Hearts…

No, I’m not into Valentine’s Day but yes, I do think that our society in general and the world at large do need a lot more love…

Hearts 1

…these days so Happy Valentine’s Day, all. Keep the peace and spread the love!

It does seem a little quiet this year unlike in previous years, when all the florists and the gift shops and the restaurants would cash in on this special but over-commercialised occasion to fleece those willing victims and that is probably because it coincides with Chinese New Year and everybody was busy celebrating and they did not realise that Valentine’s Day was fast approaching…or perhaps, times are hard and with our frail economy, everyone is feeling the pinch and is careful enough not to squander everything away and would rather choose to be a little bit prudent and save what they can for the rainy stormy days ahead?

Or maybe it is the season of Lent for Christians beginning on Ash Wednesday which was a day of fasting and abstinence for Catholics…but elderly people over 60 years old like me are exempted. Nonetheless, I did abstain from meat and had light and simple meals for breakfast and lunch…

Light and simple

…till the sun went down.

I also took a break from my Chinese New Year open house that day and sadly, I had friends from Sarikei and Miri who wanted to drop by but they did not do so as they saw what I had posted on Facebook and by the next day, they had all gone back. I guess I would have to wait till Chinese New Year next year before I can get to see them again then.

My open house resumed the following day and that morning, I fried this plate of tom yam bihun

Fried tom yam bihun

…for breakfast but no, we did not serve any more of the food we had on the first and second day so those who dropped by only had the cookies and cakes to help themselves to.

We had a lot of rice left in the fridge – it sure looked like everyone would go for the dishes and not so much the rice so on another day, I whipped up my usual fried rice, Chinese-style in line with the festive season, with luncheon meat cut into small cubes, leek and egg…

Chinese fried rice

I would have used lap cheong instead but my girl is more into luncheon meat plus I am keeping the precious wine-infused ones I got from my friend, Annie – still in the sealed plastic pack and kept in the fridge, for other days.

Thank you so very much especially to those who took the trouble to drop by my house and extend their good wishes for Chinese New Year…and thank you once again to those who sent cards and gifts for this very special occasion, thank you for being so thoughtful and so generous..and thanks also to my old friend (kawan lama, not kawan tua…wink…wink), Siti, who brought these lovely chocolate almond cookies…

Chocolate almond cookies

…that her nieces made, for me when she came visiting…and thank you, everyone, for all for the greetings via Facebook or smses. Let us hope and pray for a wonderfully awesome Year of the Monkey for all of us! Cheers!!!

My girl will be going back to her school today so I guess that would be it for Chinese New Year visiting this year…

Hearts 2

…but of course, anyone, family or friend – is free to drop by anytime. Our doors are always open and all can be assured that they would be warmly welcomed.

Before it started…

This was the day before Chinese New Year’s Eve, the day of my nephew’s tea ceremony and the wedding dinner.

We were out that morning and I decided to stop by here for breakfast. The place was gaily decorated for the festive season…

Chinese New Year decor

…and despite the fact that we were quite early and it was raining, it was quite busy at the time but then again, since the old lady moved from her old place and set up her stall here, they have been enjoying quite a bit of business.

I saw people sharing photographs of her meatball soup on Facebook and I heard that it is one of her main attractions so of course, I ordered a bowl…

Delta meatball soup

…to share and yes, it was really very good, very rich bone stock soup and she uses fresh meatballs, not those smelly frozen ones elsewhere that I really do not fancy at all.

I also ordered a plate of her very nice kampua noodles…

Delta kampua

…ranking among the top of all the favourites in town. It was RM8.00 for the two so my guess was RM5.00 for that big bowl of soup and RM3.00 for the noodles. I remember it used to be RM2.70 and I do not know if she had hiked up the price for the festive season or whether this would be a permanent increase.

Long ago, all shops would be closed during the first few days of Chinese New Year and then a few of them opened even on the first day and charged double or even triple the regular prices and their coffee shops were packed  to the brim! Eventually, I heard everyone followed suit and did the same but this year, a cousin of mine home from KK, Sabah went around town but none were open so they ended up having their breakfast at a Malay coffee shop. Yes, it did seem a little quiet this year – probably times are hard and everyone is feeling the pinch or because of the astronomical airfares, over RM1K from KL or anywhere to Sibu, many have opted not to come back.

Back to what we had that morning, my girl and the mum had the Foochow fried noodles (RM3.50)…

Foochow fried noodles

…from the chu-char place at the back of the coffee shop and yes, it was very good. I would say this may be considered as one of the nicer places in town to go for this.

While we were there, I noticed that they even have free wifi…

Free wifi

…at the coffee shop. Gee!!! The sign of the times.

So after we had had our fill, we went home to change into something more appropriate and proceeded to my in-laws’ house for the tea ceremony.

The first days of spring…

When I was teaching Geography a long long time ago, Spring in the Northern Hemisphere was always sometime in March – the Spring Equinox…but somehow or other, Chinese New Year is also known as the Spring Festival.

Well, on the first day, of course, we had the traditional longevity  mee sua (thread/string noodles)…

Chinese New Year longevity mee sua

…for long life and good fortune in the year ahead.

I also got some things ready…

Cakes. cookies and so on

…in case we had some early visitors and we quickly went to visit my parents and also my mother-in-law to perform our filial duties and wish them a Happy Chinese New Year after which, we went straight home to wait for anybody who cared to drop by.

My sister-in-law and her family would be taking the evening flight back to Kuching and she said that before leaving town, they would drop by at around noon. Well, my missus did do a bit of cooking so of course, we invited them to have lunch.

She made some ngor hiang or lor bak as they are called in the peninsula…

Ngor hiang

…and fried her special prawns…

Fried prawns

…with garlic and sesame oil and whatever else.

Her oven-roasted chicken wings…

Chicken wings

…were a hit and so was her kacang ma chicken…

Kacang ma chicken

Of course, we must have fish – 年年有余 (Nian Nian You Yu, meaning “Abundance through the year”) so we had this steamed pek chio (white pomfret)…

Steamed fish

…and this was my missus’ sambal prawns with pineapple…

Sambal prawns with pineapple

…and this one was her satay beef…

Satay beef

I ordered the Bangladeshi lamb curry…

Payung's Bangladeshi lamb curry

…and the green curry chicken…

Payung's green curry chicken

…from Payung and we also had this salad dish…

Salad
*prior to the adding of the creamy dressing*

…to go with everything else.

Of course, we also invited anyone who came to visit us around that same time to join in and help themselves to the food except those friends who are unable to eat non-halal food, my sincere apologies to those concerned.

There was a lot of plain white rice left over – probably, most of them just had the food and did not care for too much of it. That was why I next morning, I whipped up this dish of dabai fried rice

Dabai fried rice

…to go with whatever was left of all the aforementioned dishes.

By the evening of the second day, most of the food was finished so anyone dropping by on the third day and thereafter just had the cakes and cookies to enjoy.

Feasting…

I guess this is what Chinese New Year is all about – feasting and it continued that very night on the eve before the big day.

It did not seem much different to me all the years when I was growing up as usually, we would always have much to eat and something special once in a while but when I was staying with an old couple in Singapore way back in 1974, I noticed that they lived a very frugal and prudent life the whole year through, eating just rice and maybe one simple dish at every meal. Come Chinese New Year, the old lady would cook everything and the whole dinner table would be filled with all kinds of dishes – they probably believed that in doing so, they would have a bountiful year ahead. Unfortunately, their son did not seem to be home most of the time and the daughter was already married so she and her family only dropped by for a brief visit. That was why they kept asking me to go and eat…and eat…and eat.

Times sure have changed. The old folks used to say that in the old days, they hardly ever ate chicken except during Chinese New Year whereas these days, the younger ones would have it so often that they would not even give it a second glance.

Coming back to the eve of Chinese New Year this year, we were planning to have a light simple dinner on our own but my sister-in-law insisted that we joined the rest of the family and knowing how it would make my mother-in-law so happy to get everybody together, I agreed and that sure saved us the trouble.

There was the ngor hiang (deep fried meat rolls in bean curd skin)…

Ngor hiang

…or what is called lor bak in the peninsula and also the fried freshwater prawns or udang galah

Freshwater prawns

…the way my missus would usually cook them.

Then, there was the stewed five-spice and soy sauce phak lor duck…

Phak lor ark

…and of course, I enjoyed the eggs – I had two!!!

Somebody gave my sister-in-law this, a Malay friend, the Sarawak’s own original masak hitam beef…

Masak hitam beef

…and it was good. My nephew had a friend here from KL and he loved it so much that he kept helping himself to more.

I am not sure where they got the roast chicken…

Roast chicken

…but it was very nicely done – I thought it was nicer than what we had at the expensive dinner the night before.

My sister-in-law also cooked some chicken curry…

Chicken curry

…and made some really nice Sibu-style Foochow sio bee (meat dumplings) which she served along side the big expensive ones (RM1.60 each now) from this restaurant but everyone complained about the latter which was, for one thing, too salty.

My missus cooked this…

Vegetable dish

our contribution to the dinner and they even had these…

Dabai

– even though they were out of season. It seemed that they had kept some in the freezer to take out when the children came home but no, I wouldn’t want to do that as they simply did not taste all that great, definitely not the same and not nice.

There were other dishes as well but some of the photographs did not turn out good like the one I took of the steamed fish…plus I was too lazy to take shots of everything as there were simply so many. That was why it reminded me of the old couple that I stayed with in Singapore so very long ago and if that is a promise of a bountiful year ahead,  it is pretty obvious that we would have a very good one, this Year of the Monkey.

Me first…

My in-laws and families were all here for our nephew’s wedding bash here in Sibu and my sister-in-law and her hubby, her son and family and her daughter, all back from Penang, would all be going back to Kuching on the first day of Chinese New Year. Normally, every year, I would have my in-laws come over for dinner that night but that would be too late if I would want to get them to join in. That was why I hosted a pre-Reunion Dinner lunch that afternoon on Chinese New Year’s Eve and where else better than the award-winning Payung Cafe.

The boss was so very nice – he went and prepared his own version of the yee sang

Payung yee sang

…with his own dressing which was lightly sourish and spicy, something like the taste of those kerabu dishes, and there was even a hint of hay bee (dried prawns) in the dish.

So to start off our lunch, we had the yee sang tossing session…

Toss high high

…for good health, good luck and prosperity in the year ahead. Everybody loved it and we all thought it was nicer than those pickled stuff in the real yee sang.

I brought some freshwater prawns and asked them to help cook their very nice belimbing prawns…

Belimbing prawns 1

…and I so loved the dishes they used that I just had to take a photo of each…

Belimbing prawns 2

Ooooo….I’m in love!

Everyone loved the Bangladeshi lamb curry…

Bangladeshi lamb curry

…but the green curry stole the show…

Green curry

…right down to the terung pipit in the dish…until the kacang ma chicken was served…

Kacang ma chicken

…and they started singing its praises. Personally, I thought it was especially good that day – very strong on the kacang ma and the ginger and with the extra white wine added, it was simply awesome!

They also enjoyed the otak-otak

Otak-otak

…and the mushroom roll…

Mushroom roll

…plus the pomelo salad…

Pomelo salad

I also ordered the Payung fish, ikan keli (catfish) in soy sauce…

Payung fish

…for my Penang nephew’s kid to eat with rice but it was too strong on the ginger so he did not like it very much. In the end, the rest of us finished it off and yes, it was really very nice too.

My in-laws are not as familiar with kampung or ethnic cuisine so this traditional dish of tapioca leaves and sweet potatoes…

Tetek

…was something complete new to them – tapioca leaves with sweet potato and they loved it to bits!

For dessert, I ordered their dreamy nite pudding…

Dreamy Nite

…and also durian ice cream and mango ice cream to share.

The bill came up to around RM500, including all the extras that I ordered. Drinks, their pineapple ginger soda and another one, probably roselle with cucumber juice or something, and iced water were on the house… and rice was served “free flow” in a banana leaf in a rattan basket.

Considering that there were around 20 of us and we had such a delightful lunch – my in-laws were all so impressed, they enjoyed everything and were full of admiration of the extraordinary dishes, things that they had never had nor seen anywhere else – it really was worth it. I certainly would do it here again if ever I have any excuse or reason to do so.

Married…

My nephew (my wife’s brother’s son) and his wife tied the knot in Chiengmai, Thailand on the 18th of January. Some of you may know the couple, the two in the Sangkaya coconut ice cream franchise business venture.

They came home for the Chinese New Year celebration here so we were able to take time off for a simple all-in-the-family tea ceremony…

Tea ceremony

…and a wedding banquet at this restaurant in town which started off with this…

Yee Sang

– they managed to get this for the dinner in conjunction with Chinese New Year and my niece carted home all the cans of abalone to add to the dish.

Then, the dinner proper started with this dragon boat loaded with goodies…

Dragon boat

…followed by the unmentionable soup which was nothing to get upset about though as I could not find a single strand in it – despite the price of a table. I heard it was around RM600-700…and for that price, I certainly would expect a lot more.

 The steamed fish…

Steamed fish

…was very nice and there was enough in that huge slab for us to go for seconds and thirds.

The roast chicken and duck combo platter…

Roast poultry

…was all right though the duck was a little on the tough side.

Then came the broccoli dish…

Broccoli

…which was a bit more special than usual with all that abalone, mussels and everything in it other than the usual mushrooms with oyster sauce.

This was a disappointment – the butter prawns…

Butter prawns

The crustaceans looked so impressive – they were huge but unfortunately, they were bland, rather tasteless and not sweet at all.

Dessert was a fruit platter and this…

Dessert

…which, of course, I enjoyed very much as I loved the crackers with the lotus paste filling, pandan this time around…

Pandan lotus paste filling

It was a great gathering, all the family members from my wife’s side and it turned out that some the younger ones were my ex-students too! What a pleasant surprise. Small world indeed!

Congrats once again, John & Ivy. May your life together be blessed with abundant joy and overwhelming success in all that you two do together. God bless always, cheers!!!

Greetings…

Wishing everybody a Happy Chinese New Year, may all of us be blessed with good health and all that is sweet…

Red and gold

…good luck and good fortune…

Good luck

…in this Year of the Monkey in the Chinese lunar calendar.

Enjoy yourselves with all your loved and dear ones, happy feasting…

Feasting

…and celebrating and may God bless us all. 恭喜发财! 新年快乐! Gōngxǐ fācái! Xīnnián kuàilè! Cheers!!!