Once upon a time…

These are our Rajang hay bee/udang kering (dried prawns)…

Rajang hay bee

As you can see, they are straight, not like all the other udang kering from other parts of the country/world. The people have to painstakingly arrange the prawns in line one by one so the end product will be straight.

Once upon a time – yes, it does seem so very long ago, they were quite affordable and my mum would make the sambal quite often. Of course, she would make quite a lot at one go and store them in (Nescafe) bottles for us to eat slowly. When I was some place else, not at home, she would make and send to me a bottle or two whenever there was somebody to send it through. I guess she reckoned I could always eat it with rice…and with some cut cucumber, that would be a balanced meal by itself.

These days, these prawns are way over RM100 a kg so I do not make the sambal that often. Besides, they are harder – dunno if this is true but they tell me that now it is factory-made and machine-dried and maybe, they steam them too long so they are no longer as sweet and nice as those during our growing up years.

I did blog about making this sambal hay bee/udang kering a long time ago when I was still using my handphone camera and that was more or less what I did the other day when I felt like making some.

I pounded the ingredients…

Pounded ingredients

…and the dried prawns…

Hay bee, pounded

…after soaking in hot water to soften a little and to rinse them clean. I must say it was no easy task as they are a lot harder these days but using the blender is out of the question. My good friends’ mum, Auntie Mary, the dear ol’ lady, may she rest in peace, once told me she would not pound till too fine as she would prefer some little bits to give it some bite and to chew on when eating and enjoying.

The preparation of the ingredients may be quite tedious but the cooking is very easy. Just fry the pounded ingredients in quite a lot of oil (the pounded dried prawns will soak it all up later so make sure there is enough), throw in the serai (lemon grass)…

Cooking

…and when nicely browned and fragrant, add the pounded dried prawns. Add some curry leaves and if you want, you can add sugar, salt and msg too.  Keep stirring till nice and crusty and golden brown before dishing it all out…

My sambal hay bee

We loved it so much, great with rice and we even had it on bread. Yes, you read it right, bread! As a matter of fact, I had not had it that way for so long that yesterday, I went out and bought a loaf and after applying a layer of butter on a slice, I added the sambal

Sambal hay bee on buttered bread

…and ate. Oh boy! That tasted so so so good! I had not had it this way for so long, maybe not since I was a kid or a teenager that I had forgotten completely how good that tasted, a whole lot nicer than with rice, take my word of it!

This should last for a couple of days and looking at how the prices of everything are going up and up and up, I guess I will be having this again not that soon in the near future. Sighhh!!!

It’s all up to you…

I’ve a small chili plant…

My chili plant

….in my herbs circle, growing out from between the stumps of my jasmine tree that eventually called it a day. I cannot remember how it came to be – maybe I sowed some seeds and one out of many managed to make it.

I had another plant at another section of my garden amongst my Thai basil leaves. That one was not very productive; there were a few chilies, very few and some ripened. Some started rotting and dropped off and eventually, I transplanted it here as well but so far, it does not seem to be doing so well yet. Hopefully, things will change for the better.

Going back to this one, despite the size, it certainly is more productive but I’ve had my share of problems with it. The first round, there were just a few chilies, maybe 3 or 4 and they ripened and turned nicely red so I harvested them. My missus ate them all and yes, they were really nice, she said, very spicy. The second round, there were lots of chilies but they all turned brown close to the stems and dropped off. I went and googled and saw that it could be due to over-watering or a lack of calcium.

The third round was good, lots of chilies and no untoward incident but this time, the fourth round, I noticed that they were starting to drop off but no, there was no rotting whatsoever. Maybe the weather is way too hot these days, I wouldn’t know. That was why I plucked all of them even though they were green, around 10 altogether.

I did not feel like pickling them in vinegar this time around – I decided to make some sambal ikan bilis (dried anchovies dip) with them instead. I soaked a handful of ikan bilis in hot water to soften it a little and also to rinse it clean.

In the meantime, I pounded the chilies with a few shallots plus a little bit of belacan (dried prawn paste), just a little bit, before adding the ikan bilis. I continued pounding a bit more – I did not want to mash up the ikan bilis and end up with a mushy sambal. Lastly, I squeezed some calamansi lime juice and added a little bit of sugar to balance the sourish taste plus a few curry leaves, torn into bits/shreds. Once I had mixed everything together well, it was done…

My sambal ikan bilis

It turned out really nice, went really well with rice and I sure wouldn’t mind making some more soon…and as a matter of fact, I did! I made some more…

Sambal ikan bilis, second round
…yesterday and it’s Friday today which means that my girl will be coming home for the weekend. I hope she enjoys it.

Of course, it’s all up to you what you would like to use or add. I think I saw somewhere people using Bombay onions instead of shallots and some add garlic. I did add a bit of lengkuas (galangal) the second time around but I decided not to risk adding any serai (lemon grass) or kunyit (turmeric) or whatever else in case it did not turn out well – I’d probably try those next time.

Can’t buy me love…

All throughout my growing up years, my mum would sometimes fry bihun with the very nice made-in-China Amoy brand canned clams in soy sauce and it was not until 2011 that I first encountered it being sold at a stall here and since then, there are others available here, there and everywhere.

They call it Hinghua bihun but a cousin of mine in Kuching whose in-laws are Hinghuas said that her mother-in-law does not fry her bihun this way so I am not sure of the origin of this recipe.

Quite recently, somebody shared a photo of the bihun on Facebook and was asking around as to where she could buy the canned clams in soy sauce and there I went declaring that it would be easily available here in Sibu, thinking that was the case until another cousin of mine in Kuching said that they were no longer available – she hunted high and low for it when she was here around June last year but it was all in vain.

I went round the shops in search of it and true enough, there was not a single can to be seen anywhere. No, we can no longer buy those canned clams that we love so much here which of course, means that we cannot have our bihun fried with it anymore.

Not too long ago, I saw a friend’s photograph of hers on Facebook and I quickly asked her where she bought the clams. She replied saying that she used the Sunstar brand – a friend gave it to her but she did not say anything as to how good it was so I went looking for it. I did not manage to get that same brand but I got this one…

Soya sauce cockles

…instead.

Well, they were cockles, not clams, so there were a few big ones in a can…

Big cockles

I tasted the sauce but no, it was not the same. In fact, I thought it tasted like the sauce in a can of pickled lettuce, a popular condiment to go with plain porridge.

I soaked some bihun in hot water till soft and I added the sauce, a bit of my missus’ pounded chili and garlic and a lot of the spring onions and daun sup (Chinese celery) from my garden, chopped. I fried some shallots, peeled and sliced and garlic, peeled and finely chopped, in a bit of oil before adding the cockles and a bit of cangkuk manis, also from my garden, shredded and then I added the bihun and finally, I cracked two eggs into the wok and mixed well with everything before dishing it all out…

My fried bihun with canned cockles in soy sauce

Yes, it was very nice but no, the taste was entirely different. The cockles were kind of hard or chewy so if I were to cook this again, I certainly would want to cut them into thinner and smaller slices.

I guess we will just have to get used to the idea that we can’t have bihun cooked the way we used to love it so much anymore and make do with whatever we have. Thankfully, those canned stewed pork or stewed pork chops are still readily available so we can have bihun with that instead – that was another way my mum would fry bihun in those long gone days.

Plan ahead…

Everyone who has been following my blog regularly would know jolly well that every Friday, I would drive to my girl’s school in the jungle to bring her home for the weekend. Once she is through for the day, we would make our way back right away.

Sometimes we would stop on the way for lunch but by the time we reach town at around 2.00 p.m., many places have already closed for the day. Some coffee shop stalls here close even earlier, around or before noon and I know for a fact that some will open in the evening at around 6.00 p.m. for dinner. That is why most of the time, we would head straight home for a very late lunch.

In order that we would have food waiting for us at home, we have to plan ahead. One option is to buy food a day earlier and keep it in the fridge and we can heat it up once we get home. I will have to see what dishes will still be nice upon reheating and what my girl likes. For instance, she loves the ikan keli (catfish)…

Payung ikan keli

from here, cooked with lots of ginger, serai (lemon grass), chili, soy sauce, black beans and whatever else and that was what I bought for her the other day and we had that for lunch together with their very nice tempoyak/cooked durian…

Payung tempoyak

…which I also bought for us to enjoy as well.

For one thing, we abstain from meat (fish and seafood and egg are fine) on Fridays especially now during the season of Lent which started on Ash Wednesday last week so that would cut down on the number of things that I can buy.

Another alternative would be to cook some dishes a day ahead like what my missus did that day when she fried some cangkuk manis

Home-cooked cangkuk manis

…and cooked this very nice asam sotong

Home-cooked sotong

As in the case of buying food from outside, we would have to consider whether what we cook would still be nice the next day after we have reheated them. If we want deep fried fish for instance, it would be best for me to wake up early on Friday morning to defrost the fish, gut and clean it and steam or deep fry before we leave the house at around 8.00 a.m. Of course, if there is anything that needs pounding, I may have to do it the day before. I am sure the neighbours would not be all that pleased to be jolted out of their sweet dreams by all that noise.

I would say eating at home sure beats eating out but we do opt for the latter once in a  while for a change.

PAYUNG CAFÉ (2.284049, 111.833014) is located at No.20F, Lanang Road, Sibu, Malaysia, back to back with the multi-storey car park of the Kingwood Hotel which faces the majestic Rejang River.

No one’s home…

Last Tuesday was Chap Goh Meh which marked the end of the Chinese Lunar New Year festivities.

My missus asked if I wanted a steamboat dinner that night and I said no. I did not see any point going through all that when there were just the two of us at home. In the end, we just had a simple dinner like on any other day.

I can imagine those old couples with lots of children but either they and their own families are living and working elsewhere in the country or abroad or the girls have got married and have their commitments (among the Chinese, they are considered as having “married out” already) or have moved away as well. No matter what they may say or do, at times like this, I am sure they would feel something when no one’s home.

My girl enjoys a steamboat dinner so I suggested having a belated celebration on Friday evening when we had gone to her school in the jungle to bring her home.

It was our no-meat Friday – yes, we can eat fish and other kinds of seafood and ever since my growing-up years, I have abstained from meat on Fridays. I guess that was some kind of sacrifice but these days, it is not so much the going without meat part but the pinch that one feels when paying for fish, prawns and all kinds of seafood. It is so expensive, a luxury many can ill afford. Incidentally, they have stretched this practice even further these days – you may choose another form of sacrifice like not watching television, not going online, giving up smoking or drinking for the whole day, for instance…but I still choose to follow what I have been doing from young.

That was why we did not have any meat in our steamboat…

Steamboat

…but we had fishballs (own-made bay kar/ikan tenggiri, no less), quail eggs (my girl loves those) and prawns…

Prawns

– I still have quite a bit left from those that I bought for Chinese New Year and later, my missus threw in a bit of sotong (squid)…

Sotong

…and these left-over Pacific clams…

Pacific clams

…which sure do not come cheap either nowadays.

The clear soup stock from boiling the prawns and the fishballs got sweeter and sweeter when we were enjoying everything with my missus’ very nice and spicy chili dip…

Dipping

…and yes, we all enjoyed ourselves very much that evening.

A steamboat dinner with everyone in the family sure is very symbolic. It helps enhance togetherness and unite all the family members as they sit around the pot, talking and eating while at the same time, laughing and enjoying one another’s company, thus creating a natural atmosphere of closeness among all those present.

A little wine…

Yes, we still have A LOT of leftovers in the fridge – chicken curry, satay beef, masak hitam beef and kacang ma chicken and that day, I was feeling like I have had enough of all those rich foods and was thinking of having something mild and not so heavy.

Well, I still had some of the giant udang galah (freshwater prawns) in the freezer so I took out one of the smaller plastic containers to defrost and cook. There were not all that many, 9-10, perhaps, just enough for one meal.

I marinated them with a tablespoon of sesame oil and quite a bit of our traditional Foochow red wine…

Prawns

…and then I added some garlic and the spring onions from my garden, finely chopped and a lot of ginger, julienned and topped it all with the Chinese celery also from my garden…

Ready

After getting it all ready, I put it in the steamer and steamed the dish for some 15-20 minutes…

Steamed

Yes, it was nice enough – it probably could do with a little more wine and I’ve seen drunken prawns served at the restaurants with egg white all over it. I was not all that keen to do the same as only the whites would be used – I had to find some other thing to do with the yolks.

That sure was a welcome change and everyone enjoyed it…

Served

Now what shall I do with the rest of the prawns in the freezer? I guess I can just keep them. They would be as good as new if I do not take them out or there is no prolonged blackout in our town, a regular problem at my girl’s school in the jungle with the electricity  supply from the ancient & cranky diesel-run generators, touch wood!!!

Take me to church…

Oh no!!! It’s Sunday already and the week-long Chinese New Year break has come to an end. That means that we will be making our way to our girl’s school in the jungle today before school resumes tomorrow.

This is the church…

St Mary's Sibu

…that we frequent here but we would usually go for the novena and the sunset service on Saturday night. On Sunday morning, we would be busy preparing this and that for my girl for the week ahead so it would not be so convenient for us to go then, only when we do not have a choice like when we have something on the previous night.

We did, however, go for the special Chinese New Year service at the usual time for all the Sunday morning masses here (7.30 a.m.) on the 1st day of the new year that day and we only got to eat the longevity noodles…

Mee sua

…the mee sua in our traditional Foochow red wine chicken soup after we came back, not the first thing in the morning like what we would usually do before.

The place was gaily and appropriately decorated…

CNY 1

…for the auspicious occasion…

CNY 2

…here…

CNY 3

…there…

CNY 4

…and everywhere…

CNY 5

At the end of the service, there was the customary setting off of firecrackers…

Firecrackers

…and the distribution of ang paos…

Ang pao

…to all present and also oranges…

Oranges

…two per person.

We did bring our own…

Our own

…though – we were encouraged to do that so we would have more than just two specially-blessed oranges to usher in the brand new year.

It certainly got off to a good start, our Year of the Pig, don’t you think so?