Meant to be…

Early that morning, at 6.30 a.m., the day when I was going to fly back from Kuching to Sibu, I walked back to the coffee shop as I wanted to buy some of the very nice popiah home.

When I got there, I found that only the kolo mee stall was in full swing, the porridge lady was just getting ready but there was no sign of the laksa and popiah people. According to the aformentioned lady, the popiah stall would only open at around 7.30 a.m.

I decided to have something for breakfast but I did not want the kolo mee again. In the end I asked for their loti kiap (kaya toast) with two half-cooked eggs and a cup of coffee, the true blue Malaysian breakfast…

Choon Hui Malaysian breakfast

As far as I know, their loti kiap is very popular – at around 3.00 p.m. in the afternoon, you can see cars stopping by to buy that. My late uncle, my late maternal aunt’s husband, used to do that and there was this story going round about him buying the toast and because they tied the plastic bag with nylon string in one corner, when he got home, he found that the toast had fallen out of the bag so he did not have any for tea that day.

I can’t say I was impressed by the loti kiap – we can easily get that anywhere and everywhere. I noticed some nyonya chang on the counter and I asked for one to try but no, it was not worth the calories so I did not bother buying any to take home.

I did not want to sit there and wait so I went to the shops across the road and walked to the other side, not facing the main road, to this coffee shop…

Yang Guan Cafe

…where I had the lek tao suan (RM2.00)…

Lek tao suan

…the previous morning, one for the road, so to speak.

The lady…

Stall

…asked if I wanted any yew char koi/you tiao (Chinese crullers) but no, I did not want any as I already had breakfast but I could not resist ordering these steamed chai koi

Chai koi

…to try. The skin was really very good, so soft and so smooth but I only liked the plain sengkuang filling so I bought some of those home. My girl enjoys these and yes, she thought they were good. I wish they could be a bit more generous with the filling though, lots of empty spaces inside.

While I was there, I saw her frying…

Frying

…these…

Fried

…so I asked her what those were. She said it was her own steamed tee koi (kuih bakul) with yam and sweet potato. I was keen on trying so I bought two to take home to Sibu and lived to regret it.

It was so so so good, a slice of tee koi sandwiched between a slice of yam and a slice of sweet potato coated with batter and deep fried (RM1.50 each)…

Tee koi with yam & sweet potato

If I had known it was so nice, I would have bought a dozen, at least!

After that, at around 7.20 a.m., I went back to the earlier coffee shop to see if the popiah stall had started their business for the day. There was no sign of the two Chinese ladies but there was a helper getting the stall ready. I asked her, “Belum buka?” and she just replied curtly, “Belum!” Then I asked her, “Bila buka?” and this time, she replied somewhat rudely, “Tak tahu!!!” I was so pissed off by her attitude that I decided there and then not to buy any to take home and walked back to the hotel.

I had intended to use the hotel shuttle service to the airport, only RM6.99 per head but I did not make any prior reservation and it looked like nobody else would be taking it that day so the driver had taken the day off. In the end, I contacted one of my cousins to see if she could give me a lift and yes, she could. God must have been watching me from a distance because when she showed up at the hotel with her brother, guess what they had bought for me to take back to Sibu. Popiah!!!

They got the ones from this stall…

Popiah stall
*Photo through the kind courtesy of my cousin*

…here…

Gala Food Court
*Photo through the kind courtesy of my cousin*

…at Gala City, a new area in Kuching and yes, the popiah

Gala City popiah
*Photo through the kind courtesy of my cousin*

…was really very good. My cousin thinks it is the best in the city! It certainly looked like it was meant to be – my bringing home some popiah for everyone to enjoy. LOL!!!

Gosh!!! I was in Kuching for only four nights and all in all, I managed to cover the whole trip every step of the way in 16 posts! I had a great time – thank you so much to everybody for everything and I sure am looking forward to the next opportunity to hop over again. Just give me a reason!

CHOON HUI CAFE 春园茶室 (1.552768, 110.354468) is located at No. 34, Jalan Ban Hock in Kuching to the left of the Hotel Grand Continental there and YANG GUAN CAFE 阳光茶室 (1.553644, 110.354284) is along that same road among the shops across the road from Choon Hui but facing inside, not the latter nor the main road while GALA FOOD COURT (1.513013, 110.353807) is in Gala City at the Gala Street Mall SL11-SL12, 801-2B Jalan Tun Jugah, Kempas Heights.

Left or right…

I do enjoy lek tao suan or split mung bean sweet soup (绿豆爽)very much but the only place where I could have that here in Sibu had since closed down.

I could recall walking past a stall once when I was in Kuching and I spotted a stall selling it. I made up my mind to have that on the way back but unfortunately, I walked round the blocks of shops and went back to the hotel using a different route and forgot all about it completely. Later, when I mentioned it to one of my cousins, she said she had that before and it was pretty good.

That was why when my cousin picked me up at the hotel that morning, I asked her to drive over to the place to see if it was still available there and indeed, it was…at a stall in front of the coffee shop on the left…

Yang Guan/Ang Hor

My cousin went to the one on the right – obviously she had something in mind so we had the lek tao suan

Lek tao suan

…sent over and yes, it was very good. I sure was glad to have had the opportunity to enjoy that this time around.

I saw some nyonya kuehs at that same stall, the kuih cangkeh

Kuih cangkih

…and the serimuka/kuih salat with black glutinous rice…

Serimuka

…but they were both very disappointing, not lemak at all and not anything I would want to have again.

My cousin wanted to go to the other coffee shop because she wanted the yong tofu

Yong tofu

…from the stall there and she also ordered this…

Ginger pork noodles

I couldn’t possibly eat anymore as I had had my breakfast earlier but I did try a piece of the meat and it was very very strong on the ginger and that was why it did not tickle my fancy – usually, I am not really into anything with a lot of ginger. I guess the noodles were tossed in the sauce so I don’t think this is one thing I would ever want to order for myself.

My cousin also tapaoed some stewed spare ribs from that same stall and I did try a bit – now, that was nice but no, I was way too full for that or anything else for that matter.

We left the place once we were done and she took me around the newer parts of the city, all the unfamiliar places and we even went to one of the malls until it was time for her to drop me off at the place where I was going to have my lunch – do come back tomorrow for that!

YANG GUAN CAFE 阳光茶室 and ANG HOR CAFE (1.553644, 110.354284) are located at Jalan Ban Hock, Kuching, among the shops across the road from Choon Hui Cafe but facing inside, not the latter nor the main road.

I cross the street…

In an earlier post, I mentioned that we skipped lunch that day of the wedding and I went back to the hotel to bathe and rest. I think it was around 2 0r 3 when I got up from my nap and I crossed the street to this place…

Munch

…right across the road from the hotel where I was staying to see what I could have for tea to tide me over till dinner that night.

Browsing through their menu, I was delighted to see that they had this black glutinous rice (pulut hitam) served with rich and creamy santan (coconut milk) dessert (RM5.00)…

Pulut hitam 1

…and without a second thought, I ordered that! I think the last time I had that was in KL in 2011 and before that I had a very nice one in 2009 in Penang and a few disappointing ones in those two cities in between. It sure looked a lot nicer in the menu though. They had the santan in circles and they probably ran a toothpick across the lines to make a floral design but it did not matter – after all, the test of the pudding is in the eating and I must say, it…

Pulut hitam 2

…was really very nice and I enjoyed it to the max.

I know I shouldn’t have but I simply had to order this mango sago pearl dessert (RM6.20)…

Mango sago pearl

…to try and I lived to regret it. Not only was it nowhere near that truly awesome Mango No. 5 but it simply wasn’t anything to shout about, really.

I wanted this…

Scones

…because I do enjoy good, rich, buttery scones with clotted cream and fruit jam but I was informed that it was not available.

In the end, I ordered this prawn dumplings with noodles (RM7.20)…

Noodles

…to try. Yes, it was good but I am pretty sure one can get something cheaper that is just as satisfying at the coffee shops here, there and everywhere in the state capital.

MUNCH (1.555081, 110.353470) is located at  No. 179, Jalan Song Thian Cheok in Padungan, near the Secret Recipe outlet there.

Behind the smile…

He was a very nice boy, this ex-student of mine in Kanowit around 40 years ago, pint-sized, cute-looking, always cheerful, naughty/cheeky in a good  kind of way and very talkative. He did all right in his studies – I did not have any problem with him but behind those smiles was a very sad story that I did not know at that point in time.

He told me that day that he was very talkative because that would keep him from falling asleep in class – he had to get up at the break of dawn to go round the town to sell vegetables and help his father at his noodles stall right from the time when he was in primary school.

He would have to rush to class every day and he said that the teachers at the primary school, St Francis Xavier’s, were very nice. They would ask him to leave the unsold vegetables in the staff room and everybody would buy and he would get the money at the end of the day before he went home. If I remember correctly, I think he told me that he had to quit school after Form 4 owing to financial difficulties and he came over to Kuching to work as an apprentice for only RM5.00 a day. Of course he had difficulty making ends meet but he never gave up and worked hard, learning all the skills until he was able to venture out on his own.

I am glad to see that now, he is very successful professionally and financially and is blessed with a lovely wife and family. I think the children are married, with kids or one, at least, except the youngest son and he said something like that one will get married next year. Hopefully, he will invite me to the wedding so I have a good reason to hop over again.

With their children all grown up, his wife, also from Kanowit, a few years his junior, wanted to start a noodle stall…

Ah Lee's wife & helper

…and she is still at it to this very day, presently located at this coffee shop

Glory Corner

…and I was happy to note that it was doing well. When I was there, I saw a lot of customers dropping by, probably grabbing a bite to eat before going to work.

I was there my 2nd morning in Kuching – he insisted on going over to the hotel to take me there for breakfast before going to another ex-student’s daughter’s wedding at around 9.30 a.m. He had the Foochow fried noodles…

Foochow fried mee

…which certainly looked very good but no, I did not want that. I sure would not want to go all the way to Kuching to eat what I can get in Sibu.

He asked if I wanted some handmade noodles and I said that would be good and this…

Kolo handmade noodles

…was what I was served. It was very nice, something like a variation of the kolo mee and I so loved those wantons or what we call pian sip in Sibu and kiaw in Kuching.

Later, another ex-student, the owner who invited us all to dinner at her restaurant the previous night, and my ex-colleague came and they both had this kolo kway teow

Kolo kway teow

After they had had their fill, I followed the two of them to the wedding – the aforementioned ex-student could not go as he had to go to the airport to pick another ex-student, flying in from Penang.

After the wedding, we all went back to the shop and my ex-student’s wife insisted on us having something even though we were still full from breakfast. She whipped up this plate of fried kway teow

Char kway teow

…and this very nice fried bihun with mani chai/cangkuk manis

Bihun mani chai with ikan bilis

…with a sprinkling of very crispy ikan bilis on top to share.

We sat around chatting about old times and good times and laughing away happily…

With Ah Lee & Mrs at their noodles place

…and no, nobody wanted lunch so another ex-student who came later sent me back to the hotel to bathe and rest and left me to my own devices till it was time to go for the wedding banquet that evening.

GLORY CORNER (1.553410, 110.361035) is located at 174-178, Jalan Petanak in Kuching.

Butter…

After I had left Carpenter Street, I walked along the road in between the Pavilion, now a textile museum, and the back of the Old Courthouse and headed straight across to India Street.

I do not like India Street anymore after the changes they did to it. It now has a roof, something like Jalan Petaling’s in Kuala Lumpur, and they paved the road so it is no longer a tar road and they set up stalls all over the road, making it look like some kind of bazaar or market. It sure is nothing like the old India Street that I knew and loved so well.

Some of the old shops are still there like Bee Tai where I used to buy my (disco) outfits in my younger days, the textile shop, Salih Ahmad, the Jubilee Indian Restaurant and a few others but somehow, it just did not feel the same, not anymore.

I headed to Kai Joo Lane but I was too full to eat my favourite sio pao (baked meat buns)…

Kai Joo Lane sio pao *Archive photo*

…sold at the shop there, Chong Chon, that I had frequented since way back in the 70’s. However, I did buy one and one of their curry puffs for tea later that afternoon and yes, they were so so so good!

What I had in mind at that point in time was the coffee with butter added (RM1.80)…

Coffee with melted butter

…that I read about somewhere, probably on Facebook, and I wanted to give it a try. I do remember doing that – adding butter to my coffee when I was a lot younger but I don’t think I was so overwhelmed by it. For one thing, I do know for a fact that the people here used butter to roast their coffee beans a long time ago but these days, they said they would mix it with margarine as butter is way too expensive now.

I managed to locate the shop…

Kai Joo Lane coffee shop

…but I don’t think it has a name or maybe, it has but I did not see it. It is a very small shop with only a few tables, maybe around five and they only serve coffee, eggs and toast, not much else except for perhaps some other kinds of drinks.

The shop was run by one lady…

Lady

…who was not that friendly initially but I got a call from Sibu from my good friend/ex-classmate, Robert, when I was there and I guess she overheard our conversation and realised that I was from out of town. Later, she asked me where I was from and we did have a good chat after that. She said that they had run the shop for a long time now and was around already in the 70’s when I was frequenting that sio pao shop a stone’s throw away.

The shop looked quite a mess, anything and everything strewn all over. The group of people at the next table…

Next table

…left before I did and it sure looked like they were there for the coffee too. I love that marble-top table and those chairs looked like the ones we had in school.

Yes, the coffee with melted butter in it…

Coffee with melted butter

…tasted really nice and I sure would not mind going for it should I happen to pass this way again. Perhaps I may even try doing it myself one of these days at home.

One of my ex-Kanowit students residing in Kuching had called me earlier to invite me to go for breakfast but I told him I had already eaten. In the end, he asked me to call him when I had finished my walk and he would take me for lunch. I had walked from one end of the city centre of Kuching to the other, more or less, and was totally drenched in my perspiration and in no condition to go for lunch so I called him and told him not to bother coming to get me and I would just take a cab back.

It turned out that the Malay taxi driver worked for TM before he retired and was based in Sibu before and he was doing what he was doing to earn a bit of income as his pension was only RM250.00 a month! Goodness gracious me!!! What can one do with that kind of money! And here I am complaining about what I am getting! That reminded me of a quotation, “I was complaining I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet!” For the fare, he asked for RM15.00 but I paid him double, RM30.00 – after all, it’s only money and he obviously needed that little bit a lot more than I do.

CHONG CHON BISCUIT MAKER 长春烧包 (1.559204, 110.343335) is located at No, 6, Kai Joo Lane and the aforementioned coffee shop is among the shops on the other side of the road, a short distance away to the left.

Nostalgic…

Next stop, China Street…

CS1

…which I remember was once, South China Street though I did not know where North was.

I had a friend there, his family ran a charcoal business in one of the shops along this street and his friends called him hoi thua kia (charcoal kid), so bad! With friends like those, who needs enemies, eh? But he did not mind though and took it very well. I walked round the place but no, I could not find any charcoal shop there anymore.

There were these very nice artworks…

CS2

…on the walls…

CS3

…probably a tribute to the old school tin-smiths…

CS4

…who still have their shops…

CS5

…along this street to this very day.

I walked to Lao Ya Keng

Lao Ya Keng

…but it looked kind of sad with so few customers and only a few stalls operating at the time and a kueh chap stall based at the shop beside it. This place used to enjoy brisk business with so many stalls to pick and choose – I remember I used to enjoy the kolo mee at a stall further in but I hear that now, different stalls open at different times in a day – a favourite is the pork satay in the afternoon at around 1.00 p.m. onwards. That certainly sounds like a very strange arrangement – people in the old days would start at the break of dawn and toil all day till night.

I did not see anything there that tickled my fancy so I crossed over to this restaurant…

Ann Lee Restaurant

…on the other side of the road. It sure brings back a whole lot of fond memories and the many times I went there for dinner, upstairs.

I remember once, I was there with some friends and they asked me to order a drink but I did not want any…and they asked again, suggesting that I could order a 7Up…and later, they asked once more, the third time. As we were leaving, I slipped on the first step of the wooden staircase and tumbled down one-third of the way. I stood up and slipped again…and by the time I stood up and slipped again the third time, I was already on the ground floor. I could not sit for a week after that! LOL!!! This is what the Sarawak Malays and Melanaus and the other ethnic races here call poonek. I did blog about this incident before here.

Sadly, the wooden staircase is no longer there – it is now covered with Italian tiles…

Ann Lee staircase

…a far cry from what it used to be and to me, it was such a disappointment to see that and they no longer run the restaurant upstairs either. At least in Sibu, our old school restaurant has enough following to keep it going!

I also remember that in the 70’s, I used to drop by here for the chicken rice with steamed chicken, char siew and siew yoke drowned in curry gravy and much to my delight, they still have it on their menu, the Hainan curry rice…

Ann Lee menu

…they call it. I asked the lady and she said that her parents took over in the early 80’s and when I told her, I used to eat this here in the 70’s, she said that would be the time of her grandparents. Gee!!! Imagine going back three generations!

I was so very full from the breakfast I had but I simply had to order a plate…

Ann Lee Hainan curry rice

…to enjoy for old times’ sake. I don’t know if it was because I was already feeling so full but I did not think it was all that nice – I did not derive any of the delight I used to feel when I ate it before.

I left the place feeling kind of sad – I suppose I would just have to accept that, like it or not, nothing stays the same.

ANN LEE RESTAURANT 安利酒樓 (1.558135, 110.346121) is located at No. 28, Carpenter Street in Kuching.

Nearby…

When I woke up that first morning in Kuching, at around 7.00 a.m., I walked to this shop…

Choon Hui 1

…located nearby, right around the corner and I was shocked to see all the illegally parked cars along the road outside even though it was still so early in the morning.

The place was FULL and I had to sit at a table where there was a young guy enjoying his bowl of Sarawak/Kuching laksa but after asking him, of course, and he said that he did not mind, a very nice young man who even took his leave politely when he was done after which, I had the whole table to myself.

I cannot recall exactly when the last time I came here was but I do remember it was before I retired and I was staying at the hotel next door, either conducting a course for English teachers or attending a workshop or seminar and early one morning, my very dear friend, Jimmy, since deceased – he passed away in a tragic road accident, and I walked over for breakfast. I don’t think I ever went back to the shop…

Choon Hui 2

…since, not even after all that publicity when the late Anthony Bourdain dropped by and fell in love with the Sarawak/Kuching laksa from this stall…

Laksa stall

…there especially when there are locals who will tell you that this one is not the best in the city and there are other nicer ones around. I did not go for the laksa though – for one thing, it was way too early and for another, we do have one place here with pretty good laksa and I would not want to go for anything we can go for anytime in town.

I went for the kolo mee instead even though we may have some wannabes in Sibu that come pretty close but some do not even know for a fact that when it comes to kolo mee, one has to give this chili soaked in vinegar dip…

Kolo mee chili vinegar dip

…not that bottled chili sauce that one would get with kampua mee.

I remember having the kolo mee here before and it was good and that morning, I asked for the special (RM6.00)…

Kolo mee

…and even though I would not say it was the best in town, it was definitely kolo mee, not kampua mee in disguise.

I also remember enjoying the popiah here before and despite the fact that I had just made my own at home over the weekend before coming over to Kuching, I could not resist ordering two (RM3.30 each)…

Popiah

…and it was served with this sweet sauce with bits of chili in it.

Yes, it was very nice…

Popiah, cross-section

…and I made up my mind there and then that I would walk over early Sunday morning before my flight back to Sibu to buy some to take home.

CHOON HUI CAFE 春园茶室 (1.552768, 110.354468) is located at No. 34, Jalan Ban Hock in Kuching to the left of the Hotel Grand Continental there.