In and out…

When my Kuching cousins were in town, I had them come over to my house for lunch, nothing special – just a simple get-together at home. I went to the market and got some fresh popiah skin…

Popiah skin
*SK Hii’s photo on Facebook*

…so we could have some of my homemade popiah

Popiah lunch
*SK Hii’s photo on Facebook*

…and I also got hold of some freshwater prawns and my missus fried them…

Freshwater prawns
*SK Hii’s photo on Facebook*

…for them to enjoy as well.

Other than those, I also managed to buy some of our Sibu Foochow sio bee

Sibu Foochow sio bee
*SK Hii’s photo on Facebook*

…from this restaurant and for dessert, we had these delights

Stephanie's teatime delights
*SK Hii’s photo on Facebook*

…from my ex-student, Stephanie and I brewed a pot of our Sibu Mui Hock coffee to go with those.

After lunch, we went over to a Melanau cousin’s place here as it so happened that he was holding his Hari Raya open house that very same day and they sure were so very happy to see one another again – it had been some time since they last got to meet…and they got to meet a lot of our other Melanau next-of-kin there too – it sure was like an episode from the TV show, Jejak Kasih. (literally translated as: tracing one’s lost love). We did stay there for quite a while to enjoy the food, take lots of photographs and chat, catching up with all that had transpired in one another’s lives all these years.

By evening, we were still very full so we opted for a very light dinner here. I didn’t think they were all that thrilled by what we had and I would say I was kind of disappointed somewhat too. The ayam panggang (barbecued chicken)…

cabeijo ayam panggang

…was good, thankfully! There had been instances before when it was way overdone and the meat was hard and dry…and of course, when I was placing the orders, I kept reminding the nice young boy that I would like a freshly-barbecued one and not one that would not be all that palatable.

The fish…

cabeijo fish

…was all right too but it did appear rather small, around the size of the palm of my hand…and fish here is more expensive than chicken, barbecued or fried.

And talking about fried chicken…

cabeijo ayam gurih

…firstly, that thigh was rather miserably small and secondly, the texture of the meat was something like the chicken we had here – and that is the very reason why I have never gone back to that place again.

Other than that, I thought they were not as generous as before with their sambals which somehow, did not come across as all that great anymore either.

One of my cousins loved the midin goreng (fried wild jungle fern)…

cabeijo midin goreng

She said that she could not find any place in Kuching that could cook the fern well and she loved the sauce in this one too. I did not think it was all that nice and crunchy though and I do feel that there are quite a few Chinese restaurants around town that can do a much better job than this.

But of course, credit has to be given where credit is due and yes, the paku kerabu

cabeijo paku kerabu

…was as nice as always and yes, they were not using those small ikan bilis with the beady eyes and I don’t know whether it was my imagination or what but I thought the serving was a little smaller than the many times when I had this same dish before.

All in all, I don’t know if they have some new chefs/cooks on the job or what but if this is what they have to offer now, quite unlike what we have had on our previous visits, I would say it was at best, a decently all right dinner – nothing impressive, nothing to shout about and not anything I would want to bring visitors to town to again – they probably would enjoy what they have at some other places around town like here or here, for instance, a whole lot more.

That’s my kind of night…

I had a call from my friend and ex-classmate,  Robert, on Wednesday last week inviting me to his house…

Chef & wine

…that night for dinner. He said that his missus, Angela, would be cooking and this would be an opportunity for me to sample it. Now, who could turn down an invitation like that? So of course, I accepted and made sure I got there on time – he lives on the other side of town, not all that near by our local standards.

Besides me and my other half, they had invited a few other guests including our dear friend, Mary, from the Thai restaurant in town, and a few other regular dining companions of ours.

There was this very lovely steamed chicken…

Steamed chicken

…and the rice…

Chicken rice

…and we also got to enjoy the ulam with the very special sambal

Ulam & sambal

…that everyone loved to the max. Hey!!! I tried the ulam raja once and I did not really like it so I just had the blanched paku (wild jungle fern). After much friendly persuasion, I gave it one more try and I loved it! Hmmm…you would get to see it now at our dinner table from now on – word has it that those leaves have a lot of health benefits.

It so happened that I went to the market that morning and bought a whole lot of buah emplam, a local fruit from the mango family that is very sour, for my missus to make the sambal and we brought some…

Buah emplam sambal

…there to share. It was a hit too!

There was this vegetable dish…

Vegetables

…but I kept going back for more of the buah petai (stink beans) with udang kering (dried prawns)…

Petai

– I sure enjoyed that!

I have not had the salt-baked fish dish for a long time – the last time was in Bintulu in 2014 and at one place here also in 2014 and it was not very nice and before that, after that first time in KL, I had a really good one here but I never went back for more as the restaurant is quite a distance away, on the other side of town as well…and to my delight, Angela cooked one that night…

Salt-baked terubok 1

…and while all the rest would use our Batang Ai tilapia, she used the much-coveted ikan terubok (longtail shad)…

Salt-baked terubok 2

As a matter of fact, I was looking for it at the market that morning but could not see any and needless to say, I enjoyed that very much and had quite a bit more than my fair share. Hehehehe!!!

I also loved the wonderful black vinegar pork trotter that Angela cooked but unfortunately, the photos came out blur and for dessert, she made one of my favourite nyonya kuehs, steamed tapioca cake…

Tapioca cake

…that one can hardly find around here and of course, that sure made a fitting end to the superb dinner.

Thank you so much, Robert and Angela, I sure had a great time – great food, great company, who could ask for more?

What’s new…

…from Stephanie? Remember my ex-student who made those delightful mushroom pies and cheese tarts…and also the chicken pies?

Well, she dropped by my place recently to give me these marble cupcakes…

Marble cupcakes

…to try.

Wowwww!!! They were very very nice…

Marble cupcake

…with the most delightful buttery fragrance, not very sweet and really fine on the inside…

Marble cupcake, inside 1

…so very soft and nice. She was just trying them out at the time, not really for sale then but when she was good and ready, I wasted no time in ordering some more…

Marble cake, inside 2

…to enjoy for my afternoon tea. She is selling them at RM7.50 for 6 so that works out to RM1.25 each which, of course, is not cheap compared to some of the ones sold at the shops and supermarkets but those are not really worth the calories plus at those prices, one can tell right away that they do not use real butter. On the other hand, there are those cakes at the bakeries and some of those branded coffee places and yes, some MAY be nice but no, they are by no means, cheap – certainly not all that affordable for the likes of me.

Then, the other day, I got these…

Cheese butter cupcakes
*Stephanie’s photo on Facebook*

…from her. I did take some photographs of them but somehow, they did not come out well so I’ve taken the liberty of pinching her snapshots on Facebook – butter cake on the inside…

Cheese butter cupcakes, inside
*Stephanie’s photo on Facebook*

…with grated cheese toppings.

Between the two, I would prefer the marble ones with the added cocoa powder taste of the swirls in them.

Thank you so much, Stephanie, for letting me sample some of your delightful cupcakes – I love them to bits and rest assured you have one very loyal customer here, me!

Here and there…

It was my mother-in-law’s birthday on Sunday and we had a little celebration at their house on Satuday night, just the immediate family including my sister-in-law from Kuching and my brother-in-law and his wife from Bintulu plus the grandson from KL and the grand-daughter from Singapore.

In previous years, we would all go out to some restaurant outside but this year, my mother-in-law is no longer all that mobile and considering the hassle of getting her there just to eat and all the way back again, we decided to have the dinner at home instead.

My in-laws went and ordered a few dishes from here and there, including these Foochow sio bee (RM1.60 each)…

Hock Chiu Leu sio bee

…from here and also a few dishes from here, such as the sweet and sour fish fillet…

Sweet and sour fish fillet

…and these huge freshwater prawns (RM90.00)…

Freshwater prawns

…as well as the sea cucumber soup and my brother-in-law’s favourite egg omelette with lap cheong (Chinese sausage) and when they said that they paid RM150.00 for all those, I knew that most of that went to the prawns – those things are a killer really!

They also got the mee mamak and this curry bihun

Curry bihun

…from this restaurant but we did not go out to get anything as my missus said she would want to cook a few dishes of her own.

Her kacang ma chicken…

Kacang ma chicken

…was a hit all round and my mother-in-law especially enjoyed it so much! Unfortunately, like our daging masak hitam, it is not all that photogenic for any snapshot to do it much justice.

Her asparagus with sambal udang kering (dried prawns)…

Sambal asparagus

…were very nice too and she also cooked this chicken curry…

Chicken curry

…another of my in-laws’ favourites everytime they came to dinner at our house. At the end of the day, I would say that nothing beats one’s own home-cooked delights, that’s for sure.

It was a simple celebration, nothing grand but it was indeed most meaningful and an opportunity to get together with one’s loved ones to share the joy on a very special and auspicious occasion.

What did I do wrong…

Well, firstly, I did not pronounce it right.

I always called it “pho” as in Phong Hong…or when somebody throws a tile in mahjong and you have two identical ones in your hand, and you shout, “Phong!!!” and quickly grab that tile to form a set of three.

Then my girl told me it should have the f-sound as in philosophy…and I guess she knew better as she had a Vietnamese friend in Wellington with a Filipino wife and nothing beats getting it from the horse’s mouth, so to speak. In fact, it is not even pronounced something like for – if you click this link to go to the website and click the listen link there, you will find that it sounds something like far, the intonation going a little upwards at the end. Ah well!!! Guess one is never too old to learn new things, right? LOL!!!

Now, some of you may recall that I did buy a packet of the dried flat rice noodles – the one in a green packet and I cooked that not too long ago. It turned out all right, not quite there but it was good enough. I did mention in that post that there is another brand being sold in town, in a red packet and I would want to buy that to try as well, and I did…

bánh phở 1

…and it’s a product of Vietnam…

product of Vietnam

…true and true. Of course, we do have dried versions of our own noodles at the shops too but some people would insist they would not be as nice as the fresh ones but when it comes to this bánh phở, we do not have any fresh ones so this will have to do.

I had a glimpse at the instructions at the back and it said to boil for 6 to 8 minutes. Boil! 6 to 8 minutes? Oh me! Oh my! No wonder the ones I bought and cooked before were not all that satisfactory, not really fine and smooth. I would just soak in hot water like what people usually do to soften bihun (rice vermicelli) prior to cooking. No wonder I thought it was not quite like hor fun or kway teow (flat rice noodles) and more like bihun.

So this time around, I did as instructed and after boiling, I rinsed in “fresh water” as stated in the instructions and loosened the strands before draining them well. Then, I added a bit of soy sauce, not too much as I did not want it too dark, a sprinkling of sugar (a teaspoon) and pepper…

With soy sauce, sugar and pepper

…and I mixed them altogether well.

These were the ingredients I prepared to fry the bánh phở

Ingredients

– sliced shallots and chili, chopped garlic and spring onions. sliced sausages and some fishballs.

I fried the shallots and garlic in a bit of oil till golden brown, added the chili and the sausages and fishballs and when they were good and ready, I put in the pre-seasoned bánh phở. Finally, I broke two eggs and mixed them well with everything in the wok before adding the spring onions and dishing everything out…

Fried bánh phở 1

There you are! It sure doesn’t look too bad, does it? Well, I would say it tasted very good too – maybe not all that salty enough but no, I would not want to add more soy sauce and get it all black. Perhaps a little salt would be fine but it was all right the way it was – I could enjoy the taste and fragrance of all the ingredients that went into the cooking and with my missus’ extra-hot blended chili dip, that sure gave it an extra kick.

I only cooked half of what was in the packet…

Fried bánh phở 2

…but when I get round to cooking the rest of it, I think I would check one of those pad thai recipes and get all the ingredients ready to cook it that way – hopefully, it will be just as nice as some that I’ve enjoyed so much at some Thai restaurants here and there.

I did it all…

I love the Bintangor lady’s popiah (spring rolls) here, the ones that are available on weekends only, Saturday and Sunday. She calls them Kuching popiah though I would not say hers is anything like what I have had in the state capital. It does not seem to have much else inside other than the sengkuang or what we call mangkuang (turnip or jicama) here and a bit of our local lettuce plus a whole lot of crushed peanuts and what tasted like the very nice Bintangor rojak sauce.

Of course, it is nothing like what we used to make in our family, my mum and my maternal aunties but there is a problem getting fresh popiah skin here and we are not fond of the ones sold in packets in the supermarkets so that is why I am quite reluctant to make any of my own. Probably the last time I had some fresh popiah skin at hand was in 2010 and I did blog about it here and here or maybe, I did do it another time after that but I don’t remember exactly when now.

Ah yes!!! There was that one time when my sister bought some from a lady selling tofu at the Sibu Central Market and asked me to make for the family. She had to make a booking the day before and go and collect the next morning – and that is the part that I do not like. Who knows what may crop up the next day and one would not be able to go and collect or perhaps I would change my mind and decide not to make any popiah after all?

Well, the other morning, I went to the market. I don’t know what made me do it but I did and I went and asked at the tofu stalls which one of them sold freshly-made popiah skin. Having identified her, I went and asked if she had any popiah skin for sale and she told me she did not have any there but if I could wait, she would call home and get them to send over…and that was what she did and I went home happily with the skin and all the ingredients that I had bought in the meantime to make the popiah.

Of course, there must be the turnip…

Mangkuang

…which I grated manually using a grater. Most people these days would probably use a food processor but when I was little, I used to help my mum cut it real fine, so very thinly, with a knife!

Well, that was exactly what I did with the French beans…

French beans

You may use long beans instead but some people say the popiah tastes nicer with French beans and anyway, there was a big bag of those in the fridge so I used them instead, painstakingly slicing each bean one by one as thinly as I could.

Next, I went on to prepare the other ingredients needed to cook the filling…

Other ingredients for cooking the filling

…starting with the garlic (bottom left), finely chopped, and going anti-clockwise, I had some minced meat, prawns that I had cut into tiny cubes (not minced), a bit of carrot that I also found in the fridge, mainly for the colour and some tau kua (bean curd cakes), also cut into little cubes.

It seems that these days, they do sell those tau kua, pre-fried, at 70 sen each so if you want to cut and stuff them with meat to cook the very nice soup, you can buy these instead of having to go through the chore of doing it yourself. I only bought those because I thought the light brown outer layer would add a little bit of colour to the filling. In the old days, the tau kua was yellow on the outside but there was this piece of news going round then that the colouring used was harmful to health so it was banned and since then, our tau kua has always been…white.

To cook the filling, I fried the garlic in a bit of oil till golden brown and then I added the prawns and the meat and after that, the French beans and the carrot went in. Once done, the tau kua and the turnip followed and for the seasoning, I added fish sauce and pepper…and very soon, it was done…

Popiah filling

I also had to prepare the ingredients needed for the wrapping of the popiah

Other ingredients

– the blended chili with garlic and lime (top right) and going clockwise, some lettuce, thinly-sliced omelette, crushed peanuts and this sweet glue-like stuff that we use to stick down the edges of the skin.

They do not sell the very nice Sibu-made khong th’ng anymore so I just had to use the kacang tumbuk (crushed peanut cakes) sold at the supermarket instead and to make that glue-like stuff, I was supposed to caramelise some sugar in low heat till brown in  colour, add water and corn starch to thicken it but I took the short cut and used gula Melaka (brown palm sugar) instead. Hehehehehe!!!

You may go in any order when you wrap the popiah but usually, I would apply the chili first, and then the egg and the filling would go on top, after which, I would sprinkle the crushed peanuts all over them and place a piece of lettuce over it. Once I had applied the glue-like stuff all along the edge of the popiah skin, I would roll it up and it was done.

If you are wondering what the end product looked like, here’s a cross-section of one that I made…

My popiah 1

…that day. Nice, eh?

There were a few left over by tea time that afternoon and I found that the skin was not so nice anymore after having been left exposed like that. It became kind of tough and rubbery so I deep-fried them…

My popiah, deep fried

…and yes, it was very nice after that!

But of course, deep frying is not all that healthy even though it does bring the taste to a whole new level so it would be best to sit down as soon as everything is ready, wrap and eat the popiah fresh…

My popiah 2

…and not leave them till later.

For one thing, I found that it was really hard work – so many things to do and I did it all by myself and perhaps owing to my old age, it was kind of tiring and I surely would think twice should another instant of temporary insanity ever threaten to possess me again.

Well, if anyone is interested in ordering the popiah skin, the lady’s telephone contact is 019-9733 728 and her stall is by one of the pillars somewhere in the middle of the tofu and taugeh stalls at the market or you can always do what I did – ask!

All white…

An old friend of mine who had migrated overseas a long long time ago was in town for a night. She managed to contact me but she said that they would be going to the sunset service at the cathedral so I told her that perhaps, after that, we could get to meet here as it was right behind the hotel where they were staying – I would be going for the service too but not at the same place.

We all went – my girl, the mum and I, and got there way past 8.00 p.m. but unfortunately, she did not show up. She was here with her hubby and others so my guess was that they had other plans and went some place else. We had had an early dinner before leaving the house to go for the service and we did not want to eat anything heavy while we waited so I just ordered their garlic bread with chicken sauce…

Payung Cafe garlic bread with chicken sauce
*Archive photo*

…and mushroom roll…

Payung Cafe mushroom roll
*Archive photo*

…and also their mashed potatoes…

Payung Cafe mashed potatoes
*Archive photo*

…along with our drinks. I had their chocolate milk shake and boy, it was very very nice – my missus had the durian milk shake while my girl had a hot Milo.

Well, it so happened that the boss, Peter, was going to call me to ask me to drop by. He said that some people came to eat at his place sometime ago and they invited him to take part in the fund-raising food fair here and he did…that morning! His chicken/beef spaghetti and Payung rojak

Payung rojak
*Archive photo*

…were all sold out and he also made this fresh pek koi (rice cakes)…

Own homemade pek koi

…for sale and there were a few tubs left and he gave me two.

I tried cooking one of the two and cut the pek koi into very thin slices…

Pek koi, thinly sliced

…after which I added dark soy sauce, a sprinkling of sugar and some pepper and mixed everything together well…

Pek koi, tossed with soy sauce etc

I prepared all the other ingredients that I would want to use…

Other ingredients

– sliced shallots, chopped garlic, spring onion and chili plus one black pepper-flavoured sausage, sliced.

To cook, I fried the shallots and the garlic in a bit of oil till golden brown before adding the chili and the sausage, followed by the pek koi, pre-tossed with the aforementioned ingredients. Once done, I broke a few eggs into the wok, fried them together well and finally, I added the spring onion, mixing that well with everything else before dishing it all out…

My fried pek koi 1

I thought it was really very nice – the pek koi was nice and soft, not hard and chewy and rubbery like those sold in packets at the shops and supermarkets, no matter how one soaks it, and it was a whole lot nicer than the local freshly-made ones sold at the wet markets here as well.

My girl and the mum enjoyed it…

Myfried pek koi 2

…very much too and at the time of writing, I still have another tub left – perhaps I would want to cook it a little differently and I may or may not blog about it. We’ll see…