Appreciate…

A thoughtful and generous gesture is always appreciated, well, by me, at least and I do appreciate how, during these difficult times, there are people who always think and care for others and do whatever they can, however, small to help anyone in need.

The other day, somebody shared an appeal on Facebook, purportedly from the Sibu Hospital, asking for donations/contributions and I drove all the way to send some of the things I had stocked up in the house – I wouldn’t have left the house, otherwise and because of that, I had to drop by the shops in the neighbourhood to restock on the stuff that I had given away.

I was quite pissed off when the authorities released a press statement saying that they were quite well-provided for and did not ask for anything. Well, I did what I felt I should do out of my own sincerity but what I did not like was the way they put it – at least, they should add that they appreciated all who had sent them stuff, thank you very much. That would not be so hard to do, right? But I would give them the benefit of the doubt – they were probably so caught up with this dreadful thing to think of much else.

I have always been blessed abundantly – people give me things all the time and yes, I do appreciate it a lot and just the other day, I received an sms from my friend, Annie, in KL telling me that she was giving me some of the jiaoxi/shui jiao (dumplings) her brother made…

Jiaoxi from Annie

…and her nephew would send them over to my house the following day and she added that she had paid for them.

Her brother went into this business once and yes, he did give me some to try but he left town soon afterwards to work here and there and now that he is cooped up in the house owing to the partial lockdown/CMO/RMO, he has gone back to making them again for sale.

I asked his son, Annie’s nephew, when he brought them to my house and he said they are RM14.00 a pack and there are 15 in each one of them, less than RM1 each…

15 in a pack

My missus pan-fried one of the packs right away and in no time at all, we all sat down to enjoy eating them…

Filling

The skin was beautifully done, very nice and smooth and not chewy/rubbery or hard like some that we had had the displeasure of buying and eating and the meat and chives filling was really delicious.

My girl in particular loves these dumplings unlike me. I am not crazy about them but will eat when there is any to be eaten but I sure would not go out of my way for them. I did enjoy these though so if anyone around here enjoys these dumplings…

Dumplings, pan-fried

…and are keen on placing an order for a pack or more to enjoy, they may PM me on Facebook or send me an sms giving me their address, telephone contact and the number of packs they would like and I would convey the orders to Annie’s brother or the nephew. Yes, they will do home delivery, provided the house is not too far away.

Thank you so much, Annie & David, for the dumplings and thanks to you too, Anson, for going through the trouble of sending them over to my house, very much appreciated, indeed.

Hopefully…

My herbs circle…

My herbs circle
*Archive photo*

…was doing great at the start. Everything I planted flourished but eventually, things started to change and almost everything shrank and withered and died – my oregano, my sawtooth coriander, my daun sup (Chinese parsley), even my dill and my curry leaves. Only the serai (lemon grass) was growing well, so well that I had to keep trimming it ever so often.

Well, recently, I heard of this brainchild of Monsignor Father Michael Lee of the Catholic Diocese here in Sibu. He was making this organic compost…

Organic compost

…for sale in 1 kg packs for RM4.00, using these recycled resealable tea bags…

Recycled resealable bags

That sure is good for the environment – waste not, want not!

I went and bought a few packs for my plants to help him a bit in his venture and after using it for a few weeks, I am glad to note that my herbs circle is coming back to life.

The curry leaves look good…

Curry leaves

…sprouting new branches from the stump and my dill too…

Dill

I planted some Thai basil seedlings…

Thai basil

…but I can’t tell right now how they will fare.

My girl’s wild onions never died but they did not seem to be doing so well either, so scrawny, barely surviving…

Wild onions

…and likewise, my mint…

Mint

…has been spreading far and wide but the leaves are very small unlike the ones that I have in the pots kept in the shade.

I am also using this compost for my rambutan tree at the back of my house and much to my delight, it is sprouting new leaves and branches and looking really good. I certainly hope that I shall be able to say the same about my herbs circle soon…and yes, I shall return those recycled resealable bags to be reused. We must do what we can, however little, for the environment.

Incidentally, if anyone is interested, he or she can buy this organic compost at the Laudato Si’ Canteen at the Catholic Centre but of course, that will have to wait till this partial lockdown or Restricted Movement/Movement Control Order comes to an end. The sad thing is that it was announced yesterday that it would be extended till the 14th of next month, April, Lord have mercy!!!

LAUDATO SI’ CANTEEN (2.287292, 111.832110) is located in what was previously known as the Catholic Centre in the compound of the Sacred Heart Cathedral, Jalan Lanang and St Rita’s Primary School, Jalan Bukit Assek.

My sacrifice…

It’s already the 2nd Friday in Lent today. The penitential season this year started on Ash Wednesday last week, the 26th of February, a day of fasting and abstinence for all Christians. This…

Lent

…may be of some use to anyone who would like a bit more information on what this is all about.

I remember in my growing up years, we would abstain from meat every Friday throughout the year and eat fish instead. Fish was bountiful and cheap in those days but these days, they are very expensive and may be considered a luxury so I would not consider it much of a sacrifice to forego meat for it or prawns or all kinds of seafood, for that matter.

Fasting way back then would mean porridge all day long and fish or salted fish which incidentally, does not come cheap these days either. Ah well! What is cheap these days? I do not have to fast anymore – senior citizens over the age of 60 are exempted but abstinence from meat is a must but anyway, I still try to fast the best I can.

Last Friday, I cooked this…

What I cooked

…for the family for our meals, something light for lunch and dinner. All of us skipped breakfast that morning but the general ruling is we would be allowed two light meals, the amount less than a regular meal on other days and come evening time, we could have a full meal for dinner.

These days, it is very easy for us as we can get fresh fish paste (frozen) from Jakar and Sarikei, mackerel/ikan tenggiri no less…

Fish paste

…and we can use that to make our own fish balls.

I bought some tau kua (bean curd cakes), cut them into halves and cut a slit in them into which I stuffed the fish paste and I deep fried them lightly for use. I used the rest of the fish paste to make fish balls and cooked them with a few cloves of garlic and tang chai (preserved vegetable) in water for the soup and after it had started boiling, I added the stuffed tau kua. I served it with tang hoon (glass noodles) and some khiew chai (curly vegetables) by the side, garnished with some fried sliced shallots and finely chopped daun sup (Chinese celery). I think they have salt and msg in the fish paste so I did not need to add any – the soup was salty and tasty enough.

We had a lot of leftover rice and my missus cooked some kim chi fried rice…

Kim chi fried rice

…for dinner and of course, my girl loved it! No, I did not touch it – I just stuck loyally to my tang hoon in tau kua fish ball soup.

I’m not sure what we’ll be having today but considering how times and things have changed, I do feel that instead of having fish, while abstaining from meat, one can abstain from say…using the smartphone or going online, things that we enjoy, for one day…or more.

The dance…

Maha Shivaratri is a Hindu festival celebrated annually in honour of Lord Shiva. It marks the night of the heavenly marriage and consummation between Shiva and Parvati and it is also the night when Shiva performs the heavenly dance.

There is a Shivaratri in every luni-solar month of the Hindu calendar on the 13th night/14th day, but around February/March, they celebrate the Maha Shivaratri which means “the Great Night of Shiva”.

No, I did not know all this but that night I was invited by my Indian friends, Andy and Varun, at Payung to a special thali (a set Indian meal) they were hosting to celebrate this auspicious occasion. Unfortunately, all the photographs that I took did not come out well except this one of the poori

Poori

…that we had, a deep-fried bread made from unleavened whole-wheat flour. It went very well with everything that was served on a banana leaf…

Special thali dinner
*Andy’s photo*

…and I even asked for a second helping, another two or three pieces, I can’t remember now.

There seemed to be two main dishes, one that looked like minced meat but cooked using black chickpeas, probably the kala chana curry and the other, the potato bhaji – you can see a bit of that in the above photograph. The other one that you can see in the photograph, top right, is the gajar halwa, an Indian carrot pudding served as a dessert along with the Indian rice kheer, a rice and milk dessert – both of these were slightly sweet, very slightly and I enjoyed them very much.

Varun made a vadai too, not quite the same as the ones that I am accustomed to. He said that was his first attempt as that is a South Indian delicacy and he comes from the north and he did say that they do not serve meals on a banana leaf there either as the plant is not common in the colder climatic conditions unlike the places in the south.

There was a soup using red beans, the bigger version and also an Indian drink that reeked of spices and ginger.

That certainly was a delightful and most interesting evening – we enjoyed the exquisite dinner and the pleasant company…

Thali dinner at Payung
*Andy’s photo*

Thank you so much, Andy & Varun, for inviting us to your celebration of this very special Indian festival.

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.

Reminded…

I had the meat porridge with century egg here not too long ago and I thought it was very good. In the meantime, I heard that their nasi lemak is very popular so I just had to make my way back there to try.

When I got there that morning, the rice was just ready and the guy was scooping a bowl of it for somebody’s takeaway. I asked him if it had a lot of santan (coconut milk) in it and he said, no, there was no santan used in the cooking as a lot of people would like to tapao it and it might go bad. Of course, I made up my mind there and then that I did not want to order that, no, thank you!

I asked what else they had and he rattled through a whole list of things and finally, I settled for what he called “hung ngang long” (RM6.00)…

Civic Cafe hung ngang long 1

I am a Foochow but my maternal grandma was Melanau and for reasons unknown, I grew up speaking Hokkien at home – all my aunties and uncles and I spoke Hokkien among ourselves while my grandma when she was still around would speak Melanau to me and I would speak Sarawak Malay to her and we both understood each other perfectly!

I never did pick up the Foochow dialect, supposedly my mother tongue. In fact, these days, I can communicate a lot better in Mandarin, not in that dialect – the intonation, pronunciation and everything is quite difficult to master but I do know that hung ngang is the big bihun that looks like the noodles in Penang asam laksa but no, the texture and taste are different.

I thought that long is egg so I guessed that would be the noodles in egg drop soup. The egg is dropped into the boiling soup, cooked with lots of ginger and traditional Foochow red wine and the end result would be the yolk still soft and runny, something like poached egg but the  white would be all over the soup. My missus would cook that sometimes, served with mee sua, and my girl loves it and in my discussion recently on Facebook, a friend said that her mum used to cook that as a remedy for menstrual pains. If I am not wrong, it is the ginger!

What I was served…

Civic Cafe hung ngang long

…was nothing of the sort – it looked like the traditional Foochow red wine chicken soup with hung ngang instead of mee sua but it tasted very different and yes, it was very nice!

In my aforementioned discussion on Facebook, I was reminded of what my 2nd maternal aunt would send to our house everytime one of her daughters or daughters-in-law gave birth, one big pot of it and it turned out to be this – hung ngang long! I never knew what it was called – I just ate!

Yes, it is different from the usual bowl of mee sua in traditional Foochow red wine and ginger chicken soup as other than those, there would be some other ingredients added – I remember there was the kim chiam (golden needles), knotted and the mok mee (black fungus) and according to my friend, Annie, in KL, there would be the teck ann or canned oysters as well.

I must say that I enjoyed it a lot and I loved the egg used…

Egg

– this would be one of those Omega-3 or kampung eggs with its orange yolk. I’m not really a fan of hung ngang though so when I go back there for more of this, perhaps I could ask for mee sua instead. We’ll see…

CIVIC CAFE (2.310423, 111.8312260, formerly Wonderful Cafe, is located at No. 30, Jalan Dewan Suarah, right beside the Sibu Civic Centre. 

Open house…

I’ve known the open house tradition for as long as I can remember.

We had it twice a year, at Christmas and soon after that, at Chinese New Year. My dad was a businessman and he had many friends and customers who would come round to enjoy my mum’s curry, served with bread and everyone loved her cakes and cookies too, not forgetting our very special “Singapore rambutans” which would always bear fruit around that time of year. This year, I was glad to be able to do the same with the rambutans from the sole-surviving tree at the back of my house.

In my childhood days, come Hari Raya Puasa/Aidilfitri, I would go with my Malay/Melanau friends from the neighbourhood to the houses in the kampungs in the vicinity. Their open house concept was a bit different then – they would welcome anybody and everybody dropping by and once at a house, the old folks would “interrogate” us, asking us whose children we were and so on and so forth. In the small kampung community, everybody knew everybody so nobody was a stranger. I remember those tiny glasses in which they would serve the drinks and also their long tables filled with all kinds of cakes in a myriad of colours – they did not use to serve food as in curry and rendang and what not back in those days.

Later, as I grew bigger/older, I remember what a lovely time I had with my friends in the 60’s, right through till the 70’s when we went on our bicycles to visit house after house after house, relatives and friends alike, from morning till night and my friends would come on their bicycles to my house too! What joy that brought us and how sad it is that the young ones these days don’t do this anymore, or not that I know of, that is!

Unlike my parents before, I no longer have open houses come Christmas every year but I would have it during Chinese New Year which is usually not long after that – this year, they were only a month apart. However, we had not had that for some two years now owing to the demise of my parents, first my dad and then my mum.

I do enjoy holding open houses but sad to say, I did not have a lot of friends visiting me this year. Other than the guys from Payung and my good friend, Lim, and his family, and not forgetting, the wonderful people, my friends, from the petrol station that I frequent here in Sibu, nobody else came.

On my part, I only visited the elders in my family – my uncle (my father’s younger brother) and my aunt (my father’s younger sister) to convey my Happy Chinese New Year greetings and the latter did come over to my house with all in her family.

Some of my girl’s colleagues from her former school dropped by too, a special thank you especially to those who drove all the way from there to town just to come and visit. A friend of hers, going all the way back to Primary One, came with her family and another good friend of hers, also a teacher, was here with two of her nieces. Her coursemate, the very nice guy from Terengganu, who was with her in Sg Petani and Wellington, New Zealand and is now teaching in Sibu, visited us too with his wife and son.

All the rest were my ex-students including one from my English tuition class who scored straight A’s in English (SPM & 1119) and is now an English teacher in her own right. Among my ex-students who came were these two…

SHS students

…and another one who came with his family the day before as he did not read the messages carefully and ended up coming earlier.

Another student, who dropped by my house when he and his family arrived home from Kuching to pass me some lovely dishes that he brought all the way, made it a point to come by as well. He said that he did meet some of his ex-classmates and the mere mention of my name would send shudders up their spine and they were reluctant to come and visit. Hmmm…and I thought I was always very nice when I was teaching them – I guess it was the size that all of them found intimidating. LOL!!!

Then there were two from another former school where I was teaching in the 90’s – they came with their children and these two brothers and a sister, also from that same school, came with theirs…

The Toh family

Of course, I prepared ang-paos for the children…

Ang paos

…and those eligible bachelors and spinsters, never mind how old they may be, for good luck and I must thank my friend at my regular bank who would always help reserve those new bank notes for me for the purpose.

And a very big thank you to the Headmistress, the Senior Assistants and my girl’s colleagues…

St Rita staff

…from her current school who took the time to drop by as well, truly a lovely and special gesture that is most appreciated indeed.

In my neighbourhood, I only saw two houses that had visitors, probably just the members of the family. For some reason, the other houses in my lane were rather quiet. Perhaps like us in the past two years, they too had their reason, I wouldn’t know but what I do know for a fact was that many had their reunion dinner on the eve of Chinese New Year’s Eve so they could go some place the following day and would not be celebrating the festival here.

When I was in Singapore in 1973, I saw that they had their family reunion dinner and in the days that followed, they would just sit at the tables playing mahjong or whatever and I heard that this would be the usual practice in the peninsula too. Sad to say, it looks like the practice of holding open houses is gradually becoming a dying tradition.

Nonetheless, I, for one, would continue to observe and preserve our heritage and enjoy the bonding, all the good wishes and the positive vibes, all that joy and laughter shared with everyone who cares enough to stop by. Thank you once again to all who came this year and thanks to those who brought along a little something too…

What u call that…

I did not get to try the porridge here in Kuching but my girl did and she did not like it. According to her, it was like rice drowned in soup.

I guess that was Teochew porridge which Wiki says is rice grains softened from cooking but still whole and not in an overly starchy state. My cousin says that if you order moi (which means “me” in French) in Kuching, that is what you will get and if you want the gooey kind of porridge, you will have to ask for chook (which means chicken or fowl in Australia/New Zealand) and if you are not utterly confused yet, there is also congee and gruel. LOL!!!

Here in Sibu, it is called moi or if there are people calling it anything else, I have yet to hear that and bak moi is meat porridge like what I had here…

Civic Cafe

…one morning.

This coffee shop had a different name before but some people have taken over and have given it a new name – after the Sibu Civic Centre (Dewan Suarah) right next door. There is a kampua mee stall in front and one selling all the fried stuff inside while this one…

Civic Cafe 2nd stall

…is in between the two. I spoke to the tall and friendly guy and he suggested char bee lau too kha (pork leg in fragrant root soup) but I did not feel like it and I wasn’t in the mood for mee sua in traditional Foochow red wine chicken soup either.

In the end, I decided to go for the meat porridge special (RM5.00)…

Civic Cafe meat porridge special

…with century egg (皮蛋/pídàn) and yew char koi (Chinese crullers) because it looked good in the photograph, much nicer than this, and I must say that I enjoyed it very much – one of the nicer places in town to go for this, that’s for sure.

My girl loves meat porridge so I guess I shall be coming back here again soon and while she has that, perhaps I can try something else from the stall or one of the other two.

CIVIC CAFE (2.310423, 111.8312260, formerly Wonderful Cafe, is located at No. 30, Jalan Dewan Suarah, right beside the Sibu Civic Centre.