Not how it’s supposed to be…

There was an open packet of sambal laksa in the freezer so last Friday, I decided to take it and cook Sarawak laksa

Sarawak laksa

…for our lunch and dinner. I left out the thin shreds of boiled chicken meat as it was on Friday last week and we had fish balls instead. Yes, it turned out really well, very nice and my girl enjoyed it so much that she had seconds.

The next day, Saturday, I decided to make popiah (spring rolls) because my missus bought home one big mangkuang/sengkuang (jicama). No, I did not have a problem with cooking the filling even though it would entail quite a bit of work. Well, after all, a retiree like me would have all the time in the world to do everything slowly, bit by bit, a step at a time. However, it turned out eventually that I had a problem with the skin.

I liked the square ones in black packets that we had been using for quite sometime now – not all that ideal, not quite like the real thing but it was thin enough and not rubbery plus it was very easy to peel and use. I bought it at one supermarket, since closed down and taken over by another one, and the last time I managed to grab some was at the supermarket near my house. However, after the lockdown, I did drop by and I did not see any of that brand. There was another one that I was not familiar with so I did not buy it.

My cousin in Bintulu used this one…

Fabulous popiah wrapper

…and we’ve used it before too.

Steaming is required so you will have to take the wrappers out ahead of time to thaw…

Thawing

According to the instructions, they have to be peeled to separate them and arranged, one by one overlapping…

Overlapping

…and by that, I guess that was what they meant. I covered it with a piece of muslin cloth and steamed it till soft – originally, it was kind of rubbery, not quite like the real thing but after steaming, it turned out really good, almost like those freshly-made popiah skin.

Initially, we did not have a problem and we were able to use the skin to wrap each popiah nicely…

Popiah, nicely rolled

…but after a while, the skin started to stick together – maybe when it had cooled down a bit – and it was near impossible to get them apart without tearing them and we ended up with the skin, tattered and torn and were not able to use them to wrap anymore popiah.

There are 20 sheets in a pack – the top one ended up kind of shrivelled and did not look too good after thawing so I threw it away and I steamed 10, out of which 6 were all right, 2 were not completely disastrous and the last 2 could not be salvaged at all.

That evening, my missus steamed the rest for dinner. Maybe she did not keep time so the skin on top got stuck to the muslin cloth and the rest was so very hard to peel without destroying them and in the end, instead of wrapping it like this…

Popiah, ready to roll

…we just had to wrap the filling using the lettuce and eat it like that.

One thing’s for sure, you will not see me buying this brand ever again! Tsk! Tsk!

I beg to differ…

The people of the celebrated instant Sibu kampua mee had their humble beginning here at this coffee shop, the first of many to come. Since then, they have grown by leaps and bounds, coming out with all kinds of varieties over the years. Of course, there have been no shortage of competitors crawling out of the woodworks – I wonder how many of them have survived and are doing all right.

I saw one made in Sarikei that claims to be “Nature sun dry” [SIC]. Well, the aforementioned pioneer was doing that too when they started but I saw somebody complaining about creepy crawlies in the noodles when he took it out to cook and that is why they no longer do that and all their noodles are machine dried now. I guess that is the problem when you dry the noodles  outdoors. In my younger days, when I threw the mee kua (mee sanggul) into the hot boiling water, all the insects (boll weevils) would float up in the water and I had to use a sieve to scoop them out and get rid of them.

Well, there are other brands here in Sibu too and the other day, my missus came home with this one…

Sibu Nan Huong instant kampua

…that declares itself to be 100% preservative free. I think this goes across the board – all of them do not contain preservatives so they have a short shelf life of around 3-4 months only. She cooked a pack to try but because of the difference in the texture of the noodles, one would have to cook it longer or it would be rather hard.

A day or two later, I decided to give it a try myself and I rummaged inside the plastic pack for these – the noodles and the sachets…

Noodles & sachets

They are loosely and separately packed – you do not get them altogether in one nice tray. However, there are 3 sachets and the extra one contains fried shallots…

Fired shallots

I remember the Kitchen Food people also had that when they first started, crispy/crusty and dry…not wet and soggy like this one but for reasons unknown, they chose to discontinue that. I vaguely remember them selling that separately – I don’t think they do that anymore.

Taking my missus’ advice, I boiled the noodles a while longer so that it will not be on the hard side and once done, I tossed it with all the contents in the sachets. There was some stewed pork belly and eggs that my missus cooked so I took those and served the noodles with them…

Sibu Nan Huong instant kampua 1

…garnished with some chopped spring onion from my garden.

As I was cooking the noodles, I thought the smell was something like mee kua (mee sanggul) which would have to be cooked longer as well and when I sat down to eat, I thought it tasted a little bit like that too, not quite like kampua mee. The taste was different from the ones we are more familiar with but then again, the noodles at each kampua mee stall may be different from the ones right next door and the onus is on each individual to pick the one he or she likes the most.

My missus felt this was nicer but I beg to differ. All in all, I would say that it…

Sibu Nan Huong instant kampua 2

…was nice, just that I would not say there was anything that would make it stand out above the rest. My missus did say also, however, that it is cheaper so that may be a consideration to buy this one to cook and eat at home

One of the ways…

I shared a photo of the noodles I had for breakfast that morning…

Mee Daddy dry 1

…and in the caption, I asked, “So what’s this that I had for breakfast?” Somebody commented, “Nice kolo mee!” and though it did not look like Kuching kolo mee as we know it these days, it did look a bit like some of those that I had a long time ago and enjoyed to the max.

These days, if you go to eat kolo mee in Kuching, at best, you will get some char siew and some minced meat on top – they do not even give you those light-blanched green vegetables (sawi) anymore, it seems. That is exactly what you will get when you go and eat kampua mee at some places in Sibu, even though long long ago, in  my growing up years, they never gave minced meat, just a few of those very very thin slices of boiled pork, coloured pinkish orange…

Traditional Sibu kampua mee

…on top.

My friend/ex-student, Louis, went and tapaoed this packet of kolo mee

Louis' kolo mee, Kuching

…from somewhere in Kuching and I thought it looked really good, just like those I enjoyed before in the early and mid-70’s. You would get a couple of pieces of char siew and boiled meat and a bit of minced meat with your noodles, a prawn (shell removed, leaving just the tail) and a fish ball or two and a few thin fish cake slices…and at times, you might even get an inch-long pork intestine and a thin slice of liver.

I do not remember exactly where I had something like this, probably at the stall at Lao Ya Keng in Kuching – further inside, near the stage – definitely not the one there today! Or maybe I had that at one of the coffee shops along Carpenter Street. I don’t know where one can get to eat kolo mee like that these days, maybe at Kim Joo…or Noodle Descendants but no, the last time I was at these places, I did not think they were quite the same.

Anyway, going back to the noodles that I cooked for breakfast, I cannot remember where or when exactly but the last time I featured our made-in-Sibu Mee Daddy, somebody said that she always had it dry, like kampua mee, never in soup. Oh? I know they suggest three ways…

Mee Daddy 3-in-1

…soup, dry or as a snack but all this time, I always had it in soup and it reminds me of our chin th’ng mee or kampua mee served in clear soup…

Sibu chin th'ng mee

…so I decided to give it a try to see if it would be any good that way.

I emptied the contents of the sachets into a plate – the oil and half of the seasoning powder only, cooked the noodles, drained it well and tossed everything well together.

I boiled some prawns, fishballs and thinly-sliced fish cake and grilled some slices of smoked bacon for the toppings and added an egg as well and I garnished it generously with chopped spring onion from my garden and served…

Mee Daddy dry 2

Hmmm…it was nice but I think I should have mixed the seasoning powder well with the oil till it dissolved in it and maybe it could do with a little bit more oil – a teaspoon of the shallot oil that my sister gave me that day would be nice.

Having said that, no, it did not taste anything like kampua mee – it was quite nice, that much I would say but if you are craving for kampua mee, I honestly do not think this would help. At the end of the day, I still prefer this in soup. Period!

Vaguely familiar…

I loved the mee pok ta (dry) in Singapore when I was there in 1973 by virtue of the fact that it was the closest thing to our Sibu kampua noodles or the Kuching kolo mee. No, they are not the same, all three of them, other than the fact that they are all tossed in their ingredients and served dry.

I did not know then but the Singapore one is also called bak chor mee, the obvious reason being the addition of bak chor (minced meat) to it, just as in Kuching kolo mee. The ones that I had then had fish balls and fish cake slices as well and a prawn or two and even two or three tiny bits of crunchy pork fat crusts.. I think there are places in Kuching where they serve the kolo mee like that, plus a few slices of char siew (barbecued pork) and some lightly-blanched green vegetables but the taste of the noodles is in a totally different class of its own and the texture is not the same.

Well, it so happened that my girl bought this made-in-Singapore instant mee pok dry

Myojo mee pok dry

…and she loved it! Much nicer than our local ones, she said so I just had to try a bit of what she seemed to be enjoying so much. No, it did not impress me much – I thought it was rather strong in what I would refer to as the msg overload.

She finished the whole pack – I’m not sure if the mum had any or not but she went and bought another pack. That was when I decided to take a packet and try it again on my own. There are two sachets inside, one with the oil and the other with the seasoning in powder form.

I cooked the noodles and tossed it well with the oil and half of the packet of seasoning and served it with some leftover meat (beef and pork) balls that my missus made and eggs…

Myojo mee pok dry, cooked and served 1

…garnished generously with a whole lot of chopped spring onion from my garden.

Actually I intended to have two half-boiled eggs but I was caught up with the cooking of the noodles and the heating up of the meatballs that I lost track of time and they ended up like that, overcooked! Had I known they would be so, I would have peeled the eggs nicely instead of breaking them into two and scooping everything out.

I tried the noodles…

Myojo mee pok dry, cooked & served 2

…and yes, they were very nice and had that vaguely familiar taste and texture of Singapore mee pok. The oil seemed to have a hint of sesame oil which I am not really that fond of – perhaps I shall use half of it…or use my own shallot oil next time.

I had the eggs with a bit of dark soy sauce and the meatballs with my missus’ own-made blended chili and garlic dip. The latter brought the taste of the noodles to a whole new level, very nice but of course, it was no longer the same as the ones I had in Singapore a long long time ago. Perhaps I should go and get the ingredients and cook it the exact same way as they did then, with minced meat and all – at least, they would look pretty much the same. LOL!!!

FOOTNOTE: The Ramen Rater gave this a 4.25 out of 5.

Ribs…

My missus came home all excited that day with this…

Smoky racks

…in hand.

It seems that our regular fruit & food shop round the corner is bringing this in from this place in Kuching…

From Howdy Grillhouse

…for sale. There were two, opening around the same time some years ago but I never went to any of them, not this one nor the other but I did go to this one instead.

A cousin of mine did tapao the ribs from here for me once but I ate it in the middle of the night that night in the hotel, cold already – the chiller/mini-fridge in the room was not working, so it did not leave a lasting impression and that was way back in 2013!

This is precooked so it is very easy and very convenient to just heat it up…

Easy to prepare

…and eat.

Of course, we wasted no time in doing that and having it for lunch the very next day…

Ready to eat

I would say it was very nice, real juicy and fall off the bone tender…

Juicy & tender

…but at RM49.00, I would not say it was all that cheap.

I did go and check out their menu on their website and I found out that they are selling a kg for RM89.00. This pack is only 500 gm, RM44.50 if we divide it by two which means that the shop is selling it at a reasonable price and making only  a few ringgit profit.

Of course we would not be having it all that often – perhaps I would grab a few packs and keep in the freezer for some special occasions or maybe, one of these days, I shall drop by our favourite char siew shop here to find out how much they are selling their very nice roasted pork ribs per kg and make a comparison before I decide.

SWEE HUNG (2.316161, 111.840441) is located along Jalan Ruby, in the block of shops on the right – next to a hair salon at the extreme end and on the other end, to the left is the Kim Won Chinese Medical Store and Mini-supermarket and HOWDY GRILLHOUSE (1.522251, 110.356387) is located at Brighton Square, Sublot 8, Block 16 Ground, Jalan Song in Kuching.

Stick together…

This award-winning café has called it a day but no, it wasn’t because of COVID-19. It was before the pandemic outbreak when the owner decided that she had had enough. I do not know what they have there now – I did drive past a couple of times and it looked something like a coffee shop with food stalls and what not.

In the meantime, some of the employees are jobless or maybe they are working elsewhere but at such trying times, it is good that there are people finding ways and means to make ends meet. I’ve seen a lot who have set up makeshift stalls at their gates but I’ve yet to stop by any to see what they are selling. One of the former employees is selling shallot oil…

Shallot oil

– I think a bottle like this is RM7.00 or maybe, RM8.00. My sister bought that for me so I do not really know the price.

That is definitely very convenient when one wants to cook one’s own noodles. There is no need to peel and slice shallots to fry for the fragrant oil to use to toss the noodles. Of course, one will not have the nice fried shallots to garnish one’s noodles but I hear the enterprising lady is selling those as well.

And talking about noodles, I came across this Youtube video clip on cooking Foochow red wine mee sua and I was aghast at the sight of how they cooked the mee sua in the chicken soup (1:20). We do not do that here – instead, we cook the noodles, drain well and place it in a bowl and then, we pour the soup over the noodles and serve with a piece of chicken or two. I decided to watch a few more video clips and I saw that most, if not all, of them cooked it that way, in the soup! No wonder the soup of the celebrated mee sua I had at Jalan Alor in KL

Jalan Alor, KL mee sua

…was murky and starchy, not palatable at all, plus the wine was sweet, definitely not something to my liking and no, I did not finish it!

It so happened that I had a packet of mee sua due to expire at the end of the month…

Mee sua expires 31.8.2020

…so I decided to cook it the other morning. I think I bought that during my panic buying when the COVID-19 MCO partial lockdown started in March. It certainly would be a good idea to look through the things you bought then and have not eaten – who knows, some may be due for expiry and should be consumed quickly.

When you boil mee sua, you will need a lot of water so it will not be so salty when served. When my mum cooked it in my younger days, she did it very quickly so that the noodles would not be too soft and because of this, she never added salt to the chicken soup she cooked. She said the salt in the mee sua would make it salty. I like my noodles soft so I would cook it a little bit longer and you can see how the water turns murky and starchy…

Cooking mee sua

…in the process. That will remove the starch in the noodles and the salt as well so you can imagine cooking it in the soup and serving it like that. If you are eating it right away, you can just drain the noodles well and place it in a bowl. Then, you put the soup into the bowl and mix with the noodles thoroughly, loosening the strands so they will not stick together.

If you are not eating it right away, you will find that the noodles will all stick together in a clump and adding the soup to it does not really help. I would drain the noodles and rinse it well and then I would put it in water to get the strands loose and separate them…

Rinse well

Repeat till the water is clear and once I am happy enough, I would drain the noodles well and move on to the next step.

If I am serving the mee sua dry, I would put the noodles back into some hot/boiling water to heat it up – I am sure nobody enjoys cold noodles (though there are those served with ice in some cuisines). After that, I would toss the mee sua after draining it really well with all the ingredients like what I had that day when I cooked the aforementioned pack with Bovril garnished with thinly sliced omelette, chili and spring onion. See how the strands stand out singly, not sticky and all stuck together…

Strands of mee sua

Of course you would not need to “reheat” the noodles if you are having it with piping hot traditional Foochow red wine chicken soup. It will do the job for you.

I sure enjoyed my Bovril mee sua

My Bovril mee sua

…that morning – come to think of it, I have not had it for sometime and that bottle of shallot oil sure came in handy.

Make yourself…

I love lo mai kai (糯米雞) which to me, basically, is the Hokkien chang minus the bamboo leaf wrapping. For reasons unknown, it is not available here or at least, not in the way that I like it.

I managed to buy one at a bakery here in 2013

Breadsense lo mai kai

…but in my own words in the blogpost on it, “I would not mind having them again though I would not go out of my way to buy them – they’re definitely not THAT good.

They had this…

Hong Fu lo mai kai

…at a popular restaurant in town though I am not sure if they still have their dim sum in the morning or not, especially during these troubled times. I guess it is pretty obvious from the photograph that what they had there was completely different from the ones that I would be more familiar with.

Likewise, the lotus leaf-wrapped ones…

Good Happiness lo mai kai

…at this restaurant that has the best dim sum in town aren’t quite the same either.

I absolutely loved the nyonya lo mai kai

Breakfast@CafeCafe nyonya lo mai kai

here but when I went again, I was informed that they had taken it off the menu as it was not selling well and since they had to make quite a lot at one time, they all had to be thrown away. Well, they closed down the place as well, eventually.

I don’t think I’ve seen it anywhere else, nice or otherwise so I guess should we feel like eating it, we would just have to make our own and that was exactly what my missus did.

She said that she browsed through some videos online to get a rough idea as to how to go about it but she was doing it her own way. Most would use chicken but she used pork instead and there was ginger in some but she decided to use shallots and garlic only. We had run out of lap cheong (Chinese sausage) in the house so she had to do without that. I mentioned to her in passing that it should be the same as how her mum used to make her Hokkien chang except that she would not need to wrap them in those bamboo leaves.

Well, this was how it turned out in the end…

Lo mai kai, steamed

I don’t know what recipe she followed but she only managed to make 6. It did seem like quite a lot of work and if I were her, I would double everything and make 12. We can always keep them in the fridge and steam to heat up and enjoy and eat them slowly one by one.

She layered the inside with a piece of the bamboo leaf…

Lo mai kai, bamboo leaf

…that is usually used to wrap those bak changs for the special fragrance and yes, I would say that it…

Lo mai kai

…was very nice. I guess this would have to do to appease the craving until the next time she decides to make them again.

New ones…

Last Sunday morning, Annie’s brother, David, dropped by my house to give me the dumplings he made following two new recipes. He would not tell me what was in each of them – he said he would let me try and see if I could figure out what went into the making.

Well, we went out for lunch that afternoon so it was not until dinner that evening that we got to cook them…

Uncle Q Dumplings 1

…and try.

I think this…

Uncle Q Dumpling 1, filling

…was the one I liked very much. I could not make out the taste other than the fact that it was all meat. My missus said something about their being shitake mushroom in it. The filling tasted great and I was thinking how nice it would be to use it to make gourmet sausages…or perhaps he could wrap the filling with sio bee skin to make sio bee – I sure would want to buy!

My missus liked the other one…

Uncle Q Dumpling 2

…that seemed to have some chili inside…

Uncle Q Dumpling 2, filling

I’m not sure but maybe I got the photos of the two cross-sections confused and what I said was this one should have been the other and vice versa.

My girl, however, did not think much of either one of them. She feels that shui jiao/jiaozi should be what shui jiao/jiaozi should be – minced meat with koo chai (chives) and even though she was fine with the one with cabbage, she was never really all that fond of it.

Incidentally, if anybody wants to buy without prior booking, I think they have the dumplings at the Glory Organic Products shop (beside Golden Star Technology Service Centre) opposite the SESCO Customer Service Centre in the Dewan Suarah area or you can call David at 012-856 2277 or message him via their Facebook page to order and request for home delivery.

Try me one more time…

We have been getting a lot of new variations from the people here and I have tried all of them, never mind if it is red, yellow or green.

This one…

The Kitchen Food zhajiang noodles

…is the latest to hit the shelves but no, I did not buy it – I’ve had zhajiang mian before outside and it did not get me running back for more. That was why when I saw it on the shelves in the shops, I did not bat an eyelid. However, my missus came home one day with a pack and wasted no time in giving it a try.

Zhajiangmian (炸酱面) or Old Beijing noodles with fried bean originated from the Shandong province and is an iconic Northern Chinese dish. Zhajiang sauce is normally made by simmering stir-fried ground pork or beef with salty fermented soybean paste. However, the sauce may vary from province to province and between countries.

I had this one…

Twin Corner zhajiang mian

here and it sure did not look anything like the real thing. No, I was not impressed so I never went back for more.

This…

Noodle House zhajiang mian

…if I remember correctly, was the first time I had zhajiang mian and though it looked a lot more like what it should look like, it did not get me all excited at all.

In the case of this instant one, the bean paste came in one of the three sachets in the pack, along with the seasoning (powder) and the oil. After my missus had tried it, I asked her for her verdict and she did not seem to like it very much. She said she just had it once and the rest of the time, she had the noodles with her own kampua mee ingredients – she liked it better that way.

Well, that morning, I saw there was just one pack left so it was now or never! I had to grab that last one to try otherwise I am quite sure my missus would not be buying anymore and I would never get the chance to try it at all. I did not have any of the ingredients to make my version look anything like the real thing so this was what it…

The Kitchen Food zhajiang noodles with sausage and egg

…looked like in the end.

I cooked the noodles, emptied all the contents in the sachets into a plate and once cooked, I drained the noodles thoroughly before throwing it into the plate and tossing it well with the ingredients. I fried an egg to go with it and there was one gourmet sausage in the freezer, black pepper, so I sliced it thinly and fried the slices on a non-stick pan till nicely done and served them by the side. I garnished the noodles with a sprinkling of chopped spring onion from my garden and sat down to taste the fruit of my labour…

The Kitchen zhajiang noodles, served

No, it certainly did not sweep me off my feet. The bean paste tasted like those black beans that they use to steam with pork ribs at those dim sum places and some may use them for cooking the sauce for fish. I can’t say I liked it much – it sure is a taste that may need a little getting used to.

I guess it is the same as the ones I had outside – I may not be all that thrilled by them but there may be people who like them and may go back for more.

Clear and simple…

In my younger days, we did not have a lot of choices when it comes to cuisines. However, sometimes after eating all those rich and creamy foods in western cuisines, Italian, for one, all the herbs in Thai or Vietnamese food and the spices in Indian cooking as well as some dishes we never heard of before at some Chinese restaurants, I would start to crave for the very simple food I grew up eating.

Some may feel our simple dishes are rather bland and unexciting but I am a simple man. Personally, I do feel that there is beauty in their simplicity and one of my favourites from those long gone days would be fish balls in clear soup…

Fish ball soup 1

Cooking this has never been easier ever since the people in Sarikei started producing frozen fish paste available in packets like this…

Frozen fish paste from Sarikei

In the old days, one would have to make one’s own which would be such a chore and a whole lot of work.

One would have to buy the fish, bay kar (ikan tenggiri/mackerel) no less – I understand there are different types and one is nicer to fry and eat just like that and another is better for making fish balls. The fishmonger may be kind enough to debone or fillet the fish for you, otherwise you will have to do it yourself. Then you will have to scrap the meat off the skin and mince/chop it and pound it even to make it QQ (firm). Finally, you can start cooking your fish balls.

If we did not make our own fish balls, we had to buy the frozen ones from the market or shops. There were some local-made ones that were not too bad but one would need to know where to go and what to buy. Most of the time, the factory-made ones were not good – when you boiled them, they would expand from the size of golf or ping pong balls to the size of tennis balls!!! This was because of the amount of flour in them and the fact that there wasn’t much fish wasn’t too bad – there would be all the preservatives, artificial flavouring, msg and what have you. That is why I am not keen on going to all those steamboat places in town – they give you all the frozen stuff and for the amount of money I have to fork out, I might as well have my own steamboat at home…

Steamboat at home

Cooking this is so easy now – you just take the paste and roll it into balls and drop them into a pot of boiling water. I will usually add a few cloves of garlic for the added taste and to cover the fishy smell and of course, I will add a handful of Tianjin preserved vegetable or what we call tang chai/dong chai (冬菜), rinsed well, after taking the amount required from the pack. I will add some chopped spring onion and daun sup (Chinese celery) to enhance the taste and fragrance of the soup. One may add fried shallots too, if one so desires. When using this paste, there is no need to add any salt and msg – they already have them in the paste. You may add your own pepper if you like that.

Incidentally, I heard some people complaining about the fish paste from Jakar. They were the first to come out with it but lately, I have been buying the one in the above photograph from Sarikei and it is good, no problem at all. Cooking fish ball soup…

Fish ball soup 2

…has never been easier and one can even add tang hoon (glass noodles)…

Tang hoon fish balls

…to it to enjoy. I’ve also heard of one Sibu homemade fish paste that’s very good but I’ve yet to go and buy. Will blog about it when I do.