Been thinking about it…

Ever since that time when I bought the fresh bay kar/ikan tenggiri/mackerel fish paste from this seafood stall near my house, I have been thinking of using it to make some tod mun pla (ทอดมันปลา) that I like very much.

My missus made some really lovely ones…

…before but unfortunately, she did not have all the ingredients that day so I did not get to enjoy what I was thinking of.

We had some nice ones (5 for RM12.50)…

…at the Thai restaurant here and here (3 for RM10.90)…

…but they have all called it a day now.

My friend, Peter, the boss of Payung, made some…

…for me once but they are not on their menu so I don’t think I will ever get to eat those again.

Well, it so happened that I managed to get two packs of fish paste (RM10.00 each)…

…from that seafood stall so I asked my missus to make more of her yummy Thai fish cakes and I went and bought a few strands of long beans and sliced them thinly…

…for her to use.

I did not notice it the previous time but this time around, I saw that it actually involved a whole lot of work. My missus had to prepare all the ingredients…

…including a lot of Thai basil leaves and sawtooth coriander from my garden and I heard a whole lot of pounding going on in the kitchen.

Finally, it was done…

…and we had that for lunch and dinner and there were some left over till the next day even. Compared to the prices I had to fork out at the Thai restaurants, this was indeed so very cheap, so many pieces for the RM20 worth of fish paste.

We used to buy the ones from Jakar or Sarikei…

…but those are seasoned and when making fish balls using those and cooking them, there is no need to add any salt or msg as there would be more than enough of those in the fish paste for the soup or whatever dish one is cooking…and one does not know what else they have added. This fish paste from the seafood stall is unadulterated, pure fish paste – no salt, no msg so one can add one’s own seasoning according to taste.

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.

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.

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.

Let’s go eat…

Easter Monday was an occasional holiday (cuti peristiwa) for some schools in Sibu and my girl’s school, being formerly a Catholic primary school, was one of them. That was why their school did not reopen until the following day, Tuesday. As a matter of fact, it was among the few schools, six of them and later, two more were added to the list, that had remained closed even before the week-long mid-term break as they were located in the “high risk” zones and two more were added soon after as there were cases in those.

Anyway, we went out again that day to settle some matters and we finished at around 10.30 a.m. which was a bit too late to go home and cook lunch so I suggested going some place for lunch/brunch.

We dropped by here once for the chap fan (mixed rice)

…or what is commonly known as economy rice and they start at 10.30 so we decided to go over and see what they had for the day.

I had the soy sauce pork belly (bottom left)…

…and it was very nice! The lady boss told me that they had pork trotters mixed with it, something I would always order here and have always enjoyed and she gave me a chunk, all lean, but that day, I did not quite like it – it tasted like leftover meat that had been reheated over and over again. Perhaps I would have loved it a bit more if she had given me a piece with some fat instead.

The curry must be mighty popular since they cooked so much of it but somehow, I wasn’t thus inclined. The soy sauce chicken (top left) did not tickle my fancy either. In the end, I picked the ngor hiang/meat roll (top right)…

…that was very nice the last time but this time around, it was way too peppery and probably had a bit too much flour in it so we did not think it was all that great. My missus had the pork ribs (bottom right) and she did let us try a bit – yes, that was really very nice. We sure would go for it again next time if they have it on their menu for the day.

Of course, my missus MUST have the bamboo shoots, masak lemak – she loves it so much and the paku (wild jungle fern)…

…that I also had was great too.

My girl had the brinjal, her favourite, and also the long beans fried with egg (bottom left)…

I guess they were all right as I did not hear her complain.

I wouldn’t say it was so good that you would find us rushing back for more but it was nice enough and inexpensive. While we were there, even though it was kind of early, there were already people coming and going, tapaoing their picks for their lunch (takeaway).

I did not ask for the breakdown of the prices but I guess that should work out to around RM5.00 each with a nice bowl of complimentary soup each – the total, inclusive of drinks for the three of us, was RM21.70. I loved their new impressive-looking display cabinet, horizonal unlike the usual vertical ones, a lovely greyish black in colour, unlike the usual aluminum ones, with sliding mosquito-netted doors on top and I never have a problem finding a vacant space to park the car in that area of shops.

A-PLUS FOOD CENTRE/RESTAURANT (2.293355, 111.823653) is located among the shops along Jalan Kampung Datu, behind the block of shops (where Fresh & Pay Supermarket is) near the traffic lights at its junction with Jalan Tun Abang Haji Openg and Jalan Kampung Nyabor.

By ourselves…

My girl enjoys lamb a lot and other than the lamb racks and the lamb shanks that we had had for our dinners in conjunction with some special occasion, she had not had any for quite sometime now.

We used to drop by here for their very nice lamb chop with mint vinaigrette sauce (RM26.00)…

– this was probably the last time she had it there, in October 2019. As a matter of fact, they have closed down that outlet (and the other one in town) and relocated to a new place but because of the pandemic, we have not gone to check it out.

She also enjoyed the ones here (RM14.50)…

This guy, originally from KL, was the executive chef at a leading hotel in town before he joined the classier spin-off of our own Sarawak fast food franchise and eventually, he ventured out on his own. For one thing, not only is his very nice, it is also very cheap probably because of the coffee shop setting of the place, nothing fancy, just great food.

Another place that my girl likes is the one on the way to her school in the jungle. We used to pass by a few times a week and time and again, we would stop by for a bite to eat. However, I don’t think we have gone in that direction ever since she got her transfer to a school in town.

She likes their grilled New Zealand lamb shoulder (RM26.00)…

…which she would order every time we stopped by, nothing else.

Well, since we have not been going out and she felt like having lamb chops, the mum went and bought two packs of New Zealand lamb shoulder at over RM20.00 each to cook our own all by ourselves. There were three slabs in a pack so that means we could have two each…

My missus just pan-grilled them…

…and served them with this made-in-the-UK (despite its Chinese sounding name) bottled mint sauce…

…that she bought sometime ago but never used. I wonder why she bothered since we have a lot of mint growing in the garden and we can easily pluck some and make our own.

That certainly was a delightful meal and I guess that should be enough lamb for a while till the next time any of us feels like having some more.

What on earth…

This place…

…is VERY new. I was quite impressed by what I saw on their Facebook page but I was avoiding the kampung area here in Sibu as there was a cluster in the neighbourhood at the time. Eventually, when it looked like it was safe to venture into those parts of the woods, I made my way there.

This was originally a seaside eatery at the beach…

…in the small town of Belawai. I did hear of people driving all the way there to buy the fish, prawns and crabs and to enjoy the nice food available. I read somewhere that this is their 3rd branch but I have no idea where the 2nd one is.

I got there past 9.00 a.m. that morning and it looked like they had just opened for business for the day. I asked the boy and he could not even give me a specific time. He just said that they would open at around 9 to 9.30 like that. There was a couple sitting inside the airconditioned section so of course, I chose not to go in there and picked a seat in the non-airconditioned area. Another couple came a bit later and they sat outside in the pavement area. I was glad there were so few customers at the time so physical distancing was not a problem at all.

I took a look at the menu but the items are so limited – for breakfast, especially. They do not even have nasi lemak! Well, at least they got the spelling…

…correct – the one officially approved by the Dewan Bahasa & Pustaka but should it be ONE word or TWO? Gee!!! This is such a nuisance – much ado about nothing, if you asked me!

I asked the boy what payak means and he said prawns so of course, I wanted that. I had to wait a very long time, half an hour, at least before this…

…was served! Now WHAT ON EARTH was that? Whoever cooked that obviously needs a crash course on presentation badly to make what he or she dishes out look reasonably presentable. Well, if anyone is wondering, THAT was some very overcooked kuetiau (flat rice noodles) drowning in the sauce, so much of it that it actually looked like a soup dish!

They could have taken the few, very very tiny prawns inside and piled them on top like this…

– I counted five, all very fresh, very succulent and firm and sweet…

…but all of them were very small and they could have garnished the dish with a sprinkling of chopped spring onion and/or daun sup (Chinese celery) and a few bits of sliced fresh, red chili for a bit of colour.

The sauce tasted like what we get at home when we cook udang galah/freshwater prawns…

…or crabs with ginger and soy sauce and egg so I would not say that it was not nice, just that they could be a little bit less generous with the msg but this is definitely one way of frying kuetiau that I have never ever seen before in my entire life! A friend says that this is the Malay-style that is gaining popularity at a number of places in the country – he has tried it himself and he likes it!

It was only RM7.00 and the very watered down kopi-o (coffee, black) I had was only RM1.00 but no, if they think they will see me back there again for this, they can think again. Maybe I shall drop by round lunchtime to try their rice dishes – they did mention that they have western dishes at night but somehow, it did not get me jumping with excitement, not at all.

IFTITAH SIBU (2.308379, 111.8209780) is located at No. 55-56, Jalan Kuda, off Jalan Kampung Nangka.

Break the habit…

The other day, the ladies and I went out all morning because there were some matters that we had to go and settle. We managed to get everything done past 11.00 a.m. and of course, since there was nothing in the house, we decided to stop by some place for lunch…

…before going home.

I picked this place as I was sure my girl would approve – she would love to go for the biryani rice anytime and yes, I was right! The last time we were here was in December last year, I think…before the Pasai Cluster when things went completely 0ut of control.

We did chat with the boss while we were there and he told us that business had gone down by at least 50%. I wouldn’t say I was surprised, not in the least, but somehow, I don’t think it is because people are staying safe and staying home. People like me are so used to not going out these days that it is no longer our habit to just go some place to eat, the way we used to. I do know of a few nice places that will not be crowded and should be pretty safe but somehow, going out does not seem to appeal t0 us so much anymore.

Yes, of course, my girl had the biryani rice and she picked the Indian butter chicken (RM18.00)…

…to go with it while the mum stuck loyally to the kalio ayam (RM14.50)…

…from the Indonesian menu.

I have been cutting down on my intake of carbs and sugar lately so I just ordered the tandoori chicken (RM14.00)…

…for myself but I did have a spoonful of my girl’s biryani rice and another spoonful, the plain white rice from my missus’ plate.

There wasn’t anybody else there for lunch that afternoon – one good thing about this place is there are not so many tables (they’ve taken out some of them, unlike before) and they are placed far apart and if there is anybody else, to the most, there will probably be another one or two tables so physical distancing is not a problem . We sure enjoyed our lunch – we always do when dining here and yes, if we have to eat out again, this will definitely be one of the choices we shall consider.

The CAFE IND (2.290813, 111.829294) is located along Laichee Lane, right behind one block of shops facing the main road (Jalan Kampung Nyabor) where the Bank Simpanan Nasional, Sibu branch (2.290561, 111.829071), is.

Two ways…

The other morning when I went over to the neighbourhood shop to buy the ingredients for my Sarawak laksa, the lady boss kept trying to persuade me to buy the fresh venison/deer meat that had just arrived. I was not all that keen as I have never been a fan of the meat. I feel it does not have its own unique taste or smell unlike beef or lamb or wild boar. At best, I will eat when there is any but I will not go out of my way for it.

I don’t think there is a problem getting to eat it at our local Chinese chu-char stalls and restaurants but as far as I know, they all cook it in that same way – with lots of ginger and soy sauce, served in a hot plate like the one here

Mom's Place venison

…or here

Ruby venison

…or just simply in a plate…

Y2K venison

…like what we had here.

What I did not know was that my missus  was quite keen so when she went over that afternoon, she bought this huge chunk…

Venison

…of the meat.

Of course that was a lot so she divided it into two and cooked one half of it…

Fried venison

…for our lunch and dinner that day.

She cooked curry…

Venison curry

…with the other half to keep in the fridge to take out and enjoy on another day. My late mum used to buy venison sometimes – it must be dirt cheap way back then – and cooked curry with it.

Yes, it was nice and yes, we enjoyed it very much but like I said earlier, because it does not have any taste or smell of its own, it could jolly well be pork or chicken – they’re all pretty much the same.

Make a little difference…

I can make pretty nice meat balls, simple but nice and I love them served with sweet and sour sauce

Sweet & sour meat balls

…the way we grew up eating them at this old school restaurant here. We specially ordered those when we went there sometime ago with my brother, home from Auckland, New Zealand but we were somewhat disappointed – it somehow was not the same anymore. Anyway, the owner at the time had sold off the place and somebody is running it now – I have not been there but some say they have new dishes on their menu, not those old school ones from long ago that we loved so well.

My missus makes her meat balls quite differently and of course, with the special ingredients added, more often than not, that would make more than just a little difference and hers would turn out bursting with flavours, very much nicer than my simple ones.

However, she does not use crushed crackers and egg like me as a binding agent – as far as I know, she did use an egg and maybe some flour but sometimes, her meat balls fell apart in the course of deep frying. I don’t know if it was because she had added too much ingredients and not enough of whatever to hold everything together.

Anyway, she made these mini meat patties…

Missus' pork patties

…the other day. I guess those were nothing more than flattened meat balls and yes, they were absolutely delicious.

I did see her preparing a whole lot of things and I heard her telling my girl that she added mashed tau kua (bean curd cake)…

Pork patties, cross-section

She also made this special dip…

Missus special dip

…to eat them with and they went beautifully together. She makes this same dip whenever she cooks those gorgeous tod mun pla (Thai fish cakes)…

Missus' tod mun pla

…that I absolutely love!

HOCK CHU LEU RESTAURANT (2.288654, 111.826974) is located at No. 30, Jalan Tukang Besi, formerly Blacksmith Road, opposite the LehDo Hotel, formerly the Lido Cinema which is right beside the Standard Chartered Bank, Sibu branch.

In boxes…

I have this feeling that things taste better in the lovely cool climate in temperate countries overseas like how we seem to have a better appetite and tend to eat more on cold rainy days. I cooked a lot of delicious dishes for my Malaysian counterparts and the British locals when I was in Plymouth in the UK in 1994 and many even wanted the recipes but when I came home and cooked the exact same dishes, they did not seem to excite anyone of us at home at all.

One thing that I enjoyed a lot when I was there were those cans of soups, Campbell’s, no less, mushroom especially, not so much the cream of chicken. They were such a comfort on cold wintery nights, so delightful with slices of French baquette.

However, when I came home, I did not really enjoy them so I stopped buying. Over there, I would buy the big tins to cook and finish it all in one sitting – here, we have the small tins and I could not even manage those.  These days, we even have the instant ones in boxes…

Campbell's soups 1

…just add hot water…

Campbell's soups 2

…and stir well to dissolve and you’re done.

My girl is not a fan of those in cans – she says they have that canned taste but she enjoys their minestrone and those with chunks of real beef and carrot and potatoes. As for me, I would not touch those with a 10-foot pole! She likes these in boxes though – they certainly were very convenient those days when she was in that desolate school in the jungle and when the pandemic broke out and a lockdown was declared around March last year, the mum went and bought a whole lot of these to keep…just in case.

Yes, she did finish off some but there were still a few left. I went and checked the other day and found that the dates of expiry would not be till June. There are three pouches in each box and there was only one left…

One pouch

…in the box of pumpkin soup.

I decided to have a go so I diluted it in hot water…

Ready to drink

…and sat down to try.

Gosh!!! I thought that did not taste nice, nothing like the pumpkin soup my missus cooks…

Missus' pumpkin soup

Yes! She does cook these rich and creamy soups regularly. Sometimes, she will cook mushroom, broccoli, celery – all nice and talking about mushroom, the one at Payung here…

Payung Cafe mushroom soup & mashed potatoes

…cooked from scratch, not out of a can or a box, is our favourite. Well, I guess it is very obvious that I shall not be touching the rest of the soups and if my girl cannot manage to finish them off by their expiry dates, we shall just have to throw them away.

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.