Listen to me…

“Listen to me,” my girl said. “You did not like the black bean paste in our local version of the noodles so do not bother trying this one…

…I am quite sure you will not like it!”

Well, she finished the pack that she was eating and she went and bought another pack! Gee! She must have liked it a lot to want to do that, I thought. I did not bother to try but the other morning, my curiosity got the better of me and for want of something to eat, I took a packet and cooked it for breakfast.

Inside, there were the noodles and three sachets…

– one with a bit of whatever oil, the other with the dried/dehydrated ingredients and the big one with the black bean paste seasoning, powder form.

I boiled an egg to go with the noodles – those of you who are not into runny yolks would probably liked the one I cooked that day. The yolk was hard enough but still moist. I also boiled some prawns, three fish balls and two cocktails to serve by the side, saving the water to use as stock for the soup.

I cooked the noodles and emptied the sachets of oil and dried ingredients into the saucepan. There weren’t much of anything in the latter, just some bits of seaweed, dried spring onions and fried shallots and what seemed like chai poh (preserved radish) which I did not like as they were hard even after boiling. Lastly, I added the black bean paste seasoning and the soup turned black! Finally, I poured everything into a bowl with a few pieces of my own dried seaweed and a sprinkling of my chopped spring onion…

So, what did I think of it? Well, I thought it was nice, I liked it more than our local version of the noodles but no, it did not sweep me off my feet and was definitely not something I would be dying for more!

There are a few packets left in the pack that my girl bought. You can be sure that I shall not be having anymore – she can have all the rest to herself.

Foil…

I can’t remember the last time we had one. Probably it was in 2017, when my brother-in-law in Bintulu came back to Sibu and he brought us one from there.

All this while, I kept asking the fish sellers at the market but no, they did not have any until one fine day when the old lady from whom I always bought the pek kay (seawater prawns) greeted me excitedly. She said she had one but when she took it out, it was HUGE!!! I did not think it would fit into my oven, much less the Tatung pot that I always use to cook this fish. In the end, I did not buy it, of course!

Needless to say, I was so thrilled to see that my current regular fish seller had some that day – she said it is in season right now so there should be some available – and I wasted no time at all in grabbing two, this size…

In the meantime, I saw a video clip that a Malaysian doctor shared on Facebook. He was talking about the dangers of the things we use to cook in the kitchen and in his list was aluminum foil. Well, I’m not surprised. Since time immemorial, I’ve heard about this – that is why I have two beautiful Thai tiffin carriers, stuffed in the storeroom, never used anymore but those pots they used in the good ol’ days, all dented, so out of shape – weren’t they all aluminum? My late grandma and aunties used to masak kuden using those and the fish tasted so so good!

Well, the doctor said that we should line the foil with baking paper should we insist on using it and that brought to mind how I would cook my fish in that thing, wrapped with daun kunyit (turmeric leaves)! I cut a few of the leaves in my garden to use…

…for wrapping the fish after rubbing it with salt before putting it in the Tatung pot to cook/bake.

We sat down to enjoy the fish for lunch and boy, it was so so so good, so fresh and so very sweet, so very lemak – we sure enjoyed it to the max! Because I did not remove the scales, the fish only had a slight hint of the fragrance of the kunyit leaves. It did not really matter though – even without that, it was good enough!

Of course when eating this fish, we must eat it slowly and enjoy every bit of it while being extra careful with the bones.

I cannot remember how much the lady was selling the fish for – I did not take note of the prices. When we can only get to enjoy it once in so many years, price is secondary and besides, these days, with the horrendous pandemic, there aren’t a lot of things we can do even if we have a lot of money!

The fish stall is located to the right of CCL FRESH MINI MARKET against the wall at the end of the block to the right of the Grand Wonderful Hotel (2.309601, 111.845163) along Jalan Pipit, off Jalan Dr Wong Soon Kai, on your left just before the Petronas petrol station a short distance from Delta Mall. You can also go in via Lorong Pipit 4, turning left into the lane at the junction where Starbucks Sibu is located and go straight ahead from there.

Seeds…

My sister loves the steamed paos from this shop but she says that she will have to go early. They will be sold out by around 9.30 a.m.

These days, she goes there to buy these…

…special chu nu miang, the celebrated kompia‘s sidekick, with a very generous topping of sesame seeds. However, these are available from 9.30 a.m. onwards only.

The best thing about it is that the special addition is at no extra charge – they also sell them at 3 for RM1.00, the same price as the plain ones, often a bit smaller and at times, not all that round, at the regular kompia shops.

I am not fond of going to that rather congested part of the town centre as parking can be such a pain. You can drive round and round for hours and still will not find a vacant space. I did hear, however, that with the rising number of COVID-19 cases here in Sibu and the town centre is one of the high risk zones, it may be a bit easier as in general, people are staying home more and are quite reluctant to venture out anywhere. So will I be heading that way anytime soon? I’m afraid the answer is no – I’d stick steadfastly to that recommended #staysafe #staywell #stayhome practice.

As a matter of fact, I don’t mind paying a lot more for these…

…from that Sibu franchise. They are available at that neighbourhood shop round the corner that I frequent at a whopping 6 for RM3.60 – 60 sen each, around DOUBLE the price. They used to sell them at 4 for RM2.00, 50 sen each but what hasn’t gone up in price these days (Incidentally, salted egg is now RM1.10 each, up from RM1.00 formerly.)?

They are more or less the same size…

…a little rounder and a bit thicker perhaps and personally, I find the cushiony texture softer and nicer and I prefer the taste too.

Well, at the end of the day, I would rather go to the next lane to grab those more expensive ones than to venture into the high risk zone in the town centre where there is the possibility that I may not be able to find a place to park the car that easily plus parking is NOT free.

I’ve also heard about the ones here but I think theirs would appeal more to the young and trendy. They look a bit too sweet for old folks like me and besides, the cluster in that part of town (the Malay kampung) is currently still active, best avoided. Maybe I’ll drop by if/when things get better.

Huong Hiong Confectionary 芳香(詩巫)餅家 is located off Jalan Bengkel, beside Victoria Inn on one side and the circular building (the SEDC Medan Niaga Tanahmas) that houses all the Malay stalls on the other, to the right of the New Capital Restaurant.

One good thing…

One good thing that has come out of this pandemic is my missus has been experimenting with dishes she has never cooked before instead of sticking to those she is most comfortable with day in and day out.

One dish that she does really well and can put all those around town here to shame would be her chicken rice. We love it so much and can’t wait till the next time she will cook it again so we can get to enjoy it.

The other day, we went out to settle some matters and on the way home, we stopped by our favourite chicken rice place here to tapao some home for lunch. We were so pissed off because both the rice and the chicken tasted kind of different – like they were left over from the day before and were reheated for sale. Knowing that business may not be so good at a time like this, they should have the initiative to cook less. Of course we swore we would never ever go back there again!

Another dish that my missus does very well is her Thai green curry (แกงเขียวหวาน)…

The only ingredient that is missing is the terung pipit – that is an essential ingredient in every Thai green curry.

We can only get those at the central market here and it was closed for quite some time as there were positive COVID-19 cases reported and even after it had reopened, I never wanted to go anywhere near there. It seemed they were very strict with the SOP when you want to enter, but once you’re inside, it is a free for all, no physical distancing…and just the other day, there was a report saying that there were 8 cases in March and so far in April, 4…and yes, news has it that they have decided to close it down again!

Besides, these terung pipit are sold there by the ethic folks and ever since the horrendous outbreak at the Pasai Siong Cluster that brought the whole state of Sarawak to its knees, I never look at those people the same way again. I can jolly well do without those – best to #staysafe #staywell!!!

Anyway, those things are quite tasteless and with the addition of the Thai basil leaves…

…and the sawtooth coriander from my garden and all the rest, those sure brought the taste to a whole new level, quintessentially Thai and we did not feel there was anything that is lacking, not at all.

Well, there was some in the fridge the other morning and I decided to have it for breakfast with this tortilla…

I toasted a piece on a non-stick pan and heated a bit of the Thai green curry chicken and served…

Yes, it was good, a lovely change from having the curry with rice and perfect for those who are not so into rice so early in the morning!

‘Cause I had to…

I bought some things online and did not have any problem with it until I decided to buy some t-shirts, 4XL and the ones I received looked more like 4XS. I never bothered to shop online after that until the other day, simply because I had to.

One fine day, my girl asked for my permission to use my printer to print her school stuff. Yes, for the uninitiated, teachers do a lot of things in school and at home and pay out of their own pocket and in this case, they would have to buy the printer and the ink, black and colour and the A4 paper. Thankfully, they are quite well-paid these days, unlike during my time when I first started teaching, plus my girl has no commitments, no responsibilities, no family, old folks to support.

She had run out of ink and her printer was not the same model as mine so she could not use my reserved stock. It seemed that she did ask her mum to go and buy on one of her weekly shopping trips but she was duly informed that it was out of stock and none would be forthcoming, something we have to learn to get used to during this COVID-19 pandemic.

She did not go to the shop where I bought the printer so we drove there to try our luck. Unfortunately, they did not have any either. Left with no choice, my girl had to use my printer and it was perfectly all right as I hardly print anything at all these days.

In the meantime, I decided to try my luck online. I was quite pissed off to find that I could not log into the one where I had shopped before. I wrote my user name and my password down so I would not forget them but it kept telling me this and that and sent me on a wild good chase. In the end, I just gave up and went to another online shopping website and registered an account there. (My sister said that I could have opened a new account at the previous one, no problem at all. Probably she had the same problem and that was what she did!)

I placed my order for the ink…

…two sets, each comprising one black and one colour selling for RM112.00 (they are more expensive if you buy them individually/separately), RM224.00 altogether, RM225.50 inclusive of shipping. RM1.50 only for shipping? Now that was cheap, unlike the previous times when I shopped online or when I sent things via our national courier.

That was on the 6th instant and I received my order safely on the 12th, not exactly dijamin sampai hari esok but at a time like this, I was not counting on it being delivered so soon…and yes, my girl did not encounter any problem with the ink that I had bought and as they say, all’s well that ends well!

It’s all right…

I went next door…

…the other day to get my road tax slip – I managed to renew my car insurance sometime ago but because of the pandemic, they could not go and pay the former for me until way past the expiry date and finally, when they did manage to do so, they called me to go over and get it from them. It was past 2.30 p.m. and much to my surprise, the coffee shop was still open. They usually close at 2.00 p.m. (and reopen come dinnertime) and they only open in the morning and for lunch on Sundays and they take the day off on Mondays.

The guy asked me to buy what looked like chili flakes (RM20.00) and he said it was very nice but I was not so keen. I noticed that he now has a BIG freezer by the side inside his shop and obviously, he has gone into selling some of his popular dishes…

…frozen.

I liked his daging masak hitam, served by the side with his reasonably good nasi lemak

…but for reasons unknown, the ladies in the house are not into that original Sarawakian culinary delight.

My girl used to love the curry, beef especially so when she was teaching in the school in the jungle, I would buy for her to take and eat there – it was not cheap though, only a little for RM10.00.

That was why in the end, that day, I decided to buy the lamb curry (RM40.00)…

…to try and see if it was any good.

My girl liked it…

– she said it was nicer than the curries at the Malay and mamak shops and stalls but I was not all that impressed by it. At best, I would say it was all right, not anything to shout about. It had its own taste, quite different from all the rest and no, it was not spicy at all. One good thing about it was the meat was fall-off-the-bone-tender, very nicely done!

I may go back again but no, I shall not be buying this or any of the guy’s curry again – perhaps I would want to try his rendang or masak merah the next time around or whatever else that he has in his big freezer that may tickle my fancy but if it is mutton/lamb curry…

…that I want, I would much sooner drop by here and tapao two servings home.

It is RM21.00 per serving (at least 3 huge chunks of meat) with biryani rice and whatever they give by the side so RM40.00 should be enough for two servings and I am quite sure there will be enough for us for two meals…or perhaps, I can persuade my friends at Payung to cook their very nice Bangladeshi lamb curry…

…or lamb masala – they usually do it around Chinese New Year for sale by the kilo but we can divide it up into smaller servings and eat slowly and derive a whole lot more enjoyment from them.

COLOURFUL CAFE (2.316673, 111.837539) is located in the Renew4U building at the junction of Brooke Drive and Lorong Kwong Ann 8, across the road from the Church of Jesus  Christ of the Latter Day Saints.

Bad name…

I do remember eating ikan patin in my growing up years but I cannot recall how my mum used to cook it. Perhaps that was the fish that she used to cook with ginger in soy sauce, the one with the black wobbly skin that I liked a lot.

However, eventually, people started farming the fish and it had that horrible mud smell – they said that it was because the fish ponds did not have running water – so we stopped buying and eating it altogether. Another fish that shared the same fate was the ikan sultan

I am very wary about buying it these days as I would not know how to tell the difference – whether it is the farmed variety or not and whether it has that mud smell or not.

In the meantime, those (cheap) frozen fish fillet made their appearance at the supermarkets here. Some call it dory, some call it white fish but whatever it is, it is what they will cook for you when you go to a Chinese restaurant or chu-char (cook & fry) place or when you go for your favourite chao chai hung ngang (with fish)…

…at a coffee shop or when you go for a plate of fish and chips…

…at some classy café or restaurant.

It is quite tasteless so whether it is nice or not will depend on how and what it is cooked with. Unfortunately, I had had the displeasure of eating what they call dory with a jelly-like texture and an unpleasant smell – probably, this is some kind of imitation and one really can’t tell when it is not sold as a whole fish.

Anyway, this…

…has taken the town by storm lately – pangasius from Vietnam.

The lady at one of the neighbourhood shops in the next lane did ask me to buy…twice but both times, I said no. As far as I know, this is also called dory (not to be mistaken with the John Dory in New Zealand) and for want of a more unique name, catfish in the US! Eventually, my sister told me that she had been buying and cooking it and she said it was very nice.

I still was not convinced and it was my missus who went and bought a pack…

I told her to cook chao chai (fermented preserved vegetables) soup…

…with it with lots of our traditional Foochow red wine…

…and yes, it was very very nice and yes, I did enjoy it to the max as well with its fish texture, no smell whatsoever and very delightful taste.

Some of you may have heard of the bad press this fish has been receiving from the catfish people in the USA – well, what’s new? Haven’t they been saying all kinds of things about all kinds of things to support/protect their own industries? Well, if you’re one of them and have your doubts about this ikan patin from Vietnam, you can watch this Channel News Asia documentary– I am sure you will find everything you want to know about the fish.

Gave me…

My neighbour gave me this the other day and I managed to cook this dish…

…for dinner with it, moringa leaves!

At one time, everyone was talking about it and I also went in search of the green noodles, made from those leaves. Unfortunately, it did not sweep me off my feet so I never went back for more. I did check the websites and I saw a lot of health benefits one could derive from them and I was contemplating on planting my own tree. Luckily, my friend, Annie, in KL sent me a photograph of the one in her mum’s garden – it was HUGE, as big as a durian tree and I changed my mind instantly!

My neighbour at the back had a tree right beside the fence and ever so often, the broken twigs and branches would drop over on our side but I never paid any attention to them. I don’t know why they eventually got rid of it and in its place, they have planted a few guava trees and it sure looks like they are enjoying the fruits, growing in abundance all over the trees.

This neighbour who gave me the leaves…

…had a plant in a pot so the growth is kind of inhibited or controlled, so to speak. I guess that is why it is small and so are the leaves as well.

I did not know how to cook them so I went and googled. It looked like most people would brew tea with them and drink and others would dry them in the sun, pound them into powder and stuff them in capsules and eat. I saw an Indian recipe with dhal and the rest were all fried with egg, like cangkok manis. I went and asked my friends on Facebook and most said I could fry with egg like cangkok manis. One said I could throw them into the soup when I cook instant noodles – actually, that did cross my mind! In the end, I decided to go about it my own way.

I fried some chopped garlic in oil till golden brown, added one chili, thinly sliced, followed by all the stuff I got from here – two prawns (with heads and shell intact), a few pieces of sotong (squid) and some fried fish cake made from the bay kar/ikan tenggiri (mackerel)paste that I bought, sliced and when it was done, I added an egg, followed by a teaspoon of oyster sauce diluted in some water…

I must say that it tasted very nice… – one can never go wrong with all that seafood!

If the leaves had any taste, I sure couldn’t detect it and on the whole, I must say that cangkok manis, with its special sweetness, can win hands down. However, considering that the dish tastes all right and that the leaves have so many health benefits. that got me wondering as to why this is not cooked and served at our restaurants and chu-char (cook and fry) places in town.

Short-lived…

I blogged about how happy I was, when in the absence of the shallots/bawang merah (red onions)/chang kia (small/baby onions) from India, I was able to grab hold of some from Myanmar. Unfortunately, the happiness was short-lived as it was not in any way as fragrant, not so nice…and extremely expensive, RM26.00 per kilo, and likewise, the spring onions that I managed to get from planting them were quite disappointing, more suitable for colour and presentation only.

The good news is the ones from India are available again and I wasted no time at all in planting them in the hope of getting some spring onions that I can use with my instant noodles or whatever that I may be cooking. Unfortunately, out of the many that I planted, only two sprouted…

…but there is still some hope. The morning after I took this photograph, I spotted another one breaking through the soil. I quickly picked some more, the ones with longer roots, and planted them. Fingers crossed, these will yield a bountiful harvest.

The whole time when there were no shallots from India, there were no spring onions for sale at the market. If you go and eat kampua mee at the shops, you will not see the usual sprinkling of fried shallots and chopped spring onions on top.

My missis went and bought daun sup (Chinese celery) for use as a substitute. We would use the leaves and the stems but we would leave a bit, those parts close to the roots, intact and I took the ends and planted them. Of course, I was delighted to see that they have sprouted…

…and are growing quite well. My missus did try a few times but no, she did not fare as well.

Talking about what she planted, she bought some sweet basil sometime ago…or at least, that was what she said it was. She also saved the bottom part of the stems and the roots to plant but only one…

…survived and I don’t remember the leaves being this big in the ones she bought.

Well, it does not look like there is enough to cook for one dish. Perhaps we can pluck and drop them into our instant noodles instead.

Bringing it back…

Not too long ago, I was told by my friends here that they have discontinued their belimbing prawns because their tree died and they could not find a regular supply of the fruit. Of course, I was disappointed as that is one of my favourite dishes on their menu. Needless to say, I was thrilled when they sent word that they are bringing it back and it is currently available at their café.

According to this website, “this rather understated ingredient is not widely used outside of Malay and nyonya cuisine…and not to be confused with starfruit, which also shares the same Malay name, this is a small sour fruit which adds a wonderful sour note to dishes with a crunchy juicy texture.

I decided to have it with spaghetti…

…that morning instead of rice since I am cutting down on carbs and even though it was very nice, I only managed to finish two-thirds of the pasta – I’m slowly becoming a rather small eater lately, it seems. I should have asked for less since I can’t/am not allowed to eat so much these days but personally, I think I’d enjoy it more with rice.

For one thing, the belimbing

…that Peter managed to buy and use was the green variety and according to him, this is extra sour unlike his yellow ones before. I think I prefer it a little toned down. Other than that, it was very spicy but no, I did not have a problem with that. Blame it on the weather but this current batch is an absolute killer – my missus just bought a few kilos to make her own blended chili dip the other day and of course, she loved it!!!

I was the only one there that day but I think there were a couple of orders that had to be delivered to the customers’ offices and one came to collect himself, takeaway. If anyone would like to enjoy these belimbing prawns or anything else on their menu, for booking and delivery, call 016 578 7614.

I did hear, however, that there are some of my other favourites that are no longer available – they are not all that keen on cooking a lot and keeping everything frozen for too long. As far as I can remember, some of those that one can order include their kacang ma chicken…

…their green curry…

…their butter chicken…

…and their Payung chicken…

Yes, their mushroom roll…

…is available but I guess it would be best to just call them and ask so as to be sure. One good news especially for lei cha

…lovers is that it is available every day now, not just on Friday or only on Thursdays and Fridays like before.

I certainly would want to go back again for the belimbing prawns but with rice the next time around…

…and incidentally, while I was there that day, Peter treated me to this lovely toasted freshly-baked bread from the hotel bakery at the back, generously served with peanut butter and butter…

Yes, it was really good but I think that more or less used up all my somewhat limited ration of carbs for the day. Sigh!!!

PAYUNG CAFÉ (2.284049, 111.833014) is located at No.20F, Lanang Road, Sibu, Malaysia, back to back with the multi-storey car park of the Kingwood Hotel which faces the majestic Rejang River.