Brain…

Otak means brain in the Malay language and for the uninitiated, for the plural form of nouns in the language, the word is repeated so in this context, otak-otak would mean “brains”.

However, when we talk about otak otak, we are actually referring to that culinary delight that usually has fish as the main ingredient. I did blog about it a long long time ago in 2011 – I guess I had a different set of readers at the time and since there were some questions arising, I thought I would just blog about it again.

The first variety of otak otak that I ever tried were those wrapped in leaves and cooked over an open charcoal fire by the roadside…

Supermarket otak otak

…or at the Ramadhan (the Muslim fasting month) stalls. These days, they are available in the frozen section at the supermarkets and all you have to do would be to heat them up a bit in the oven, open…

Supermarket otak otak, inside

…and enjoy. I’ve tried the latter before and I thought they were quite nice and on the other hand, I did buy some not-very-edible ones from those stalls. I guess like everything else, one would need to know where to go or who to buy from so one will not end up having to throw it all away and wasting one’s money for nothing.

These days, here in Sibu, one can also get them at one of those Singapore nyonya curry laksa franchise outlets…

Katong laksa otak otak

I cannot remember how much they cost now – all that I can recall is how the packets were quite big but you will get just a little piece of the otak otak inside…

Katong laksa otak otak, inside

As for the taste, it was quite good, similar to those supermarket ones.

But if you go up north in the country to places like Penang, for instance, you will get otak otak of a different kind…

Penang otak-otak

Wrapped in banana leaves…

Wrapped in banana leaves

…and steamed, inside, you will find egg custard, chunks of fish and some fragrant leaves. I know many who are not fans of it – some do not like the egg custard, others do not like the smell of the leaves but I do enjoy it very much and I would order one or more to enjoy whenever I see any, like this one…

New World Park otak otak

…at the New World Park Food Court in Georgetown city centre.

Of course, many would swear by the ones from Muar, Johore. Unfortunately, I have never tried any fresh ones there, just these frozen ones…

Muar otak otak

…that a friend/ex-student gave me the other day. I thought they were all right, nothing to get excited about and no, you will not find me wanting more of that…but I did enjoy what I had at a restaurant in Kuala Lumpur

Muar Restaurant, KL otak otak

…on more than one occasion and I liked theirs a lot so whenever I dropped by there for dinner, that would be one of the first things I would order from their menu.

Of course if you ask me to pick my favourite otak otak, it would be the one here at Payung Cafe

Payung Cafe otak otak

…which is all fish plus all the wonderful flavours of the very fragrant ingredients used in the making and it can be a bit spicy which I like.

So, there you are! A quick look at the otak otak that I’ve tried – I don’t know if there are others around here or in our neighbouring countries and if there are, I sure would love to have the opportunity to try them someday.

One down, two to go…

Well, actually, it’s two down…and there’s only one more to go and if you’re all wondering what I am talking about, I bet this will ring a bell…

Bacon delights from Phong Hong
*Archive photo*

– the box of goodies that I received sometime ago from my blogger-friend, Phong Hong.

I tried their bacon jam spread on some baguette slices that I toasted lightly in the oven and it literally swept me off my feet. It was so so so good!!!

In the meantime, I did tune in to the interview conducted by my ol’ friend, Mag, from the TraxxFm days on AFORADIO, the online radio station when she spoke to the people behind this whole thing, John and Georgina…

The story

…and it seems that the name they picked – Five & Two Foods…

Five & Two Foods

…has some biblical implication. It is actually a reference to the 5 loaves and 2 fishes at the Sermon on the Mount and those of you who are familiar with it would know that they were distributed to feed a multitude of five thousand.

From the interview, I gathered that these products are not available on the shelves at the shops and supermarkets and anyone interested would have to order online at their website or Facebook page and they will send it to you, provided you live within the country, only in Malaysia, that is.

Well, I decided to try another one…

The original Bacon Sambal

…the other day and as we had a lot of leftover rice in the fridge, I reckoned I could use the sambal to fry it with.

No, I did not add a lot of ingredients – just a bit of finely-chopped garlic that I fried in a bit of oil till golden brown and then, I added around half a bottle of the sambal and then the rice. After sometime, I tried a bit and found that it was not salty. No!!!! I most certainly would not want to add the rest of what was in the bottle, the precious commodity – who knows when the next one will come my way again! In the end, I just added a few dashes of Thai fish sauce, two eggs and some chopped spring onions and dished it all out…

Bacon sambal fried rice 1

…and garnished it with some sliced chili and what was left of the chopped spring onions…

Bacon sambal fried rice 2

…and served.

It was all right, just that the taste of the sambal was lost in all that rice so much so that one could hardly detect it. I did have what was left with plain rice – just add a bit to the rice and eat and yes, it was a lot nicer this way and I enjoyed it with these crackers…

Bacon sambal with crackers

…too! Just dip one in, scoop out a bit of the sambal

Dip scoop eat

…and eat! Yummmm!!!!

Well, I would say that I liked the taste of the bacon jam a lot, very much more than this sambal which was, at best, all right, not really anything to get me real excited like the last time…and that leaves just one more to go – the Angry Bacon!

Goosey goosey gander…

The other day, I blogged about these

From Raphael's mum

…that my ex-student, Raphael’s mum gave to me, something that I had never seen before, much less tried eating them. We thought they were tomatillos but my ex-classmate/friend, Robert’s sister commented on Facebook saying that they were gooseberries. I quickly went and googled but no, they did not look anything like these…so I told her that and then she said she should have specified that they were cape gooseberries or Physalis peruviana. Ah yes!!! They certainly look the same just that they have a much nicer colour than the ones we had…so I quickly went to update that post to give the fresh information thus obtained.

In the meantime, my friend, Mary, came back from Thailand and she bought these…

Cape gooseberries

…in Bangkok and brought then back to Sibu. She said that they were labelled as just gooseberries there and she passed me some to try.

Frankly, I had never seen nor heard of this thing before – all I knew was the expression, ‘to play gooseberry”. If a couple go on a date and you go and tag along, you are said to be playing gooseberry – I think locally, people will say you are “playing lamp post” or boh ciak chang in Hokkien, literally translated as “you do not eat onions”. As the saying goes, “Two is a company, three is a crowd.”

The yellow colour of these from Bangkok…

Cape gooseberry

…brought to mind our terung Dayak (Dayak brinjal) but no, these are not as sour – just a hint of it but mostly sweet and not only is there the difference in colour but it also tastes a little different from the ones I got from Raphael’s mum. I thought comparatively, those were sweeter but of course, they were very very much smaller, about the size of a pearl. Perhaps this is a different variety like how there are some tomatoes of different shades of red and orange and there are some green ones too or perhaps, our hot weather has stunted its growth so they are not as big.

The ones from Mary are much bigger, though not all that big but as big as a 20-sen coin

Gooseberry and coin

I cut one open to have a look and this is what the cross-section is like…

Gooseberry, cross-section

It sure does not look like a tomato, does it…or maybe, just a little? According to this website, it is a fruit of the potato family. Hmmm…it sure does not look nor taste anything like a potato…and it says that it has a lot of health benefits. You can click the link to go and read all about it.

Well, at least, now I know what cape gooseberries are and thank you so much, Mary, for the ones you gave to me. No, I only tried one and I am saving the rest for my girl when she comes home. She loved the ones from Raphael’s mum – I also saved them for her other than the few that I planted and she finished all of them in one sitting. I bet she will love these too…and hey! It’s Friday today and she’ll be home for the weekend. Yeahhhh!!!!

How am I supposed to live without you…

All our lives we’ve been taking soy sauce, usually the dark version, and when we came across the mushroom soy in my younger days, we have stuck to it since. Unfortunately, like most other sauces on the shelves in the supermarket, they all contain wheat…

Mushroom soy

…so now that we are on a gluten-free diet, we will not be buying any of those anymore.

I bought this Thai fish sauce…

Thai fish sauce

…sometime ago and yes, it does not contain wheat and yes, it is very nice. In fact, I find it much nicer than the made-in-China “fish gravy” that I used to buy before, more fragrant and tastier. I would use it for my kampung (village-style) fried rice and as far as I know, Thais use it a lot for their exquisitely exotic dishes including their very delightful Pad Thai.

Thanks to Phong Hong, I came to know about the Tamari sauce and we managed to grab a bottle from an organic shop here, RM19.00 a bottle. Then, I spotted this Shouyu

Shoyu & Tamari sauce

…at a shop near my house selling all kinds of organic stuff. It was tagged at RM15.00 a bottle but the guy sold me it to me at RM14.00 without my asking and yes, there’s no wheat in the ingredients…

Shoyu ingredients

…and according to the information on the label…

Wheat and bran in soy sauce

…”…wheat flour and bran…will significantly weaken the aroma of say sauce…”.

Well, we’ve yet to open it to try as right now, we are using the Tamari sauce and as you can see from the badly-stained label, somebody has been making good use of it…while the very much cheaper Thai fish sauce seems somewhat neglected even though they would ask for more air budu whenever we go for the nasi kerabu at our favourite place in town. They taste and smell pretty much the same except that one is more refined and looks a whole lot clearer and cleaner.

I did try frying some rice with lap cheong using the Tamari sauce…

Lap cheong fried rice with Tamari suace 1

…and it turned out very nice…

Lap cheong fried rice with Tamari sauce 2

…I would say. In fact, I never added dark soy sauce when frying rice this way – I don’t like how its strong taste would overpower the fragrance of all the other ingredients used, the very reason why I would never order kampua noodles with dark soy sauce – it is all kicap!

The way things are going, it does look like we can live without a whole lot of things…or at least, we can resort to the alternatives available instead.

Go away…

I missed their Christmas sale – by the time I went to their shop, everything was sold out but I did manage to catch their end-of-year sale with selected items going for RM5.00 only and I grabbed this mother-in-law tongue…

From The Green House mother-in-law tongue

…at that price, nice pot not included though. I have read posts shared by people on Facebook on how it is good to have this plant in the house to improve the indoor air quality so I wouldn’t mind having one in mine too.

My friend, Victor, was there and I did get quite a bit of discount for my purchases and on top of that, he gave me this natural pesticide…

From the Green House natural pesticide

…free of charge to try.

I think it is organic, not harmful to the environment…

Non-pollution pesticide

…so it is safe for use.

I guess everyone knows by now that something has been feasting on the leaves of my ladies’ fingers plants…

All that is left of the leaves

…leaving behind just the skeleton. All this while, I have not bothered about it as despite the absence of those big whole leaves, the ladies’ fingers continue to appear…

Ladies fingers

…so as long as there is enough for me to harvest and enjoy, I have no objection to whatever it is that has been eating the leaves.

Nonetheless, since I have this pesticide to try, I sprayed all the leaves especially the new ones…

Ladies' fingers new leaves

…that have not been as severely destroyed yet and it has been a few days now and yes, it sure looks like those pests have kept their distance.

Thank you so much, Victor, for the pesticide, and for the special discounts and everything. Here’s hoping that you will enjoy continued success in your business undertakings in the year ahead, cheers!!!

So long…

I’m afraid the photographs in this post are not going to be very nice as they were all taken using my antique handphone. Actually, I was not planning on going anywhere in particular that afternoon so I did not bring along my digicam but out of the blue, my girl said she would like to drop by the Food & Cultural Fair that I mentioned in this earlier post…and of course, her wish is my command!

We went early, just past 5.00 p.m. but it does say on all those banners hanging all over town that the fair would open from 5.00 p.m. till 11.00 p.m. daily…so I was most disappointed that more than half of the stalls were still closed! If you say 5, then you should be ready to roll by 5, not 6…or later! Tsk! Tsk!

The ones that were open did not get me all excited. There were all these regular stuff…

Assortment of kuehs

…that you probably would be able to find somewhere around town on normal days…

Curry puffs & sio pao

I did ask about the ang koo koi though and was told that they were selling at RM1.30 each. I got mine at the Rejang Park stall for only RM1.00, the last time I bought some home.

The celebrated Foochow fish ball…

Foochow fish balls

…stall was open. I wonder if their business is still as brisk as before – you would have to take a number and once all the numbers had been given out, that would be it. Come back the next day to try your luck. But that was not all! You would have to queue and wait for your number to be called to collect the balls. Honestly, I really cannot understand why people would put themselves through all that hassle for something that is not all that great, if you ask me, and you can always go to the shop (they have two now – here and here) anytime to buy – no need to get a number, no need to queue, no need to wait…and you may even find them in the frozen section at some supermarkets.

There was this guy grilling some chicken chops…

Chicken chop stall

…and they did look pretty good but no, we did not feel like having those that day. There was a stall selling Kuching sio bee, most probably the ones from here…and another one selling Kuching braised meat – pork, chicken, duck, they had them all but of course, we are staying away from anything with soy sauce, thank you very much.

The Malay stalls are on one side of the fair and even fewer were open when we were there. This was one of them…

Malay stall

Then I spotted this stall…

German sausages

…with this German guy…

German

…running it, selling what he insisted were real/authentic German sausages. I’ve read about the guy or his sausages in some blogs before – he resides in Kuching and was at the Kuching Food Fair, maybe for a couple of years running now and was very popular there. Unfortunately, we were not in luck – the flight was delayed that day so the fresh stock he was expecting had not arrived and all he had at that point in time were these…

Sausages

…that were so very long, 12 inches at least, I’m sure, and yes, we thought they were very nice, nice…but not cheap, RM10.00 each! He did give us a slice of his garlic bread free of charge though, the nice guy and yes, we would want to go back again to try the other sausages that he has for sale at his stall, probably another 8 or 9 more.

You can read more about the fair in this newspaper report, if you are interested.

Christmas tree…

It’s that time of year again and with Christmas in around a fortnight away, the Sibu Town Square…

Sibu Town Square

…has all the Christmas trees, big and small…

The main tree & the little ones

…with artificial snow…

Snow

…and presents…

Presents

…and reindeers and sleigh…

Reindeers & sleigh

…that probably would light up at night and look a whole lot more beautiful and enchanting than in broad daylight during the daytime.

The official “lighting-up” was on last Friday night, the 9th of December along with the opening of the annual Food & Cultural Fair right across the road…and the annual Christmas Procession in the town centre was held the following night.

There is the annual Christmas tree decoration competition whereby those taking part have to use recycled materials for their trees…

Christmas Trees, Sibu Town Square 2016 1

…supposedly and some can be really creative and very pretty, I must say…

Christmas Trees, Sibu Town Square 2016 2

…but one of the two that I like the most would be this one…

Nativity Christmas tree from SMK Kpg Nangka

…which depicts the true meaning of CHRISTmas.

This is the view from the grandstand/stage of the main tree in the town square with all the canopies for the Food & Cultural Fair, plus the ferris wheel, in the background, across the road…

Main Christmas tree

I guess this is not as grand as in some other places especially when compared to those western countries overseas but we are indeed most thankful to those concerned for their genuine and sincere, non-commercialised effort to fill our hearts with the Christmas spirit this time every year. Joy to the world!