…but on the whole, it was good enough. Perhaps a dash or two or more of pepper would be nice as well seeing that, despite the name – “Sarawak wild pepper root”, it was not peppery at all, not even the slightest hint of it and I would have liked a bit of that.

We had it with rice, of course, and for our vegetable dish, I fried some Chinese cabbage with young baby corn…

Vegetable dish

…together with some sotong (squid) and sliced fish cake. I’m afraid there wasn’t much colour in it and I did not bother with the presentation since it was just for the two of us at home to eat and enjoy.

Well, the weekend’s here! Anybody thinking of cooking some bak kut teh? Perhaps you can give this brand a try. It’s available at most, if not all, of the supermarkets in town and many of the grocery stores as well.

Lost and found…

We were schoolmates, 1970 to 1971, and we were even in a play together…

All the world's a stage

…for the 3rd Division Drama Festival for Schools. Here in Sarawak, we have divisions that are made up of several districts – there were only five then and they all went by numbers. Sibu was in the 3rd and today, it has been divided into the Sibu, Sarikei, Kapit and Mukah Divisions. Anyway, back to my long-lost friend, we managed to get in touch with each other after all these years via Facebook. Isn’t that nice? Something like that show on TV at one time, Jejak Kasih. LOL!!!

I found out that her hubby was in the Sarawak laksa paste business and she even offered to send me a packet to try. However, I told her that there wasn’t any need for her to go through all that trouble as I had seen it at a supermarket here and I could just go and grab a pack (RM10.90) myself…

MUSC Raja Laut Sarawak laksa paste

…and that was exactly what I did last Friday so I could cook for my girl who would be coming home that very afternoon.

Needless to say, it was a whole lot of work preparing everything…

Sarawak laksa ingredients

I had blogged about it here but anyway, to go through all that again, in case anyone would like to cook his or her own, first, I peeled and deveined the prawns (1 kg) and boiled them in 1 litre of water, keeping the stock and putting the crustaceans aside to be served with the laksa later…

STP's Sarawak laksa 1

When I went to the market that morning, I saw someone I knew filleting fish, the mother of one of ex-students – bay kar/ikan tenggiri (mackerel) no less and selling at only RM20 for one big bag of it. I grabbed one and my missus used it to make fish balls…

STP's Sarawak laksa 2

- and fish cakes, a whole lot of them. I added the water that she used to boil them to the aforementioned prawn stock as well.

I also boiled the heads and shell of the prawns in the stock for 10-15 minutes and then removed them. After that, I added another 2 litres of water to the stock and emptied the contents of the packet of laksa paste into it and brought it back to boil, leaving it to simmer for 30 minutes. In the meantime, my missus and I could cut the tofu pok (fried bean curd puffs) into thin strips – I bought RM1 of those and got 7 of them, chop the daun sup (Chinese celery), soak the bihun (rice vermicelli) to soften and blanch the taugeh (bean sprouts), RM2 of the ones sold with the tails removed. I am always too lazy to do that myself.

When the gravy was ready, I sieved it to remove the residue and added santan (coconut milk) to it, plus two cubes of ikan bilis (dried anchovies) stock, turning off the fire once I had brought it back to boil. Then, I fried some omelette and sliced it very very thinly and I also pounded some sambal belacan (dried prawn paste dip) to go with the laksa

STP's Sarawak laksa

It was very very nice and we certainly had a feast of our very own local Sarawak delight that day.

For one thing, one could cook so much using one packet of the paste – too much for a family of three but I gave some to my in-laws to enjoy as well. I wish they would make it available in smaller packs, half the size perhaps. My missus said that it was kind of different from the usual Sarawak laksa taste that we are more accustomed to…and I would agree. This is more like what one would get, eating Sarawak laksa at the Malay stalls, which is great too (if you go to the right stalls/shops). Originally, Sarawak laksa is quintessentially a local Chinese culinary specialty and it impressed Anthony Bourdain so much that it was given special mention in his book

Anthony Bourdain's book
*Archive photo*

…and it would be featured in the menu at his own street-food market in New York, no…not Penang asam laksa…nor the nyonya curry laksa, but our very own good ol’ Sarawak or Kuching laksa! If you have not heard or read about that, don’t just take my word for it – click the link and read all about it! Hehehehehehe!!!!

Going back to the laksa paste, these days, we have some certified halal ones like this one that I used and like the regular ones, there may be good ones and those that are not as great, which is the case with everything else including what you can get when you eat out at the stalls or shops outside, so one would need to know which brand(s) to buy and I would say this one is pretty good. Yes, I can say, with no reservations whatsoever, that I wouldn’t mind using it…if and when I would be in the mood to go through the whole process all over again.

Things go wrong…

There have been times when I tried cooking something and the end result did not turn out right. Yes, sometimes, things did go wrong and what I dished out was not all that great or not quite I had expected or would want it to be…like when I tried my hand at cooking my own baked cheese rice the other day.

I wanted to use butter but there wasn’t any in the fridge nor in the house. We only had a tub of olive oil margarine and I’ve read all those stuff about not using olive oil to cook at high heat as it would cause it to turn toxic and I was afraid the same would apply too if I used the margarine. There was a bottle of grapeseed oil lying around so I used that instead along with these other ingredients…

Ingredients

- some chopped garlic, one of the sausages that I bought the other day and some chopped spring onions.

I grilled the sausage till nice and brown before adding the garlic…

Frying the sausage & garlic

…and after having fried it well, I put in the rice.

I had a bottle of Lea & Perrins’ Worcestershire sauce in the fridge but it was nowhere to be found. Probably it had been around too long and my missus saw it fit to throw it away…or maybe she used all of it for something that she cooked, I wouldn’t know. In the end, I added some smoked honey & mustard barbecue sauce and an egg plus a sprinkling of salt and pepper before I threw in the chopped spring onions…

All in...

Then, I put the rice in a foil baking container…

Rice in...

…and topped it with cheese…

Cheese in...

…and finally, I put it in the oven to bake till the cheese had melted.

So what exactly was wrong with it? The rice…

One serving...

…was very nice though I thought it would be nicer if I had used garlic butter instead of the grapeseed oil. That, however, wasn’t really a big deal – it was the cheese! I only had smoked cheddar slices in the fridge and I just used that. It melted all right but when cooled, it became hard again like in its original state. My girl said that I should not have used that…and it would not turn out in such a manner if I had used mozzarella.

Ah well, you win some, you lose some…and one thing’s for sure – should I try to cook something like this again, I would definitely not make that same mistake again. Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks? Hehehehehehe!!!!

Bangers…

Last Friday evening, after dinner, we went out to walk around a hypermart at one of the mega malls here. Normally, my girl would be tired and would just laze around after dinner and then call it a day. It being a long weekend, I suggested that as I thought she could do with a little break from the same old routine…and of course, she was delighted with the idea.

As we went browsing around, I spotted this…

Made in England curry paste

That was the curry powder my mum would use those years when I was still a kid, made in England, no less. I think I have mentioned it before that during those colonial times, everyone had that same mindset that anything made in England would be good and anything made in Japan would spoil very soon…just like those made-in-China stuff that we have these days.

It was good but it was just the powder so one would have to go through all that hassle to prepare all the pounded ingredients and everything. These days, we would just use those packet curry pastes, just add a bit of extra ingredients and the curry would be as great as any other.

Then, we came across this…

Bangers 1

…and we were so tempted to buy.

It sure looked impressive, what with the Union Jack in the bottom left corner and all. At that point in  time, I did not notice that phrase in Malay to the right: “Berat bersih“…plus the prices sure gave the impression that it was imported, probably from the UK or we just jumped into that conclusion without checking properly when in fact, it was made in Malaysia…

Bangers 2

Not suspecting a thing, we decided to grab a pack and this one that we picked was the cheapest – at over RM27.00 for 8 in the box, I thought that at over RM3.00 each for something imported, it was quite all right. Prices may range from over RM30 to RM40, depending on which type/flavour you buy. I also expected it to be as long as depicted in the picture but unfortunately, the bangers inside were not even as long as the width and yes, there were eight of them but some were a bit longer, some shorter.

Ah well, since we had already bought it, we might as well give it a try and the next morning, I grilled some for breakfast to go with some croissants that we bought at that same place…and egg, fried and some sliced tomato…

Banger croissant & egg breakfast

Thankfully, it was VERY nice – anytime better than those cheap local brands with the same texture (and taste) as SPAM or luncheon meat plus the taste was different too, very much nicer and more like those sausages that I had had at some of those classier restaurants and I would say that they can be even tastier than some of those imported ones that we have around here too.

Of course, I enjoyed that breakfast platter that I dished out…but at those prices, I don’t think I would be having that again…or at least, not so soon.

This and that…

I fried a packet of the keropok (prawn/fish crackers) that my Trengganu friends gave me when they came to town, the dark ones that, they told me, came from Kelantan…

Kelantan keropok 1

Yes, they were very nice and my girl loved it so much so I packed a couple of containers to let her take back to her school to enjoy in the course of the week.

Last week, Thursday, I opened another packet to fry – the white ones, also from Kelantan…

Kelantan keropok 2

…knowing that she would be home the following day. These too were very nice…and of course, I set aside some for her to take back as well.

In the meantime, I still had a box of that made-in-Australia Aeroplane Brand jelly…

Aeroplane Jelly 1

…that a cousin of mine passed to me when we were in Bintulu not too long ago…so on Friday, I decided to make something special for dessert that evening after my girl had arrived home mid-afternoon.

I remember the very nice trifle that a Kuching friend of mine made once and I could recall very vaguely how he lined the dish with Swiss roll slices and that there was jelly and custard and whipped cream and it was absolutely awesome. I had some of the red velvet cake left so I cut thin slices of it and lined the bottom with those. Then, I made the jelly and poured that in. I was not sure how it would turn out so I just used a bit of the cake and the jelly – if it was disastrous, I could just throw everything away.

When I added the jelly, the cake floated up and remained on top – I was stunned! Ah well, I thought, never mind! And I just let it cool a bit and put it in the fridge for the jelly to set. By dinnertime, it was ready to be served so I took it out, turned the whole thing upside down and let it slide onto a plate…

Red velvet cake jelly dessert

Lo and behold! It was beautiful! And we liked it a lot too! Probably it would be nice if we had some vanilla ice cream to go with it and perhaps, some bananas too. I sure would want to try making it again…with thicker layers of cake and jelly the next time around.

I only used a bit of the jelly that day so I poured out the rest separately and let it set…

Aeroplane Jelly 2

…so at least, if my attempt at making the dessert failed, we would still have some jelly to enjoy instead. In the end, we had both…killing two birds with one stone, so to speak. Ain’t that just great?

First come, first served…

My Trengganu friends gave me a bottle of tom yam sauce when they came to town that day – nicer than Nona, the brand I usually use, they say. I thought of trying it the other day but I changed my mind – it is good till 2016 so I guess it can wait. I remember I still have the nyonya sauce that Merryn sent me sometime ago…

Nyonya sauce from Merryn
*Archive photo*

My missus used it to steam fish once – it  was very nice, something like the just-as-yummy Thai-style sour and spicy fish sauce that I’ve blogged about before. I also used that to try and replicate the Singapore nyonya mee siam and though it was very nice, it entailed a lot of work and I would not be all that keen to do it all over again. Well, what was left of the bottle of the nyonya sauce had been sitting in the fridge all this while so the other morning, I thought I might as well use that to cook something for breakfast…and instead of frying, like how I cooked my tom yam bihun, I decided to try something different – bihun in nyonya sauce/gravy.

I fried some finely-chopped garlic in a bit of oil, threw in some bihun and added fish sauce and an egg and dished that out into a bowl…

Bihun, fried

Then, I poured a bit of water into the wok and added the nyonya sauce…

Add nyonya sauce

- enough to get the colour that I wanted, three scoops altogether and after that, in went the sliced Bombay onion, curry leaves and the skinny stalk of serai (lemon grass) from my garden, bruised…

Add onion, curry leaves & serai

No, I did not fry everything in oil first – I guess everyone would agree that we sure can do with a little less oil in our cooking, right?

I let that simmer to bring out the fragrances in those ingredients and next, I put in the sotong (squid) and the sliced fish cake plus a tomato cut into wedges…

Add sotong, fish cake & tomato

…and allowed it to continue simmering for the taste and sweetness of the seafood added especially.

Once done, I poured the sauce over the aforementioned fried bihun

Pour sauce

…and garnished with chopped spring onions…

Garnish

…and served.

I tossed everything together to mix the sauce with the bihun well…

Tossed

…before dishing out the amount that I wanted…

1st helping

…and diving in.

Yes, it was very nice and you can bet that I had more than just that one helping…and yes, I would want to cook it this way again.