I have not been to the Sibu Central Market since the outbreak of the pandemic last year so it has been way over a year since I last bought our giant udang galah (freshwater prawns).

They are very strict with the SOPs if you want to go into the place but once you are inside, it is a free-for-all – you can go anywhere you please, stand wherever you like, no marks on the floor to indicate where you must stand or queue…and when there were reports of cases involving the sellers and the customers, they closed down the place for sanitisation but it did not seem to help much as cases kept recurring. Other than that, I heard that not all stalls would be open each day, either by choice or by order from the authorities – they are asked to take turns.

I definitely would not want to go near the jungle produce section as records have shown that most of the clusters involve the longhouses including the one at Pasai Siong that brought the whole state of Sarawak to its knees. For this reason, all this time, we hardly eat anything that grows wild in the jungle including our favourite jungle ferns – the midin and the paku because we do not usually get these at the neighbourhood shops and vegetable stalls.

Well, the other day, I had to go out to change the batteries in my car’s remote control and on the way back, I decided to stop by those in the next lane to see if they had anything I would want to buy. To keep my distance from the few customers around at the time, I did not go near the stalls on the five-foot-way and instead, I just stayed on the main road and looked from afar.

Much to my delight, I saw some paku at the vegetable stall so I waited till the customer there at that point in time was done and had left. She bought a whole lot of kua chai (mustard green) to make salted/preserved vegetables and the seller was telling her what to do. I overheard her saying that she must take out the vegetables after 7 days, otherwise she would have to wait till 30 days before she could do so. Hmmm…I don’t think I’ve heard anything to this effect before.

Once the coast was clear, I approached the stall and asked for the paku. The chatty lady said it was very fresh and very green because it rained the whole day the day before. It did not look like a lot so I asked her how much it was and she said RM4.00. I said I would take it all and she put it on the weighing scale and said, “RM5.40!” I suppose what she told me initially was the price per kilo and she had more than one kilo.

I took it home and that day, we had paku fried with sambal hay bee/udang kering (dried prawns)…

…for lunch and dinner.

That was so good and the very next day, we had it masak lemak (cooked in santan/coconut milk)…

…with thinly sliced scallop tofu and a whole lot of the little prawns…

…that I bought sometime ago and yes, we sure enjoyed that to the max.

There is still a bundle left – my missus has wrapped it nicely using cling wrap and kept it in the fridge. I don’t know how we will cook it next – perhaps we shall use it for our simple but very nice kampung-style sayur rebus

…minus the giant freshwater prawns, of course. No matter what, I am staying far far away from the central market – #staysafe #staywell

Only RM5 something for so much enjoyment and satisfaction – I must say that is a whole lot of value for money compared to those vegetables that may cost and arm or a leg and burn a big hole in your pocket.