Brain…

Otak means brain in the Malay language and for the uninitiated, for the plural form of nouns in the language, the word is repeated so in this context, otak-otak would mean “brains”.

However, when we talk about otak otak, we are actually referring to that culinary delight that usually has fish as the main ingredient. I did blog about it a long long time ago in 2011 – I guess I had a different set of readers at the time and since there were some questions arising, I thought I would just blog about it again.

The first variety of otak otak that I ever tried were those wrapped in leaves and cooked over an open charcoal fire by the roadside…

Supermarket otak otak

…or at the Ramadhan (the Muslim fasting month) stalls. These days, they are available in the frozen section at the supermarkets and all you have to do would be to heat them up a bit in the oven, open…

Supermarket otak otak, inside

…and enjoy. I’ve tried the latter before and I thought they were quite nice and on the other hand, I did buy some not-very-edible ones from those stalls. I guess like everything else, one would need to know where to go or who to buy from so one will not end up having to throw it all away and wasting one’s money for nothing.

These days, here in Sibu, one can also get them at one of those Singapore nyonya curry laksa franchise outlets…

Katong laksa otak otak

I cannot remember how much they cost now – all that I can recall is how the packets were quite big but you will get just a little piece of the otak otak inside…

Katong laksa otak otak, inside

As for the taste, it was quite good, similar to those supermarket ones.

But if you go up north in the country to places like Penang, for instance, you will get otak otak of a different kind…

Penang otak-otak

Wrapped in banana leaves…

Wrapped in banana leaves

…and steamed, inside, you will find egg custard, chunks of fish and some fragrant leaves. I know many who are not fans of it – some do not like the egg custard, others do not like the smell of the leaves but I do enjoy it very much and I would order one or more to enjoy whenever I see any, like this one…

New World Park otak otak

…at the New World Park Food Court in Georgetown city centre.

Of course, many would swear by the ones from Muar, Johore. Unfortunately, I have never tried any fresh ones there, just these frozen ones…

Muar otak otak

…that a friend/ex-student gave me the other day. I thought they were all right, nothing to get excited about and no, you will not find me wanting more of that…but I did enjoy what I had at a restaurant in Kuala Lumpur

Muar Restaurant, KL otak otak

…on more than one occasion and I liked theirs a lot so whenever I dropped by there for dinner, that would be one of the first things I would order from their menu.

Of course if you ask me to pick my favourite otak otak, it would be the one here at Payung Cafe

Payung Cafe otak otak

…which is all fish plus all the wonderful flavours of the very fragrant ingredients used in the making and it can be a bit spicy which I like.

So, there you are! A quick look at the otak otak that I’ve tried – I don’t know if there are others around here or in our neighbouring countries and if there are, I sure would love to have the opportunity to try them someday.

Doin’ it well…

This (2.293453, 111.836235)…

Mitsu Shabu Shabu Cafe

…started off as a dim sum place with chefs specially brought in from China and yes, we did frequent it quite a lot then. When those guys had left, the local ones took over – there were not that many selections available after that but yes, there were the usual delights and enough choices for a good dim sum breakfast…and sometime later, probably the result of a change in ownership or something, I wouldn’t know, they ventured into shabu shabu/steamboat as well, upstairs on the 1st Floor and we did go for that once.

The last time we dropped by, we had the dim sum and I also tried the kampua noodles with slices of ang chao (the residue from the making of our traditional Foochow red wine) pork and yes, I thought it was very good – I did enjoy it that day.

Then, one afternoon last week, I decided to drop by for lunch – this place is located along Lorong Chew Siik Hiong 1 among the shops in the commercial area behind the medical centre where my mum is presently warded so it was quite convenient for me to walk over. It appeared to me that they have moved the kampua mee stall further in and right now, there is a chicken rice and roast/barbecued meat stall…

Mitsu Shabu Shabu Cafe chicken rice & roast meat stall

…in front.

The coffee (RM1.50)…

Mitsu Shabu Shabu Cafe kopi-o-peng

…I had was very nice and I sure would not have any second thoughts in ordering my usual kopi-o-peng (iced black coffee) here again the next time I drop by.

I asked for the roast pork…

Mitsu Shabu Shabu Cafe roast pork

…and the roast chicken…

Mitsu Shabu Shabu Cafe roast chicken

…as well as their steamed chicken…

Mitsu Shabu Shabu Cafe steamed chicken

…all of which were very nice and went very well with the chili dip that came with my order (RM7.00)…

Mitsu Shabu Shabu Cafe mixed meat platter

They also gave some fried tofu and pickled cucumber by the side and I loved the plating, right down to the heart-shaped rice. Somehow when the presentation is pleasant to the eye, one seems to enjoy eating one’s order more, what do you think?

The chicken rice was very nice – I would say it can rank among the best in town and I sure would love to drop by here again for more.

Temple of the king…

The Jade Dragon Temple or the the Yu Lung San Tien En Si Temple (玉龍山天恩寺) is located 27 km away from Sibu town. It is believed to be the largest not only in Malaysia but in South-east Asia as well, comprising 3 different forms of practice under one roof – Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism.

The colourful wall fronting the main Sibu-Mukah/Bintulu & Miri road has a nice dragon design…

Dragon on the wall

…on top.

There are a few big temples inside including this one…

Temple 2

…and this one…

Temple 2

…for instance, and other interesting structures…

Possibly, acknowledgements

…and arches…

Arch

…and pavilions…

Pavilion

…all over the sprawling compound and some intricate carvings (or carved tiles) and lovely paintings…

Fairies

…here and there…

7 fairies crossing the sea

There is also this circle of the 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac/horoscope surrounding a feng shui ball…

Chinese zodiac animals & feng shui ball

Probably, there is a fountain in the middle but it was not turned on when we were there that morning.

I did mention in an earlier post that we would drive past every Sunday when we sent our girl back to her school some 99 km away from Sibu but we never stopped by despite having heard a lot about this place of interest. That was why when my blogger friend, Nick, from Sungai Petani in Kedah, was here, I took the chance to come here on a visit.

If I am not wrong, this had been earmarked as a must-visit for tourists to Sibu but when I looked around at the place, I was somewhat disappointed by the dire need for good and proper maintenance. Some of the tiles had come off or were cracked or badly stained and there was some litter here and there. The toilets were obviously hardly ever used, not exactly dirty but I would not say they were very clean – as a matter of fact, the one that my missus used was not functioning properly – there was no water in the tank.

I don’t know if there is a permanent staff there to look after these things – I did see some building material and equipment being dumped all over the place but there wasn’t anybody working other than the two guys who were giving the wall a new coat of paint. 2017 being Visit Sibu Year, the authorities concerned should get into action quickly to spruce up the place so that it…

View of the main road from inside

…would be truly a place worth visiting while one is in Sibu.

While waiting…

That evening when Nick was coming back from Mukah, I went to the hotel to wait for him and in the meantime, I went to the coffee shop downstairs, the so-called food court…

Medan Hotel & Bus Terminal Food Court
*Archive photo*

They are selling the steamed paos (buns) that used to be very nice there – they are no longer at that former place now and I gathered that they are making them somewhere in Sibu Jaya and are made available at this particular coffee shop on a regular basis…

Steamer

I did buy their very nice char siew pao (RM2.00) not too long ago but I did not think it was as nice as before – the dough was not as great and the filling as well. I would say that it was not anything I would be in a hurry to buy again.

This time around, I decided to try their bak pao (meat bun)…

Bak pao

…which was, at best, all right to me…

Bak pao, filling

…not anything to get excited about and not really worth the money – if I remember correctly, it was RM2.50 each.

They did not have our local Foochow-style sio bee – Nick tried that when he was at the pasar malam (night market) and he did not like it much. Mostly sengkuang (turnip), he said, hardly any meat. For one thing, I certainly would not buy any from those stalls at the night market and for another, it is the same with everything else – when you go some place, it would be good to know a local who can tell you where you can get the best around. One just can’t simply go anywhere and try anything and everything that they see.

I tried the bak chang (meat dumpling)…

Bak chang

…too. I think this was RM2.00 each, cheaper than most around town including those at the shops and stalls round the corner from my house and nicer too. At least one can get to see some meat…

Bak chang, filling

…in the filling.

I saw that the bak kut teh stall here, one that has outlets at a number of places around town, was selling Sarawak laksa (RM5.00)…

Sibu Bus Terminal Food Court Sarawak laksa 1

Nick wanted to try that but we did not manage to slot that in with the little time that we had. I heard that he had that in Mukah but of course, I would not know how good or how original or authentic that one was.

This one lacked the fragrance and flavours that good Sarawak laksa should have though it tasted all right, something like a rather watered-down version of the curry mee…but the prawns were really the pits, like jelly…

Sibu Bus Terminal Food Court Sarawak laksa 2

…so much so that I just left them by the side. Well, if you guessed that I did not ask Nick to go and try it, you are right.

He was tired after the trip so he said he wanted to rest and sleep in his room and would venture out on his own when he got up. That was why I did not take him out that evening and told him that I would see him the very next morning before his flight home.

Mashed potato time…

When my girl was home last weekend, she mentioned that she loved the mashed potatoes here…

Payung Cafe centrepiece

…so very much, much more than the ones we make ourselves at home. I guess this place needs no introduction now and despite being hard pressed for time, shuttling between my parents’ house and our own and the medical centre and trying to cope with every little thing in between, I made it a point to take her there for that (RM8.00)…

Payung Cafe mashed potatoes

I guess nothing pleases a father more than seeing his child enjoying something that is made available to him or her.

I noticed that they had mushroom soup (RM5.00)…

Payung Cafe mushroom soup

…on their menu and I ordered that to try. Yes, it was so very nice and no, you will not catch us eating those in the cans and packets ever again after this. We did check the ingredients to make sure it was gluten free and indeed, it was – just mushrooms, potatoes and milk, the boss said – no flour was used in the making.

We got one huge bowl of the soup but of course, that was specially for us. I understand that the usual serving would not be so big. We enjoyed it a lot, thick and rich and nice and we imagined adding prawns and squid (sotong), clams (lala) perhaps or mussels and we would have one very delightful bowl of seafood chowder.

Other than our usual pomelo salad (RM8.00)…

Payung Cafe pomelo salad

…I also wanted to try their sour chicken (RM16.00, with rice)…

Payung Cafe sour chicken

…which is their variation of the Cantonese sour duck. No, it was not the same as the sour duck that I had before – it had all those herbs and other ingredients so as to make it a cut above the rest. I wanted to try it as I saw an article in a Chinese newspaper sometime ago – they interviewed Peter, the boss and this dish was the main feature in that publication. Personally, I would go for our favourites here, the spicier and stronger tasting delights that they serve, but I thought this would be all right sometimes for a change, a good option for anyone who is not into anything hot and spicy.

After that quick lunch, we had to rush off quickly to…where else but the medical centre.

It makes no difference now…

We had a little problem the last time we had kway teow here…

Sri Tanjung Cafe
*Archive photo*

…as we ordered their kway teow goreng and char kway teow and got two different ways of cooking those flat rice noodles.

Well, we went back to the place at Sungai Antu, opposite RTM, their Sibu office and station, the other day and my missus had their nasi lemak special (RM6.00)…

Sri Tanjung nasi lemak special

The rice on its own was not anything to shout about but the sambal was very nice and extra spicy. My missus liked it a lot so I tapao-ed RM5.00 of that home.

I loved the egg she got with its very runny yolk…

Runny yolk

…and the chicken rendang that came with the special…

Chicken rendang

…was very nice.

I asked for the kway teow goreng or char kway teow, the special (RM6.00)…

Sri Tanjung kway teow goreng 1

…of course and it makes no difference what you call it now; you will end up getting the one and the same thing, the girl said.

It was very nice and no, they do not claim that it is anything like Penang’s or anything anywhere else – it’s their own version of fried kway teow and one thing’s for sure, you simply can’t go wrong when you have lots of prawns…

Lot of prawns

…in it.

I was rather disappointed with my egg though…

Egg, overcooked

It was overcooked, nothing like what my missus had with her nasi lemak and I got a piece of fried chicken…

Fried chicken

…with my order. I would prefer the rendang that my missus had. I certainly would make my preference known to them should we drop by again and I happen to order this…

Sri Tanjung kway teow goreng 2

…the next time around.

All in all, we did enjoy what we had that day, a little pricier than some places around here but it did not matter as long as what we had was good enough.

Sara…

This place (2.307544, 111.820744)…

Sara Cafe Sibu

…in the vicinity of Simpang Tiga, Sibu is walking distance from my parents’ house, some 100-200 metres away and even though it has been around for quite a while now and we virtually drive past every day on our way home after visiting my parents, for no apparent reason, we never stopped by to check the place out.

They certainly have a lot of things on their menu…

What's available

– you can check their Facebook page for a glimpse of some of those that they have in store…and these western delights…

Western menu

…are available any time of day – most places serve these in the evenings – right up to when they close at around 5 or 6.00 p.m.

The coffee here was really very good…

Sara Cafe kopi o peng

…a far cry and a lovely change from the ones at most of the Malay eateries where it is mostly extremely sweet with hardly any coffee fragrance.

I had their nasi lemak special (RM5.50)…

Sara Cafe nasi lemak special

…but all I got over and above the usual…

Sambal, peanuts and salted fish

…one would expect when ordering this was this fried chicken wing…

Fried chicken wing

…which certainly looked kind of small compared to those elsewhere. The rice was nothing great despite the nice tint of green because it was not lemak but of course, when eaten with the sambal and everything else including the somewhat over-fried egg…

Fried egg

…I thought it was all right but the one I had here was much nicer and costs 50 sen less.

My missus had their ayam penyet (RM7.00)…

Sara Cafe ayam penyet

…and yes, she did enjoy it and they even gave a few pieces of tempeh

Ulam & tempeh

…by the side but what won her over was the very nice and spicy sambal

Sambal

She loved that!

Well, considering the convenience of its location, we may drop by time and time again to try whatever else they have on their menu.

The day you went away…

Nick went to Mukah for over a day to visit some university mates of his there so I was not able to see him, Thursday, and all too soon, it was time for him to leave.

We went to pick him up at the hotel early Friday morning. The initial plan was to go for dim sum at a restaurant nearby but I thought he would like to try another of our local Foochow delight instead as he would be able to find dim sum quite easily here, there and everywhere, even very much nicer ones, perhaps. However, this place was not open yet – it opens at 8.00 a.m. so we went back to where we came, the hotel where he was staying, to a coffee shop in that same block. I wanted him to try the zhao chai hung ngang (RM30.00)…

Tung Lok zhao chai hung ngang, prawn

– the big bihun in the sourish and slightly spicy preserved vegetable soup there. I asked for the udang galah (giant freshwater prawns) seeing that he did not get to enjoy the one in Sarikei so this was like killing two birds with one stone.

Yes, he liked it and he loved the prawn – he said it was very firm and very fresh. This was quite big – it had legs, anything smaller would not have those but according to the lady, one could opt for the bigger sizes going for RM45.00 a bowl up to even RM60.00 depending on the size of the prawn. I did not specify when I ordered so they just gave us the “smallest” they had.

My missus had the same but with fish – tapah (RM12.00)…

Zhao chai hung ngang, fish

…but I am not really into this so I opted for something else. If I am not mistaken, as far as this Sibu Foochow specialty is concerned, this place…

Tung Lok Corner Sibu

…is among the best, if not THE best, in town. It used to be here attracting customers by the droves but it moved here sometime ago in the same block as the hotel where Nick was staying…

Medan Hotel Sibu Bus Terminal

…at the other end, facing the Sibu Bus Terminal directly and they have been here since, still enjoying that same popularity as before.

I had the Foochow fried noodles with fish – tapah (RM12.00)…

Tung Lok Foochow fried noodles, tapah

…and yes, it was very nice but as far as the noodles were concerned, I would say I would prefer a few elsewhere.

Some paternal cousins of mine love the kampua noodles here so much so that they would bring any visiting siblings or cousins here every day for this. That was why I ordered a plate with pian sip mee (RM2.80)…

Tung Lok pian sip kampua

…but no, I certainly would not go there again for this and as a matter of fact, we left most of it behind, unfinished.

After having had our fill, we drove Nick to visit the Yu Lung San Tien En Si Temple Complex

Nick at the temple complex, Sibu

…reputed to be the biggest in South-east Asia. It is a little out of town but just around 5 minutes from the roundabout near the airport – on the way to Mukah or Bintulu or to my girl’s jungle school. We drove past every week for so many years but we never did stop by to walk around. That was why I was glad to get the chance this time around and I did take a lot of photographs while we were there – I may share them in a later post, we’ll see.

After a brief stop at the new township, also near the airport, Sibu Jaya, we dropped Nick off to catch his flight…

Nick at Sibu Airport, departure

…home.

I must say I had a jolly good time myself though it was somewhat limited and we could have done a lot more things if I did not have my filial duties at this point in time…and I certainly would love to welcome Nick back again someday to tie up whatever loose ends left dangling. Thanks for coming, Nick. I do hope I’ll be seeing you again…soon.

Not enough time…

On his third day here, Nick wanted to go to Mukah to visit his former university mates there but the bus was scheduled to leave at around noon which meant that I just had that morning to squeeze in whatever I could while he was here in Sibu, Sarawak.

I took him to Rejang Park here to see the making of the so-called Foochow bagel, our kompia

Making kompia, Rejang Park
*Archive photo*

…the traditional way and of course, we went to that one with the nice and friendly young boy, complete with his signature towel apron. Yes, I did get some and also a few of the softer and slightly sweet version, the chu nu miang, for Nick to try. Personally, I like the kompia here the best – crustier, not so chewy or rubbery, and more fragrant.

Next, I took him to the Sibu Central Market, reputed to be the biggest in the country, but no, we did not have that much time to go round the whole place. He just hopped out of the car to walk around quickly to see what he could see, take photographs the street art mural on the wall there…

Sibu Central market newspaper chicken & duck
*Archive photo*

…and the famed newspaper-wrapped chickens…

Newspaper-wrapped chickens
*Archive photo*

…and we were on our way.

After that, we stopped by here…

Wan Jia He Cafe

…for breakfast.

I picked this place as he wanted anything and everything Sibu – he did not want to go to any place that is Thai, Italian, Indian, Indonesian and all the rest that we have here, never mind how good they are as he can get those quite easily elsewhere, everywhere…and here, I could order a few of our local Foochow delights for him to try.

These were our drinks…

Drinks

I had my usual kopi-o-peng kao and he had the teh-c special once again. Yes, you may notice that mug of hot boiling water at the back – Nick did manage to go here (located somewhere behind the hotel where he  was staying) for the kampua mee and the pian sip on his own before he caught a bus to Sarikei that day and he sent me a photograph of the one he was given there asking me what that was for. I quickly replied to tell him that was not for drinking but for people to sterilise their chopsticks and forks and spoons – this is a requirement imposed by our municipal council on all eateries here.

I ordered the char bee lau too kha (fragrant root pork leg)…

Char bee lau too kha

…but no, Nick is not all that fond of those Chinese herbal soups so I could understand jolly well why he did not enjoy that very much.

He loved the mee sua in our traditonal Foochow red wine chicken soup…

Mee sua in traditional Foochow red wine chicken soup 1

…though. He said it…

Mee sua in traditional Foochow red wine chicken soup 2

…was a whole lot nicer than the blood-red red wine mee sua he had some place else, but he could not remember exactly where.

However, his favourite was the Foochow fried noodles…

Foochow fried noodles

…as this dish has a much stronger taste than the mee sua and he liked that. The place was packed, so full of people that it was difficult getting a table and obviously, the lady was so very busy with all that cooking to be done, dishing out plate after plate, non-stop so she did not have time to worry about the presentation. It tasted really very good though – in my personal opinion, I would rank it as the best…or at least, among the top 3 in town.

Another thing that amazed me immensely was how I could just tell her my orders and my table number and she could remember everything without having to write it down…plus we did not have to wait long even though there were so many people that early in the morning, around 8.00 a.m!

Having had our fill, I took Nick here to snap a shot of the rooster…

Farley Chinese New Year rooster
*Archive photo*

He was in luck! They were beginning to take down the decorations as the Chinese New Year festivities were over but before that, we did stop here as well – the Kutien Memorial Park…

Nick at Kutien Memorial Park, Sibu 1

He sure took a lot of photographs there…

Nick at Kutien Memorial Park Sibu 2

…and he was particularly impressed by how Chinese the place was, like some place one would be most likely to find in China…

Nick at Kutien Memorial Park, Sibu 3

…right here in our good ol’ Sibu town.

Having done all that, I sent him back to the hotel so he could rest a bit and get ready for his bus ride to Mukah.

Complete…

No trip to Sibu would be complete if you do not drop by here…

Nick at Payung

…and on his second day here, Nick took a bus to Sarikei in the hope of enjoying the celebrated giant freshwater noodles there but the place was closed and without that, there wasn’t really much there for someone going around on his own without a car and nobody to take him around and all.

He got back here at around 4.00 p.m. mid-afternoon and I took him here for the Sarawak laksa but it was sold out…and then, I took him here for the prawn noodles since he did not get to enjoy the one in Sarikei but the shop wasn’t open either.

I did not intend to come here initially as I knew they would be very busy at that point in time getting ready for their special Valentine’s Day buffet dinner that night but I decided to stop by, nonetheless…

One for the memory

…considering that with the limited time Nick would be in town, we might not get the chance to do so. If I did not have my commitments that night, I certainly would have brought him here to enjoy all that they had to offer in their Valentine’s Day special – 20 different dishes for only RM50.00 per head.

Peter, the nice boss, was kind enough to welcome us – there were others who came while we were there and they were nicely informed that they could come back for the buffet dinner starting at 6.30 p.m. should they choose to do so.

Nick loved the Payung rojak

Payung Cafe Payung rojak

…but between the two, he liked the pomelo salad…

Payung Cafe pomelo salad

…more – so nice and refreshing with the delightful fragrance of the herbs and leaves in it, he said…and very unique, not something one can easily find elsewhere.

He got to try the buah pakan/pakon, the wild durian, in Sarikei but being a true-blue lover of durian, he did not enjoy it so much. He said it was a little too mild in taste and smell compared to the real thing but he did enjoy the durian ice cream…

Payung Cafe durian ice cream

…that we had here for dessert.

He did not get the chance to try a lot of the stuff here as I did not want to order anything that was not so convenient for Peter and his guys to prepare and serve but he thought the mushroom roll…

Payung Cafe mushroom roll

…was really very nice and he loved the Payung otak-otak

Payung Cafe otak otak

…which was extra spicy that day and yes, like my missus and I, he is into things spicy so he did not have a problem with that.

That was all we had that day – all the rest would have to wait till the next time he decides to hop over to Sibu again though I wonder when that will be. After that, I dropped him off at the pasar malam (night market) in the hope that more stalls would be open as unlike the previous evening, the weather was fine that evening.