Open house…

I’ve known the open house tradition for as long as I can remember.

We had it twice a year, at Christmas and soon after that, at Chinese New Year. My dad was a businessman and he had many friends and customers who would come round to enjoy my mum’s curry, served with bread and everyone loved her cakes and cookies too, not forgetting our very special “Singapore rambutans” which would always bear fruit around that time of year. This year, I was glad to be able to do the same with the rambutans from the sole-surviving tree at the back of my house.

In my childhood days, come Hari Raya Puasa/Aidilfitri, I would go with my Malay/Melanau friends from the neighbourhood to the houses in the kampungs in the vicinity. Their open house concept was a bit different then – they would welcome anybody and everybody dropping by and once at a house, the old folks would “interrogate” us, asking us whose children we were and so on and so forth. In the small kampung community, everybody knew everybody so nobody was a stranger. I remember those tiny glasses in which they would serve the drinks and also their long tables filled with all kinds of cakes in a myriad of colours – they did not use to serve food as in curry and rendang and what not back in those days.

Later, as I grew bigger/older, I remember what a lovely time I had with my friends in the 60’s, right through till the 70’s when we went on our bicycles to visit house after house after house, relatives and friends alike, from morning till night and my friends would come on their bicycles to my house too! What joy that brought us and how sad it is that the young ones these days don’t do this anymore, or not that I know of, that is!

Unlike my parents before, I no longer have open houses come Christmas every year but I would have it during Chinese New Year which is usually not long after that – this year, they were only a month apart. However, we had not had that for some two years now owing to the demise of my parents, first my dad and then my mum.

I do enjoy holding open houses but sad to say, I did not have a lot of friends visiting me this year. Other than the guys from Payung and my good friend, Lim, and his family, and not forgetting, the wonderful people, my friends, from the petrol station that I frequent here in Sibu, nobody else came.

On my part, I only visited the elders in my family – my uncle (my father’s younger brother) and my aunt (my father’s younger sister) to convey my Happy Chinese New Year greetings and the latter did come over to my house with all in her family.

Some of my girl’s colleagues from her former school dropped by too, a special thank you especially to those who drove all the way from there to town just to come and visit. A friend of hers, going all the way back to Primary One, came with her family and another good friend of hers, also a teacher, was here with two of her nieces. Her coursemate, the very nice guy from Terengganu, who was with her in Sg Petani and Wellington, New Zealand and is now teaching in Sibu, visited us too with his wife and son.

All the rest were my ex-students including one from my English tuition class who scored straight A’s in English (SPM & 1119) and is now an English teacher in her own right. Among my ex-students who came were these two…

SHS students

…and another one who came with his family the day before as he did not read the messages carefully and ended up coming earlier.

Another student, who dropped by my house when he and his family arrived home from Kuching to pass me some lovely dishes that he brought all the way, made it a point to come by as well. He said that he did meet some of his ex-classmates and the mere mention of my name would send shudders up their spine and they were reluctant to come and visit. Hmmm…and I thought I was always very nice when I was teaching them – I guess it was the size that all of them found intimidating. LOL!!!

Then there were two from another former school where I was teaching in the 90’s – they came with their children and these two brothers and a sister, also from that same school, came with theirs…

The Toh family

Of course, I prepared ang-paos for the children…

Ang paos

…and those eligible bachelors and spinsters, never mind how old they may be, for good luck and I must thank my friend at my regular bank who would always help reserve those new bank notes for me for the purpose.

And a very big thank you to the Headmistress, the Senior Assistants and my girl’s colleagues…

St Rita staff

…from her current school who took the time to drop by as well, truly a lovely and special gesture that is most appreciated indeed.

In my neighbourhood, I only saw two houses that had visitors, probably just the members of the family. For some reason, the other houses in my lane were rather quiet. Perhaps like us in the past two years, they too had their reason, I wouldn’t know but what I do know for a fact was that many had their reunion dinner on the eve of Chinese New Year’s Eve so they could go some place the following day and would not be celebrating the festival here.

When I was in Singapore in 1973, I saw that they had their family reunion dinner and in the days that followed, they would just sit at the tables playing mahjong or whatever and I heard that this would be the usual practice in the peninsula too. Sad to say, it looks like the practice of holding open houses is gradually becoming a dying tradition.

Nonetheless, I, for one, would continue to observe and preserve our heritage and enjoy the bonding, all the good wishes and the positive vibes, all that joy and laughter shared with everyone who cares enough to stop by. Thank you once again to all who came this year and thanks to those who brought along a little something too…

Family & friends…

My good friend, Lim, and his family went back home to Kuching for Chinese New Year and they drove all the way back on the 3rd Day, arriving in Sibu late in the night.

I invited them over to my house on the evening of the 4th Day – we used to do this quite often before but with their kids all grown up now and their work commitments and all plus we were tied up at one time taking care of my ailing parents, we could barely find time to do this and since the schools were still having their holiday, I thought that would be a good time to get together like old times. I also asked my sister to join us, 9 of us altogether.

Of course, we did not serve them all the left overs from our reunion dinner and our open house on the first day. This was a fresh batch of my missus’ chicken curry…

Chicken curry

– the last of the lot. She cooked a whole lot and kept it in separate tubs so she could heat up a tub at a time to serve and yes, she also fried her ngor hiang

Ngor hiang

– she would pre-steam these to keep and then deep-fry a few at a time to serve.

This was a new one too – I ordered two that day and we had finished the first one, the duck stuffed with glutinous rice…

Duck sticky rice

…from a leading hotel in town. If anyone is curious, this is what it looks like inside…

Duck sticky rice, inside

– the duck, deboned and stuffed with something like lor mai kai that one would usually get at those dim sum places.

My niece, the one working in Singapore, gave us these when she came home that day – the overrated, celebrated Muar otak-otak

Muar otak-otak

I think she did say something before like this would be much nicer than the one at Payung but of course, we would disagree 100%. My West Malaysian friends from KL that day would vouch for the fact that the Payung one is in a class of its own, many many cuts above and a whole lot nicer – they loved it so much that they immediately placed orders to take home – and it came as no surprise that none of us that night had anything nice to say about this one.

I also steamed a fresh pack of sio bee

Sio bee

…from here and I had this super-duper spicy tempoyak

Payung tempoyak

…from Payung which, in fact, is cooked durian, not really the fermented version of the fruit and we also had this very nice sambal petai

Sambal petai

…from a Malay lady who sells some very nice dishes at her stall in front of her house along Jalan Ria at its T-junction with Jalan Kpg Datu Baru.

They went really well with the last bundle of the banana leaf-wrapped ketupat/kelupis


…that my aunt gave me that day.

My missus also fried this dish of broccoli…

Fried broccoli

…and steamed one of the two Chinese silver pomfret or 斗底鲳 (Dao Dai Chong/ikan bawal tambak) that I bought…

Steamed fish

…which one of my West Malaysian friends that day told me is a class above the regular pek chio (white pomfret). I did not know that before this – to me, it was either black (or chio) or gold (kim chio) or white (pek chio). Personally, I think the Soon Hock we had for our reunion dinner that day was nicer.

I guess they all enjoyed the dinner and I, for one, enjoyed every moment of the get-together – the catching up with one another’s lives, the bonding, the laughter and the joy. Such good vibes all round sure auger well for a bright and happy year ahead.

Holy cow…

My friend/ex-student shared on Facebook about how nice what she had here was, even nicer than when she had the same in Taiwan. Of course, since then, I had been waiting for the chance to drop by and check the place…

Mr. Cow


It turned out to be a franchise…

For selfie lovers

…most probably Taiwanese…

Taipei 101

…with outlets all over. Incidentally, isn’t “cow” feminine? Looks like that’s one very confused creature there. LOL!!!

We dropped by for dinner one night and I wasted no time at all in ordering what my friend/ex-student had (RM8.00)…

Mr Cow Braised pork rice

Yes, I would say it was very nice and I did enjoy it a lot but the one I had here and later, here, was very much nicer but unfortunately, the guy concerned did not seem all that devoted to his business and it came as no surprise to me that eventually, he closed shop and called it a day.

I asked for one stewed egg (RM1.50)…

Mr Cow stewed egg

…but the girl said that I would be getting half in my bowl of rice. “没关系! 我要另一个!” (Never mind! I want another one!) I replied.

We asked for a jug of this very refreshing watermelon & passion fruit juice (RM9.90)…

Mr Cow watermelon & passion fruit juice

…to be shared among the three of us and there sure was enough to go round.

My girl and the mum had their beef noodles (RM10.00 a bowl)…

Mr Cow beef noodles

…with their own handmade noodles and yes, it was nice too. The serving was huge and there was tripe as well, alongside the beef but I did not think I could detect a very strong beef taste. Personally, I would very much prefer the one we had here for only RM8.50. They were out of the special chili dip for beef noodles though and that was kind of disappointing.

I saw something that looked like crème brûlée among the photographs on the wall but actually, that was their caramel pudding (RM5.00)…

Mr Cow caramel pudding

…with the lightly-torched thin layer of sugar on top. However, instead of the egg custard inside, they had this Chinese pudding, the one made from the powder wrapped in white paper with blue writing, that people often mistakenly call chai eyen which is actually agar-agar, not the same. I may be wrong but I think that is hun kwe. Anyway, whatever it is called, I asked for that and I did enjoy it very much.

Service was great even though the girls were not that conversant in English but the young eager beavers went all out to please and I would say that it would be a very nice place to go to for lunch or dinner. They open at 11.00 a.m. till 3.00 p.m. and from 5.00 p.m. till 11.00 p.m. except on Wednesdays, their off day.

烤大爷 Mr. Cow (2.306031, 111.849136) is located at 2, Lorong Pahlawan 7e, among the shops opposite Everwin, Sibu Bus Terminal, round the corner from Yum Yum Cafe.

Cookies and cake…

My missus did not bake any cakes this year – she has not been doing so for many years now, not since that year when in the midst of her Chinese New Year baking, the oven suddenly decided to call it quits and I had to rush out to buy a new one for her. Unfortunately, the cakes she baked that year turned out disastrous so she never baked again from that time onwards.

Well, this year, I went to my regular Malay kuih stall at Bandong to order their baked cakes. I bought their marble cake…

Marble cake

…and their poppyseed cake…

Poppyseed cake

…and also their choco cake…

Choco cake

They were all very nice, not really sweet and very soft and moist unlike some cakes that we get from the bakeries here and each of them was only RM18.00 for a 12-inch square – I thought that was very cheap!

I was not all that keen on their very expensive steamed kek lapis Sarawak especially those colourful ones with all the artificial colouring used in the making. I only bought half a  kek belacan (RM50.00)…

Kek belacan

…thus named because of the resemblance.  This is a very rich cake with 10 eggs, condensed milk, kaya, cocoa, Horlicks, Milo and everything else. It is so rich that even before I removed the cling film, I could detect the lovely fragrance.

I also bought another steamed cake – the sisik ikan or fish scales (RM35 for  a loaf, around a quarter of the cake)…

Sisik ikan

…which is, in fact, a layer cake with san cha (haw flakes), one of my favourites and even though it does not come cheap, I simply had to buy that as well!

My missus insisted on baking her own cookies even though we already bought a whole lot when we went to Kuching that day.

She made her usual ones, the ones she would make year in and year out, including these old school floral butter cookies…

Butter cookies

…and these chocolate chip ones…

Chocolate chip cookies

…and her Nestum cookies…

Nestum cookies

…which used to be long like a caterpillar but this year, she went for a different shape.

Then she made these cheese ones…

Cheese cookies

…that she said my girl and also her niece, the one working in Singapore, love a lot and she just had to make them for  the two to enjoy, especially.

Of course, her cookies were very nice, a cut above the rest, as she used Golden Churn butter, no less!

So much more than this…

My niece, the one working in Singapore, arrived home on the 1st Day of the Chinese Lunar New Year and she and her parents dropped by for lunch.

We had all that we had for our reunion dinner the night before – we still had a lot of every dish as we only served a bit of each for fear that we would not be able to finish everything.

Other than those, there were also the chicken curry and the satay beef…

Satay beef

…that my missus cooked and I bought this daging masak hitam

Masak hitam

…from one of the hotel restaurants, my favourite in town.

Those went absolutely well with the ketupat/kelupis wrapped in banana leaf …


…that my aunt gave me.

I also bought the sio bee I bought from here (80 sen each)…

Sio bee

…and also the ones from the Dewan Suarah market (RM1.00 each). Everyone said that the former, though smaller, were nicer.

I invited my friends from Payung to come over for lunch and was so glad they did and also my girl’s friend, her ex-classmate from Primary 1 and her family. The rest that came were all Muslims so we could not  ask them to join in. I told my missus that next year, I would ask some people at the kampung to cater  so everyone would be able to enjoy…and she would not need to slave in the kitchen for days and days.

Just take it easy…

I told my missus to just take it easy, relax and I would go out and buy everyone’s favourites for our Chinese New Year Reunion Dinner the other day. Unfortunately, it all fell on deaf ears and she insisted on cooking a few dishes of her own.

She cooked these freshwater prawns…


…the way her mum used to cook it and of course, she insisted on making some ngor hiang

Ngor hiang

…and prepared the salad…


– we had not poured the dressing over everything yet and no, she did not forget her kacang ma chicken

Kacang ma chicken

..and she also cooked this fish maw soup…

Fish maw soup

I went and bought one Soon Hock (marble goby) and she had it steamed…

Steamed Soon Hock

…and yes, it was very very nice. We all enjoyed it a lot.

My sister joined us that night and she brought along this ang chao chicken…

Ang chao chicken

…and I went to a leading hotel in town and bought this, my favourite duck stuffed with glutinous rice…

Glutinous rice duck

…which my girl and I loved a lot. The mum would not touch the bird!

I also got this lamb masala

Lamb masala

…from Payung too.

That sure was a lovely dinner for the 6 of us – my in-laws joined us that night but their daughter, my niece, in Singapore could not make it home in time and would only be back the next day, the first day of the Chinese Lunar New Year. My missus did cook a few more dishes and yes, I did buy quite a lot myself as well – but we decided not to take everything out as we would not be able to finish. You’ll get to see what else there were in a future blogpost.


Yes! It’s the 1st day of the Chinese Lunar New Year today, the Year of the Rat! We have not celebrated this auspicious occasion for a few years now following the demise of my parents but we are this year and we certainly have a reason to celebrate – my girl has been posted to a school in town, no longer at her jungle school anymore.

I used to go all out with the decorations but this year, I’ve toned down somewhat and I’m keeping it rather simple. I went to buy three of these lanterns to hang at the arches on my patio…

Lanterns, outside

…but I did not want those gaudily red and gold ones that make one’s house look like a temple. I sure was glad that I managed to find these lovely floral pumpkin-shaped ones, RM98.00 each, pretty and not overly-showy, I thought. No, I did not fix any lights – I’m a friend of the environment, no need to waste electricity…and no, no firecrackers and fireworks for me either – I have no intention of contributing to the air pollution and global warming!

Inside the house, I bought these two lanterns (RM18.90 each)…

Lanterns, inside

They’re those do-it-yourself ones and I was supposed to assemble them myself. However, the sweet young things at the shop asked me if I would like them to do it for me and of course, I said yes. Golly gee!!! It sure did not look easy and if I were to do it myself, I would destroy them in no time at all, I’m sure – me and my clumsy hands.

These pussy willows…

Pussy willows

…are from a few years ago. This year, since we are celebrating, my missus bought new ones for inside the house and I took the old ones outside. I made a few lanterns using ang pao packets and bought a pack of the tiny ones and another pack of the fans to decorate the stems.

I spotted this…

Nativity Scene decor

…a Chinese New Year-ish Christmas tree ornament with the Nativity Scene at the Catholic Articles Centre here and I simply couldn’t resist buying. I attached a tail to it and placed it at a prominent place right in the centre of it all in the hope that my family and I shall be abundantly blessed in the year ahead.

In the meantime, I received this Chinese New Year card…

From Brisbane

…probably the only one I shall be getting this year, all the way from my cousin in Brisbane, Australia. She sent it on 1st January and it got here within two weeks, thank you so much, Teresa – that’s so sweet of you.

These came from my dear ol’ friend, Jasmine, in Adelaide, Australia…

From Adelaide

– a beautiful Friendship calendar for 2020, a birthday card and a Christmas card. She sent them in the middle of November and for reasons unknown, they took TWO WHOLE MONTHS to arrive, thank you so much to you too, Jas.

These came all the way from Australia as well, from Perth, to be exact, the grapes and the avocados…

From Perth

…from a faithful reader of mine there. He comes home every year and never fails to bring me something from there, such a thoughtful and generous guy he is, thank you so very very much. No, obviously he bought the tickets here but do wish me lots and lots of luck, everybody! Fingers crossed, I will strike it big this Chinese New Year. LOL!!!

My dear cousin and his lovely wife never fails to give me something every Chinese New Year…

From Lek & Saliah

…some goodies from the kampung. Thank you so much to the two of you, Lek & Saliah – I particularly love the kuih sepit/kapit with sesame seeds added, so much so that I have already finished half of the tub before the dawning of the new year, believe you me.

In the meantime, I got word from my friend, Merryn, in KL. She also sent me something via POSLAJU but the national courier service is facing some VERY serious problems these days and people are receiving their mail EXTREMELY late – “laju” is the very last word to describe their service, I’m afraid. Nonetheless, I marched to their office yesterday afternoon to enquire and lo and behold! I got the cookies…

Cookies from Merryn

…just in time for the new year, thank you heaps to you too, Merryn – that’s so very sweet of you!

Now, if you may recall, I did say the other day that I love surprises, especially the ones least expected and it sure was a lovely surprise when my ex-student, James, sent word that he and his family were on their way home by road and were in Sarikei already at that point in time and he had some things for me. He got to my house at around 9.00 p.m. so of course, I only got to enjoy them the next day.

James kept telling me about this dish…


…but by the time he left, the only thing I could remember was it was vegetarian. LOL!!! It was very nice – it tasted something like our daging masak hitam except that there was no meat in it.

He told me that the other dish was bicol, a Filipino fermented pork delight…


…and yes, we loved it a lot! It was super-duper spicy and super delicious, something like masak lemak or the nyonya laksa curry in taste. I sure would want to order that if ever I set foot in a Filipino restaurant anytime in the near future, a big thank you to you too, James – thanks for remembering and for going through all that trouble to bring them all the way to let me try. We sure had a delightful dinner that night.

I guess I shall have more on the festival in my future posts and in the meantime, here’s wishing one and all a very Happy and Blessed and Prosperous Chinese New Year…

Year of the rat

新年快樂! Xīnnián kuàilè! 恭喜發財! Gong Xi Fa Cai!!!

I’m still around…

A long long time ago, way back in 2014, I stumbled upon this very nice kolo mee here but they have demolished that coffee shop and are currently building something, I dunno what, at the site.  Even Rose and her two kids – I think the youngest had yet to make his appearance into this world at the time, went to give it a try and they gave their nod of approval and coming from somebody from Kuching, that was indeed something!

Well, that night at my sister’s birthday dinner, there were two of her friends with us and they told me that the stall had moved here…

Sin Kiaw Cafe

…and the other morning, I dropped by to give it a try.

I cannot remember how much that was now, probably RM4.00…

Sin Kiaw kolo mee

…but yes, it was very good, just as nice as before and I must say that it can give the ones that I had on my recent Kuching trip a run for their money, like this one, for instance. Having said that, I did feel that it was even nicer when tossed with the vinegar and chili dip that came with it.

I could remember the very nice Sibu Foochow-style sio bee from that coffee shop and way back then, I would go there to buy to give to folks in the other towns and that morning, I ordered two (80 sen each)…

Sin Kiaw sio bee

…to see if they were still as good and yes, they were! There is a stall at the Dewan Surah market – the lady makes her own every Friday and will sell them there from Saturday onwards and hers are just as good except that they are RM1.00 each.

I asked for a whole lot of frozen ones to steam and serve for our Chinese New Year Reunion Dinner – wait a minute! That’s tonight!!! So what will you all be having? Stick around and soon enough, you will get to see the spread we have prepared for this very significant event!

SIN KIAW CAFE (2.291287, 111.826611) is located along Ramin Way, the first shop on your right as you turn in from Jalan Kampung Nyabor, right behind the petrol station located at the bend.

Are you man enough…

When I was in the vicinity the other day, I dropped by here…

Sajian Ummi

…for something light. I’ve been here before but was not impressed by what I had at the time.

This time around, I noticed that they had a roti canai stall…

Sajian Ummi roti canai stall

…now so I decided to give it a try.

I placed my order and sat down to wait. In the meantime, the teh tarek ais (iced pulled tea) that I asked for was served…

Sajian Ummi teh tarek ais

…and yes, in line with the current no single-use plastic rule, no straw was provided. I wished they had given a spoon or a stirrer though, to stir the melting ice in the drink.

I ordered the roti jantan

Sajian Ummi roti jantan

…and for the uninitiated, jantan in Malay refers to a man…or to be more precise, it means male so what I ordered was actually roti canai with two eggs! Talk about being symbolic, eh? LOL!!!

Yes, it was very nice and the dhal dip was exactly how I would like it – thick and rich and creamy. I sure wouldn’t mind stopping by here again for this should I happen to be around this part of the woods.

SAJIAN UMMI (2.2960502,111.8938157) is located along Lorong Ulu Oya 11, off Jalan Oya among the shops on the right of Jalan Permai area, across the road from the Sibu General Hospital.

Second opinion…

For a while now, I have been buying and enjoying the steamed bak pao from the shop near my house. As a matter of fact, I think so highly of it that I would even buy some to give to family and friends.

However, one morning, I dropped by the Sibu Central Market to buy the ones from the old lady there. I don’t recall ever buying the big ones – all the time, in the past, I would just ask for the small ones (RM1.50) and I did enjoy them to some extent.

That morning, I asked for the big ones (RM2.20)…

Sibu Central Market old lady's steamed bak pao

…and took them home to eat.

I was delighted to find that they were really very nice! The filling is different from the aforementioned ones that I like a lot and that is also very nice and there is a lot more of it…

Sibu Central Market old lady's steamed bak pao, filling

…in this one, so much more for an extra 20 sen whereas you will get a lot more skin in the other one.

There is egg in both though I wish they can be a bit more generous with it and give a much bigger wedge – I so love egg in paos.

In the meantime, I went to the stall where I bought the giant bak chang that turned out quite disappointing and there, I saw these chai kueh (vegetable cake)…

Chai kueh

…or what my friend called lizard’s belly because the skin of the good ones would be so translucent that one would be able to see the filling inside and it looks like the underside of a lizard.

These were RM1.00 each and I liked how they were so well-rounded, well-filled with the very nice filling…

Chai kueh, filling

…unlike most that we have around town that look so miserably deflated, lots of empty spaces inside. The skin was perfect and the filling was very tasty with a hint of hay bee (dried prawns), not overly strong, just right.

Well, I guess if I happen to drop by the market again, I may want to buy these or perhaps, I would like to try some other things instead – there are so many things for one to pick and choose but of course, whether they are good or not, that’s another story altogether.