How I miss you…

The pandemic has dragged on and on for so long now and one thing that I do miss a lot would be our traditional Chinese full course sit-down banquet.

In Hokkien, we call it “ciak chiew” (direct translation: eat wine) even though a teetotaller like me would not touch a drop, that’s for sure. In the old days, there would be a bottle of brandy (V.S.O.P) on every table and some bottles of beer and soft drinks for anyone thus inclined to help themselves. At the current prices of those hard liquor these days, we do not get to see that anymore.

Way back then, there would be 12 courses, at least, the last two being our traditional Foochow sio bee (meat dumplings)…

…and Foochow fried noodles…

…because many of the guests, usually all in the family, lived very far in the interior (sua par – direct translation: jungle) and the mode of transport being not very well developed in those days, it was considered as having good manners to make sure that they would not go hungry on the way home.

The banquet would start with what is called The Four Seasons elsewhere except that here, we would be served a whole lot more than just four…

We called it the leng pua (cold dish) as at the time, the selections in the plate comprised cold cuts of meat. I remember specifically the thin slices of char siew pig’s tongue – I loved that a lot!

Eventually, somebody came out with the sio pua (hot dish)…

…and since then, diners would have a choice when making the reservations – whether they would want it cold or hot.

The second dish would be the soup and in the old days, it was fashionable to serve sharks’ fins soup, the bigger the fins, the more its snob appeal. Of course, that is frowned upon these days so something else is served instead. A popular substitute would be the very nutritious ginseng black chicken soup…

There must be a fish dish, usually very fresh pek chio (white/silver pomfret), steamed but when they did not have any that was all that fresh, they would fry it and serve with some kind of sauce, sweet and sour, for instance…

Personally, I would prefer the fish done this way.

Pork may come next, or maybe, it would be served after the poultry dishes. In the old days, it would always be sweet and sour pork but these days, it may be cooked in other ways…

Other than the chicken in the soup, there would be a chicken dish. In the old days, it was just roast chicken…

…buried under a whole lot of keropok (prawn crackers) and being a little kid at the time, no prize for guessing what would get all my attention.

A popular alternative and one that would be considered a little bit more special would be the steamed chicken with ginseng and other herbs wrapped in aluminum foil…

The sauce, I must say, is simply awesome and full of wholesome goodness!

Sometimes, you may be served duck instead…

…or in some cases, you may get a combo of the two – chicken and duck in a plate.

There would be a vegetable dish, mixed vegetables (chap chai or what people call chak kin or something like that), perhaps depending on how much one had paid for the banquet. That might come in a yam basket…

…and if one was served a platter of broccoli with huge sea cucumber (and beef tendon)…

…it would be quite obvious that the host had paid quite a substantial sum for the meal.

These days, when the platter of prawns…

…whichever way they may do it, is served, that means that you have come to the end of the dinner.

Dessert in the old days would definitely be the peach and longan combo…

…something that would be long-awaited by the kids at the dinner but these days, you may get a plate of Chinese pancake and a fruit platter…

…instead. That peach and longan dessert is no longer something kids would die for especially now that we can buy them in cans at any supermarket or grocery store and they may end up sitting in the pantry and nobody wants to eat it. Times sure have changed.

The pandemic has dragged on and on and sadly, the end is nowhere in sight. At one time, when dining in was still allowed, they had 5 per table with fewer and smaller servings. How pathetic!!! The way things are going, it sure does not look like we will ever get to ciak chiew and enjoy the traditional full course sit-down Chinese banquet the way we have enjoyed it all our lives ever again.

Luckily…

Last Sunday afternoon, Father’s Day, I had to go out for a while and despite my attempt to rush back quickly, I did not manage to escape getting caught in the sudden downpour. That was why I had to wash the car once I reached home.

It was around 4.oo p.m. and still raining with a bit of thunder and lightning, just a bit, when my girl came out to tell me that there was a sudden blackout. I saw my neighbour coming out to look at his meter so I guess they were in that same predicament.

Oh dear!!! Like what I had mentioned in yesterday’s post, we were planning to have a steamboat dinner and for that, we would always use the electric multi cooker…

…that I bought in Kuching many many years ago when my girl was still little for over RM200.00.- and it has served us well all this time. Things made in the past are certainly of a better quality than the ones today – those that we buy nowadays do not seem to last very long.

I was not unduly worried as we have one of those mini gas cookers using those aerosol gas canisters. My girl was using that when she was at her school in the jungle and when she moved back to town. we took it back with us and all the unused canisters of gas. We could take that out and use it instead and I guess we could light some candles and eat in the dark…and as it was raining, it was not hot that evening and anyway, we have three of those fans that run on both electricity and rechargeable batteries so we could take them out and use. I bought two for my girl to use in the jungle school where blackouts were frequent and may last for days and weeks and I kept one at home in case of an emergency.

In the meantime, I quickly called my ex-student who holds a managerial post – customer service at our local electricity board, Sibu office and she was so surprised as everything was all right at her house. She said she would check and call me back which she did to inform me that the people were on the way to check the sub-station for my area and work on the problem right away. It did not take very long, around half an hour, maybe, when power was restored, praise the Lord! We were thus able to have our steamboat dinner as planned!

As you can see in the above photograph, we had sweet corn, fish maw, bean curd sticks and quail eggs already in the multi-cooker and my missus also bought these thinly sliced pork and beef for shabu-shabu or hotpots…

…at one of the meat shops. There are so many of them these days, all over town. They use machines to slice the meat while frozen so they are able to get them in such paper-thin slices.

She also bought these mussels and cuttlefish…

…and threw in some of the prawns that we have in the freezer to use as ingredient like when we fry vegetables for one. I have not gone to my favourite fish & seafood stall for sometime now as I bought a whole lot of fish at one go. We just ate the last ikan terubok on Friday and and there are still a few or chio/ikan bawal hitam/black pomfret in the freezer. That was why we did not have any fish paste so we did not make any fish balls for our steamboat.

We also had these mushrooms, baby corn and lettuce…

…to throw into our steamboat and instead of tang hoon (glass noodles) that we would usually add, my girl wanted this udon

…that my sister gave to her the other day instead. Well, she did like it a lot, that much I would say.

We sure enjoyed our steamboat dinner to the max that evening, dipping everything in the super tasty chili dip…

…that my missus made. That was so good!

I must say that I had a great Father’s Day that day despite that little hitch with the brief blackout in the afternoon. Luckily, it did not last very long.

My day…

Sunday, the 20th of June, was the 3rd Sunday in the aforementioned month – Father’s Day. Of course, the end of the pandemic does not seem to be anywhere in sight and the lockdown is still in force here so I had no plans whatsoever for any kind of celebration.

I don’t know when my girl went out or maybe she asked the mum to buy for her when the latter went out once a week to stock up on our food rations in the house but early that morning, she gave me this very nice paper bag…

…filled with a whole lot of goodies.

There were two packets of wafers, vanilla and chocolate…

…both sugar free and three packets of shortbread and coconut cookies…

…also sugar free.

I have not opened them to try yet so I don’t know at this point in time whether these Canadian imports are any good or not but I am quite sure they are sweet from the use of artificial sweeteners, just that I haven’t the slightest idea exactly what they taste like. Whatever it is, you can expect that when I do start eating them, I shall be going a whole lot slowly, nibble nibble…a little at a time unlike before when I could finish one whole packet in a single sitting.

Well, that’s not all! My girl insisted on a little celebration so for lunch, we had this spaghetti carbonara with bacon bits, lots of them and pan-grilled slices of smoked duck breast

Yes, that was nice and this was followed by a steamboat dinner that evening but that will be in tomorrow’s post. Do stick around for that!

Here it is again…

Despite the pandemic and the lockdown and everything, time does seem to go by so very fast. Well, another year has gone past and here it is again – the Dragon Boat Festival (端午節) or the Double Fifth Festival that falls on the 5th day of the 5th month of the traditional Chinese Lunar Calendar though most will just refer to it as the Zhang Festival or the ciak zhang (eat dumplings) festival. This year, it falls on the 14th of June, today.

I used to wait patiently for it every year, hoping and praying that my good friend/ex-colleague, Richard would make some of his best-in-the-world nyonya ones so I would be able to give some to my mum, bedridden since 2007 till she passed away in 2018. All throughout our growing up years, she would make them every year, something that she learnt from Ah Hiok Ee from whom Richard inherited the skill, for us all to enjoy. Sadly, I never managed to learn it from her. We cannot buy these nyonya ones here in Sibu – we would have to buy from Kuching or the Katong ones in Singapore, or even Malacca.

This year, like before, Richard made his much-coveted dumplings and he dropped by my house to give me not a few but a whole lot…

…for me to enjoy.

In the past, as I have mentioned earlier, I would take some to give to my mum and after she had left us, I still did that – to give to my sister who also enjoyed these as much as I do. I would have done the same this year but the very thoughtful Richard told me when he passed me mine that he had stopped by my sister’s house to pass some to her. Gee!!! Isn’t he so very nice and sweet? One in a million!

I’ve kept them all specially for today except for three that I heated up the very next morning for the three of us in the house…

…to buang gian (appease the craving).

As always. they were perfectly made…

…so symmetrically conical and the meat inside was not minced but painstakingly cut into tiny cubes…

…the way it should be when it comes to nyonya chang and the fragrance of the ketumbar and the pandan plus the beautiful taste as a whole absolutely blew me away!!!

We sure enjoyed them to the max, thank you so so so much, Richard and thank you for remembering me/us every year without fail. We really owe you big time!

My missus is more into the traditional Chinese Hokkien chang that her mum used to make throughout her growing up years and like me, she never got to learn the skill from her. That is why when I come across some nice ones, I would not hesitate to buy them for her and that is not a problem here as those are sold all over town. You only need to know where to go for the good ones…and thanks to my ex-student/lawyer friend, Louis, we still have the ones he gave me that day in the freezer so we can take them out today for my missus to eat in keeping with the heritage, our Chinese tradition, thank you once again, Louis.

To all celebrating, a very Happy Dragon Boat Festival (端午節)! Do enjoy eating your changs!

Sweet surprise…

I received an sms out of the blue that day from my ex-student/lawyer-friend, Louis, now residing with his family in Kuching. He asked if I was at home and of course, I replied that I was. These days, I would be home most, if not all, of the time. He said he was on his way to my house.

Oh? So he was in Sibu again? He comes over very often – I guess he has a lot of cases here but most of the time, he would be here for a day or two and he would have to rush back to his missus and boys in Kuching, not much time for much else while he was in Sibu.

He said he had some things for me and I just assumed that somebody had sent some stuff from Kuching to me through him but no, it turned out that he bought some Sibu Foochow-style sio bee

from here for me to enjoy. As far as I know, without fail, he will drop by that coffee shop everytime he comes back to Sibu for his favourite beef noodles in town.

For me, the sio bee from this coffee shop…

…are small but they are very nice, going all the way back to 2012 when I first tried the ones from their branch along Island Road, since demolished to give way to some construction there. They were 70 sen each then – the last time I bought some, the price had gone up to 80 sen, dunno how much they are now.

Their bak chang is also very nice and yes, Louis did buy me a few…

…to enjoy as well.

He also got me this one…

…but he was not sure what was inside, kacang or something, he said. Here, if people say it’s kacang, it can mean peanut or tau sar (red bean paste). At the time of writing, I have not tried it yet so I don’t know which that would be.

Thank you so much, Louis, for the sio bee and the chang, so very nice of you to think of your old teacher and to go through the trouble of buying and sending them all the way to my house – it sure was a pleasant and sweet surprise.

The Dragon Boat Festival or 端午节 Duānwǔ Jié, usually called the Chang (Dumpling) Festival falls on the 14th of June this year so it is just a few weeks away. I guess when the time comes, I can just buy a few of the nice ones from here to eat to preserve the tradition, our heritage.

SIN KIAW CAFE (2.291287, 111.826611) is located along Ramin Way, the first shop on your right as you turn in from Jalan Kampung Nyabor, right behind the petrol station located at the bend.

Love grows (where my rosemary goes)…

Dining in is out of the question here at this point in time so that was why we did not go anywhere to celebrate my missus’ birthday the other day, Thursday, like what we would do in previous years.

We did not feel like cooking up a storm so other than the mee sua (longevity noodles) in traditional Foochow red wine and ginger chicken soup that we had for brunch that morning, we did not cook anything else that day.

I browsed through the Facebook pages to see if there was anything of interest and this…

…caught my eye. I thought that looked really good so I quickly contacted them

…to place my order.

I asked for the family grilled platter (RM118.80)…

…as there seemed to be quite a lot so I was quite sure there would be enough for all of us to enjoy.

We got two pieces of the lamb and two of the beef…

…that we cut into smaller slices so everybody could get to eat and there would be enough to go round.

Initially, everyone was grumbling that the beef was tough – I tried it and I thought it was all right, not like the New Zealand ones that we bought and cooked ourselves. I did think it was kind of dry though and did not taste all that great. The lamb, on the other hand, was fine, tender and tasty.

However, when I got to the beef at the bottom, soaking in the sauce, I found it to be very tender and bursting with flavours. It certainly outshone the lamb but I would give top marks to the rosemary chicken…

I tried it first and found it to be so very delicious it simply swept me off my feet.

I have never thought much about grilled chicken chops or whatever chicken anywhere but this one sure puts it in a brand new light. Should I happen to drop by here to eat…someday, I sure would want to order it if it comes in a dish on its own. I encouraged everyone to have a go at it and they all agreed that it was very good and all of it was gone in no time at all.

My girl wanted this 3-in-1 Korean fried chicken wings set (RM50.80)…

…with 6 pieces of the soy garlic ones, 6 of the Korean sweet & spicy and 6 of the cheesy wings and of course, I did not have a problem with that – whatever she wants, she’ll get!

Everyone loved all three and they could not decide which one was their favourite. As for me, I thought they were all nice but just like those at the Korean franchises here, I did not think they were anything to die for.

I went to collect my orders at around 5.30 p.m. and was home by 6.00 p.m. We asked my sister to join us and she was there already when we got back so we started eating right away. I should have checked before leaving the place because once we got home, I found that they had missed out the potato salad that was supposed to be in the family platter. If I had known it would be an all-meat dinner, I would have prepared a salad or a coleslaw or something.

They certainly were very generous with the sauces though – peanut and black pepper. The former was nice, not quite like the ones at the satay stalls but we liked it a lot and the latter was very nice too, definitely not something straight from the bottle like the ones at the stalls selling some pseudo-Western cuisine.

NICA+ or NICA PLUS (2.296883,111.825859) as it is called, is located on the ground floor of the block of shops to the right of the Old Sing Kwong Supermarket (Kin Orient Plaza) along Jalan Tun Abang Hj Openg, directly below the KIMCHEE KOREAN BAR.BQ restaurant on the first floor.

Half breed…

It was my missus’ birthday on Thursday, her 65th.

That was why I went to that mini-market not far from my house to buy a chicken for the traditional Foochow longevity noodles…

…or mee sua (string or thread noodles) and of course, for a special occasion, that calls for a special breed of chicken, what we call pua chai kay, literally translated as Eurasian or half breed chicken…

I love this variety, nicer than the very popular kampung chicken and the celebrated super-nutritious black chicken…

It’s smaller than the regular chicken feed-fed ones and not so fat but bigger than the kampung ones but they sure do not come cheap – I got one for RM47.00 something, almost RM50.00!

The texture of the meat is nicer, kind of liam-liam (sticky) and tastier and we also had those special supposedly more nutritious kampung chicken eggs…

…with the chicken and the noodles. These are very small, smaller than the regular ones by around half the size but bigger than quail eggs.

That was all we had for brunch that day but I did have something planned for dinner that evening. That will be in another post though so you’ll stick around for that, won’t you?

In advance…

So how was your Chap Goh Meh dinner last night? Lots of things to eat and enjoy? We had ours in advance, a day earlier because yesterday was a Friday in the season of Lent, a day of fasting and abstinence. As far as I know, even during “normal” times (before the pandemic), many families went out for dinner the night before for the simple reason that all the restaurants would be full on the actual night.

Yes, I did go out but a couple of days earlier, only to the fruit & food sundry/grocer shop round the corner, to buy a whole fish and had it steamed for the dinner…

Steamed fish

As they say, Nien Nien You Yi! We had the ikan buris in the freezer but my missus does not eat that and there were a few slabs of salmon too but I wanted a whole fish. I sure was glad I did as on the morning of the day proper, there was such a HUGE crowd and I sure wouldn’t want to rub shoulders with all those people.

This ikan bawal putih (white pomfret), supposedly more prestigious than the black (that I do prefer) and the golden varieties, was only RM46.00 which I would consider cheap because I was at a fish stall before Chinese New Year where those were going for between RM60.00 and RM80.00 and the lady told me that around Chinese New Year, I would not get anything less than RM100.00!

I bought three lamb shanks for Christmas last year and my missus cooked two. There was one left in the freezer so I asked her to take it out and cook it…

Lamb shank

…and it was really good, very nice and tender.

We also used whatever we could find in the fridge and freezer for this salad platter…

Salad

…to which we added the traditional salad dressing in the family

Add dressing

My girl cooked this lovely pumpkin soup…

Pumpkin soup

…and my sister brought this VERY nice ice cream for dessert!

No, we did not have much this time around, very simple – just these few dishes for the four of us but still, we only managed to finish the fish! Thankfully, there wasn’t all that much left.

Contribution…

My missus did most of the cooking for our Chinese New Year reunion dinner but I did mention that I chipped in a bit and this was my contribution…

Satay beef 1

We still had four packs of this New Zealand ribeye beef…

New Zealand ribeye beef

…in the freezer and I thought it would be a nice change from the usual curry to cook it with satay sauce…

Sunstar kuah satay

…instead. I cut the meat into smaller and thinner slices and after going through two packs, I found that I already had a lot so I put back the remaining two into the freezer to cook in any way and whenever we want.

These were the ingredients…

Ingredients

…that I added. I fried the chopped Bombay onion in a bit of oil before adding the serai (lemon grass) from my garden, bruised at the ends and the beef that I had already mixed well with the satay sauce.

The colour did not look all that nice so I added a bit of tomato sauce, only to regret it later as I felt it affected the overall taste a bit – I think it was more like satay as we know it without the addition. There was some crushed (freshly fried) peanut in the kitchen and I also added that to give it a stronger nutty taste.

It dried up very fast so I had to add water, a little at a time and let it simmer long enough for the meat to become tender before adding the finely cut daun kunyit (turmeric leaves) – they usually add that in beef rendang. Finally, it was done and I dished everything out…

Satay beef 2

I would say it was nice. We do cook using the satay sauce quite frequently but usually, we would use pork – not so much with chicken (we usually cook curry with that). Personally, I do feel it is nicer with beef.

A quiet day…

Chinese New Year’s Day, 2021, came and went quietly. Other than the fireworks and firecrackers at the stroke of midnight, noticeably a whole lot less than in previous years, and sporadically throughout the whole day, it was just like any other day. In our lane, I think only a couple of my neighbours bothered.

We had our traditional Foochow longevity mee sua

Traditional Foochow longevity mee sua

…in the morning and we asked my sister to hop over for this so she would not have to cook her own.

Even though we did not hold an open house and was not expecting anybody to drop by (and of course, nobody did), I took out the cakes and the cake serving tray, sliced them and arranged them nicely like what I would do every year in the past.

We did not bake/make any of our own but we sure had a lot to go round. There was the intoxicating fruit pudding

Fruit pudding

…that my cousins made, from my uncle and his family in Kuching. It was so very strong on the liquor that I could not resist asking them how much they poured in when the mum was not looking. Yes, it was very nice, soft and moist and not hard and dry like some fruit cakes and I bet many would love it a lot! “Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!” LOL!!!

My girl loved this prune layer cake

Prune layer cake

…that Daisy and her hubby, Tham, and son and Daisy’s mum, Mdm Chua, gave me and we got this from my in-laws – the berry berry yogurt cheese cake…

Berry berry yogurt cheese cake

…which was very nice too, something lightly fruity and not sweet.

We also got this…

Kek belacan

…from my paternal cousin.

I was told that it was the steamed kek hati pari/parek Sarawak but upon opening it to slice, I was quite sure it was kek belacan, our favourite – it did not have any raisins nor prunes in it and no, for the uninitiated, it is NOT made from belacan (dried prawn paste) – it only looks like it and some not-very-creative people saw it fitting to name it kek belacan when they could have given it some very nice names like Black Magic or Black Beauty or even, Hitam Manis. Maybe some of you would like to try making it – it really is very very very nice and definitely not as tedious to make as those gaudily-coloured kek lapis Sarawak!!!

Of course, we still had those left over from the Reunion Dinner the night before and we also had all the cookies and tarts that my missus made and those given to me, all the snacks, the keropok and the acar. Yes, it sure was very quiet this year but we sure were not short of things to munch and enjoy!