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.

Size too small…

My late father was a businessman in his time.

I remember he used to sell Mercury outboard engines and that came as no surprise as he was a renowned speedboat racer and swept the top prizes at all the regattas in the colonial days, the F1 of speedboat racing at the time. He ordered his special speedboat, aptly named Typhoon, all the way from Singapore and of course, he knew those engines inside out. That was why he was able to sell them and service and repair them himself. Others may be selling outboard engines too, not the same brand – my father was the sole-concessionaire, but other brands such as Johnson and Evinrude and their after-sales service sucked big time!

He also sold lawn mowers. I cannot remember the brand that he sold initially but in the later years, he was selling Masport, made in New Zealand. Other than that, he also sold Norge refrigerators and York air conditioners. Of course, air conditioners in those days were the window unit type, not the more popular split unit type that we are more familiar with these days.

For the uninitiated, York has been taken over by the Japanese air conditioner company, Daikin, now. I am not so sure but maybe you can buy either brand these days and they are both the same and their remote controls may be used interchangeably.

I have both York and Daikin at home and the remote control for the one in the master bedroom was misbehaving for a long time now. I asked the guy who sells and cleans air conditioners if he had a spare for sale and he said yes, but it would cost over RM50.00. I asked him if I could buy one at those discount stores and he said yes but they would not last very long. That was why I asked him for one but the days turned into weeks, the weeks turned into months and the months turned into years and for reasons unknown, he never delivered it to my house.

Well, that temperamental remote control recovered so we could use it again for a long time until one fine day it decided to start its mischief again. We had to share the one for the air conditioner in my girl’s bedroom and in the end, I decided that enough was enough and I went and bought one online…

York & Daikin air conditioners remote controls

Ooopsss!!! It was the “wrong” brand but that was not a problem at all, It could be used and that was all that mattered. The best part was this was only RM8.00, RM17.01, inclusive of postal charges.

I also ordered another one…

York remote control with batteries

…similar to the one in my girl’s room, just in case and this one was RM11.49, RM20.50 inclusive of batteries and postage.

My orders were delivered in no time at all and by the way, if you see strangers in fancy cars at your gate these days, those would most probably be the runners doing the deliveries for the national courier service and I heard that some private companies use their services too.

Just when I thought everything was going on so well with my online shopping, something did not turn out right. I have a problem buying t-shirts and shorts my size and all that I’ve been using are all tattered and torn and falling apart and I was delighted to see that they were available online in extra-large sizes.

I ordered two white t-shirts (around RM7.00 each) and two sets, a t-shirt and a pair of shorts (RM23.50 each), 4XL…

4XL

…to be on the safe side even though those that I usually use are only 3XL.

Later when I checked in the online shopping website, I saw that they were being sent from China! The t-shirts and one of the sets came through KL and arrived via one courier company and I had to drive all the way to the other side of town to get them myself. I had a tough time locating the warehouse as there was just a small sign on the fence – I drove straight in and went round and round inside because I did not see it initially! I did read the reviews that their service was not good – somebody waited for four days and did not get what he/she was waiting for.

The other set arrived around a week later. It went through Kota Kinabalu and when it got into town, somebody from the national courier service delivered it to my house.

The problem was when I opened all the parcels, all the t-shirts and shorts were way too small, so small that my girl could wear them quite comfortably and I am about twice her size! The two sets were actually quite nice so I gave them to her and now I have two white t-shirts to give away – I think they will look very nice on someone who frequents the gym regularly with all the bulges in all the right places to show! Anyone interested?

I’m afraid that has put me off online shopping for now, no more, thank you very much!

Open it up…

Like it or not, we do stock up on quite a lot of canned food in our pantry and this is even more so with the COVID-19 pandemic and the  lockdown over the last few months.

Opening a can has never been easier as these days, with most of them, we can easily pull the ring on top to open it up. Unfortunately, there are still some canned products that do not come with that easy-to-open ring and I am very sure that in such cases, the day will come when many will not be able to open a can of whatever.

It so happened that the other day, my missus bought a loaf of sandwich bread and I decided I would make some sardine sandwiches for breakfast. I searched high and low for the can opener that I always used but it was nowhere to be found. Usually, I would use the one with handles to squeeze the blade into the side at the top of the can and then I would turn the screw to move it…

Blade and screw

…along the edge to open it.

When my missus got up that morning and I asked her, she said she had no idea what happened to it and insisted that she would only use this one…

Can & bottle opener 1

…whenever she had to open any cans. Horror of horrors! Don’t ask me to use that! At best, I would be able to use it to open a bottle, not a can.

There was this…

Can and bottle opener 2

…in one of the drawers in the kitchen cabinet and I am quite sure I would be able to use it though I have not done so for years and years now. In the end, I just abandoned the idea and had the bread with butter and kaya instead.

Later that morning, she rummaged through the drawers in the kitchen cabinet and found this…

Can & bottle opener description

That sure sounds good, doesn’t it?

Very impressive…

Warranty

…I must say.

No, she did not buy it. After all, she does not use this kind of can openers and my girl didn’t buy it either – she hardly buys anything, least of all, a can opener. That rules everybody out except me and yes, there is every possibility that I bought it. I probably thought it was rather cute…

Can and bottle opener 3

…and that orange colour would stand out in a clutter of kitchen tools and appliances. It would be difficult to misplace it, I’m sure plus it was only RM10.50 each. Pretty cheap for something so nice, you reckon?

Don’t listen to them…

It’s always like this around this time every year. Every Sibu-born-and-bred would make their way home to celebrate Chinese New Year with their families and of course, they would waste no time at all in going out to appease their craving for good ol’ Sibu kampua mee and share their photographs all over Facebook or Instagram.

An ex-student of mine and his family went here, one of my favourites in town and somebody commented that he could try the one here (RM3.20)…

Chopsticks kampua mee

– according to the guy, it was quite good. What? A friend did tell me that same thing once and I went to try but no, it was not anything that I would go out of my way for and definitely not when it is a once-a-year thing. I did get to eat it on another occasion and no, it didn’t change my mind.

I guess there is some truth in the saying, “Don’t believe everything you hear!” and as far as kampua mee goes, you will just have to go and try it yourself – don’t listen to what others say! After all, what’s good for the goose may not be good for the gander.

Then, there was this one time when I blogged about the sotong kangkong here and somebody said I should not go for the kampua mee there, not nice and should opt for the one with the yew cha koi/yeu tiao (Chinese crullers) instead.

It so happened that I was around those parts of the woods that day so I went to give it (RM3.00)…

Kampua mee

…a try but no, it was a bit too firm for me and the overall taste did not get me jumping with delight either.

I also ordered the pian sip, dry (RM3.00)…

Pian sip, dry

…and that I would say was its saving grace and I quite enjoyed it.

I guess I’ve learnt my lesson well and now, I shall not simply believe anything and everything that people say and will check out places that I feel like going to myself. Who knows I may stumble upon some hidden gems, yet to be discovered, around town?

CHOPSTICKS CHICKEN & RICE (2.312434, 111.845917) is located in the Delta Mall, Jalan Dr Wong Soon Kai (formerly Pedada) area of shops, facing the church along Lorong Taman Seduan 8, off Jalan Gambir and FUNG MING CORNER is located right beside PAU’S CAFE (2.298564, 111.893951) among the shops before you get to the Pasar Tani Permai to the left of Jalan Permai as you turn in from Jalan Ulu Oya, a little to the right of the Sibu General Hospital.

Open house…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SHS students

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

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

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

The Toh family

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

Ang paos

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

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

St Rita staff

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

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

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

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

End of the year…

We went to the Christmas morning service in church that day as we were at my cousin’s daughter’s wedding reception and could not go for the one at night on Christmas Eve and we did not have any special dinner that evening either. We had one at home on the night of Christmas Day instead and of course, we invited my sister and my brother-in-law and his wife to join us.

I bought a pair of New Zealand lamb foreshank for around RM35.00 only and my missus stewed them with bolognese sauce…

Christmas dinner stewed lamb shank

…and yes, it was very nice. She did not serve them on a bed of mashed potatoes even though my girl made some and served that separately and yes, we sure enjoyed it a lot…except my brother-in-law perhaps – he’s not so into western cuisine, not lamb especially.

That was why my missus had these chicken wings…

Christmas dinner air-fried chicken wings

…cooked using the air fryer that was given to us by my niece in Singapore and also his favourite, my missus’ chicken curry but I did not take a photograph of the latter.

We also had those giant tiger prawns…

Christmas dinner tiger prawns

…from Sabah that my generous friend, Eric gave me and everyone was impressed by the humongous size of those crustaceans! These were just the first batch – because they were so big and there were so many, my missus had to do it a few times in our small oven.

My girl saw this ham…

Christmas dinner gypsy-flavoured ham

…gypsy flavoured, whatever that is at the supermarket round the corner from our house and did not hesitate to buy it for our dinner. A long long time ago, I bought a very small one like a hand grenade from the supermarket on the lower ground floor of Sogo in KL and we loved it so much. Unfortunately, I had not come across any like that since. This one was quite big, maybe not as big as a bowling ball but it was big. Everyone said it was a bit too salty but I was fine with it and enjoyed it very much.

My missus tried to replicate the mangosteen salad…

Christmas dinner mangosteen salad

that we had at the Vietnamese restaurant in Kuching and loved so much. Everyone else liked it but I felt it was a bit too sour – the one we had in Kuching was much nicer.

It was New Year’s Eve a week later – that’s the thing about the end of the year, one festival after another and Chinese New Year is on the way, just a fortnight away. We went to the special service at the church after which we had a pot luck party so we did not have a special dinner of our own at home.

We had not had our family New Year’s Eve/Day dinner together for six years, at least, not since my girl got posted to her jungle school. She would have to be there a few days earlier for meetings, registration of pupils and what not and they had to work even on New Year’s Day and school would reopen the very next day on the 2nd…but I think even before that, when she was studying in Sg Petani, Kedah and Wellington, New Zealand, we did not have the chance to sit down together as a family on this very special occasion.

I, for one, cannot understand why they must start school on the 2nd (and if I am not wrong, they do not have a public holiday in some states!). During my time, even way back in the colonial days, school would reopen on the first Monday of the year. I’m sure those extra few days will not make much of a difference and will not turn those kids into geniuses, not at all. Stupid is as stupid does!

Well, finally, after so many years, we were able to sit down as a family on New Year’s Day and my missus cooked this gluten-free pasta…

New Year dinner pasta

– one of those that we bought and stocked up at one time, not that we would need it anymore these days. I don’t know what sauce she used but yes, it was very nice.

She also baked this slab of deboned chicken, Italian-style…

New Year dinner Italian chicken

…and my girl said it was nice. I thought it was just so-so, not anything I would ask her to cook again.

She made this lovely salad…

New Year dinner salad

…and baked potatoes…

New Year dinner potatoes

…for the sides to go with the roasted leg of New Zealand lamb…

New Year dinner rack of lamb

…that I bought for over RM70.00. I think next time, I shall just stick to the lamb shanks as they seemed to be cheaper and at the end of the day, it was what it was – lamb.

Yes, that was a delightful dinner and most importantly, we got to sit down together as a family to eat together on these significant occasions. Those guys in their ivory towers should realise that no amount of teaching in that Moral Education subject in school can ever come near to actually doing it and practising it ourselves – action speaks louder than words!