The spirit of Christmas past…

In my younger days, my dad would receive a lot of Christmas cards from his business associates and I think we did get some from family and friends as well. I would stick them onto the walls of our wooden house using cellophane tape, arranging them in the shape of a Christmas tree…and sometimes, I would hang them up on strings tied up using thumb tacks, one thing one would not be able to do today in our concrete homes.

Yes, we had a Christmas tree too, an odd looking thing with branches that resembled those brushes used for cleaning milk bottles…or worse, toilet brushes…but it was a Christmas tree and I found immense joy in taking it out year after year and decorating it…and of course, putting the presents at the foot of the tree, waiting for Christmas to come so I would be able to open them to see what was inside each of them.

Anyway, back to those Christmas cards, I got 3 from the Mouth & Foot Painting Artists (and of course, I sent them a cheque for what I received from them) and I quickly sent them to family and friends residing overseas in the hope that they would receive them in time. At the time of writing, I only know that my friend in Adelaide got hers while a cousin in Melbourne is on holiday in Las Vegas so she would probably get hers after that, and I have yet to get any news of the rest.

In the meantime, I went round the shops in town in search of Christmas cards to send to those within the country, only to be laughed at. “Nobody sends Christmas cards anymore!” they all said. Well, I was quite determined and would not give up and finally, I found these…

Christmas cards

…at the Religious Articles Shop at the Catholic cathedral here, only RM3.60 for 12 – so very cheap, only 30 sen each and they were all so beautiful and I loved the words inside some of them. I remember how my Dad was very particular in choosing his Christmas cards to send to people and they must mention Christmas specifically. No, those with only “Season’s Greetings” would not do, not at all.

It used to cost only 10 sen to send a card within the country, unsealed, 15 sen for a letter but when I went to send them, the guy at the counter said it would be 50 sen each and if I am not wrong, that would be the special for Christmas thing. Letters these days cost 80 sen…or more, depending on the weight. Ah well!!! It’s only once a year…and yes, I did buy a lot to keep for next year and the years to come. My sister remarked that the envelopes would turn yellow but no, that did not deter me. It’s the thought that counts, that’s my fervent belief.

I was thinking I would not be getting any this year as there were none forthcoming when just the other day, out of the blue, the Poslaju van stopped by my gate and I got this lovely Christmas card…

From Uncle Paul and family

…from my dear uncle (my mum’s youngest brother) and auntie and my cousins in Kuching. They had sent it by courier service for fear that it would not reach me in time – isn’t that so sweet and thoughtful of them?

This one came from another auntie in Kuching, my mum’s late brother’s wife, and my cousin and hubby…

From Ah Kim, Tina and Mapphy

…and believe it or not, they got the card…

From Perth

…all the way from Perth, Australia – the children & their families are there! It seemed that they too had difficulty getting hold of Christmas cards in Kuching.

And talking about Perth, this beautiful one…

From cousin Yvette in Perth

…came from my cousin there. I loved the golden reindeer sticker seal…

Sticker

…on the envelope and inside, she wrote this…

P.S.

Indeed, in the good ol’ days, at this time of the year, we would be looking forward the the Christmas Eve dance at the Sibu Recreation Club (SRC) and there would be one on New Year’s Eve too…and another one on Chinese New Year’s Eve and no, we would not miss a single one. We all loved dancing so much, dancing for the sheer fun of it and we sure had a great time when these festive seasons came around.

Well, time sure has changed. For one thing, I am getting fewer and fewer Christmas cards each passing year – I did get quite a few in 2015 but the number dwindled in 2016…and in 2017. I guess the time will come when I will not be getting any anymore and in the event of that happening, I certainly would feel that something has gone missing from the spirit of Christmas, something like in the words in this song
“You know, I don’t know why
I get to feeling sentimental
About this time, every year.
But every time I see a Christmas card,
I somehow can’t help reminiscing…
…I thrill with every word, every line
Guess I’m always sentimental ’round this time
Pardon me if a tear falls among my Christmas cheer
It’s the mem’ry of an old Christmas card…”

Anyway, card or no card, let us give thanks and praise to the Lord above that we are blessed with this opportunity to wish one and all a Holy and Joyous Christmas…

Merry Christmas

…in whichever way we choose. Happy Christmas!

What you do…

Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for Me.” (Matthew 25:40-45)

I was going through my usual routine, gardening, one morning when I spotted this insect…

Insect

I was amazed by its vibrant colour and thought it was beautiful. I shared some photos of it on Facebook and one commented that it was very smelly. Well, if it was, I did not detect any stench from it, not at all. Another said that it was a pest and I replied that all God’s creatures, big and small would be most welcome in my garden – I always call it an eat-all-you-can buffet for insects, birds, whatever.

I always tell my girl to share what she has especially with those who do not, “As thou give, thus shall thou receive,” those would be my exact words. However, I did add that when one gave, one should not expect anything in return – sometimes, you would get nothing tangible but God would be all seeing and all knowing and He would bless you in His own ways.

I, for one, am truly blessed ever so often and just the other day, I received this packet of bee pang (fragrant rice krispies)…

From Paul & Lim

…from a friend of mine in Kuching. It certainly was so sweet and thoughtful of him to remember this old chap and to send me a little something through my good friend, Lim, who was in Kuching for a while. The latter also gave me his own-grown mangoes. Gosh!!! They were really sweet and juicy and all of them were good. Sometimes, I would buy mangoes only to find that they were rotten inside. I guess it is the same with people – to quote a line from Shakespeare, “The false face hides what the false heart doth know,” or in Chinese, we say, “We know his face but we do not know his heart.”

Moving on, it so happened that I was back here again the other day. I did manage to find a vacant parking space behind some blocks of shops and had to walk a bit to go to where I wanted to go and do what I wanted to do. After that, since it was close by, I decided to stop by for the nasi lemak for lunch.

When I got there, my friend/ex-student, Alex, was just leaving and I asked him what was good there. He said all the fried stuff with the much coveted wok hei fragrance would be pretty good but no, he had not tried the nasi lemak.

I went in and I saw that they had chap fan (mixed rice)…

Chap fan 1

…and the options looked nice, like they were home-cooked…

Chap fan 2

…so I decided to go for it and save the nasi lemak for another day.

These were my picks…

My picks 1

…for which I was charged RM4.50 in total – I think the lady said RM4.00 for 3 but I did ask for a fourth, so I had two meat and two veg…

My picks 2

…altogether. I had a hard time trying to resist the salted egg…

Salted egg

– I do love that…and I managed in the end so I did not help myself to it.

I must say that I enjoyed it all…

My picks 3

– it was kind of low on salt, not oily and I could not detect the msg so some people may feel it is kind of mild or bland but I loved it. I sure would not mind going back for more, should the opportunity arise.

I wish they would not use those plastic plates even though the food was not exactly piping hot – I would prefer glass or ceramic instead. I rather like the place, very clean and not quite like a coffee shop per se and there did not seem to be a lot of customers, both times I was there, so it was nice and quiet, not busy and noisy and more often than not, hot and stuffy too like in some coffee shops – with the resulting discomfort and commotion at those places, I just could not wait to make a run for it.

The total, including my kopi-o peng (iced black coffee), came up to RM6.10. I gave RM10.00 to the lady and she did ask if I had 10 sen and I said that I didn’t…and thought no more of it. On my way back to the car, it occurred to me that she had not given me the change so I turned and made my way back to the shop.

On the way, I dug into my pocket and found RM4.00 in one ringgit notes. She DID give me the change, after all, and I just shoved it into my pocket absentmindedly…and yes, she had waived that 10 sen without my asking! Indeed, it was just 10 sen…but it’s the gesture, the thought behind what you do that counts most of all. As they say, little things do mean a lot.

WELCOME COFFEE SHOP (2.292472, 111.826947) is located along Jalan Bindang among the Tunku Osman area of shops, right next to the Singapore Chicken Rice outlet there behind the HSBC Building.

You are a winner…

Congratulations to Payung Café, Sibu

Payung Cafe Sibu
*Photo from their Facebook page*

…for winning the 8th Chief Minister’s Environmental Award (CMEA) 2017/2018 in its new category for eateries and food outlets…

Trophy
*Andy’s photo taken at the event*

The presentation ceremony of this special state-level award from the Natural Resources and Environment Board (NREB) was held last night in Kuching.

The café has won the Sarawak Hornbill Tourism Award twice, once in 2013/2015 and was the 1st runner-up in 2016/2017

Sarawak Hornbill Tourism Awards

For one thing, I am not sure what exactly the judges for this particular tourism award are looking for. It appeared to me that they were rather fastidious in picking the winners and would look critically at the food, the decor and the ambiance, the cleanliness and all that – in my humble opinion, they seemed to be missing the wood for the trees as personally, I do feel that for an award as such, they should consider as their top priority the appeal to tourists.

As far as I know, many tourists or visitors from abroad and other parts of the country do drop by Payung – its location right behind one of the leading hotels in town is an added advantage and many said they came because of its listing in websites such as Lonely Planet and Trip Advisor…

Trip Advisor

This hawker centre/food court in Kuching is truly deserving of the award, of course – the locals call it the “tourist trap” as many do go there and according to them, dining there isn’t exactly wallet-friendly…but I really wonder if it should be given to a steakhouse in a five-star hotel, for instance. Do tourists come to Sarawak and go for our steaks? I must say they have very much nicer, fresher and juicier…and thicker ones in their own countries like Australia and New Zealand, just to single out two. Instead, one thing they should also look at would be whether they serve any of our own local delights for the tourists to enjoy, dishes uniquely Sarawakian especially, or Malaysian at least, that they will not be able to find in their own country.

Anyway, back to the CMEA, the people at Payung do use a lot of natural stuff for their decor, all the natural plants around the place and the simple fresh flowers for their centrepiece…

Centrepiece

…and all over…

Fresh flowers

…and one can’t miss noticing these coconut palm leaves, sprayed blue…

Coconut leaves, blue

…or green…

Coconut leaves, green
*Photo from their Facebook page*

…so they will last like…forever.

Many complained about the thatched roof…

Thatched roof

…in front as it blocked the sign (see 1st pic) and as a result of that, they had to search high and low before they could find the place and some even gave up in the end.

They also use these dried palm leaves…

Palm leaves

…and rattan basket trays…

Basket trays

…and in some of the photographs, you can see the blue and green benches that they made from discarded wood – I must say that whatever wood that is, it is really good hardwood as those benches are real heavy.

I love this little hut, also made from the aforementioned wood…

Little hut

…and just look at the concrete construction blocks that they use to erect the heavy and sturdy shelves…

Shelves

…instead of going out to buy from the shops…and we all know that the ones these days do not last very long and will have to be thrown away pretty soon.

They do not have anything deep-fried on their menu so they do not use a lot of cooking oil…

Payung counter

…except perhaps for grilling their chicken chops and according to them, they will not reuse the oil…nor will they pour it all down the drain like what they do at many places. Instead, they will give it to the workers to take home and use for their own cooking.

Why, those creative people even made their own Christmas tree one year…

Christmas tree

…using some grass that they found by the roadside somewhere instead of buying the plastic or whatever artificial ones from the shops. They have not put up the decorations this year so I do not know what they have got up their sleeves this time around.

For one thing, the place is not air-conditioned so that is one plus point in their favour as far as being environment-friendly is concerned.

All things considered, I do think that they truly deserve this prestigious award, don’t you agree?

PAYUNG CAFÉ (2.284049, 111.833014) is located at No.20F, Lanang Road, Sibu, Malaysia, back to back with the multi-storey car park of the Kingwood Hotel which faces the majestic Rejang River.

Gotta get it right…

When it comes to fried eggs, I like it done the traditional old-school way…

Wok-fried

…fried in a wok with a bit of the oil splashed onto the yolk so it will not be “bright and sunny” as in a sunny-side-up. I wouldn’t like it flipped…

Flipped

…though as even though the yolk may still be runny, it does not look all that nice.

I certainly am not crazy about those fried using a ring…

Ring-fried

…but they do that at some places where they do everything on a hot plate. At a burger stall, for instance, they will toast the bun, fry the patty and the egg all at one go…and I guess using the ring will ensure that the egg white does not flow far and wide and will fit nicely in the bun.

I do know for a fact that some people use a few rings at a time, also on a hot plate, so they can fry a number at a time and serve them in a tray or plate like what they do at some nasi lemak stalls. However, I am not fond of the thick and rubbery white in eggs fried this way and besides, one will not get the lovely fragrance and taste of the golden frills all along the edges.

For one thing, the one frying must make sure that the plate is clean or else there will be that unsightly layer of “soot” at the bottom like the one in the above photograph or the one I had here

Burnt and uncooked

…even though the boy did not use a ring and even though he was frying one egg at a time, the end result sure did not look all that palatable.  No, they did not burn the egg, just that the plate was dirty and they went on and fried the eggs on it.

In the case of that last one, the white was still uncooked around the egg, something that I encountered at a five-star hotel in Kuching

Uncooked

I would have thought those guys would have gone to some cooking school and would have the credentials to show but the one who fried the eggs for me sure needed a refresher course…but at least, I saw how he fried two eggs at a time and learnt something that morning – he broke them into a bowl first.

The traditional Malaysian breakfast at the old school Chinese coffee shops would include our local coffee in the thick blue and white cup and saucer way back in the good old days but not anymore,  the loti kiap/roti kahwin (sandwich toast) that I blogged about in yesterday’s post and half-boiled/cooked eggs.

However, for me to cook half-boiled eggs the way my mum used to do it, I would need to boil some water and pour it over the eggs, cold from the fridge, and let them stand for 15-20 minutes depending on the size and also how many I am cooking at one time.That is why I would prefer to just fry them using a non-stick pan as it will be faster this way and besides, I am too lazy to take out my extra-heavy wok (7-ply Zebra brand) even though I do prefer my eggs fried that way.

To fry two at a time, following what I saw the aforementioned guy at the egg station at the hotel did, I would break the eggs into a cup…

In a cup

…heat up the pan and grease it with a bit of oil and pour the eggs into it…

In a pan

Move the pan to swirl the egg white in it and spread it all over the pan and if you are thus inclined, before the white gets cooked, you can push the egg yolks to the middle to make your fried eggs look more presentable, not lop-sided like mine.

Turn down the heat and wait till the egg white is completely cooked and the bottom is lightly browned like this…

Bottom, golden brown

You can cook it a little longer if you wish and on low heat, it is not likely that it will end up burnt.

There you have it! My pan-fried eggs…

Pan-fried

…not uncooked around the yolk, not burnt at the bottom – so very easy, absolutely no problem at all. I really wonder why I see so many people in the food business who just can’t seem to get it right!

Do what you like…

Everyone has his or her own likes and dislikes, his or her own preferences and idiosyncrasies and of course, one is free to do what one likes.

I have a toaster…

Toaster

– it was given to me by a dear friend as a wedding gift; he was my best man but sadly, he had passed away not too long ago, may he rest in peace.

Of course that was a long time ago but yes, it is still in very good working condition. For one thing, things made in those days are a lot more durable and lasting than what one can get from the shops these days. We had a sandwich and waffle maker that my missus got from some direct sales agency, using her bonus points – it was working all right but one fine day, when we turned it on, the electricity in the house went kaput! In the end, we just had to throw it away. Thankfully, it came for free and as they say, easy come, easy go!

Going back to the toaster, I am not fond of using it as if the toast is brown enough, the whole slice of bread will be crusty, inside out. Other than that, I am not all that crazy about going through the trouble of taking it out of the cabinet and after using it, when it has cooled, I would need to clean it before putting it back.

I guess it will be the same if I use my oven…

Oven

I got this free using my credit card points and yes, it has its uses, small and convenient so we will not use the big one that is part of our gas stove unless absolutely necessary. I’ve never tried using it to toast bread…

To toast bread

…though so I am not sure how it will turn out.

In the old days in the coffee shops, they would place the bread on the charcoal grill…

Charcoal grill

…to toast it. I had seen them scraping the black surfaces once it was done and they would generously apply their own-made kaya (coconut jam) and place a slice or two of butter on top and serve. Of course, that was so very nice unlike what we will get today. Firstly, nowadays, they will use an electric toaster or an oven toaster and then they will serve it with canned kaya and margarine.

As a matter of fact, they actually had one charcoal grill at a hotel in Kuching for guests to use to toast their bread if they were thus inclined…

Charcoal grill at Grand Margherita Kuching

…and yes, I did toast my bread on it when I was staying there once.

There is one very popular place in Sarikei where people will go for the toast. I think they give butter, not margarine so that is a bonus and other than the kaya, it looks like they add peanut butter as well but I have never been there so I have no idea how they toast the buns. I have also heard a lot of this place in Kuching that is famous for its toast – Rowena goes there sometimes, it seems…but I have never been there either so I do not know how they go about making theirs.

So how do I go about mine? I like to toast the bread on a non-stick pan…

Non-stick pan

…till it is nice and brown on the outside…

Brown on the outside

…but still soft like fresh bread inside.

Once done, I would apply a thick layer of kaya – I like the made-in-Singapore Glory Brand, just like homemade…and slices of butter…

With kaya and butter

That sure beats any loti kiap (sandwich toast) or roti bakar that we can get at the shops here…or if there is any that is better around town, I sure do not know of it.

Not my problem…

I don’t know why people would grumble in my face that the food at a certain place in particular is so expensive. I did blog about this before so I shall not speak on it any further. After all, it is not my problem – they are the one with the problem so they can go and deal with it and frankly, what the hell do I care! Tsk! Tsk!

Anyway, there was this somebody that day who said the same thing and no, I did not bother to respond at all – I already have it up to here with cheapskates like her. Well, she went on to sing praises of one Malay place here where they have this eat-all-you-can buffet lunch for RM7.90 with a free flow of drinks. Of course, I simply had to go and check it out.

We got there past noon at around 12.15, before 12.30 and because of where we parked the car, we went in from one side of the shop and the floor was soaking wet! “Hati hati, ya! Basah! Nanti jatuh!” the lady doing the washing at the sink there said laughingly, like she was poking fun at this fat old man. Now you know it was wet…and obviously, it was because of you so shouldn’t you go and get a mop to mop it dry? Tsk! Tsk!

We went to look at the food – there was so very little of everything left except one dish of not-so-very-nice-looking pumpkin. As for the rest, I did not think there was enough for the three of us if we were to take a spoonful each of each of the dishes…and we all agreed that they did not even look nice. Personally, we would rather go here for their RM6.00 eat-all-you-can buffet and spend the extra RM1.90 on a drink. After all, all they had in the drink dispensers were some pale-looking over-diluted cordials, nothing to get excited about.

Nobody said a word to us – we would have told them there wasn’t much of everything left and if there wasn’t going to be any refill, they could at least suggest that we took a seat and we could order from their regular menu. No, we came and we left – not a word was spoken…other than that lady and her cheeky remark about the wet floor.

In the end, we adjourned here…

Outright Coffee 1

…at the end of the block, some 50-100 metres away…

Outright Coffee 2

…and had our lunch there…

Outright Coffee 3

…in the nice ambiance with air-conditioned comfort (we opted to sit inside this time) and great friendly service.

My girl had the banana mango milkshake (RM15.50) that I had on one of our previous visits while I had their banana caramel milkshake (RM13.90)…

Banana caramel milkshake

…which according to the boss, was one of their best sellers. My missus said she did not want anything and she would be fine with the complimentary drinking water but anyway, we got this pink passion soda drink…

Pink passion soda drink

…on the house – for purchases over RM30.00. It certainly was A LOT bigger that last time around and despite our bill surpassing RM60, we did not get two – only one. Hmmm…perhaps the next time, we shall split our orders and pay separately.

I was still full from the breakfast I had that morning so I just had a beef and potato pie (RM9.00)…

Beef and potato pie

…which I did buy from their bakery at the back once and it was indeed very very nice…

Beef and potato pie

I noticed, however, that it was RM1.00 more expensive than at their bakery so I mentioned to the boss that they should at least do something about the presentation to merit that extra ringgit…instead of just serving it in a plate like that.

My missus had their barbecue chicken with rice (RM15.90)…

BBQ chicken with rice

…with mushroom sauce and though the meat looked a little charred, she loved it very much. I guess it would be something like satay – very much nicer when a bit burnt, just a bit.

My daughter’s  barbecued chicken with fruit salad and baked wedges (RM15.90)…

BBQ chicken with fruit salad and baked wedges 1

…with rosemary sauce was done to perfection…

BBQ chicken

…and yes, she too enjoyed her order in no small measure.

Well, if the aforementioned Ms Cheapskate had not had the shock of her life looking at the prices of our individual orders, the total came up to RM69.30 altogether…and no, I am not saying that was cheap but considering that we did derive so much pleasure from everything, I would say it was money well spent – value for money…and we went home completely satisfied and happy and no, we do not spend like this all that often, only once in a while , usually on weekends when my girl has come home after a dreary week at her school in the jungle. We probably would not have enjoyed our lunch half as much had we gone for the RM7.90 eat-all-you-can buffet lunch that Ms Cheapskate spoke so highly of.

OUTRIGHT COFFEE (2.290978, 111.820996) is located at 24B , Jalan Lau King Howe, at the end of the first block of shops immediately behind the Lay King Howe Memorial Museum.

Stiff competition…

So far, my favourite or koi (Chinese yam cake) would be the ones here, big thick slices, pre-deep fried but the last time I bought some from there, they had jacked up the price to RM1.20 a slice, 20 sen more than what they were selling them for formerly…and I would not know if it was a case of poor quality control but it did seem a little bit more wobbly or jelly-like than before. Many of those sold around town are like that and I think it is an indication of their using more rice flour and less yam.

Well, I happened to buy a slab of it here, not very big for RM2.00 but yes, it was big enough for four slices so that would mean that it did not cost more than those small thin ones selling at stalls all over town for 50 sen each. It was so nice – not wobbly at all, with lots of yam in it plus it tasted great.

It so happened that I dropped by the shop again the other morning and saw this big one…

Swee Hung steamed or koi

…selling for RM6.00 which I thought was inexpensive considering that it was no less than four times the size of the one I had bought earlier.

The shop gets their supplies from people who make those kuihs (cakes) at home and send them over for sale and I’ve a feeling the one who makes this one in the morning is not the same person as the one in the afternoon. This one had bits of carrot in it (though I did not think that made any difference to the taste) and a whole lot more yam – you would be able to taste it in the texture and it had a very strong taste of the hay bee/udang kering (dried prawns) used in the making. The other one had bits of minced meat but I could not detect any in this one. I must say the competition is stiff between the two and personally, I would not mind buying one or the other. In the meantime, I am sorry to say that the one aforementioned, formerly my favourite, can just go and take a back seat now.

These are not deep fried though – I don’t mind eating it steamed just like that and I do recall the ones in Penang where they served them with some hay kor (prawn paste)/rojak sauce and a dash of chili sauce. My missus likes it deep fried so I cut it into bite-size slices and threw them into a pan of hot oil to fry lightly…

Swee Hung or koi, lightly deep-fried

…and yes, she enjoyed them very much and was full of praises.

In the meantime, the nice young boy at the shop asked me to buy this new variation of the yew char koi/youtiao (Chinese crullers)…

Swee Hung new-style yew char koi

…at 50 sen each. I did not really catch what he said, something about there being spring onion or fried shallot or meat in it but anyhow, I bought two to try.

No, it did not have the texture of the traditional yew char koi, soft and light and full of (air) holes nor was it thick and dense like doughnut…

New-style yew char koi, inside

– it’s just different, that much I can say but it tasted all right. I wouldn’t say it got me jumping with delight but it was good enough to buy once in a  while for something different for a change.

The eloquent boy, obviously a good salesperson, also persuaded me to buy the tee piang

Swee Hung tee piang with meat filling

…which did not look as nice as those at the handsome boy’s stall at the pasar malam (night market) but the ladies in the house liked them a lot. My girl said they were good and the mum insisted they had a stronger taste of the soya bean pulp used in the making.

I thought it was good and I liked the filling…

Tee piang with meat filling, inside

…more – both are priced the same, RM1.50 each with meat filling and of course, if I can grab these here, I would not have to go through the hassle of making my way through the crowd at the pasar malam and wait a long time for the tee piang to be fried and parking can be such a pain – I would have to park far away and walk all the way there!  So which one do you think I would much sooner go and buy now?

These and lots more are available at SWEE HUNG (2.316161, 111.840441), 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. Kim Tak Co. and Ah Kau Cafe are located in the other block on the left.