Gotta go home…

Everybody here would try their utmost best to come home for the Chinese New Year holidays despite the ridiculously astronomical airfares, never mind whether you are flying budget or on the self-proclaimed five-star airline. No matter what, many would make the way home to be with their loved ones – their family and friends during this auspicious festival in the year.

One of them is my ex-student, Xavier, who flew all the way back from the UK – he is currently in Cambridge and though he arrived a few days ago, we only managed to meet up the day before yesterday for tea here. Actually, I had something I had to see to so I had to drop by that afternoon and since we were there, I thought we might as well go there instead of making our way through the horrendously heavy traffic in town to go some place else.

Much to my surprise, all the bottles of kuih bangkit that I blogged about here had all been sold out…and they did have quite a lot! Truly, I am amazed!

Anyway, back to our tea, we had their garlic bread (RM8.00)…

Payung Cafe garlic bread

…which we enjoyed very much – even Xavier commented that the bread was great and I bet he had his share of some very nice ones over in England. I know the bakery where they get their loaves from but theirs are on special order, according to their requirements – one can’t just walk into the place and buy the same off the shelves. My girl had a slice by the side when she had their chicken chop not too long ago and she loved it too – that was why I went to ask where they got their bread from. The chicken sauce dip that came with the bread was very good as well and went very well with the bread!

Xavier wanted to try their rojak (RM10.00, small)…

Payung Cafe rojak

…so we had that…and he had my girl’s favourite – the pineapple ginger soda (RM8.00).

As for me, I decided to try their durian milkshake (RM8.00)…

Payung Cafe durian milkshake

…which was very rich, thick and creamy though I would have loved the durian fragrance to be a little stronger…but I may be biased as I am not really into milk-based drinks or drinks with milk. Personally, I would very much prefer their durian ice cream.

We were there for a long time, chatting away about anything and everything and that is what I like about this place – you can sit as long as you like – nobody will bother you. In fact, once I saw a Caucasian lady there, sitting by the side all by herself, having coffee and reading a book.  It is never crowded and noisy and there is no free wifi so you do not get a lot of those in groups, all engrossed in their own smartphones.

It sure was nice seeing you again, Xavier, and thank you for the somewhat intriguing box of chocolates…

Chocolates from Xavier

…all the way from, my guess, Heathrow. LOL!!! I’ve yet to open it though, saving it till all the festivities are over when I can sit down, relax and enjoy them slowly…one by one.

Another one who’s back in Sibu for Chinese New Year is Teck, all the way from Perth, Australia. He reads my blog regularly and comments too sometimes and he must have seen me lamenting about how we cannot get fresh beef here in Sibu and we have to buy the expensive imported frozen ones from Australia or New Zealand (or the smelly ones from God knows where…and some have been frozen so long that they have turned black and are beyond recognition) so he brought me some fresh beef…

Fresh beef from Australia

…all the way from Down Under. Goodness gracious me! Imagine him going through all that trouble to do that and he even drove to my house to pass it to me. Isn’t that so very nice?

I have not decided what to cook yet – since it is fresh, curry and the like would be out of the question. It would have to be something without all those overpowering ingredients so we would be able to savour the freshness and the sweetness of the meat. Thank you so very very much, Teck – and thank you for dropping by regularly to browse through what I share every day…and I do appreciate your thoughtfulness and good intentions but please, don’t trouble yourself so much in future. It really is such a hassle bringing fresh/frozen perishables especially when travelling, what more to say when one is flying long haul.

My niece is home too, from Singapore and she brought us these…

From Mary & Wilfred, Singapore

…and also the can of almond cookies from another ex-student, currently in Singapore and sadly, he is not able to come back this year. It most certainly is so sweet and thoughtful of you to send me something for the new year, Wilfred, a really nice gesture indeed – thank you so very very much.

Yes, it’s Chinese New Year’s Eve tomorrow. Everybody ready for the big bash?

Grease…

I saw the movie in KL many many years ago. I think it was 1978 and an embarrassing thing happened.  I managed to find my way to Bukit Bintang and there I went looking for the Cathay Cinema. I walked and walked but there was no sign of the place and I decided to stop a young Indian girl to ask where the cinema was. She stared at me with that strange look on her face, turned and walked away. “Gee!” I thought, “KL girls sure are unfriendly!”

I continued walking and just a few steps away, there it was! The cinema that I was searching for. No wonder the girl reacted that way. She probably thought I was trying to be fresh or something as the cinema was right round the corner. Well, I got to watch the movie for the first time there…and yes, I watched it again when it came to Sibu and a lot more times after that…and never failed to enjoy it again and again.

Fast forward to 1994, I managed to get to watch the stage musical at the Dominion Theatre at West End, London…

Grease at West End, London 1

It was truly an unforgettable experience. Everyone knew the words to the songs and were singing along and many even got up and danced…

Grease at West End London 2

Debbie Gibson was Sandy in that one – those of you who are older (though not as old as I am) would remember her in “Lost in your eyes” that was a hit around here in the 80’s.

Well, Fox did a remake of the musical on Sunday, January 31st (Monday, 1st February here) and the live telecast certainly was very well-received with a whole lot of raving reviews in the mass media. I have not seen the whole thing but as far as the songs go, I personally feel that there are a few hits like this one…

…and this one that made me want to get up and dance (…as if I still could! Sobsss!!!) and this was very good too…

Unfortunately, when it was time for the song that I liked best in the show (one of my regular karaoke favourites)…

…the sound was a little off but I still enjoyed it a lot.

On the down side, I like Frankie Valli’s rendition of the theme song a lot more than Jessis J’s and I did not think Boyz II Men did a better job than Frankie Avalon while this, in my opinion, paled in comparison to Sha Na Na’s livelier rendition of the song…and I prefer Travolta and Olivia’s to this one…

…plus the fact that the lips were totally out of sync with the lyrics of the song sure did not help one bit but I would say that Julianne Hough sure made a really pretty Sandy, as pretty or maybe even more so than Olivia…and by the way, fans of Mario Lopez would be delighted to see him in the show as Vince Fontaine. I wonder if he would make a better Danny Zuko.

We do have a couple of Fox channels on our satelite tv here but I don’t think we could get to watch this here. Well, if they ever get to show it anytime soon, I sure wouldn’t want to miss it. What about you?

I’m taking over…

There used to be a halal Chinese restaurant here probably owned by a Chinese Muslim convert as it had a Chinese name, somebody surnamed Low. I never went to try and neither did I hear of anybody talking about it except once when someone was ranting over the prices he or she was charged there. Eventually, it closed down and now, somebody else is taking over…

Keripan Cafe Sibu

I don’t know what that name means – the closest word in Malay that I know is lipan, centipede.

I guess they inherited everything that the previous owner had for her restaurant so generally, it looked like a nice place…

Keripan Cafe, inside

…though when we were there at around 11.00 a.m., I thought the place needed sweeping and the Italian-tiled pavement outside was in dire need of mopping. They had ashtrays…

Ashtray

…but it would be nice if they could do a little bit more than just the mere disposing of the butts.

Luckily, it was raining that morning so it was nice and cool. I did not see any fans inside, just a few outside above the pavement while inside, they had those air conditioner vents, obviously from the previous restaurant, but I doubt they would switch those on, seeing that the place was quite open.

Well, I have had conflicting reviews of the place – somebody went and had their nasi kerabu and shared the photograph on Facebook and he said, “Biasa aje!” (ordinary/nothing special). Then, I heard a friend raving about it saying that it was nicer than the ones that we would go for here. Like I have always said, one man’s meat is another man’s poison – to each his own so I just had to go there and find out for myself.

I had the nasi kerabu

Nasi kerabu Keripan Cafe

…with ayam percik (RM12.00)…

Ayam percik Keripan Cafe

…and as one can clearly see, they were not very generous with the special gravy or sambal and the sprinkling of the fish/grated coconut combo and I did not see any air budu either. The kerabu/ulam-ulaman or the raw vegetables could have been cut finer and they did not have some of those they had at that other place – like the ulam raja, for instance, that has its special fragrance and taste. The sambal cili was kind of diluted but one saving grace was that they had this stuffed chili…

Stuffed chili Keripan Cafe

…that they do not have at that other place. As for the chicken, it was over-tender, not very nice and too soft for my liking like the ones they had here, probably those cheaper frozen ones and for that very reason, I never went back to the latter again. Likewise, I am in no hurry to come back here and if I do, I certainly would not bother ordering the chicken the next time around.

My missus had the fish (RM7.00)…

Nasi kerabu ikan goreng Keripan Cafe

…and she did not say anything about it so I guess it was all right. This was more expensive that the ones with fish or chicken at that other place, just that it had the little bit extra – the stuffed chili so all in all, if it is nasi kerabu that we are looking for, I would much sooner go back to our regular place. The one here, this much I would say, is nice enough should one happen to be in the vicinity on a weekday – they only serve this on Saturdays at the other place – but unless you are all right with that kind of chicken, perhaps you should give that a skip and go for the fish.

Moving on from the post proper, I really must thank my cousin and his wife for the lovely traditional goodies…

From Ah Lek & Saliah

…that they went through the trouble of getting and giving us for Chinese New Year and also to my blogger-friend, Angeline, in Taiping Perak, for the card…

From Angeline

…that she sent and last but not least, thank you also to my ex-student, home from Penang for Chinese New Year, for the very nice acar

From Pek Hong

…that his mum makes and he never fails to give me some every year.

Count me in…

We were in the vicinity less than a fortnight ago and when we went again the other day, we noticed that there were at least two or three other cafés including this one…

Soft opening

…that had had its soft opening already and I think there was one, or maybe two, other coffee shops as well besides the two “food courts” that I mentioned in that earlier post…plus at least two hair salons.

With our frail economy the way it is right now, I really wonder if this is a good time to set up a business or maybe it is…as usually, there will be lots and lots of people coming home and and many others visiting Sibu too for the magnificent annual fireworks and firecrackers extravaganza at the stroke of midnight come Chinese New Year’s Eve so these places would probably enjoy brisk business at the time but they would have to make sure that they are a cut above the rest to keep the people coming back, those permanent residents, that is.

This time around, we dropped by here…

Wonderful Food Court

…and I had the char siew noodles (RM5.00)…

Char Siew noodles

…from one of the stalls there which I thought was good. I remember we used to get this here but the roast meat stall had been taken over by somebody else and I do not know where they had moved to now.

Just like the other one, they use their thick own-made noodles, something like those in the celebrated KL Hokkien mee but it was their char siew

Char siew

…that stole the show. I don’t know which part they used but the meat was tender and succulent and it really tasted great. I went to the stall to ask if they sold the char siew or not but they said no – one would only be able to have it with the noodles, take it or leave it.

There is a stall right beside this one selling roast meat with rice and they had char siew too…but it did not look the same so I did not bother getting any from there to try.

My missus had the claypot mee (RM6.00)…

Claypot mee

…from this lady who has shifted her stall from here where she was for a while. I heard she was originally at another shop in this same vicinity before so probably she stays around here and this new place would be a more convenient location…or perhaps the old lady and her kampua mee proved too much of a competition for anyone else setting up a stall at that same shop, I wouldn’t know.

Well, she did not use the usual yee mee so it did not have that special fragrance and taste. Instead, she used her own handmade noodles and I would say it was quite good, different but I thought it was not bad but there was too much for my missus to finish and no prize for guessing who had to finish it off. She left the egg behind – much to my delight and I did spot a few prawns and some minced meat balls in it. Well, anything with prawns doesn’t come cheap these days, that sure goes without saying.

Among the many others, there were a few most probably halal stalls there – one selling nasi lemak, another selling roti canai, one that dishes out all the fried stuff like fried noodles and the like and one selling nasi lalapan, ayam penyet…though I did not see anything that I would feel I would want to have.

They say…

Pasta originated from China, they say – Marco Polo brought it back when he returned from his travels. Well, whether that is true of not, to me, they are all different kinds of noodles. Even here alone, there are so many varieties – our kampua noodles, the kolo mee in Kuching and wantan mee are all different in texture and taste and of course, the different ways of preparation and serving make that even more so.

This version of dried noodles, the mee kua

Mee kua

…that is widely available here sure looks similar to linguine, doesn’t it? Of course I would not go so far as to say that they are the same – obviously, by virtue of the ingredients used in the making and probably the process as well, they are not but I had some in the house and I decided to cook it differently from the usual to see how it turned out.

Like pasta, this mee kua takes a longer time to boil unlike the rest here and after I had done that, I rinsed it in cold water to remove whatever excess starch there was and to stop any further cooking from the residual heat. I still had this packet of spices…

Burrito spice mix

…so I added two teaspoons of that and some chopped sweet basil from my ailing plant plus a pinch of salt and some pepper…

Ready to toss

…and tossed everything together.

I fried some chopped garlic in two tablespoons of cooking oil in my ceramic pan (Yes, I’ve used it already and I love it!!!) till golden brown and then I added some chopped pepperoni…

Garlic & pepperoni

…for some added taste. Once I could detect the fragrance from these two ingredients, I added the pre-tossed noodles into the pan and mixed everything together and served…

Breakfast is served

…with a sprinkling of parmesan cheese on top.

Well, it was nice but I would much sooner have it my old school way – tossed with shallot oil, chopped spring onions, dark soy sauce and a pinch of msg and of course, with Bovril, that would bring the taste to a whole new level…just that I cannot afford it now. Believe it or not, you see bottles of that (and Marmite too) at the shops and supermarkets kept under lock and key, right next to the cans of New Moon abalone!!! Sigh!!! The way the prices are going, there are many things we will just have to learn to live without like, for instance, at RM110.00 a kilo, it sure looks like I am not going to have any bak kua (barbecued meat) this year… Sobssss!!!!

Valentine…

We were heading to the town centre last Saturday in search of a nice place for lunch when we saw that some roads were blocked and there was a horrendous traffic jam so I took a detour and decided to drop by here but unfortunately, the guy selling the nice wat tan hor kway teow and all the fried stuff was closing for the day. Good grief! It was not even noon yet!!! Janggut was not around – I hear that usually, he would not be opened if he had some catering assignment to do – probably he had been enlisted to prepare all the pre-packed meals for the participants in that grand function at the town square across the stream – some big shot from the peninsula was in town.

In the end, we just decided to just drop by the hotel next door…

Paramount Hotel, Sibu

…and have a bite to eat at their Valentine Cafe…

Valentine Cafe

…there. It is actually quite a big place – I was only taking a photograph of the paintings on the wall and the lanterns they had put up for Chinese New Year. Yes, there were some decorations…

Chinese New Year deco

…for the festive season all over the café and also the hotel lobby.

Normally, I would not go and eat at hotels unless it is the venue for a wedding banquet or some kind of party…but I was here over a year ago and I had their potato tuna salad (RM11.00)…

Valentine Cafe potato tuna salad

…and it was nice so I thought we could have that and see what else they had on their menu.

They had a set lunch promo at the moment for only RM13.00 (excluding GST) and the things on the menu looked quite good so we decided to go for that. My girl and I had their spaghetti, mamak-style…

Valentine Cafe spaghetti mamak

…and hers was served first. It seemed that they cooked them separately, plate by plate and I had to wait for a while for mine to be served as my missus’ pineapple fried rice…

Valentine Cafe, pineapple fried rice

…was served next. It was very nice, a much better choice than the spaghetti, I would say…but the pasta was all right too, not anything to shout about but it was not bad.

My girl said that hers was kind of bland plus it was sour as she squeezed both the calamansi limes by the side…

Valentine Cafe spaghetti mamak

I tried a bit but thought it was fine. Mine had a stronger wok hei fragrance but it was a bit too salty for my liking. It sure looked like they were not all that consistent…but for one thing, I certainly would give them top marks for their presentation…

Vaelntine Cafe pineapple fried rice

They had other choices for their set lunch such as their kung pao fish or their black pepper chicken and there was also fried beef with ginger but we did not quite feel like having any of those.

You get a free drink (cordial) and an ice cream…

Valentine Cafe vanilla ice cream

…as well and if we deduct RM3.00, the price for that little cup at a coffee shop close by, the set lunch actually costs RM10.00 only, inclusive of a drink…and that is rather cheap for a hotel. That is why I don’t usually fancy eating at hotels – the prices can be quite steep while the food may be good but not quite sensational…plus I had had my fill of hotel food on my never-ending working trips before I retired.

However, the one here, I must say, is very reasonably-priced and what we had was ok which made me think that this would be a good place to get together with friends and hang around all afternoon to chat and catch up with one another. Unless they have a function going on, there are not many people around and the waiting staff is very nice and friendly.

Long gone day…

When I was blogging about the kuih bangkit that day, my regular reader and commentor, Irene, said she also loves kuih sepit, kuih S & lek tau ko and added, “Nowadays, I never see people make lek tau ko. These few are my childhood CNY cookies.” Well, I was positive that they do sell lek tau ko at a bakery in town so I made my way there to have a look and that was why I ended up having the somewhat disappointing kolo mee special at this coffee shop in the next block that morning.

Yes, they had lek tau ko but they were kind of black in colour – probably they did not remove the skin of the green beans when they ground them for the flour to make those. Besides, they were kind of distorted and did not seem to have those very nice shapes that used to appeal to us in the long gone days when we were kids. Somehow or other, it thrilled us to no end to pick an animal and bite its head off and eat it all up. Gee!!! We kids those days sure had some really violent tendencies, eh? LOL!!!

Well, it so happened that a couple of days later, my missus was at the shopping mall in town and she saw these…

Lek tau ko 1

…and of course, she wasted no time in grabbing a tub to take home and try…and yes, they were very nice indeed. According to the seller at the temporary stall there selling these goodies for Chinese New Year, these were made by some Hokkien lady at home.

The shapes, made using the special wooden mold, were very well done. This is a bird or a hen…

Lek tau ko 3

…I guess…and this one is probably a rat…

Lek tau ko 4

…and in the words of the mean ol’ Queen in Alice in Wonderland, “Off with their heads!!!” Muahahahahaha!!!!

I went and googled and yes, I remember what we, in my family, used to call those – kuih koya!…

Lek tau ko 2

I think it is luk tau peang in Cantonese, and by the way, in response to zmun2‘s comments, I stumbled upon the Chinese name for kuih bangkitshih fun peang, and that sure sounds like Cantonese too.