Green fingers…

One advantage of living in the country would be the fact that you have a lot of land all around you to plant your own fruits and vegetables and whatever. That, of course, is a good thing in this day and age with the escalating prices of virtually everything. Unfortunately, you can’t do that if you’re staying in high rise apartments and condominiums in the city or even if you do have a landed property, there will be so little land around the house to do much…and most people would rather use whatever they may have for landscaping to beautify the surroundings by planting flowers and decorative leaves and trees.

Unfortunately, not all can grow stuff successfully – one would need to have green fingers in order to do it well…and I am pretty sure that Melissa’s neighbour at the staff quarters in her rural school is pretty good at it. When I sent Melissa back there after the week-long holidays, I noticed that he has been busy and has planted a lot of things in the available land.

Now, let’s see if you can name all the things he has planted. I am sure many of you would know what these are (PICTURE 1)…

PICTURE 1

…and you probably can identify those with the five-petal leaves…

PICTURE 2

…but what about those with the heart-shaped ones (PICTURE 2)?

These are creepers so the guy had to put up those sticks for the  plants to climb (PICTURE 3)…

PICTURE 3

Later the flowers would appear and subsequently, the fruits.

You would have seen these in the pictures earlier (PICTURE 4)…

PICTURE 4

I love the sweet variety, selling at around RM6.00 for four at a shop near my house. What I know is they get their supply from out of town in bundles of 5 or 6…and they would untie them and take out 1 or 2 to make their own new bundles…and sell them all at the same price – RM6 for 4. Tsk! Tsk!

Many of you would know these too, I suppose (PICTURE 5a)…

PICTURE 5a

- it seems that they are not that tolerant of heat or direct sunlight so that is why the guy has built some kind of shed over the vegetable beds.

Here’s another look at the same (PICTURE 5b)…

PICTURE 5b

…and this one is pretty familiar too, I’m sure (PICTURE 6)…

PICTURE 6

Now, can anyone give me the names of all the vegetables in the photographs? If you can, you probably deserve a prize, right? Let’s see how it goes. Come, give it a shot!

I still remember…

…that my mum used to cook those giant udang galah or chia-chui hay (freshwater prawns) this way…

Soy sauce prawns 1

We also call them tua-thow hay or big-headed prawns as if you buy the big ones, the heads are really huge. I would avoid buying those as the bodies are relatively small so we may not get very much to eat in the end. Of course if you can get the good ones, there may be that rich, thick and gooey orange-coloured stuff in the head that is very much coveted by all but there is no guarantee that you will get that in each and every one of the prawns plus they do not come cheap – at least, RM50 a kg…or more if they are not in season.

I managed to buy these small ones at the market one morning for RM30.00 a kg and I decided to cook them in that same way my mum did. I am not sure whether this is the Foochow way of cooking them or not but like all Foochow dishes, it is very basic and very simple…and yet tastes really great. All you need would be some slices of ginger and soy sauce and a bit of sugar to counter the salty taste of the sauce. I added a bit of sliced chili…

Soy sauce prawns 2

…and since I had some kicap manis ( sweet soy sauce), I decided to use that instead of the regular soy sauce and sugar.

First, I fried the ginger slices in a little bit of oil and once the fragrance had come out, I threw in the chili…

Soy sauce prawns 3

…and the prawns…

Soy sauce prawns 4

…and I kept on frying till they were cooked…

Soy sauce prawns 5

- they would have all turned red by then, of course.

Having done that, I added some water and the soy sauce, enough to make the gravy look dark, around two or three tablespoons of it…

Soy sauce prawns 6

I tasted a bit of it and OH NO!!!!! To my horror, I found it to be so very sweet. No…no…it was not supposed to be like that. I quickly added a bit of our regular soy sauce, maybe around one tablespoon of it, and when I tried it again, it  was just perfect – exactly like how my mum cooked it before. I certainly would advise anyone who would like to cook this dish to stick to what has been tried and tested and not to use the kicap manis in place of the regular soy sauce and sugar.

Once done, I dished everything out and served…

Soy sauce prawns 7

Of course, you may add some extra ingredients if you wish, like say, a dash of the traditional Foochow red wine…or a stalk of serai (lemon grass) or some sliced Bombay onions but I wanted to follow strictly to how my mum cooked the prawns way back then during my growing-up years – so simple, so easy and yet so delicious. I still remember how we loved eating this so very much. I still do!

Pour me a drink…

I remember many years ago, one of those branded coffee places opened an outlet at the Sarawak Plaza in Kuching and of course, we made a beeline there to give the drinks a try. I do not recall having any that swept me off my feet but the kids enjoyed the vanilla drink that was on their menu and loved going back there for more. In fact, Melissa was telling me that she used to buy that in cartons to drink when she was in Wellington, New Zealand and she liked it a lot. That was why when she saw this at that supermarket in town, the one that stocks up on all the imported stuff usually not available elsewhere, she grabbed two for herself and also to let me try…

Vanilla soya

I think they were selling that at a discounted price as the expiry date was drawing very near, otherwise I bet it would not be all that affordable. Well, it was nice, that much I would say with the blend of vanilla and soya bean milk but somehow, it came across to me like melted ice cream.

Personally, I would prefer this one…

V-soy 1

- made in Thailand, a combination of soya bean and purple brown rice, barley, malt extract and black sesame…

V-soy 2

I thought the combination was great and I loved it a lot. In case anyone is going out looking for this, it is available at most supermarkets and shops here selling at around RM4.00 a carton. Perhaps you would like to try both and give me your verdict?

As they say, one man’s meat is another man’s poison and you may wish to differ and of course, you’re free to do so.  For instance, I did not really like the soy and vinegar flavour of the made-in-Singapore purple wheat noodles…

PWN soy & vinegar

…but my friend, Rose, quite enjoyed the packet that I gave her to try though she did say that it was a little bit too sour and the vinegar drowned out the taste of the soy sauce completely. My favourite, without any reservation whatsoever, would be the chili and lime flavour…which King Hua‘s hubby says is not nice so he did not buy that for her…

For King Hua
*King Hua’s photo on Facebook*

Anyway, going back to our topic of drinks, my friend, King Hua, gave me a pack of this Kluang coffee that day…

Kluang coffee

…when she came to town. I’ve given it a try and initially, I did not really think it was any good. The following day, I tried a stronger brew – two sachets in a mug and it wasn’t much better either. It so happened that I let it sit there to cool down and drank it a while later and betcha by golly wow, it wasn’t too bad after all!!! However, I still think it pales in comparison to our own locally-roasted coffee…but of course, tastes do differ so what I like, others may feel otherwise. To each his own!

Wild horses…

Well, wild horses couldn’t drag me here…

Sibu dianpianngu

…but sometimes, I wouldn’t have much of a choice.

We used to drop by during my teenage years – it was already very popular then. I wouldn’t say I liked it a lot, not even way back then…but it was something that we could have for a change, those days before the fast food franchises and all when we really did not have much to choose from.

That small shop, right next to the confectionery, has been there for as far as I can remember and it has not changed one bit. Oh yes! It has a name…just that the sign is placed inside the shop…

Shop sign

…and you can imagine how hot and stuffy it is in that small enclosed space. ..and the fact that I would have to sit precariously on those little stools sure does not help one bit.

I was here once, if I remember correctly, when a cousin from Kuching came to town on a working trip and if I’m not mistaken as to which one it was, she’s now in Australia, married with two kids – she was still single at the time. Then, when I started blogging, seeing that this Foochow delight is immensely popular among all and sundry, I decided that I should feature it in my blog. So I went to the other place in town – they say they’re related, the sister or something…and I could not even finish half the bowl that I ordered and when I HAD to go again because there were visitors who insisted on going for a bowl, I had something else at that other shop.

Now, what is it here that is so special that people keep coming back for more? Well, it’s the dianpianngu

The original diapianngu 1

Gosh!!! It is so famous that it even made it into the local daily!

If I’m not wrong, dian means wok and pian is turned while ngu means gruel or something like that…so dianpianngu would be this unique dish with those white flat noodle-like sheets…

The original dianpianngu 2

…made using a wok and everything else served in its special broth. I think the local Malay name for it is bubur ikan or is it bubur sotong…but it isn’t exactly bubur or porridge actually.

Well, there is sotong in it – the dried cuttlefish or what the Foochows call meng ngee. Some people say that the dianpianngu at the other place is not as nice and from what I saw that time long ago when I had it there, they used fresh cuttlefish which would not have the sweetness and the fragrance of the dried ones. They use the latter here, it seems…but I don’t think they use those expensive ones imported from China selling at over RM10.00 for one small piece. I guess that is why even though they have that here in thin tiny strips, that much coveted quality is lacking in the broth or soup…and probably that is also why I hear a lot of people saying that it is no longer as nice as before and yet, they would insist on going back there for more, more and more.

Well, my friend’s son, Michael, also insisted on going that day so even though we had had a rather heavy lunch, I took him to the place and I did order a bowl…

The original dianpianngu 3

…for myself just to give it another chance.

Well, I did think it wasn’t too bad even though it certainly did not bowl me over or get me jumping with delight. I was put off by the fish balls, unfortunately – they were soft, not firm and springy and they had a horrendous fish smell that was so bad that I spat it out immediately. Initially, I actually thought that they had gone bad but when I tried a bit more of the other fish ball, I could tell that it was not the case…and I just left the rest of it by the side. For somebody home from abroad, Michael must have been horrified and disgusted to see me spitting it all out like that… Blush! Blush!

I must say that it is really so amazing that like so many of the rest, Michael who, in fact, was born and raised overseas and not here, was actually craving for it and insisted on eating it before he left town the very next day. Perhaps if you drop by this little ol’ town, you would like to drop by here and give it a try too?

Michael…

…the son of my friend, Philip, in the US was here briefly to visit his grandma but I was able to take him out for lunch on one of the days he was in town.

Since I only had that one opportunity, of course, I had to take him here to try some of the exotic delights that one would not be able to get anywhere else…or at least, not any that is exactly the same. That would, of course, mean that we would be having more or less the same stuff that I have had before like the Payung rojak, for instance…

Payung rojak

…which he liked very much as according to him, it was not as sweet as what he had had before. For one thing, what they have in the dish is different from the usual that one would find everywhere else and the sauce is slightly different too, much nicer, I would say. I specifically requested for more of the buah kedondong (umbra) leaves that everyone had fallen in love with at first bite.

He enjoyed the Payung otak-otak too…

Payung otak otak

…but he had never tried the rest so he was in no position to make any comparison. I told him to try the Johore/Muar ones when he goes to visit his maternal side of the family and see whether he would want to come back for the one here the next time he’d be in town.

I also ordered the lamb curry…

Payung Bangladeshi lamb curry

…that my daughter loves a lot and it was as nice as always and they did seem very generous with the potatoes that day. I love those tubers in curry and I like the fact that this one here is quite dry – like overnight curry which I enjoy a lot more. What about you?

We had the belimbing prawns…

Payung belimbing prawns

…as well. I had not had that for quite a while as around the rainy/stormy monsoon season at the end of the year, these prawns would not be available and if they were, they would be too expensive. They’re more easily available at other times in the year but unfortunately, these days, they would not be much cheaper so do not expect to find a lot of crustaceans among all those ingredients used in the cooking.

The bill came up to RM61.00, inclusive of drinks, but they just asked me for RM60.00. I guess that is not very much but something is better than nothing and that’s anytime better than some other places in town where they would wait and wait for you to dig out one miserable 10 sen from your wallet or pocket to pay the exact total. Tsk! Tsk!

Well, Michael thought the meal was great or at least, that was what he said. However, he did not want any dessert as he would like to go some place else for something that he was hoping he would get to eat while he was home…but that would be in the next post, I’m afraid. Stick around, folks!!!

Back in time…

This is very old school – something that my mum would cook and I was eating during my growing-up years…way back in time. It is very simple actually, nothing really special but today, it is one of the more popular soup dishes at the Chinese chu-char places and restaurants here – what we call tauhu tier in Foochow…

Tau Hu Tier

In an earlier post, I mentioned that Annie-Q‘s mum gave me some of the organic tofu that she made herself…

Organic tofu

…so I decided to cook that for dinner last weekend.

I just fried three slices of ginger in very little oil – about a table spoon before I added the minced meat…

Tau  Hu Tier step 1

…and just a bit of that will do.

The most essential ingredient would be the canned oysters…

Canned oysters
*Archive photo*

…so that subsequently joined the minced meat and ginger in the wok…

Tau Hu Tier step 2

…and after frying for a while, I added some water. Bone stock would be ideal but I did not have any so I just used plain water and added a pinch of chicken stock and brought it to boil. Then, I added the tofu cut into cubes…

Tau Hu Tier step 3

…and left it to simmer for a while. If you order this at the shops, you may get something thick and if you prefer it like that, all you have to do is to dilute a tablespoon of cornflour in half a cup of water and pour it into the boiling soup slowly, bit and bit and keep on stirring until the soup has reached the consistency that you want.

I did not have any daun sup (Chinese coriander) in the house so I just sprinkled with the spring onions in my garden, chopped, and served. Some people love it with a bit of black vinegar added so you can do that if you are thus inclined.

We had that together with the other dishes that I managed to whip up that evening…

All my own work

…including the made-in-Canada Ma Ling luncheon meat that I got from Philip, my friend in the US – fried with egg and Bombay onions, no oil added.

Thank you all for the goodies…and I must say thank you too to my cousin, Diana, in Miri who sent me this big jar of cincaluk (fermented shrimps)…

Cincaluk from Diana

That got to me over the weekend and it certainly would come in handy in my cooking…and eating as well but of course, when I have anything cooked with that, I would need to resist the temptation of having a second helping of rice, that’s for sure! Hehehehehehe!!!!!

So soon…

We did not plan on coming back here

Junction menu 1

…so soon but my good friends, Lim and family, invited me and mine for lunch last Saturday and this was the venue of their choice. I would give them credit for their very nice menu unlike some supposedly-classier places in town and their document-holder ones. Tsk! Tsk! What a shame!

Hmmmm….western and there’s Hainanese chicken?

Junction menu 2

Ah well, this is one of those fusion cafes that one can find here, there and everywhere these days so anything goes, I guess.

My daughter had the item at the top of the list – the teriyaki chicken chop…

Junction teriyaki chicken chop

…which she said was nice but she had had others elsewhere in town that were a lot nicer, here or here, for instance.

My missus had this kung pao chicken with rice…

Junction kung pao chicken with rice

…and it was good and I must say that the side order we had, their sweet and sour pork…

Junction sweet & sour pork

…was very much nicer than any in town, whichever chu-char places or restaurants that I’ve been to before here.

Lim had their chicken chop with black pepper sauce…

Junction chicken chop with bps

…while two of his three kids had the fish and chips…

Junction fish & chips

I did not try the chop but I thought the fish wasn’t all that great and the son found a small part that was not cooked. My guess is that they did not defrost the fish properly before deep frying – I have had encountered this elsewhere before.

I had their special omelette fried rice…

Junction special fried rice

…or whatever they call it, I can’t exactly remember now. It certainly looked a lot nicer in the menu and on the whole, I would, perhaps, just give it a 6 out of 10 or less. The minced meat wasn’t anything special, something most everyone would have had at home at one time or another, cooked with soy sauce or at times, steamed.

Mrs. Lim had their fried rice…

Junction fried rice

…and if hers was anything like mine…

Junction special fried rice 2

…it was no wonder at all that she could barely finish half of it…and I am sure she would agree with no reservations whatsover that mine, those that she had had before, would be heaps better.

Ok, on the whole, everything wasn’t too bad…and what matters most would be the time spent with friends so dear – that in itself is indeed priceless. Thanks so much for the treat, we’ll get together again some time…soon.