Archives

Coming soon…

Malaysia is a land of festivals. After Christmas and ushering in the new year, we had Chinese New Year…and coming soon, at the end of this month, those of us in Sarawak will be celebrating the Gawai Dayak Festival while the Sabahans will be celebrating theirs – the Harvest or Kaamatan Festival.

I heard that the decor at this megamall in town is up and it is very nice so I made it a point to drop by and have a look…

Gawai decor 1

It certainly is very well done…

Gawai decor 2

…don’t you think?

The brass gongs sure look like real…

Brass gongs

…but of course, the sape

Sape

…isn’t anything like the real thing. This is the ethnic stringed-instrument or guitar, if you choose to classify it as such – the sounds are really so very pleasant and soothing.

They have all kinds of very unique and enchanting musical instruments, these ethnic races in the state of Sarawak and thanks to Sada Borneo who were in the reality talent show recently, many would have been enthralled by some of them…

…including the sape, I’m sure. As a matter of fact, I had never seen nor heard a few of those that they played before myself and was spellbound and so very impressed by the captivating sounds of each of them. Unfortunately, they did not garner enough votes to make it into the finals but at  least, they were the only Malaysian act to get that far in the competition and they did give a lot of people an insight into what’s in store here in Sarawak, musically and culturally, that is.

Back to the decor at the mall, they also have a bit at the entrance…

Star MegaMall entrance 1

…to wish everyone Selamat Hari Gawai Dayak

Star MegaMall entrance 2

They did a really good job for Christmas last year…

Christmas 2014 at Star MegaMall
*Archive photo*

…and the year before…

Christmas 2013 at Star MgeMall
*Archive photo*

…and for Chinese New Year…

Chinese New Year 2015 Star MegaMall
*Archive photo*

…earlier this year too and they have done it again. I must say that they do deserve a pat on the back for their good work everytime.

Not this time…

I had to drive my girl back to her school on Thursday as the function she was involved in all day Wednesday dragged on till almost 8.00 p.m. and it was too dark by then and raining as well so I told her not to go back with her colleague and I would send her in the morning.

The thing was supposed to end at 5.00 p.m. but it went on and on and dinner was not provided, just a simple buffet lunch and a light tea of sandwiches and some cakes so one can imagine how hungry everybody must be by then. If I were there, I sure would have made a scene and walked out. They really should look into the organisation of such affairs and have a chairperson to time the presenters and stop them when they get carried away and go on for far too long…and if it has to go past the stipulated time, they should get everyone’s agreement to continue…and arrange for dinner to be provided. Imagine those driving back in the dark on our narrow single-lane pan-Sarawak/Sabah trunk road and in the rain and getting to their remote schools at around 10.00 p.m.

Anyway, once we got there in the morning, my girl went to her classes to conduct her lessons for the day and my missus and I just stayed at her quarters to wait for her to finish so we could all drive back to start off the long weekend. I walked around the place and spotted this bunga raya (hibiscus)…

Big hibiscus

I had never seen one this big, the size of a dinner plate, but personally, I prefer the small ones…

Small hibiscus

…and I am not particularly fond of the yellow ones…

Yellow hibiscus

…either. We left the school at around 2.00 p.m. and it was way past 3, almost 4.00 p.m. when we stopped for a very very late lunch. We’ve been here twice before, once for lunch and another time for dinner and we did like what we had on both occasions.

I ordered this…

sandwich

…only to be informed that they had run out of bread. Tsk! Tsk! In the end, I had the seafood kolo mee (RM7.30)…

SCR seafood kolo mee

…which was nice but no, it was not like the real thing. For one thing, this being a halal place,  it did not have any lard in it. I was thinking at the time that my Penang blogger-friend, Ken, would love it – no lard! Well, I must say that the price was rather steep despite the fact that there were two prawns and bits of fried fish (that were too salty for my liking)…so although it was all right as far as the taste went, I would not think I would want to have it again.

My missus liked the Szechuan chicken noodles (RM9.00)…

SCR Szechuan chicken noodles

…that she had even though it looked a lot nicer in the menu. I tried a bit but no, it did not get me jumping with delight and yes, it sure did not come cheap either.

My girl wanted the tomato bihun (RM8.15)…

SCR tomato bihun

…which sure did not look good at all with everything drowned in the watery sauce. Never mind that it tasted quite o.k. but the fact that she barely finished half of it would be indicative of how much she “loved” it, plus just like the rest, it wasn’t cheap too.

Thankfully, she enjoyed the scallops (RM7.00)…

SCR scallops

…that she also ordered. I guess everyone would be familiar with what those taste like – we would buy a pack or two from the supermarket once in a while and fry our own to eat at home.

The bill came up to RM41.05…

Cashier's receipt

…inclusive of GST but with a 5% discount as my missus has a member card from the departmental store in the mega mall opposite so in the end, I only had to fork out 16 sen extra above the actual total.

All in all, what we had that afternoon was at best, just all right…and not anything we would want to have again. We’d rather try something else on their menu next time.

Go all the way…

I joined a contest, Taste your way around Asia, that was hosted by AirAsiaGo on their Facebook page more for the fun of it than anything else. I thought it was somewhat interesting and this was how it went – they would name a destination and a few culinary specialties at that particular place and participants would have to email them photographs of other delights found at that same place, giving whatever information they required.

I think the first destination was Sarawak so that was easy and of course, my submission had to be the Kuching or Sarawak laksa

Sarawak laksa

The next destination was Penang and since char kway teow was on their list, I could not suggest that. In the end, I settled for the or chian (oyster omelette) and the roti jala, Indian style that I had at a nasi kandar place on the island…

Or chianroti jala

Bangkok was next and it was not too difficult as they did not mention the pad Thai  nor the pineapple fried rice…

Pad ThaiPineapple fried rice

…and I had the photographs of the two at hand.

Hong Kong was quite a challenge as they mentioned dim sum and roast goose so I had to come out with something else and for Vietnam, the Vietnamese pho was in their list. In the end, I decided to submit the siew yoke (roast pork belly) and the Vietnamese rolls…

Siew yokeVietnamese rolls

…for these two destinations.

Taipei came next and I had snapshots of the Taiwan-style beef noodles and also the celebrated pineapple cakes…

Taiwan beef noodlesPineapple cakes

…but Korea was rather challenging. I think they had kim chi and bibimbap and I do not know much about Korean cuisine especially when I was there once only – in the winter and it was so cold that for every meal, we requested for their mee sua in ginseng chicken soup with their very nice rice wine. In the end, I just sent to them this photograph of the Korean mochi buns…

Korean mochi buns

…and that was it!

Now, why did I say that I just joined for fun like I was not all that keen? Well, the thing was the prize would be another free hotel stay – I had already won one at either Bangkok or Phuket in a contest organised by their affiliate, Tune Insurance around Christmastime last year and it is due to expire at the end of this month so it sure looks like I would not get to use it in the end. I wouldn’t mind forwarding that to anyone heading to one of these two destinations in the next few weeks – just let me know! I did read the fine print and it did not say anywhere that it is non-transferable so I guess it is all right.

Anyway, for this particular contest, I received an email from them informing me that I had won and they asked me for my mailing address. After a couple of days, I received this…

Winner

Homestay? In Kluang? I know that it is in Johore but I can’t jolly well fly there! I’d probably would have to fly to JB and go all the way by bus or by train from there. Sighhhhh!!!! If it had been free hotel accommodation in JB itself…or KL, Penang, Kuching, Kota Kinabalu or even Singapore, I would probably make a trip there and make full use of the prize. As for going to Kluang, I will have to think about it. The voucher expires at the end of October this year so there is still a lot of time for me to sleep on it…but if anyone is interested, I can pass it to him or her, no problem at all.

Well, I sure had a lot of fun and yes, it is nice to win something, never mind what. LOL!!!

Forty-four…

Towards the end of the 60’s and the beginning of the 70’s, there were only two Form 6 classes in Sibu and in fact, in the whole of the central region of Sarawak – the Arts stream in Methodist Secondary School and the Science stream in Sacred Heart Secondary School. Many would drop out of school at Primary 6 or after Form 3 or later, after Form 5…by which time, there were not all that many left. Being an Arts student, I had to move from the latter to the former…and I had classmates from the other schools in the town and from far and wide, from places such as Betong, for one.

Our class was bigger, Lower 6, 1970, but some dropped out when they did not get Grade 1 in the Senior Cambridge Examination, a few left to go overseas to study and some moved to other schools such as Tanjong Lobang in Miri. By the time we finished Sixth Form in 1971, there were only 27 or 28 of us left…and to date, a few had passed away.

There was an attempt to hold a reunion sometime last year but there were not all that many who could make it at the time for one reason or other. After that, somebody suggested holding one in Sibu and I was given the task of organising. I would not say that the response was overwhelming – only 15, yours truly included, joined though there were others who signed up but later, pulled out owing to unforseen circumstances. Still, we appreciated very much the effort of everyone who came especially those who came back from as far as Australia and also Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Kota Kinabalu, Kuching, Betong and Sarikei…

MSS 1970 1971

I made a booking at this hotel and asked specially for their special room where I had attended two reunion dinners not too long ago with my Kanowit students here and here. With some of our spouses and our children, we were able to make up three tables and that was all the room could accommodate. It was very private with two staff members – a waiter and a waitress assigned to serve us, very comfortable and had its own toilet plus there was a PA system and karaoke facilities as well.

This was the first dish – their hot and cold mixed combination…

Phoenix Court hot and cold mixed combination

…which was followed by the fish lips’ soup with dry scallops and crab meat – I had requested for that instead of the unmentionable offensive stuff. I did not take a photograph of it though as the efficient staff divided the soup into little bowls and served it to us individually.

After the soup came the roast duck…

Phoenix Court Roast duck 1

…which was pretty well done…

Phoenix Court Roast duck 2

…and came with the dark sweet bean sauce dip. I do think though that what I had with my Singapore friends at another restaurant in town had a slight edge over it but then again, that was a different duck dish, not the same.

The curry fish…

Phoenix Court curry fish

…served with rice, was a hit…and was gone in no time at all. One of my classmates, back from KL, said it was the best siakap he had ever had anywhere and added that the chef must be really good. Hmmmm…I did not even know what fish it was – I just ate. LOL!!! My missus said this was nicer – it had a very slight sourish taste and not sweet like the one at the other place but my girl said that though this was very good too, she would prefer that other one. Like with everything else, I guess this was obviously a case of to each his own, one man’s meat another man’s poison.

After the fish, the dish of braised abalone slices with fresh mushroom and broccoli was served but I was up and about at the time so I did not get to snap a photograph of it as well. I guess it was good as by the time I got back to the table, there wasn’t very much of it left. The final dish was the Vietnamese prawns…

Prawns

…served with their really awesome own-made bun…

Bun

…that was so good you could eat it on its own and in fact, one of my classmates’ son did. He was allergic to prawns, he said but he tried the bread and loved it! They did not use the giant freshwater udang galah (bamboo prawns) this time around and I was glad they didn’t as the last time we had that, I thought the prawns were kind of bland, not all that nice. These big seawater prawns were a lot better as they were very fresh, sweet and succulent.

Then came the desserts – a lovely bowl of ice-cold peaches and longans each and this platter…

Dessert

…of or nee (yam paste) and mochi with or tau sar (red bean paste) and whatever else inside. The paste was not as fine as what we had with our Singaporean friends but personally, I would prefer it this way.

This dinner with 6 main courses and two desserts, 8 altogether, cost RM400 per table, exclusive of the 6% government tax. There were only 28 of us, 10 at one table and 9 at each of the other two but we all agreed to divide the total, including the drinks and everything, equally…and in the end, each of us had to fork out RM50.00 per head only for the very delightful meal and a wonderful evening. Service was great so I gave the waiter and the waitress RM10.00 each to show our appreciation of a job well done.

It truly was a memorable gathering and I was glad to have had this opportunity to meet so many of them that I had not seen since we left school…forty-four years ago!

Something to remember…

I mentioned in an earlier post that my Singapore friends rented a car and drove on their own all the way to the longhouse in Kanowit

RK Kanowit 1
*Alfred’s photo on Facebook*

…for a one-night stay. I wished I could go with them but unfortunately, the timing just wasn’t right.

They had a memorable and enjoyable experience and got to go jungle trekking…

JT
*Alfred’s photo on Facebook*

…while they were there and they also had to pick stuff from the jungle…

Picking midin
*Alfred’s photo on Facebook*

…to cook for dinner including some midin

Midin
*Alfred’s photo on Facebook*

…and tapioca leaves

Daun bandong
*Alfred’s photo on Facebook*

They also cut some bamboo and the ingredients needed to cook ayam pansoh (chicken in bamboo).

However, I was rather disappointed to hear that they did not get to eat all that. It so happened that there was an Australian there already and  he was staying in the headman’s bilek (house) and my friends had to stay in another one under that same homestay programme. The wife in the one where they put up cooked dinner for them but they had none of all the aforementioned – they said they probably had that in the other bilek…but they were not too sure. Actually, I was expecting them to get together at the ruai (common corridor) to enjoy the food together…and luckily, they were very nice people and did not mind one bit and were quite happy with what they were served…and they said that the people they stayed with were very pleasant and hospitable and they really felt at home with them. Hmmm…they did not even know who had the ayam pansoh and all in the end but if I had been there, I probably would have kicked up a fuss and demanded for all that jungle produce. Tsk! Tsk!

They were supposed to go boating…

Boat
*Alfred’s photo on Facebook*

…but it rained heavily so they decided to put it off till the morning the next day.

When evening fell…

Sunset
*Alfred’s photo on Facebook*

…they had some traditional dancing – the ngajat

Ngajat
*Alfred’s photo n Facebook*

…to the music played with all their traditional instruments including the sape and the gongs and drums, big and small. I heard that the ladies joined in and had fun while my friend, Alfred, was shy and insisted he could not dance. They also tasted the tuak (traditional rice wine) but they said it was kind of sour. Maybe it was not the right time of year and they had run out of the good ones – usually, they would have new wine around May and June for the Gawai Dayak Festival which certainly would be a better time to visit to join in all the merry making.

The next morning, they decided to skip the boating as they could not wait to head into town for the Kanowit red kampua noodles. Unfortunately, they said the town was flooded with people, so very busy, the shops were so crowded and the roads were terribly jammed and they could not find a parking space so they just left and headed back to Sibu.

However, they were able to make a pit stop here for my favourite popiah

Popiah 1
*Alfred’s photo on Facebook*

– the best I have had anywhere and yes, they really liked it too…

Po piah 2
*Alfred’s photo on Facebook*

They also had the kampua noodles…

Kampua
*Alfred’s photo on Facebook*

…from a stall at the coffee shop there and they said it was good.

After having had their fill, they headed to the brand new hotel…

New Li Hua

…just declared open earlier this month – another one in the same chain of hotels as the one where they stayed on their previous trip here. I had made prior reservations there for their stay in Sibu at only RM98.00 nett (around SGD38.00) per night for each BIG room with a king-sized bed, so they were able to check in as soon as they arrived…and return the rented car.

They said they enjoyed it all, very different and truly something to remember.

His girl…

I got an invitation from an ex-colleague of mine – his girl was getting married last Saturday so there I was, that lovely evening…

Sunset

…for the wedding reception at a hotel in town.

Photos

She was an ex-student of mine in my English tuition class and is now a doctor…and her hubby is also a doctor, an ex-student in my previous school…

The couple

…though I cannot remember whether I did teach him or not.

I was seated right beside this arch…

Venue

…so that explains why the snapshots of the food have that tint of purple colour…

Dish

…and at this particular venue, of course, my favourite would be the duck stuffed with lor mai kai-like glutinous rice…

Duck

…and needless to say, I feasted on that!

Congrats to the couple…and also to the proud parents. Thank you so much for the invitation – it sure was my pleasure to be able to share the joy of this very auspicious and happy occasion in your lives.

The end…

Chap Goh Meh or the 15th Night of the 1st Month of the Chinese Lunar Year marks the end of the festivities held to usher in and welcome the brand new year, and this year is The Year of The Goat. The (extended) family would sit down together once again for a grand dinner, not unlike the Reunion Dinner on the last day of the old year, the eve of Chinese New Year’s Day.

However, the sad thing is these days, families are not so close-knit – not many are staying together in the same house or in the same town and they may be scattered all over the state, country or even the whole world. Some may come home for the festival but with their work commitments, most would have made their way back to their respective stations leaving, perhaps, only the old parents alone at home. Probably it is because of this reason that many do not hold the aforementioned dinner anymore these days…or maybe because everyone would be busy working so they would not have the luxury of time and maybe because the old folks at home are no longer able to cope or to cook, many would just book a table at a restaurant outside and sit down and enjoy the dinner together.

Well, my missus and I have both retired so we would have a lot of time on our hands and I offered to cook this time around seeing that she had done her part for the Reunion Dinner and also for the Chinese New Year’s Day dinner with my in-laws. Of course, one must not expect anything special as I am usually the one taking shortcuts and looking for the easy way out like how I cooked my sambal prawns with petai

Sambal prawns with petai

I also fried the Penang laksa noodles with leek and bak kua (barbecued meat)….

Fried Pennag laksa with leek and bak kua

that I cooked not too long ago and found that it was really very nice. Initially, everyone avoided it, opting for the plain white rice instead, probably thinking that it was the dry version of the celebrated Penang hawker delight so I had to explain that it was the name given to the type of noodles used and it was not anything like that.

I boiled the heads of the prawns and the shell to get the stock with which I cooked a lovely clear soup with Chinese cabbage, meat balls, quail eggs and button mushrooms. I did not remember to take a photograph of it though. Other than that, I had TWO very big ikan buris (or ikan lajong in Iban) in the fridge. I read somewhere that one should not cut the fish served for the Reunion Dinner so in keeping with the tradition, I deep-fried the two whole and even with my not-very-big wok, I managed to do so…

Fried ikan buris

…pretty well, I must say. I did not have a plate big and long enough so I served them in a tray wrapped with aluminium foil together with the sauce that my mum and the rest in the family would prepare to eat with this particular type of fish.

She would pour away the oil used to fry the fish leaving just a little bit in the wok and then she would heat it up again and fry some thinly-sliced  shallots it in. Once done, she would add soy sauce to the oil and shallots and that was it…

Dip for fish

On my part, I did add some sliced fresh chili as well.

My missus did say she was going to fry the leftover ngor hiang and serve but I noticed that she had marinated some chicken wings as well so I guessed she was going to bake those…and when I saw her taking out some more chicken from the freezer, I knew what she was up to. If you know the story of the Arab and the Camel, you would know what happened to the Arab and you can jolly well guess the end of the story.

This was what we had for our dinner that night from one angle…

Chap Goh Meh dinner 1

…and this was from the other angle…

Chap Goh Meh dinner 2

Nothing much, nothing fancy but what mattered most would be the fact that we were able to sit down together with family and friends to eat this significant dinner and enjoy the cheer and delight of one another’s company.

How was your Chap Goh Meh celebration? Care to share?