When he came…

I was so delighted when he told me he would come to Sibu and pay me a visit, my blogger-friend, Nick, from Sungai Petani in Kedah

Nick

Never mind that I am caught up with all those things revolving around my parents at this point in time, I just had to make appropriate arrangements to slot in some time to take him around, sightseeing and eating some of the nice things around here…and look at all the stuff that the very nice guy brought all the way for me…

Goodies from Nick

I put him up at a small hotel here as I would not be home most of the day and at night, so he could be left to his own devices when I was not available to venture out and roam around on his own.

After meeting him upon arrival at the airport and taking him to check in, I took him here for the authentic ethnic Dayak delights for that special taste of Sarawak. It was already past 1.00 p.m. then so a lot of the things were running out and no, we did not have everything in a plate or a tray. For someone special on a visit, I insisted on everything served in separate bowls and plates like when I was here with my godson/ex-student, Andrew, from Christchurch, New Zealand that day.

He had the teh-c special…

Teh-c special

I hear one can get to drink this in Sarawak only, I don’t know how true that is but there were only two colours. Normally, I would expect a layer of green – either pandan or wheatgrass.

This was all that was left of the kacang ma chicken with tuak

Anak Borneo kacang ma chicken

…and the kasam ensabi with pork…

Anak Borneo kasam ensabi with pork

…but there was more than enough for Nick to get the taste of each of these delightful dishes.

I ordered this paku (wild jungle fern)…

Anak Borneo paku and cabbage

…with cabbage which I thought was an odd combination but I had never had it before and I wanted to give it a try. Well, personally, I think I would stick to our favourites here – the tapioca leaves and the cangkuk manis and pumpkin…

Anak Borneo cangkuk manis & pumpkin

…that we also had that day.

Of course I did not miss out the pansuh babi (pork cooked in bamboo tubes)…

Anak Borneo pansoh babi

…and to go with everything, I asked for the dabai fried rice…

Anak Borneo dabai fried rice

The total came up to RM21.00 and yes, Nick enjoyed all that we had – he said everything was nice and he particularly liked the unique kind of “herbal” taste of the dishes with all the natural ingredients used in the cooking.

Well, he’s leaving today but no worries, there is a lot more on his visit in the posts to come. Do stick around and see what else we have in store.

Thank you so much for coming, Nick. It certainly was my pleasure having you come and visit our little town…and I do hope you will come again someday…soon. All the best in everything that you do, take care, cheers!!!

Moonlight…

Chap Goh Meh, literally translated as the 15th night…

Chap Goh Meh Rooster Year

…marked the end of the Chinese New Year festivities for the year.

It was not really due to the fact that we were juggling between taking care of my dad at their house and my mum at the medical centre that we did not have time to cook for our Chap Goh Meh dinner – we usually have steamboat on this auspicious night every year so we decided we would have that again this year…but at my parents’ house so my dad could enjoy it with us.

I bought 1 kilo of our local freshwater prawns, large and that cost me RM60.00 a kilo only to remember later that my dad would not be eating those for fear of a gout attack so we had to keep them to cook and eat ourselves some other time. The extra large ones were going for RM75.00 a kg that day and the medium and anything smaller, RM50.00 and below.

We could not have any of the paper thin slices of meat, pork or beef would be nice, as I do not think my dad would be able to chew those. That was why we only had minced meat balls…

Chap Goh Meh steamboat 1

…and I went and bought one ikan tenggiri (mackerel), over RM20.00 and my missus used that to make her own fish balls which, needless to say, were heaps nicer than anything sold outside especially those factory-made ones.

We also had quail eggs – my girl loves those – and I bought some sea cucumber which cost a bomb, RM120.00 a kilo but it is believed that they have a lot of health benefits. I also got some beef tendons from the same stall at the wet market. Those were cheaper, RM20 a kilo, if I remember correctly and the very nice seller just charged me for a few big ones and he threw in a lot of the bits and pieces into the bag and I went home happily with a bagful of beef tendons. I bought three of the best quality sea cucumber – I understand they were from Papua New Guinea and the guy gave me one extra, from Sabah. Of course, I kept insisting on him picking the softer ones, sea cucumber and beef tendon, so my dad would not have any problem chewing.

Other than those, I also got some dried fresh fish maw, over RM40 a kg, and we also added some bean curd sticks, tofu, wombok or Chinese white cabbage and glass noodles…

Chap Goh Meh steamboat 2

…and my dad was fine with everything except the bean curd sticks which he could not chew. My missus would just soak them in hot water to soften while I would usually boil some water and use the really hot boiling water straight from the kettle so that they would be very much softer.

 I also went and bought some chicken rice…

Chicken rice

…from here as I know jolly well that my dad would want rice at every meal and yes, he enjoyed the steamboat to the max and had two plates of the rice with the lovely clear soup and what was in it.

I was afraid that my dad might not enjoy the steamboat so I went and bought this very big ikan bawal putih (white pomfret)…

Steamed white pomfret

…RM50.00 each (the seller said they had not reduced “the Chinese New Year prices” yet) and had it steamed for him to enjoy. Yes, he did eat quite a bit of it but he was fine with the steamboat, actually and sang its praises the whole time while we were having our dinner that night and he kept saying that it was anytime nicer that the stuff they would usually order from the restaurants outside for such special occasions.

All in all, I would say it certainly was worth the effort going over and having this simple steamboat dinner with my dad.

Come join us…

I did mention in an earlier post that my godson/ex-student, Andrew, and his family were back in Sibu for the Chinese New Year celebration but I was sick and so were the kids and his wife and then, my mum was admitted into the medical centre so I did not really have time for much of anything else. That was why I did not get to see them at all till last Tuesday night – it was the wife, Michelle’s birthday, and they wanted to come here…

Payung Cafe candle and flowers

…for dinner. They were here before

Payung Cafe bunga kantan

…and they loved the food and the place and that was why they picked it specially for their little celebration and they also asked an ex-student of mine, Andrew’s classmate, now based in Doha to join us…

With Andrew & family and Teo

They wanted the Payung rojak

Payung Rojak

…that they enjoyed before but according to Peter, the boss, business had been pretty good over the last few nights and they had run out of the buah kedundong leaves…and also the lamb masala that my girl had just a few days ago. Michelle did not want anything spicy so we had the green curry…

Payung Cafe green curry

…which looked somewhat diluted that night unlike those times when I had it before but it tasted great and we did not mind the extra gravy with which we could drown the rice and enjoy.

I suggested ordering their garlic bread…

Payung Cafe garlic bread

…with their chicken sauce dip…

Payung Cafe chicken sauce dip for garlic bread

…as I thought the kids would enjoy it. My girl loved it a lot but of course, owing to the gluten content, this would be one thing on their menu that we cannot order anymore…and yes, the children enjoyed it very much.

I also insisted that they tried the pomelo salad…

Payung Cafe pomelo salad

…and yes, they liked it a lot too.

They also wanted the mushroom roll…

Payung Cafe mushroom roll

…and the kacang ma chicken…

Payung Cafe kacang ma chicken

…that they had had before and yes, this time around, they did not forget the lovely fried ginger garnishing that they inadvertently left out the last time we had this and I would say it was very very nice that night.

Poor Peter! There I went grumbling away that there were four of us and they only had three prawns in each serving of their belimbing prawns so of course, he went and cooked this bowl of the delightful dish…

Payung Cafe belimbing prawns

…with lots of the crustaceans in it. All three of them had not had it before and there they went, praising it to the skies. They loved it so much!!!

We wanted to order dessert but Peter said that for every customer celebrating his or her birthday at the cafe, if they know about it, they would come out with something special for the birthday celebrant and Michelle got this…

Payung's birthday special for Michelle

…assortment of peppermint ice cream, (local) mango ice cream, Maldives ice cream (chocolate with crushed egg roll) and durian ice cream to share with the rest of us. Their little girl loved the mango so much that she literally finished that all by herself. Kids! Don’t they all love ice cream?

I don’t know the breakdown as I was not the one picking up the tab that night but I did ask Andrew the following day and he said it was over RM80.00 for the four of us and the two kids. I guess that was all right for a lovely evening of great food, great company and wonderful service with a special treat thrown in for good measure. Who could ask for more?

You’re welcome anytime…

In view of the circumstances at that point in time, I did not really have an open house for Chinese New Year this year.

A few did drop by and yes, they managed to catch me at home at the time. In fact, we were either at home or at the medical centre and anyway, we could go home anytime should anybody want to come and visit. Sibu is a very small place, not at all difficult to get around.

There was this group of ex-students…

Ex-Chung Hua students
*Sze Nee’s photo*

…who invited me to their school’s centenary dinner not too long ago and I sure was glad to see another ex-student of mine whom I had not seen for a long long time. Now, a renowned gynaecologist in Bintulu, blessed with three girls and a boy, he dropped by with his wife and kids and his parents – it was so sweet of him to remember this old teacher of his and yes, it certainly was great to see him again after all these years.

My good friends, Lim & Mrs and the children made it a point to come over to extend their Happy Chinese New Year greetings that very night as soon as they got back from Kuching after driving all the way the whole day – they went home for the holidays and Melissa’s coursemate, teaching at a school in Sibu, now happily married, did drop by with his wife too…

Bubu and missus
*Farid’s photo on Facebook*

The nice boy would make it a point to drop by and extend his festive greetings without fail but of course, this year, he is not qualified to receive an ang pao anymore. LOL!!!

Then there were Bongkerz and Mary and their families…

Mary & Bongkerz & families
*Mary’s photo on Facebook*

– they would definitely drop by each year but last year, they did not as it coincided with Ash Wednesday and I did not have an open house on that particular day and they had to go back to their respective towns right after that. It sure was nice to see them again – this was way back in 2011 when they did not have any children yet – and I do hope I will get to see them again and again in the years to come.

Well, with my girl and the mum presently on a gluten-free diet, my missus did not do any baking at all and just went to buy some stuff from the shops instead and when I saw on Facebook that my ex-student’s wife, Juliet, was making some of those local steamed and layered delights, I quickly placed an order for  a few of those.

There was this kek lumut (moss cake)…

Kek lumut

…and kek belacan (dried prawn paste cake)…

Kek belacan

– both very nice despite the not-so-flattering names, one obviously because of the green colour and no, the latter did not have any belacan in it.

This one had a nicer name – Evergreen…

Evergreen

…and yes, it was very good too. What I liked most was the fact that all the cakes had reduced sugar so they were not as sweet as those sold commercially and she did not scrimp on the ingredients so that was why all the cakes were very rich and very very nice. The sad thing is that Jimmy, the hubby, said that he would not let her make anymore next year – I guess he saw all that she had to go through, all the hours of preparation and steaming and baking. It was no easy task, that’s for sure.

We also had the fruit pudding…

Auntie Irene's fruit pudding

…that my aunt in Kuching made and they gave it to me when they were here in December last year and I had been saving it since. It did not turn out so well this time around – the fruit sank! Nonetheless, it tasted as good as ever, lots of rum in it, that’s for sure!

Thank you, all, for dropping by – that was so sweet of all of you to take the time and the trouble to do so. A Blessed & Happy Chinese New Year again to all of you, may God bless everyone abundantly in the year ahead. Cheers!!!

Usually…

I did mention in my previous post that my missus had been cooking a few dishes before the whirlwind of events following my mum’s admission into the medical centre after which everything had to be put on hold.

Usually, every year, she would cook some of her specialties to store in separate servings in the fridge so she could take out bit by bit to heat up and serve to guests dropping by especially those from out of town who would have a problem trying to find something to eat outside around this time as most of the shops would be closed.

And usually, without fail, every year, she would ask her family over for lunch or dinner but my mother-in-law had left us earlier last year and my Bintulu brother-in-law would not be coming back. Nonetheless, she insisted on inviting her brother and his family here in Sibu to come over for lunch but of course, this year, we had to make do with what we already had as we did not have the luxury of time to cook more and that, of course, meant that we had most of what we had for our reunion dinner the night before on Chinese New Year’s Eve.

There was the leftover fish…

Steamed fish

…which we were not supposed to finish and had to continue eating the following day. We did not touch the other side so it actually looked as good as new…and we took out the steamed chicken…

Mary's steamed chicken from Flavours
*Niece’s photo on Facebook*

…that I got from my friend, Mary. Everyone loved it a lot and all sang praises of the very nice Thai-style sambal dip that came with it. My girl enjoyed the stock that came out of the meat and she kept drinking it like a soup – that would be where all the wholesome goodness was, the true unadulterated essence of chicken!

Other than those, there were the salad…

Salad

…the kacang ma chicken…

Kacang ma chicken

…the satay beef…

Satay beef

…the ngor hiang

Ngor hiang
*Niece’s photo on Facebook*

…and the pineapple prawns…

Pineapple prawns
*Niece’s photo on Facebook*

– all that we had for dinner the previous evening and for dessert we had the amik melon that I got from my young friend, Justin, and yes, everybody loved it – so sweet and so juicy and it did not have that green taste and smell of the honey dew and the other melons that I am not all that fond of.

It wasn’t as elaborate as what we used to have in previous years but there was more than enough to go round and everyone enjoyed the lunch very much and of course, it was great to have them around, my in-laws.

Before the day…

It sure was one hectic time for us, driving here and there with things to get done before all the places closed for the Chinese New Year holidays and going in and out of the medical centre to visit my mum and spend some time with her, just to keep her company, not that there was really anything much that we could do.

Despite all that, I insisted on having our own reunion dinner at home in keeping with the tradition even though it was just the three of us – my girl, the mum and I…and we had an early one so we could rush back to the medical centre right after that.

No, I did not want anything fancy – just steamed fish…

Steamed fish

…and rice. All these years, what I heard was that everyone must have fish at the reunion dinner – 年年有“鱼” and it must not be eaten all at one go. One would have to make sure there is some leftover to eat the following day. However, I read somewhere that the fish must be served whole…so fish head curry does not count, I’m afraid, and my missus saw on some television show that we must eat the middle part and not touch the head or the tail – those would have to be left behind to be eaten the next day, New Year’s Day.

I can’t say I am a firm believer nor a staunch follower of all these customs and traditions but I do find all of them somewhat interesting and I do not mind praticising some of them though I would not go out of my way to do so, solely just to keep our heritage – our customs and traditions alive.

My missus also made this salad dish…

Salad

…as well and actually, she had been cooking a few dishes over the past week or so to freeze and keep, waiting for the big day and she insisted in taking out the pre-steamed meat rolls or ngor hiang…or what they call lor bak in the peninsula to fry till they became the much coveted auspicious golden colour…

Ngor hiang

…and there was also the kacang ma chicken…

Kacang ma chicken

…and the satay beef…

Satay beef

…as well as this asam kunyit (tamarind tumeric) giant freshwater prawn and pineapple dish…

Pineapple prawns

I wouldn’t say it was one grand feast to end the Year of the Monkey but yes, it was a good dinner and fingers crossed, it was decent enough to bring the promise of endless good days ahead in the Year of the Rooster.

Unexpectedly…

The best things are the ones that come unexpectedly, pleasant things, of course, that come as a delightful surprise.

I have not seen Justin for a long long time ever since we went out for dinner a few times with our friend, Julia, from Perth Australia, here and here and here, for instance. What I knew was he completed his studies at a university in Kuching and then he went over to the peninsula to work but all these years, we never got to meet each other again though we stay in touch on Facebook.

Imagine how happy I was to hear that he would be coming back to Sibu for Chinese New Year and he sent word to tell me that he would drop by my house as he had some stuff to give to me. Oh? Isn’t that so very sweet of him…to remember me after all this time and to go through all the trouble of bringing things back for me?

First things first, he had these the sweet gifts of gold…

Amik melon

…specially for me. In Chinese culture, eating fresh fruit symbolises a new life beginning, and eating sweet fruit is a wish for a sweet year ahead. I had neither seen nor heard of these amik melons before but according to Justin, they are very popular in West Malaysia and Singapore and they are now trying to break into the local market, Sibu especially. He graduated in the field of agriculture so that is what he is involved in right now over in the peninsula.

Other than those, he also brought me a pomelo…

Pomelo

– an auspicious gift for family and friends during Chinese New Year. “Pomelo” in Chinese is called ‘da ji’ which means ‘to have’ so the real meaning of ‘da ji’ is like a wish to achieve prosperity.

Then, of course, there is this thing about eating fish during Chinese New Year – 年年有餘, “Year Year Got Fish” literally or a more accurate translation would be “Have abundance every year“. The word for “fish”, yu is a homophone for “abundance” and “affluence”…and Justin brought me these Muar otak otak

Muar otak otak

…for me to try and also the prawn version as well.

Thank you so much, Justin – you really made my day and with all the auspicious gifts that you brought specially for me, I bet a truly wonderful year is in store for me in the days ahead, that’s for sure. A Blessed and Happy Chinese New Year to you and all your loved ones too, cheers!!!