Just for old times’ sake…

When my brother was home from Auckland, New Zealand, he specially requested that we dropped by here…

Hock Chu Leu Restaurant

…just for old times’ sake.

When we were little, on days when my mum was busy and could not cook the meals for the day, she would get my dad to take along a tiffin carrier to work and buy some food for us to eat and these sweet and sour meatballs from the aforementioned restaurant…

Hock Chu Leu sweet and sour meatballs

…were our favourite.

When we got there, I saw Ah Teck, the current boss who bought over the over 60-year-old place from the son of the previous one who is currently residing in Christchurch and I told him who I was. Yes, he said he started working there when he was 14 years old and he could remember my dad dropping by to buy food to take home and yes, he remembered the meatballs, just that they do not have them on their menu anymore. However, he was so very nice as to offer to cook the dish that night just for us – ching gay chu, he said, or in English, very easy to cook.

I did cook them once…

My own version of the sweet and sour meatballs
*Archive photo*

…myself, minus those bits of carrot and sweet corn and peas, when my parents were still around and took them along with some other dishes that we had cooked for dinner at their house and yes, everyone enjoyed them. I will not be cooking them or any sweet and sour dish anymore now though as tomato sauce is not gluten-free unless I come out with an alternative using tomato puree or something.

Another dish that my dad used to buy home was this braised Chinese cabbage…

Hock Chu Leu braised Chinese cabbage

…which went down all right with me but kids being kids, I was not exactly thrilled by any kind of vegetables at the time. These days, I rather enjoy that dish and would not mind ordering it whenever I drop by here for  a meal. Way back then, if this dish was served at a banquet, there would be slices of abalone but that is worth its weight in gold these days, sold at the shops and supermarkets under lock and key, so they have substituted it with Pacific clams instead which are much cheaper but they aren’t really all that cheap either, actually.

The Foochow fried noodles…

Hock Chu Leu Foochow fried noodles

…were great – it couldn’t possibly get any more authentic than the ones here but the Foochow-style sio bee

Hock Chu Leu Foochow-style sio bee

…was a disappointment that night. I had those before and thought they were good but all in all, I do feel that the ones we had here were definitely heaps nicer and more consistently so.

They certainly were VERY generous with the sea cucumber in the soup…

Hock Chu Leu sea cucumber soup

…that we had and my brother loved it a lot! I saw some dried ones selling for over RM100 a kg at one place sometime ago so with that much of the stuff in the soup plus the Pacific clams that I mentioned earlier, I was quite sure it was not going to be very cheap, our dinner that night.

We all loved this kailan with liver…

Hock Chu Leu kailan with liver

…very much, something that we had never tried before and someone told my sister or my brother that this was a must-order dish, not to be missed, and we were glad we did.

My brother picked up the tab for our dinner that night, a whooping RM116.00 altogether, less than NZD40.00 for the four of us. I guess to him, it wasn’t all that expensive – they certainly cannot get anything like this there for just NZD10 per head.

Then, the waitress brought out a plate of sweet and sour fish…

Hock Chu Leu sweet and sour fish
*Archive photo*

…from the kitchen and served that to the people at another table. “Sweet and sour fish!!!” he exclaimed, and his eyes glowed at the sight of it. “Yes, I had it before,” I said, “and it was very nice but we are very full now. That will have to wait till the next time you come home.” LOL!!!

HOCK CHU LEU RESTAURANT (2.288654, 111.826974) is located at No. 30, Jalan Tukang Besi, formerly Blacksmith Road, opposite the LehDo Hotel, formerly the Lido Cinema which is right beside the Standard Chartered Bank, Sibu branch.


When we were there…

We dropped by the grocer & deli near my mum’s house that day as I wanted to stock up on some instant noodles that I can have sometimes for breakfast. No, I do not eat those all that often just that on some days, there may not be anything in the house or I may feel like having it sometimes for a change.

I have not seen this brand anywhere else or maybe I have not been looking but a pack of 6 costs only RM2.90, a whole lot cheaper than all the other brands and yes, it tastes quite good too…

TIP TOP instanf mi goreng
*Archive photo*

While we were there, I also decided to buy a pack of the Thai fragrant rice bihun to try. I fried it with some sambal belacan (dried prawn paste) I had in the fridge, prawns and thinly sliced leek…

My fried belacan bihun 1

…and yes, it was very nice but I did not think it was any different from the regular made-in-Thailand ones in which case, should I be buying anymore, I would just grab whichever one is cheaper.

I shared the photograph on Facebook and somebody commented about it being in bits (pecah pecah)…

My fried belacan bihun 2

I always fried a little bit too long as I would want all the ingredients to be evenly spread all over the bihun and I always assumed that was the cause. Then, a friend said that I should soak the bihun in warm water but I always poured hot boiling water over it and wait till it had gone really soft or else when I ate it, I might have stomach discomfort. To me, it really isn’t a problem and I do not really mind, actually, as I  eat it with a fork and spoon, not chopsticks.

When we were done with our shopping, we decided to have our lunch at this Malay coffee shop right round the corner to the left of the supermarket entrance in that same block/building. For no apparent reason, we have not been here for quite a while actually – if I am not wrong, the last time was in July last year.

We had the nasi campur (mixed rice) and my missus had the sotong (squid)…

Mia sotong

…and this young mango sambal

Mia young mango sambal

…which turned out to be extremely sour, she said – thank goodness I did not pick that! Those two and also their fried paku (wild jungle fern) with sweet baby corn…

Mia paku

…and of course, the rice, came up to RM5.30.

I had the paku too and this very nice young cucumber leaves also with sweet baby corn…

Mia pucuk timun

…and the cangkuk manis and pumpkin masak lemak (cooked with coconut milk)…

Mia cangkuk manis labu masak lemak

…plus a slice of fish…

Mia fish

…and I only had to fork out 70 sen more…

Mia nasi campur

…RM6.00 altogether for 1 meat and 3 vegetables.

No, I would not say that was cheap but like on our previous visits, we did enjoy the food so I guess that was what mattered most.

MIA CAFE & RESTAURANT (2.308507, 111.820287) is located among the shops at Jalan Bunga Normah 4, around Simpang Tiga, Sibu, facing inwards overlooking the houses along Jalan Kuda, off Jalan Kampung Nangka.

New arrival…

My ex-student, Kho Peng, and Hilda tied the knot in 2016 and the good news is that now, they have a new addition to the family, a baby girl, Abigail. He was so very nice as to remember me after all these years to invite me to their very lavish wedding banquet and this time around, he sent word to invite me to his house for what the Foochows call seng ngang.

Traditionally, the convalescing Foochow mum would have to stay in confinement for 30 days. In the old days, before there was air conditioning, she would have to stay in a hot and stuffy and very dark room – all the windows would be closed and the stench was unbearable. Yes, she would not be allowed to bathe for that whole month! In fact, she would not get to see the light of day at all.

There would be a confinement lady to do everything – slaughter the chicken, cook the soup and serve her mee sua with lots and lots of ginger to combat the “cold” in the body and lots and lots of wine to regain the blood lost during delivery. Of course, these days, anything alcoholic is to be strictly avoided as they say it will go through the breast milk to the baby. Hmmmm…no wonder we were all such good babies way back then, sleeping all the time. We were all drunk! LOL!!!

In the meantime, family and friends would drop by for this seng ngang tradition. They would bring ang paos (red packets containing money) or live chickens with a red strip of cloth tied to the ankles, trays of eggs or bottles of Wincarnis or boxes of chicken essence and the customary practice would be to stick a red paper square on them.

The well-wishers would be served mee sua

Mee sua

…and extra chicken…

Extra chicken

…and eggs too for them to help themselves if they so desired.

I remember the eggs were not pre-peeled – you will have to do it yourself and if it was a baby boy, the eggs would be dyed red and you would get the colour all over your fingers when you peeled them. They did not colour the eggs if it had been a baby girl but generally these days, they would do it for both, never mind boy or girl or they may not do it at all.

I do not recall eating anything else other than the mee sua and the chicken and the eggs but at these seng ngang sessions these days, they may serve a little bit more than those like these very nice homemade Foochow-style fish sio bee

Fish sio bee

…and these vegetable dishes…

Vegetable 1

…that we had as well…

Vegetable 2

…that day.

Upon leaving, everyone will be given some eggs to bring home. These days, many choose to give the eggs raw/uncooked so one would be able to take them home and use them in whichever way one chooses. Some may not be all that fond of eating eggs, hardboiled.

Thank you so much, Kho Peng, for the invitation and may God bless your baby girl, Abigail, and also Hilda and you with abundant happiness and all that is good in the years ahead. Cheers!!!

Too much time on my hands…

I guess those of you who are regular followers of my blog would know my daily routine – I would do the gardening till around 9 and then, we would go to my mum’s place to keep her company till around noon and we would go for lunch some place before coming home but of course, Sundays would be send-my-girl-to-her-school day so we would not be following this same routine on that day.

I have not been doing much gardening for some weeks now as I was busy plucking my rambutans, sawing the branches, cutting them into manageable lengths to fit into the boot of my car, packing the leaves in large plastic bags and taking them some place to throw away. No, I’m not done yet – there are still some of the fruits high up in the tree but I came down with a terrible cough as a result of which, I did not get to sleep much all night through and thus, I did not have much energy to do all that. I guess I will just have to leave those remaining fruits on the tree to wither and dry up and go to waste.

Well, since I was not doing all those things in the early morning, I had too much time on my hands…and I decided not to waste it but to put it to good use and cook something for our meals – that way, we could come straight home from my mum’s place for lunch instead of eating out and drinking some iced drink which would only aggravate my cough.

I cooked this meatball porridge…

Meatball porridge

…with our ethnic brown rice and I added some pandan leaves to it while cooking. Once done, I garnished it with fried finely-chopped garlic and spring onions from my garden and served.

I remember how when I was little, everytime I fell ill, my mum would cook porridge for me to eat with either Bovril…

*Archive photo*

…or Marmite. We only had those two in those days.

She would deep-fry one or chio/ikan bawal hitam (black pomfret)…

Or chio
*Archive photo*

…and taking the meat of the fish, she would break it into bits and pieces and mix thoroughly with the porridge. I did not have any fish in the freezer that day but there was some long kiam hu (salted fish) so I fried two pieces…

Long kiam hu

…and it is always nice – salted fish with porridge.

My mum would have some salted eggs…

Salted eggs
*Archive photo*

…for me too.

No, nobody ate those century eggs then – I remember my dad was the only one who enjoyed those. I guess the rest of us were put off by the black colour and at times, there might be an unpleasant urine smell and rumour had it at the time that in China, where the eggs all came from at the time, they used horse urine to make them. Of course I wouldn’t know whether there was any truth in that or it was just an urban legend.

We do have some nice ones these days and it so happened that there were a few in the house and I had those…

Century eggs

…garnished with thinly-sliced ginger and dark soy sauce, instead of the salted ones.

I did not have a vegetable dish that day. Usually, my mum would fry thinly-sliced long beans omelette…

Long beans omelette
*Archive photo*

…to go with porridge. We kids were never into vegetables then so I guess with the eggs, it did not feel like we were eating vegetables so much.

The next morning, I took a slab of chicken thigh, chopped it up and cooked our Foochow traditional red wine chicken soup with lots of ginger that I pounded till real fine. I felt like having mee sua that day so mee sua it was…

Mee sua in Foochow red wine chciken soup

…with hard-boiled eggs by the side.

I guess once I get back to my old routine, I would not be cooking all that much so early in the morning – to the most, it would be something that I would be thinking of having for breakfast, that’s all.

Different ways…

My Facebook friend, Lucas, dropped by my house to pass me this…

Dabai paste

He cooked the dabai (our local black olives) and went through the chore of peeling off the  skin and using the very rich and creamy inside to make the paste which he said would go so well with bread.

I’ve done that before but I only needed a few to cook my dabai fried rice. It was very nice, much nicer than using the salted/fermented version but because it was so tedious, I never did it again. That day, since I had this paste, I decided to use a bit to fry some leftover ethnic brown rice that I had in the fridge…

My dabai fried rice

…and yes, it turned out really well.

I thought it would be nice with chips or nachos like those avocado guacamole dips but I did not have any in the house so I had it with some Osborne biscuits and yes, it was really good.

Of course, Lucas did not go home empty-handed – I gave him some of my best-in-the-world rambutans

My rambutans

…but initially, I did not get any comment from him so I did not really know what he thought of it. Later, he told me that when he got back to his workplace, his workers ate all of them and did not even leave one for him. Oh dear!!!

I did give some to the people at the workshop I go to too that day when I took my car for its routine servicing. Initially, nobody batted an eyelid – I guess durians would draw a whole lot more attention, not rambutans but the boss tried one and he exclaimed, “Ha mik angmotan chee leh anay ho ciak eh?” (What rambutan is this, so very nice?) and he kept eating one after another. Everybody rushed for it and the whole bagful was gone in no time at all. LOL!!!

I have been plucking the fruit and giving to family and friends and of course, everyone loved it so much. Unfortunately, the tree has grown very high and wide so it is rather difficult to get to the fruits – I would have to saw the trunks to bring them down to pluck them. I wonder how long it will take to grow back and start bearing fruits again – the last time I had it trimmed and got all those parasitic plants and wild orchids on the branches cleared was in March last year and it did not take all that long to grow back again and yield a bountiful harvest.

Of course, I gave some to the wonderful people at Payung who had helped me with the tree twice already – Andy, in particular, likes it very much and talking about the café, I did drop by the other day and they had this (RM19.00)…

Payung Cafe butter chicken spaghetti 1

…on the menu now, their very nice butter chicken served with spaghetti.

I’ve always enjoyed the dish with rice and they came out with this idea of serving it in a different way – with pasta. There were a whole lot of tomatoes…

Payung Cafe butter chicken spaghetti 2

…in the gravy so it came across like a very mild version of the bolognese sauce…thankfully! I am not a fan of this tomato-based pasta sauce especially when it is too strong on the tomato and comes across like tomato sauce straight from the bottle.

I enjoyed it all right but I was not crazy about having to wrestle with the bones – I mentioned that to Andy and he said that they were just trying it out and in future, they would use deboned chicken cubes instead like the meat in their chicken or beef spaghetti.

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

Not this year…

It’s the 1st of January, 2018, so a very Happy New Year, all.

Everything is  rather low-key for us this year as my dad passed away in July last year and with all due respect, according to Chinese tradition, as it has not been a year, we should not be celebrating these festive seasons and the same goes to the coming Chinese New Year in February.

Anyway, since my girl is gluten-intolerant, we have not been baking cakes and cookies at all these days, never mind what special occasion it may be, unlike in the past. She did bring home quite a lot of gluten-free products from her recent trip to KL and the other day, she tried baking this one…

Melinda's gluten-free goodies

…and made some blueberry lemon cupcakes that we could eat ourselves.

While she was baking them…

2 easy steps

…the fragrance filled the whole house and when she took them out of the oven, they sure looked great…

Gluten-free cupcake

…on the outside.

Inside, however, there were a lot of holes…

Gluten-free cupcake, inside

…and the texture was somewhat different from regular cakes. Thankfully, though they were not quite the same as cakes that we are all familiar with, they were very nice and it did not take us long to finish all of them.

On Christmas Eve, we just had dinner early, just the three of us, a simple one with baked salmon, topped with garlic and dill and with a squeeze of lemon juice…

Christmas Eve dinner, salmon

…and roast pork with potatoes and peri-peri sauce…

Christmas Eve dinner, pork

…plus this salad with egg and crispy bits of bacon added…

Christmas Eve dinner, salad

…because we wanted to go to church hours before the time so that we would be able to grab some seats. Usually, at all the services around Christmas (and Easter), the churches would be packed to the brim with those once-a-year Christians creeping out of the woodworks..

The next day, Christmas Day, we dropped by the Coffee Garden at this hotel for lunch. I had their set lunch with lemon beef (RM9.00, exclusive of GST, with a complimentary drink and soup)…

Christmas lunch, lemon beef

…which was all right, not anything that would get me rushing back for more. The meat was all right, tender enough and not tough at all. I thought it would be something like lemon chicken but no, it had a taste of its own and actually, I didn’t think I could not detect much lemon in the sauce.

My missus had their fried kway teow with crab meat (RM10.00, exclusive of GST)…

Christmas lunch, fried kway teow with crab meat

…and it turned out that there was barely any – only the bits of imitation crab sticks were more prominent in the dish. I guess she was not all that impressed by it as she did not say anything nor did she insist that my girl tried a bit – she would do that all the time if she had anything nice whenever we ate out.

My girl had their mixed grill (RM19.00, exclusive of GST)…

Christmas lunch, mixed grill

She thought the beef was tough and the chicken was breast but she liked the lamb and the coleslaw and all in all, she did enjoy her pick.

After that, we adjourned some place else for dessert but that would be in my next post.

THE COFFEE GARDEN is located at The Garden Hotel ((2.288894, 111.831139) along Jalan Kampung Nyabor at its junction with Jalan Huo Ping.

The passenger…

Tumpang in Malay means to hitch a ride or get a lift from somebody and as I was browsing through some blogs, I came across something called nasi tumpang.

According to Wikepedia, it is a rice dish that originates from Kelantan comprising rice with different layers of dishes wrapped in a cone shape with banana leaf. Traditionally, it was the staple food for travellers or farmers in Kelantan to bring to work. I guess if I eat that, I would be the penumpang then, the passenger. LOL!!!

Jokes aside, I noted that it was available here , formerly known by a different name, and since my girl was in KL at the time, staying around there, I asked to to buy one home for me to try and she got me two…

Upeh nasi tumpang

…one fish (RM9.00) and the other, prawn (RM10.00).

I tried the fish one first…

Nasi tumpang, inside

I guess the rice was pressed into the cone so it was something like ketupat or nasi impit which I rather like so I did not have a problem with that.

The fish…

Nasi tumpang, fish

…was nice – I don’t know exactly what fish it was, probably ikan tongkol but yes, I liked it. However, when eating it, one would have to be careful with the bones…

Nasi tumpang, fish bones

I did come across a piece of tauhu pok (tofu puff) in it as well but it was the serunding

Nasi tumpang, serunding

…in the lower part of the cone that I enjoyed a lot. I think it was shrimp, I’m not too sure – in the aforementioned article, it said beef or fish.

I had tried the prawn one as well but I think I would prefer the fish – I thought it tasted better. There were two small prawns in it and a stamp-sized piece of egg/omelette. The serunding part was the same as what was in the one with the fish.

My girl saw something online about them having nasi tumpang here as well that would be nicer than the ones that she bought for me but she went twice – the first time it was not available and the second time, it was not ready. In the end, she just gave up and settled for this one instead. Too bad I did not get to try that other one – it does look nicer in the photographs in that blog.

I wouldn’t say it swept me off my feet though. It did not stand out as something unique or special that is quite different from anything and everything else like the Kelantanese nasi kerabu or laksam  but at least I’ve tried and I know what it is now.

I did tell my girl to go and look for gluten-free products while she was there to buy and cart home and yes, she was thrilled to see a lot of what she wanted, so much so that she was on the verge of tears, tears of joy, that is.

This was one of the many…

Australian-made Yes You Can gluten-free product

…that she managed to get hold of and she used that to make her own pizza…

Melissa's gluten-free pizza

…enough for just two pieces of this size. It was very nice and all of us enjoyed it very much. She had not had pizza for a long long time but thankfully, we can get this gluten-free spaghetti here…

Gluten-free spaghetti

…and the other day, the nice Payung Café boss, Peter, gave her some of his mushroom pasta sauce and she was able to enjoy it with the aforementioned pasta…

Gluten-free pasta with mushroom sauce & bacon

…adding her own bacon to it. Unfortunately, what we can get here is few and far between, nothing much really…and knowing that the budget airline is rather strict with the baggage allowance these days, I told her not to get me anything while she was in KL.

Yes, the mum did bring home a whole lot of edibles from here, there and everywhere but it was my girl who bought some croissants from Lavender and these…

M&S all butter biscuits and shortbread fingers

…specially for me, knowing how I love those M&S all butter biscuits and Scottish shortbread as well. Isn’t she so very thoughtful and sweet?

I remember in 1986, when I was in KL for a year, I used to grab the Scottish shortbread from their sole outlet at Bukit Bintang Plaza, so many different kinds in all shapes and sizes going for only RM2.00 a pack when the expiry dates drew near. Then, there was none available for a long time.

Personally, I did not like any of their other biscuits until they came out with those all butter ones so of course I was delighted to get those as well. I am nibbling them very very slowly, bit by bit, to stretch them for as long as I can! LOL!!!