One only…

Yes, I did go to the fruit & vegetable sundry shop in the next lane from my house to buy ONE mooncake, just one – one only…

For one thing, these things are sweet and I am presently on a low sugar diet so I should not be eating them. Well, I bought one so as to preserve the tradition, our culture, our heritage of eating mooncakes in conjunction with the Mid-Autumn Mooncake Festival.

I like these local homemade ones especially those with the black sesame filling…

…but unfortunately, the person making did not make any this year so I had no choice but to settle for the pek tau sar (mung bean paste)…

For whatever reason, my missus cannot eat the red bean paste ones as everytime she eats anything with that filling, she will feel giddy and her head will start spinning. Probably, it’s some kind of allergy. They only have these two types of filling plus another one with the kuaci (melon seeds), peanut and all kinds of seeds – I never liked that one since young so of course, I did not bother to buy it.

The mooncake…

…was selling at RM6.00 each which was a whole lot cheaper than those branded ones “imported” from West Malaysia. I did not see any at the neighbourhood shops and I have not ventured to the major supermarkets in town so I do not know if they had those there or not this year. They used to sell them there but times are hard and probably, they did not order any for fear that nobody will buy and they will end up stuck with boxes and boxes of those.

Sadly, these local ones seemed to have dropped in quality this year. I do not mind it one bit if the traditional mooncake skin is thick – you can see from the above photos that it was not that thick before. As a matter of fact, I actually enjoy eating the pastry used to make the skin. Some people make such a fuss, insisting that it must be paper thin and frankly, if that is the case, they might as well eat the filling and forget about the skin completely.

Unfortunately, the skin of the one I bought that day was a bit coarse and rather hard and dry, not as nice as I remember it to be…and it was quite sweet. If I throw in another 50 sen, I can go and buy my favourite Sibu Foochow pek guek tong chiew peah (Eighth Month Mid-Autumn Festival biscuits) which would not be so sweet and I would have a lot more to enjoy.

Incidentally, I was watching a show on “Festival Foods” on the AEC Channel on TV and the episode was on the Mooncake Festival. Much to my surprise, they were showing them making the mengandungi-lemak-babi 面茶 (miàn chá)/ 福州 (Foochow) cookies

Photo from their Facebook page

…somewhere in West Malaysia. I went and googled and found the Facebook page of a biscuit factory in Ayer Tawar New Village in Perak and yes, they make those biskut tikus (rat tail biscuits) too. We also have those here but we’re not fans of the biscuits. That is why I never buy them nor have I blogged about them.

Ah well! Like what I said right from the start, this was to preserve the tradition, our culture, our heritage so I guess it is perfectly all right, buying and eating one only once a year.

These mooncakes were available at SWEE HUNG (2.316161, 111.840441) which is located along Jalan Ruby, in the block of shops on the right – next to the Bethel Hair Salon at the extreme end…and on the other end, to the left is the Kim Won Chinese Medical Store and Mini-supermarket.

Pop up…

Today, the 21st of September, Tuesday, is the Mid-Autumn Festival (中秋節), more commonly known as the Mooncake Festival.

No, we’re not having any kind of celebration this year, not even a special dinner – something that we usually would not miss in previous years. With this pandemic raging on and on, we really are not in the mood for much of anything.

Why! I did not even go and buy myself a mooncake to enjoy!!! For one thing, I am on a low-sugar diet and those mooncakes are super sweet, never mind that some of them claim to be low sugar – honestly, I can’t tell the difference. However, that does not mean that I did not get to eat any at all.

The other day, out of the blue, I had these beautiful gelato mooncakes…

…delivered to my house, a special gift from my friend, the proprietor of this place and all the rest.

We tried the pistachio with raspberry yolk…

…that very evening and it was so so so good!

But no, that did not give me an excuse to cast caution to the wind and feast on all of them. I would just nibble a bit to see what it tasted like and the ladies enjoyed the rest and that day, on my girl’s birthday, I took out the remaining three in the box…

…and we had them for our after-dinner dessert, killing two birds with one stone – to celebrate the birthday and the festival simultaneously.

Yes, in keeping with the tradition, I did go and buy our pek guek tong chiew peah

…the traditional Sibu Foochow Eighth Month Mid-Autumn Festival biscuits to nibble and my missus did bring home another two packets, if I remember correctly. Gone are the days when I would finish off one packet in one sitting – these days, I would have to limit myself to just two or three pieces at a time.

Other than the gift of gelato mooncakes, I had another surprise the other day around a week before the festival. The postman delivered this…

…to the house – a greeting card for The Mooncake Festival and a really beautiful pop-up one…

…at that.

I don’t know if it is a specially ordered, custom-made one…

…as I have never seen them selling greeting cards for the Mooncake Festival anywhere before.

That awesome card…

…came all the way from Sungai Petani in Kedah from my young and handsome friend, Nick, who came to visit me here in Sibu in 2017. Gosh!!! That was so long ago!

Thank you so much, Nick! It really is so sweet of you to remember me and keep me in your thoughts at a time like this and it sure made me feel warm and fuzzy inside. A very Happy and Blessed Mid-Autumn Mooncake Festival to you and all your loved ones too…and here’s wishing the same to everybody as well on this very auspicious day. #staysafe #staywell Cheers!!!

Eat me…

No, we did not order a cake from Marcus nor did we go and buy one from anywhere for my girl’s birthday on Friday, 17th September. We’re #stayingsafe #stayingwell #stayinghome, you see.

Instead, the mum went and baked a butter cake…

…and my girl did the whipped cream icing, tinted lightly blue using the butterfly pea flowers from my garden and the mum went and plucked some of the blooms and leaves to place on top…

It did not look too bad, don’t you think?

It tasted really great, reduced sugar and my girl did not add any to the whipped cream icing but still, I restricted myself to just a few slices. Gotta have a lot of self-control these days.

For the same reason as to why we did not get her a cake, we did not go out to buy any presents for her either – we just gave her ang paos. She also got those from her godmother/aunt, my sister, that is and also my in-laws and yes, they did go through the trouble to buy her a few things as well.

That afternoon, it sure was a pleasant surprise when a car pulled up at our gate. It was her very good friend, Dayang who did give her a cake last year too and yes, we did invite her to join us when my girl celebrated her birthday at the Thai restaurant, our favourite in town.

She dropped by to give her this cheese and tomato pizza…

…her favourite at that home-based Malay eatery in the kampung serving western cuisine including pizzas and pasta. I’ve never been there before because it is a small place – I do not fancy going there to dine with my car parked by the side of the small and narrow lane but as far as I know, it is very popular – a lot of people frequent that place and they would share photos of what they have there on Facebook, all of which look pretty good, frankly speaking.

The pizza was very nice, very generous with the cheese but I prefer thin crust and I’m afraid it wasn’t.

Other than that, my girl’s friend also gave her this…

Eat me!!! That reminded me of Alice in Wonderland.

Inside the box was this croissant sandwich…

…from this very popular place in town, another place that I’ve never been to. Oopsss!!! It was our no-meat Friday but never mind! We made it an exception for my girl since it was her birthday and yes, she did enjoy it.

We did have a steamboat dinner as well on Saturday evening, the 18th but I may or may not blog about it as it would be pretty much the usual – we have had many steamboat dinners before so you can expect that we had more or less the same things. We’ll see!

I hope you had a decently happy and wonderful birthday, love – the best we can do at a time like this. May God bless and protect you abundantly each passing day in the year ahead. Cheers!!!

Not the day…

My girl’s birthday was on Friday, the 17th of September but it was our no-meat day so we decided to put everything off till the next day, the 18th which, because the people at the registration office messed it up, is the actual date on her birth certificate and her MyKad.

No, we did not plan to hold a grand celebration, not when we are #stayingsafe #stayingwell #stayinghome but of course, our traditional Foochow longevity noodles, the mee sua

…would be a must, no question about that!

I’ve blogged about cooking this before, once, at least…but never mind, let’s go through it all over again. I went out a day earlier to buy the special best quality chicken – they were out of the pua chai kay (half breed chicken) but they gave me a few choices, all just as nice, they said and I chose one.

As soon as I got home, I picked out the parts of the chicken with the meat that we would prefer and marinated it with our traditional Foochow red wine…

…and kept it in the fridge overnight.

When I got up early the next morning, I got the ingredients ready and started cooking the soup.

Firstly, I got some ginger…

…ready. This locally-grown ginger is a whole lot better than the very clean, dehydrated white ones, a lot more “hiam” and fragrant in comparison.

I soaked some dried shitake mushrooms to soften…

…and later, I had to cut away the stalks. Those are hard and not very palatable.

At the same time, I also soaked some dried wolfberries and red dates…

…and after a while, I was ready to start cooking.

I heated up some sesame oil in the wok and threw in the ginger, bruised…

…and let it fry till the fragrance came out.

After that, I put in the chicken…

…and yes, I poured in all the wine that was used to marinate the meat.

After frying till all the juices came out and the meat had absorbed the wine, I added the soaked ingredients…

Yes, I poured in all the water used in the soaking so as to retain the fragrances and tastes.

Finally, I added the water…

…and put in one chicken stock cube instead of salt and msg and after bringing the soup to boil, I let it simmer for some time. The longer you simmer, the sweeter and nicer the soup!

I cooked the mee sua for the three of us and poured the soup all over the noodles…

…and served them with the meat and also the egg…

…from those that I had cooked…

It is the traditional Foochow practice to have hardboiled eggs alongside the mee sua. Some would colour them red, following the age-old practice – in the old days, they would only colour them red for the birthdays of the sons/males in the family but these days, they do not bother to differentiate between the sexes.

Yes, we sure enjoyed what we had that morning and as you can see, Foochow cooking is generally very simple, easy to cook and very nice to eat.

Separated…

It was my sister-in-law’s birthday last Wednesday and in the past, without fail every year, her daughter, my niece, working in Singapore would fly home the weekend before to celebrate this special day with her parents and of course, we would always be invited. This was the last time when we managed to get together, in 2019.

Because of the pandemic, she did not come back last year and of course, she could not make it this year as well. People say the world is getting smaller – we can fly here and there anytime we want but in the face of the current situation, things have changed. There are so many restrictions, very expensive and very limited flights, if there are any at all so much so that families that are separated because of work or whatever commitments can no longer get together whenever they want to. That is so very sad.

Even without my niece around, we could not even go out for a special dinner on the day in question. Yes, we are in Phase 3 now and dining in is allowed but no, we are not taking any chances. With the Delta variant rampantly active and the increasing number of cases daily despite the number fully-vaccinated in the town and state, it is best to just #staysafe #staywell #stayhome.

Of course we did not let the day go past unnoticed. I gave my sister-in-law an ang pao and my missus cooked het my brother-in-law’s favourite, chicken curry and my girl made some potato bread to go with it.

My brother-in-law went and ordered her a cake, our favourite from Marcus…

…no less with the coating of crushed peanut all along the side…

…the way his daughter loves it even though she is not home to enjoy that with the rest of us.

Of course it was perfectly done, that same high standard that Marcus’ cakes would always live up to over the years…and of course, I cannot over-indulge and give in to the temptation to feast on it like before now that I am on a low-carb low-sugar diet so I just had to limit myself to that one slice. How sad!

In the meantime, my sister-in-law also gave us this swiss roll…

My missus said something about her friend giving it to her or something like that. I went and googled and found out that this…

…is actually a home-based business. I browsed through their Facebook page and had a look at their menu. This…

…it seemed, was their black sesame (RM5.50). Just as with the aforementioned cake from Marcus, I had to restrict myself to just one slice only even though I found that it was not sweet at all. Yes, I would say that it was nice but I found the texture of the cake a bit too fine and dense. One consolation would be the fact that it is cheaper than the ones here that I like a lot.

You can order a special homemade MARCUS’ CAKE via telephone at 084-311333 and collect it on the day at the time agreed upon from his house at No. 6B. Lorong Delta 3, Delta Estate (2.305015, 111.826185) and HOPE GOURMET PASTRY HOUSE is located at No. 8B, Lorong Ulu Sg Merah 21 (Tel. No. 0199842289 / 0193963128).

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.