Sisters are doing it for themselves…

A long time ago, during my childhood days, the Chinese or more specifically the Foochows in Sibu were noted for their bland food. The emphasis was on quantity, not quality.

Around that same time too, anything spicy in their food was quite unheard of and their curry (chicken) was very diluted – with the pieces of chicken cooked with a little bit of curry powder and swimming in a pool of santan (coconut milk). If you would like to eat that kind of chicken curry, I know one place in town that still cooks it this way. Believe you me, I do go for it once in a while and it certainly feels like old times.

But times have changed and the Chinese/Foochows in Sibu have progressed to curry that is a lot spicier and in fact, there are some places serving very good curry like this one, for instance, where the fish head curry can rival any cooked by the Malays or the others in their cafes and restaurants…and there are many Chinese-owned nasi lemak stalls in town too.

On the other hand, you can go to many Malay stalls around here and they do sell kampua noodles and kolo mee too but the halal (does not contain pork or any pork related products) version, of course but what earns them my utmost respect would be the ability to tie these meat dumplings or what the Chinese call bak zhang

Halal bak zhang 1

They call them ketupat but I guess when somebody mentions ketupat, this would be the last thing on our minds.

It is really very sad, tragic in fact, that many among the Chinese themselves do not know how to tie these dumplings as I would consider this a part of their culture, their tradition, their heritage…and yet, our fellow-countrymen/ladies can do it so well. I have purposely put the dumpling on a spoon to give everyone an idea of how delicately small that is.

Each of them costs RM1.00 only. The Chinese-made ones sold at some places in the town are RM2.00-2.50 each but they are a bit bigger, maybe almost twice the size and theirs are of a darker shade of brown than this…

Halal bak zhang 2

…as in the making, the glutinous rice would have been fried first, with soy sauce and five spice powder added.

But the nyonya zhangs that my mum and the rest in the family used to make were also pale/white like this…

Halal bak zhang 3

…and we do like it this way.

Inside that little dumpling are little bits of meat…

Halal bak zhang 4

…and though it is not cooked to taste the same as the Chinese ones, I must say that it tastes very good. In fact if they had added a bit of ketumbar (coriander), it would taste like the nyona zhangs that we grew up eating in our families in those gone by days so very long ago.

I would say here also that in the Chinese-made ones that I had had, the authentic taste was there but the meat would hardly be visible…and with a salted egg yolk (at times, not really all that fresh) added, the price would go up to RM3.00-3.50. In view of this, I would much rather go for these cheaper and nicer Malay ones…and the way things are going in this day and age when the young ones would very much prefer burgers and pizzas, who knows, one day, our descendants would enjoy eating ketupat daging (meat), not realising that they’re actually bak zhang, something that originally, their ancestors used to make.