The difference…

The other day, my missus was drying cucumber and carrot and chili, julienned (cut into long, thin strips) plus some garlic, skin removed, too and I shared the photograph on Facebook.

A West Malaysian friend, originally from Malacca, commented, “Making Sibu acar?” I was baffled so I asked, “Malacca nyonya acar not the same meh?” but he did not reply. I went and googled and stumbled upon this blog – if I am not wrong, this popular food blogger originated from Kuching but is now residing in Singapore…and according to him, there IS a difference between Malacca nyonya acar and Sarawak acar timun. You can click the link and hop over to his blog to read all about it.

Another thing of interest, according to the guy, is, “Another distinction of Sarawak acar is that it is eaten with keropok or fish cracker. We do not eat acar with rice. For Sarawakian Chinese families, acar and fish crackers are the must-haves during Chinese New Year.” Yes, that…

Sarawak-style keropok & acar

…is what we usually do and I did not even know that it is a Sarawak thing.

I also shared this photograph on Facebook and a cousin of mine in Kuching commented, “Brunei keropok? We prefer Mukah keropok!” or something to that effect. Gee, I thought! How on earth could she tell? Not that it was written all over the cracker?

But yes, my missus did say that it was Brunei keropok so I went to have a look at the other pack…

Brunei keropok

…that she bought – she bought two that day, RM7.50 (250 gms) each. She was telling me about how when they were small, they loved the keropok from Brunei, so much nicer than all the rest. Over the years, I did hear people saying the same thing and I have seen it being sold at the neighbourhood shops but no, I never bought any.

I studied the packet carefully but it was not stated anywhere – that the keropok came from Brunei. All it said was it was a “PRODUCT OF MALAYSIA” and it was packed by some place here in Sibu. My missus said she probably saw it on the label stuck to the counter in the shop that she went to.

Anyway, I had taken one and opened to dry in the sun…

Drying keropok

…which, of course, is indeed a commendable achievement these days considering that it has been raining most of the time. Once done, I fried them and yes, we enjoyed it a lot with my missus’ Sarawak acar timun.

Everyone here sings praises of the celebrated Mukah keropok. They even serve it to you…

Mukah keropok at Fisherman Restaurant

…the instant you sit down at a restaurant here but no, they are not on the house. Dream on!!! They sure do not come cheap, around 50 sen a piece but yes, theirs are pretty good. Like everything else, you need to know which the good ones are and which to buy – not all are good.

I did buy two packs of this…

Mukah keropok udang

…from the bakery where I buy my mee sua these days and yes, the packaging does look rather unimpressive, just a piece of plain paper with the information slipped inside the plastic bag and sealed. My guess is it is the product of some home cottage industry so they do not have any advanced equipment to do a decent job.

I’ve already dried a pack and fried it but I can’t really say that there is a clear difference between this Mukah keropok and the aforementioned Brunei one. I have a feeling that unless you eat the two together, side by side, you would not be able to tell but actually, as a matter of fact, between the two, our general consensus was that the latter was nicer!

Anyway, this Mukah one is RM12.50 for 200 gms, so much more expensive for less and since the other one was, in our opinion, good, we sure would not want to fork out that extra bit of money, a whooping RM5.00, for less and for something not sensationally superior.

Taste for gold…

I blogged about the Kit Kat line of ice cream last year and no, it did not sweep me off my feet. Of course, I never bought anymore after that.

Well, that day, when my sister dropped by for the lasagna lunch, she brought us these

Kit Kat Gold

I guess this is a new flavour from those celebrated chocolate-covered wafer people and what you will get inside is this stick of ice cream, vanilla, coated with white chocolate and bits of salted caramel flakes…

Kit Kat Gold, inside

It is very nice…

Kit Kat Gold, cross-section

…and the best thing about it is that it is not as sweet, especially with all that salted caramel in the coating.

We enjoyed it very much and we sure would want to buy some to stock up in the freezer, if and when we get to go out…and gold being very auspicious to the Chinese, they are promoting it for the coming new year!

Where’d you go…

In my post the other day, I blogged about the outbreak at the Pasai Siong cluster and how Sibu came to be declared a red zone. There were 37 cases initially and over 90 cases in the subsequent two days and almost 150 cases the third day, over 400 cases already at the time of writing.

This is so very shocking and that is not all. Using MySejahtera, they are able to keep track of where you go and that was what they did in the cases of those tested positive. Every day, they would release lists of places those people had been to and one of them in the list is this shop…

Kim Tak

…in my neighbourhood.

This was once very popular because of the availability of most anything and everything and the competitive prices so much so that come Chinese New Year, people would come from miles around and the road would be jammed and you would see all the cars parked all along the side of the narrow road.

It is not as popular now – as a matter of fact, it has been downsized a bit. I, for one, would buy my eggs there and once in a while, I may pick up a loaf of bread or  a thing or two. I think I am more of a regular at the fruit and food shop at the end of the other block to the right and thankfully, it is not in the list.

It seems that somebody dropped by this particular shop on a certain day (if I remember correctly, it was on 10th January, Sunday) at 2 something in the afternoon, a rather unusual time to be shopping – probably just stopping by to grab something and if you happened to be there on the same day and especially around that same time, you would have to go for a swab test to make sure that you had not been infected.

No, that was the day of my sister’s birthday gathering in the evening and we were here for lunch and at home the rest of the time so we did not go there. I can’t remember when I went there, possibly a few days earlier to stock up on eggs, canned food, instant noodles and everything when the number of cases in the country was mounting and I had a feeling that there was going to be a lockdown.

I bought two packs of these Malaysian-made biscuits…

TIGER susu

…that I do enjoy a lot. When my bed-ridden mum was still around, on days when she did not have an appetite, we would give her these, the susu ones. I guess that is all carbs and sugar but at least, she would be eating something, better than nothing.

At the same time, I also picked up a pack of the original…

TIGER original

For one thing, they’re a whole lot cheaper than those imported biscuits which are super expensive and may not be that great. The ladies in the house bought me those celebrated Scottish shortbread for Christmas, almost RM20.00 a box and only a few pieces inside…plus they did not seem to be as nice as before. They got me two boxes, almost RM50.00 – with that kind of money, they could have got me a roast chicken or a roast duck and still have change and I would enjoy it a whole lot more.

Talking about shortbread, my cousin in Melbourne says these Foochow  shortbread – that’s what she calls them, the Mooncake Festival biscuits (pek guek tong chiew peah)…

Foochow Mooncake Festival biscuits

…are anytime nicer than the Scottish ones. Well, they are nice, especially the ones with the lovely fragrance and taste of lard and I happened to be at the shop in the block next to the aforementioned (this one was not on the list) early on Monday morning…and thank goodness I did not hop next door to look around. There were only three packets left, probably leftovers from the festival earlier last year, expiring on the 31st…so I grabbed all of them to enjoy. After all, we would not be getting anymore until the festival this year…that is if things get better and return to normal, more or less and we shall be able to get them again.

The business owners of all those places were supposed to close for 14 days and have them sanitised from top to bottom but I don’t think many of them would bother. The only thing we can do in the light of things in this present situation would be to just stay home and if, for whatever reason we simply have to go out, we must make sure we have our masks on at all times, sanitise often and wash our hands thoroughly…and bathe once we get home. Better be safe than sorry!!!

One vision…

When I bought Ol’ Faithful, my Proton Wira, in 1994, this…

WAWASAN 2020

…was sandblasted onto the glass at the back of the car, not that it got me all excited and jumping with delight – it was just…there. Frankly speaking, I never had my hopes up high through good times and bad times and all these years, nobody expected a massive disaster to strike in that year in question.

To put it mildly, 2020 has not been a very good year, has it?

The COVID-19 pandemic broke out around the beginning of the year…and a partial MCO (movement control order)/lockdown was declared in March to flatten the curve in the 1st wave. It seemed quite successful and the country won praises from her counterparts near and far but no, that was not the end of the coronavirus. I think it is the 3rd wave now and things are certainly not looking any better in many states – thankfully, it isn’t too bad here in Sarawak. Needless to say, as far as this visionary dream was concerned, it unceremoniously went right out the window.

The pandemic brought severe consequences to the lives of the people and the economy. Many fell ill and many died, many businesses closed down while the others struggled desperately to stay afloat. These are sad times, very hard times and it does not seem to be getting any better even though they have come out with the vaccine and are trying it out here, there and everywhere.

Malaysia is expected to receive hers in February but personally, I am not banking my hopes on a vaccine for protection – we still have to observe the same SOP that we have been practising throughout most of 2020, the new normal, they call it – wear a mask wherever we go…

Mask

…practise social/physical distancing when going out at all times, avoid crowded places like a plague. As they say, better be safe than sorry!

At a time like this, I do not see any reason to celebrate to ring in the new year but of course, we must be grateful nonetheless and give thanks to God that at least, we are alive and have, so far, been spared of the scourge and even though the future looks kind of bleak, we must continue praying that He will continue to protect us and no matter how long it will take, we shall get over all this and things will get better eventually.

In time for the new year
*From my cousin and family in Perth, Australia, thank you so much – didn’t make it for Christmas but made it just in time for the New Year*

For all it’s worth, A HAPPY NEW YEAR, 2021, everyone. May God bless and watch over us and protect us always…

…from a distance.

Play it safe…

One thing that has resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic and the CMCO or whatever lockdown is the surge in the use of plastic containers as a lot of people would order cooked food to be delivered to their homes. Even though I, for one, have not done anything of the sort since it all began, I did not know until I read about it in zmun‘s blog that those are supposed to be for single-use and should not be used to contain food more than once.

I went and googled to read up about this and I found this one that says that takeaway plastic food containers used at eating establishments, including hawker centres, are meant for single use and such containers should not be used repeatedly. They are safe for their immediate intended purpose, but not beyond what they are designed for. Oh dear! We have been reusing those containers all this while!

Ever since the ban in Sibu on the use of polystyrene containers which we would simply throw away after eating the food inside, the general public has been encouraged to use these disposable cardboard boxes…

Disposable cardboard boxes

…instead. For one thing, they complain that they are very expensive, more expensive than the plastic ones, and sometimes, they transfer the cost to the buyers so if you want to tapao something, you will have to pay extra…

Extra charge

…and that can be as much as 30-50 sen!

Other than that, those boxes are rather flimsy and  not durable especially when used to contain something hot. The steam will make it soggy and it will tear very easily.

The article also goes on to say that for repeated storage of food, consumers should opt only for reusable plastic food containers that have been specifically designed for repeated use. I’m afraid that is not very clear. Does that refer to containers like Tupperware that cost an arm or a leg? What about those cheap plastic containers that they sell at the shops like the Mr DIY or 100% Discount or Supersave stores?

In another article that I found, it says that chemicals lurking in some containers — especially those that aren’t designed for reuse — could leach out of the plastic and into your food if you heat them in the microwave, toss them in the dishwasher, or leave them in the sun for a long period of time. Well, I don’t have a microwave nor a dishwasher but maybe, this is the reason why people have been told not to keep their plastic bottles of mineral or drinking water in their cars.

That article also went on to say this:  But before you toss your tub away, check the bottom for the recycling code, a number that can help you identify what type of plastic your container is made from. If you see #2, #4, or #5, then you’re most likely in the clear for chemicals, which means you can safely reuse your container, whether you bought it at the supermarket or brought it home from a restaurant.

I went and checked all the plastic containers that we have in the house such as this rectangular one…

Plastic container, rectangular

…or this one…

Made from recyclable plastic

…that they claim (at the bottom) is made from recyclable plastic and all the round ones…

Round plastic containers

…including those from the fast food franchises that they use for their whipped/mashed potatoes or their coleslaw and all of them had this…

No. 5

…at the bottom. As you can see, in the recycle icon, there is the No. 5! I guess that means they are all o.k.

Still, whatever it is, we should put in a concerted effort to cut down on the use of plastic. Some of you may recall that I did mention in some earlier posts that I keep my stainless steel tiffin carrier in the boot of my car so everytime when I need to buy something home, I would just take it out and use…and yes, I do keep those big recycled carrier bags too for when I go shopping at the supermarkets and I did buy a whole lot of these glass containers…

glass containers

…on offer, selling for less than half price. I can use them to store food in the fridge or in the freezer. Other than doing our bit for our environment, however small, it is good to play it safe…and avoid using all those plastic containers as far as we can.

Finders keepers…

With Sibu in the yellow zone now, I decided that I should go out once again to stock up on food in the house. I planned to go to the Sibu Central Market after I had dropped off my girl at school but I changed my mind and headed to the one beside the Dewan Suarah (Civic Centre) instead.

I bought two big 2-inch thick slabs of phak thik poh (tripletail fish or patipok or kuku laut in Malay, 打铁婆,松鲷 in Chinese), literally translated as the blacksmith’s wife, a very nice fish and two pretty big ikan bawal hitam (black pomfret). The total came up to RM104.00 and I asked the guy to round it up to RM100.00 but he said he could give me a discount, RM102.00 and yes, I did have RM2.00 loose change and I passed that to him with a RM100.00 note We had one piece of the phak thik poh for lunch and dinner that day – we had that at a restaurant before and we sure loved it and we had not had it since.

Having said that, I think I prefer ngor hu (threadfin/午鱼) – we still have that in the freezer. I bought one whole fish from the fruit and food shop in my neighbourhood –  they said it was small, just over RM100 only for it and they wanted to sell it at one go. I went ahead and bought it but it sure wasn’t small – we have been eating it bit by bit for quite sometime now and there are still a few slabs left, four, at least. I thought it was expensive at the time but considering that we have been able to stretch it so far for so long and enjoying it to the max, it sure is worth it!

Much to my disappointment that morning, there was not a single prawn at all the fish and seafood stalls at that market. One of them had a tray of some miserable farmed ones but no, thank you! The texture is completely out and one can easily taste the difference!

On my way home, I stopped at the aforementioned shop to see if they had any. No, the lady boss said, they did not have any then but she called somebody and she told me that they would send some 10 kg over at around 10.00 a.m. She took my handphone number from me and told me that she would call me when they arrived…which she did and I went over quickly and grabbed a little over 2 kg…

Prawns 2 kg

…of those lovely crustaceans.

The son was packing them for sale – usually, they would sell these prawns in packs of RM30-40 but he said I could just take what I wanted in a plastic bag and pay according to the weight – RM60.00 a kg. and that was what I did.

I went and picked the BIG ones…

Big as a spoon

…and the boy kept telling me not to do that – if I picked all the big ones, they would have to charge accordingly, a different price. They did not do that, of course – they’re very nice people there and all in all, I took slightly over 2 kg, a little over RM120.00. I paid the boss two RM100 notes and he gave me the change and I went home happily after that.

I counted 20 extra big ones…

XL

…22 big ones…

L

…and 18 medium-sized ones…

M

…60 altogether so that roughly worked out to RM2.00 each, so much cheaper than the RM28.00 for a plate of 4, RM7.00 each that we had here that night, so shockingly expensive!!!

Of course, as soon as I got home, I had to go through the chore of getting them done before putting them away in the freezer. I would cut away the legs…

Legs

…and those four peculiar-shaped ones…

Forelegs

…in front below the head but leaving the rest intact. Then I would cut off the tip of the head and remove the black sac…

Black sac

…inside. That is bitter so if you do not remove it and you happen to eat it in the head, it may spoil your enjoyment of the prawn.

Lastly, I would cut a slit along the back to remove the vein…

Devein

…and that was it, all done…

Done!

I put all of them in a plastic tub…

Ready to freeze

…and filled it with water before putting it in the freezer to freeze so eventually, all the prawns would all be frozen in a  block of ice.

My friend, Peter, the boss of Payung, told me once that it would be better to leave the shell intact or the prawns would shrink badly in the process of cooking so you would not have very much left to serve. I managed to put together two plastic tubs for freezing, one with the XL prawns and the other with the L ones…and I also have another tub of the L ones that I managed to buy a couple of days earlier – the last one available that day.

As for the M ones, I removed all the heads and shell and deveined them to keep in sets of 3 for use when frying vegetables. Just 3 would be enough to give your dish that special sweetness to bring it to a whole new level. Like I always say, you just can’t go wrong with prawns!!!

Now, while I was busy with the prawns, the lady boss called me again to tell me that I had dropped a RM100.00 note in their shop and asked me to go over and collect it…which I did. They found it on the floor so they checked their CCTV and saw that it was mine. It’s not so much the money but the fact that there are people who are willing to go through the trouble to find out whose money it is and go through the trouble of returning it!!! I’m sure many will not be bothered to do so and will just keep it, finders keepers, losers weepers!

SWEE HUNG (2.316161, 111.840441) is located along Jalan Ruby, in the block of shops on the right – next to a hair salon at the extreme end…and on the other end, to the left is the Kim Won Chinese Medical Store and Mini-supermarket.

Things have changed…

The other day, my friend in KL, the hubby of one of the bloggers who came that day, shared some photographs on Facebook and tagged me. There was this kampua mee place…

Ah Ma Sarawak kampua mee

…that he stumbled upon at some place called Bandar Sungai Long and he went and tried…

Ah Ma Sarawak kampua mee, the noodles

He wasn’t all that impressed, it seemed as a friend asked him for his verdict and he just said, “OK, can be better!

Well, with the minced meat added, it sure did not look like Sibu kampua mee, more like Kuching kolo mee even though they insist in their shop sign that they’re “original Sibu“, with the Sarawak flag thrown in for good measure. Other than that, when they serve kampua mee here, they will give you bottled chili sauce in a small saucer. That looked like the sambal belacan for Sarawak laksa – maybe my friend got it all mixed up as he did have the laksa as well.

My friend, Annie, in KL went to this one…

Ex-Sunway kampua mee

…at its new location in PJ. The guy used to be somewhere in Sunway, much to the delight of the students from Sarawak at the college/university there. My nephew from Bintulu said they would always go there to eat so they did not miss home and kampua mee all that much.

Just like the previous one, this one too has minced meat, something you will not find in authentic kampua mee since time immemorial but things have changed and you will find minced meat in your bowl of noodles at some places here in Sibu

Rasa Sayang kampua mee

Another thing you will not find a lot of in kampua mee here would be the fried shallots and chopped spring onion that they use to garnish the dish…

Ah Kow's son kampua, Polyclinic

…except for this one, perhaps…

Liang Yew kampua mee

They was widely known for their generous sprinkling of their fried shallots that they kept tightly closed in a milk or Milo tin to keep it nice and crispy. Once, when my uncle and his family from Kuching were in town and we stopped by there for the noodles, my uncle went to ask why they did not give so much anymore and the old guy replied that shallots were way too expensive these days so they had to cut down on it.

In the 50’s, a plate of kampua mee cost 50 cents only, with meat and 30 cents, without meat and they would open their shops/stalls at the break of dawn and stay open till late at night. If you dropped by mid-afternoon, they would willingly turn up their fire to get the water boiling to cook you a plate. These days, even before noon, they would be cleaning up and closing for the day already and some will open around 6.00 p.m. in the evening till around 10.

In those good old days, a common sight at these kampua mee stalls in the afternoon would be their giant kuali/wok of pork fat. With a lot more time on their hands, they would grab the chance to render the lard for their use. After they had the oil they needed, they would use it to fry the peeled and thinly sliced shallots…and the fragrance would fill the air. I do not know if the ones today still do that – we certainly do not get to see them doing it in public like that. For one thing, when I asked at one place here, the guy told me that lard is too expensive these days so they would mix it with cooking oil…

Soon Hock pian sip mee

Obviously, that is why a lot of kampua mee here these days lacks the fragrance of the shallot pork oil – I would not be surprised if some do not bother to use it at all!

I also know that at some places, they use a food processor to chop the shallots so after frying, there will be all the minute bits and when tossed with the noodles, it would be such a mess and not a pleasant sight to behold. Some places will do the tossing in a bowl and transfer the noodles onto a plate and serve – others do not bother and it looks kind of messy/dirty. Obviously, a lot of people do not mind about the “presentation” – they just eat.

Long ago, kampua mee was served with boiled meat, dyed red so what we got would be kind of pinkish orange…

Kampu amee, old school meat

Eventually, there was a ban on the colouring used. The practice stopped for a while but it seems that many are doing it again…

Boiled pork, dyed red

Perhaps, they are now using some kind of permitted dye, I wouldn’t know. Some places will use stewed pork instead – I sure would not mind that…

Kampua mee, stewed pork

I cannot remember exactly what kampua mee was like in my younger days – no matter how authentic they insist theirs is today, it sure is not the same anymore. Long ago, they used locally-made (or at least, that was I thought they were) chio cheng (light soy sauce) in a jar and locally-made chili sauce, also in a jar. I remember my late cousin would always want to go to the washroom after eating the noodles tossed in the chili sauce…but once and once only. What they use today sure aren’t as nice so of course, what you get will be different from what we had before. They are all from West Malaysia or China, all in bottles…or when they buy in bulk, in big rectangular kerosene tins.

Even the noodles may be different these days – kampua mee is handmade, thicker and straight while kolo mee is machine made, thinner and more curly – but they are used interchangeably these days and some people may prefer one over the other which may not be what we used to enjoy long ago.

Well, say what you want. Time passes, things change. These days, there are so many coffee shops, so many kampua mee stalls. Don’t be surprised that the kampua mee at one place may be different from the one right next door. We just take each one as it is – no need to make a fuss and as long as it is nice (enough), we will go and enjoy it, no point hanging on to what’s past, knowing that things will never be the same again.

Take advantage…

The other day, the people at the fruit and food shop near my house asked me to buy these mooncakes from Sarikei…

Sing Hing Leong traditional mooncakes

Yes, I am quite familiar with this bakery. I would buy their lung ngor (Foochow egg cake)…

Sing Hing Leong lung ngor

…sometimes. I wouldn’t say they’re the best but they’re good enough for me.

Their pek guek tong chiew pia (eighth month autumn festival biscuit), the Foochow Mooncake Festival biscuits…

Pek guek pia

…are not to my liking though (I prefer another brand, also from Sarikei) as theirs do not contain lard but as far as I know they’re very well-marketed, available even in Kuching. I guess most people are not that fussy about what they eat – as long as it is nice, that is good enough for them.

Inside the paper wrapping, the mooncakes are wrapped in plastic…

Wrapped in plastic

Now, that was not what we had in my younger days. In the past, they would be wrapped with white paper – which, of course, is a whole lot more environment-friendly than using plastic. Personally, I feel kite paper is a good substitute.

This is the pek tau sar (mung bean paste)…

Traditional moonckae pek tau sar

I don’t know if this was available when I was small – probably not. Every year, my dad would buy home the or tau sar (the black red bean paste) ones for us to enjoy…and those Foochow Mooncake Festival biscuits, of course. There was another variety, the mixed nuts with bits of pork fat and whatever inside. Nobody liked that so my dad never bought any home. These days, there are all kinds available, most of which have strayed so far from what would be traditionally acceptable. I would go for the lotus paste ones, with or without salted egg yolk – we never had that either in the past.

There are four inside so at RM14.00 a tube, that works out to RM3.50 each. That, of course, is a whole lot cheaper than those ridiculously astronomical prices that we have to fork out for those renowned names brought over from the peninsular but still, that got me thinking.

If one tau sar peah is 80 sen a piece and if we stack two, one on top of the other, that will be RM1.60 altogether. Since the filling is the same, both pek tau sar, what is it in the skin or the process of making these mooncakes that justifies the price? Are they jumping on the bandwagon, taking advantage of the festival and cashing in on the special occasion to make more than they should? If that is what they are doing, may God forgive them!!!

This is my favourite Sibu homemade one…

Sibu homemade mooncake, pek tao sar

…which is even more expensive, RM6.00 each but one can feel the difference in the quality, how fine the filling and skin are. I enjoyed them last year and I liked them so much that when I went over to Kuching, I even bought some for my uncle and cousins and their families there. They were not available earlier and even when they just made their appearance the other morning, there weren’t many to choose from when I dropped by – hopefully, the one making will come out with my favourite, the hēi zhīma (黑芝麻) – black sesame, soon.

Surprisingly, my girl is not that enthusiastic about these nicer ones from Sibu – she likes the cheap(er) Sarikei ones even though she is not really a fan of the Bintangor tau sar peah. I guess those are the ones that I shall be buying from now on for the festival.

These mooncakes are available at SWEE HUNG (2.316161, 111.840441) 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.

Too blue…

On Sunday morning at around 7.30 a.m., I drove to the lovely rainbow stalls at Kampung Nangka…

Rainbow stalls, Kpg Nangka

…because I saw on Facebook a whole lot of promotion going on showcasing the nasi kerabu here…

Nasi kerabu stall

I wish they had not put up those ghastly-looking canopy and banners as they kind of spoiled the pleasant appearance and the uniformity of the place as a whole. I can imagine everyone eventually putting up everything of their own and in the end, the whole place would become one terrible mess, overshadowing all the beautiful stalls and their vibrant colours. What a waste!

From what I saw on Facebook, they would open at 7.00 a.m. but when I got there, it looked like they had just arrived and were very busy unloading everything from the car.

I saw these tofu sumbat (stuffed tofu)…

Tofu sumbat

…and these green sandwiches, egg and sardine…

Egg & sardine sandwiches

I wonder where they got the pandan bread or at least that was what I thought it was, judging from the green colour. I don’t think I’ve seen any around or maybe I wasn’t looking.

I spotted the laksam (RM5.00 a pack)…

Laksam packs

…and wasted no time in grabbing three to take home.

I waited for them to unload everything and it was already around 8.00 a.m. when they were ready to roll. There were two or three others who were there before me so they started doing their orders first…

Packing nasi kerabu

I wouldn’t say they were all that fast so I had to carry on waiting for quite a while.

In the meantime, I went snooping around and I was aghast when I saw the rice…

Bluer than blue nasi kerabu

It was way too blue, clearly not the nice and pleasant hue of blue when one uses the butterfly pea flower (bunga telang), horror of horrors! The artificial colouring even stained the side of the plastic container! I will never forget that one time when I ate something like that and for three days, what came out was that same colour. Tsk! Tsk! I never went back to that shop ever again!

Of course, I quickly cancelled my order for 3 packs – don’t expect to go home with that horrendously blue thing but yes, I did buy the laksam that I had requested for earlier. Thankfully, it was really very very nice, definitely the best that I have ever tasted…

Laksam

…not that I have had many.

The chee cheong fun-like white rice rolls were simply perfect, not hard, not chewy, very nice and though the gravy was a bit diluted, it had enough mashed fish in it to give the desired taste. In my opinion, too much fish may put off some people who are not so into the fishy taste and smell, this one was just right! I could also detect the fragrance of the torch ginger added and all in all, I would give it a 5 out of 5.

When my girl got up, she had a pack for brunch and she loved it so so much that she said she would reserve the remaining pack for dinner. In the end, the mum only got to try a bit of what she had and yes, she too said it was good! I certainly would want to go back and buy some more and it sure looks like I shall have to buy extra next time.

NASI KERABU ASLI KELATE (2.311303, 111.820699) is located to the extreme left of the stalls at Pelangi Food Kiosks in front of Wisma Azra, Jalan Kampung Nangka.

Teach me…

In the good old days, nobody went to schools or colleges to learn the culinary arts.

If it was a family business, they helped out at the shop or stall and picked up the skills from their parents or elders, the ones who would teach them everything. If they were working for somebody, they would start from the bottom with the menial tasks like peeling and slicing onions, cutting the vegetables and what not and with the teaching and guidance from their peers and seniors, they eventually graduated into the actual cooking.

No, there were no qualified or certified chefs then, no Michelin stars, nothing – just real hard work, sweat and toil and true grit but were they able to dish out really awesome dishes? That, of course, goes without saying and some of the dishes were so good that none today, even with their list of credentials, could replicate.

All this came to mind when we went out for dinner here…

Hai Bing Seafood, new

…last Friday night to celebrate my girl’s birthday.

This is the sparkling new branch of this old place

Hai Bing Coffee Shop, original

…that has been around for such a long time but nothing has changed there since Day 1, this dark, unimpressive place with no decor whatsoever to shout about but what it lacked in appearance, it more than made up for it with the awesome dishes they serve here, notably its crabs – second to none. Why, as a matter or fact, my West Malaysian blogger-friends loved it so much and chose it to be, in their opinion, the best in town!

The new place is very nice, very spacious – I love its simplicity, not horrendously over-decorated like some places and it is so white, so clinically clean. They do not have a lot of tables, those marble top ones with simple but beautifully-designed chairs, which I feel is a good thing at this point in time. Even if they had a full house, there would still be a lot of spaces in between the tables to swing a cat! There were at least 10 tables that night but it did not feel like there were so many people – otherwise, I would have left and gone some place else.

Of course we HAD to have the crabs and for a change, I ordered the Singapore chili crab (RM120.00)…

Hai Bing Singapore chili crab

…instead of their usual style that everyone here is very familiar with. I asked what their going price for crabs was and the young man said RM120.00. Gosh!!! And I thought what I bought that day at RM80.00 a kg was expensive – and those were huge ones. What we had that night were rather small, nothing much to eat and it certainly did not taste anything like those very nice ones I had way back in 1973 at Bedok or Changi with French baquette to dip into the wonderful gravy to enjoy.

No, we did not have any of those loaves, just golden-fried mantao (RM4.00 for a set of 4)…

Hai Bing Seafood, golden fried mantao

Well, there were 6 of us so I had to request for 2 sets so there would be enough to go round.

According to the guy, this is the chef’s signature dish, his golden beancurd (RM15.00)…

Hai Bing Seafood, golden tofu

…and yes, we all thought it was nice. The tofu was yellowish, not white, inside so my guess was that it was their own-made egg tofu or what people call Japanese tofu. I would say that it was like something you can expect at a classy Chinese restaurant, most likely in a hotel or some Hong Kong franchise – not that great but not entirely all that shabby either.

Their Thai-style Mango three-layer pork (RM20.00)…

Thai-styl mango three-layer pork

…was all right but nowhere near the Thai-style mango chicken here – that one there is definitely a class above this one. Why, this one did not even look half as nice. As a matter of fact, for a place like this, I would expect more effort in their presentation, not the dump-in-the-plate-and-serve impression that I got.

My girl said the salty crusty prawns (RM58.00)…

Hai Bing Seafood salty crusty prawns

…were nice but the rest felt there are a lot of places around town that can do it a whole lot better than this and a whole lot more cheaply too even when they use those huge udang galah (freshwater prawns) like this place here.

We had two vegetable dishes, the baby kai lan, ching chao/fried plain (RM15.00)…

Hai Bing Seafood baby kai lan ching chao

…and the sambal kangkong (RM15.00)…

Hai Bing Seafood sambal kangkong

…both of which I did not get to try as there were so many things to eat but the ladies said they were o.k.

They also loved the zao cai fresh fish soup (RM25.00)…

Hai Bing Seafood zao cai fresh fish soup

…but good grief!!! It was so so so very sour that I had a sip and left the rest in the bowl. My brother-in-law shared the exact same sentiments. I guess guys do not like sour things all that much but honestly, if it was dependent on the preserved vegetables for its sour taste, it would not be so sour, no way! I don’t know what was added to it and personally, I did not think it tasted anything like our traditional Foochow zao cai soup, far from it!

While we were eating, I saw the chef stepping out of the kitchen to have a look at the customers enjoying what he had dished out. He was dressed in his white chef uniform, complete with his tall chef hat. I am quite sure he has all the formal qualifications of a chef to show but I’m afraid I did not think what we had that night, on the whole, was anything to shout about, nothing to get us rushing back for more.

The aforementioned guy, who took our orders, happened to be that same guy at the very nice chicken rice place (they’re all inter-related, one way or another) and he did ask me how the food was and I was very straightforward and honest in my reply, “Much nicer at the old place!” Indeed, what we can get there or at any cheap restaurant or chu char (cook & fry) stall in a coffee shop from the cooks doing all the cooking, not professional qualified chefs, would be a whole lot nicer.

It did not matter that the bill, inclusive of rice and drinks, came up to RM290.00 but I had my hopes up high, hoping that it would be so good as I wanted something really very special to celebrate my girl’s birthday. Unfortunately, what we had kind of dampened our happy mood over those two days but at least we tried and now we know. Maybe we did not know what to order as looking at the photographs on their Facebook page, some of the dishes look really good. Would we take the chance to go back there again to try? Probably not. Once bitten, twice shy!

HAI BING SEAFOOD since 1980 (2.290414, 111.820900) is located at No. 5, Lorong Lau King Howe 1. Tel. No.: 084-311975.