Archive for the ‘Kuching’ Category

There is a saying, “You can take a Sarawakian out of Sarawak, but you can’t take Sarawak out of a Sarawakian“. It’s a quaint way of saying that you are bound to remember your roots wherever you are 🙂

This is so true in my case, where food is concerned, of course. I’m sure many people fall in the same boat as I do *wink*  

Moving to Belgium some two decades ago, revisiting and reminiscing childhood memories in any shapes and forms become a norm. The dish that I often re-visit time and time again is none other than the murky-looking green dish called Ka Chang Ma (KCM) where chicken meat is the main protein ingredient in the recipe. This dish is undisputably renowed (only) in Sarawak, especially in Kuching. It’s not everyone’s favourite dish, to be honest, because the dish has been stigmatised as a food for women in confinement. This conservative rationale no longer holds true today. KCM is cooked all year round.

Thermomix Cooking Defined

3 years ago, I posted a rather comprehensive write-up of this unique dish, with a story to tell. You can read it all here: Ka Chang Ma (The Mother of all Dishes)

While it was prepared the conventional way (with Mum’s recipe et al) then, I converted the recipe in the Thermomix jargon. Now, I have both methods on my blog which I can refer to anytime  🙂

  

KCM cooked the Conventional way (day light)

 

KCM cooked in TM5 (night light)

  

Cooking in either way had no influence on the taste (the end result), however, the cooking processes were obviously different. 

In a nutshell (metaphorically speaking): You want to go to Restaurant X. You have a choice of either taking the car which takes 5 mins OR on foot, which takes 15 mins. By either taking the car or going on foot, you will reach the same ultimate destination. The differences are the mode of transportation and the duration it takes from origin to destination. In this example the car was the Thermomix  way of cooking, whilst going on foot was the conventional  or traditional way of cooking. Got it?

Or simply, the Thermomix is just another collection of kitchen gadget in addition to a Slow Cooker, a Multi Cooker, a Pressure Cooker, etc that you might already have, only that it replaces at least 10 kitchen appliances: blender, grater, chopper, steamer, (slow)cooker, rice cooker, mixer, soup maker, dough kneading machine to name but a few.

Any conventional recipe can be converted to the TM method. There’s no secret. There’s no trick.  All you need to do is to decipher the logic.

  

How I cooked the KCM in my TM5

Ingredient A –

  • 10 g loose leaf KCM (Motherwort) dried herb 

Ingredients B –

  • 20 g sesame oil
  • 695 g chicken drumsticks 

Ingredients C –

  • 10 g ground KCM dried herb
  • 10 g ground ginger
  • 50 g whiskey 
  • 200 g water

Ingredients D –

  • 20 g whiskey 
  • 300 g water
  • 1/2 cube vegetable stock
  • 1 tsp ground ginger 
  • 5 g sesame oil

   
 How to prepare?

  1. Toast the loose leaf KCM in the TM bowl for 10 mins/ V/ sp1
  2. Grind the toasted herb when the temperature drops below 60 deg C. Mill for 1 min/ sp6 -> 10
  3. Tip ground KCM in a clean bowl. Set aside.
  4. Add B in TM bowl. Cook for 5 mins/ V/ R/ spoon.
  5. Add C and cook further for 22 mins/ V/ R/ spoon
  6. Adjust seasoning by adding D. Cook for a further 5 mins/ V/ R/ spoon
  7. Done!

 

Verdict : KCM is undeniably one of my favourite comfort foods. With its myriad of nutritional benefits, I could have this dish anytime I want, but like many things, there is always a limit. Moderation is key.  By the way, I have cooked several different dishes with or without using the Thermomix. There are some dishes that worked better the conventional way. For KCM, if given the choice, I would cook the dish in my TM5. Why? Because the cooking is 100% done in the Thermomix, from dry-roasting the herbs to grinding the herbs to braising the chicken. Et voilà, dinner’s served! Simply effortless.

The KCM Chicken dish (or braised Motherwort Chicken dish) is a local dish of Sarawak. For this I’m linking this post to April Tea Time Treats: Local & Regional Recipes hosted by Lavender and Lovage and The Hedgecombers

  
Ka Chang Ma is Motherwort, an herbaceous plant of the mint family. This recipe uses only the dried herb. I’m linking this post to Lavender and Lovage’s Cooking with Herbs for Easter and Spring

  

Have a great week!

Cheers!

Of Red and Tortoises

My Mum and siblings know it!

Every trip to Kuching, Mum or one of my sisters would buy at least half a dozen of the red, soft, sticky and chewy Chinese pastry filled with mung bean paste for our brekkie. This is one of my must-haves whenever I am in Kuching. The cake (transcribed from the local dialect, ‘kueh‘ ) is moulded to resemble a tortoise shell. 

Remember Grand Master Oogway, one of the characters from DreamWorks animated film, Kung Fu Panda? His character is a tortoise and his name, “Oogway” is the English approximation of the Chinese word for ‘turtle’. In the film, Oogway is shown to be highly venerated for his wisdom, tenacity, knowledge and experience. He is considered a sage (a legendary icon with profound wisdom). 

Here’s one of my favourite quotes *wink*

  

And by the way, tortoises have one of the longest lifespans of any animal. They are known to have lived longer than 150 years, therefore, by equating Red + Tortoise, we arrived at the most powerful equation. In Chinese culture, the colour red symbolizes joy and happiness, whilst the tortoise is traditionally used as a symbol of longevity, power and diligence

Not Red but all-natural Orange Tortoise

Traditionally, Ang Ku Kuehs are prepared during Chinese New Year as offerings to the Chinese deities, as well as auspicious occasions such as a newborn baby’s first month (muah guek) or birthdays of the elderly to symbolize blessings for the child and good fortune and longevity for the elderly.

In modern times, the colour red is no longer restricted to special occasions. These sweet pastries are commercially available all year round in Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, China, Taiwan and Southern parts of Thailand. The two main components in Ang Ku Kueh (AKK) are the skin and the filling. The skin is made from both glutinous rice flour and sweet potato whereas the fillings are usually pre-cooked mung bean paste or grounded peanuts and sugar. The oval-shaped AKK is the result of the imprintment of the tortoise-shape mould used in shaping the sweet pastries.

Here were some photos I took during my last trip to Kuching in August last year. These were taken during the Annual Kuching Food Festival.
   
 

With the mass production of the AKK all year round, I am very certain food dyes are liberally used. I am not a fan of using food colouring in my kitchen, hence, my homemade Ang Ku Kueh will definitely not be Red.

Here’s the result of my all-natural Orange Tortoise Cakes. (Note the colour orange was the result of my using orange sweet potatoes)

  

This recipe is an adaptation of Nasi Lemak Lover’s AKK recipe with several modifications, as to the ratio of glutinous rice flour to sweet potato, reduced sugar and I added a pinch of salt and excluding food colouring. I did not use hot water as I was preparing the AKK in my Thermomix

Ingredient A

  • 180 g mung beans (rinsed with several changes of running water and soaked for 4 hours)

Ingredient B

  • 3 knotted pandan leaves

Ingredients C

  • 100 g sugar
  • Pinch of sea salt
  • 30 g corn oil

  

Ingredient D

  • 1,000 g water

Ingredient E

  • 220 g sweet potatoes, washed, peeled and cut in chunks 

Ingredients F

  • 170 g glutinous rice flour
  • 5 g rice flour
  • 15 g sugar
  • 20 g corn oil

Ingredient G

  • 80 g water

  

Ingredient H

  • 700 g water

Additional ingredients

  • Some corn oil
  • Some glutinous rice flour

How to prepare 

   

  1. Place A and B in the Simmering Basket (SB). Place E in the Varoma Dish (VD). Add D. Steam for 45 min/ V/ sp 2
  2. Remove SB and VD. Add the slightly cooled A without B into the TM Bowl. Add C. Blend for 45 sec/ sp 7.  Scrape the sides of the inner bowl and remove the dough into a clean bowl. Cover and set aside.
  3. Place the slightly cooled E into the TM Bowl. Blend for 5 sec/ sp 6. Add F and very slowly pour in G.   Mix for 30 sec/ sp 4. (Note, it is crucial at this stage to check the consistency of the dough. If it is too thick, add water; if too thin, add glutinous rice flour). Knead the dough further for 2 mins. Tip the dough out onto a clean bowl
  4. For the amount of ingredients I used in this recipe, I could make 18 AKK. Use your fantasy on how to put the mung bean filling in the sweet potato dough. I used a measuring spoon of a bit more than 1 Tbsp sweet potato dough and 1 Tbsp of mung bean paste. Try to form a ball and place the ball onto an AKK mould, which was pre-dusted with some glutinous rice flour. Press lightly with your hand and knock out the AKK on both of the long sides of the mould. Immediately sit the AKK on a greased banana leaf
  5. Repeat the process until the doughs are completely used up.  Pour H in the TM Bowl and set the dials to 30 mins/ V/ sp 2.  Once the temp reaches Varoma at approx 22 mins, reduce the temp to 100 deg C. Place the AKK on the Varoma set (Dish and Tray) and stack the Varoma set above the TM Bowl. Continue steaming until done.

   
  
 

Verdict: This was the first time I made Ang Ku Kueh which were not red but all-natural orange tortoise cakes! I have read several recipes, both conventional and thermomix way of preps on the net. Most of them sounded too good to be true. ” … cool the dough and shape in x balls …” or “… weigh each dough and shape in balls … ” or “… divide the dough into x balls …” . Balls? What balls? Honestly, I wished I could do that! Sonia (Nasi Lemak Lover) made her AKK for the first time and yet she could roll the skin dough into balls (yes, balls!) as well as the mung bean paste. Now, why couldn’t I do that? The sweet potato-glutinous rice flour dough was not easy to handle at all. I added a bit more GRF but dared not go overboard, lest the dough would be too hard and overly tough and chewy. I wanted a soft yet subtly chewy dough, so I ended up scooping the dough with a measuring spoon of 1 Tbsp and tried making a ball on a greased clean plate. Did it work? On the plate, yes, but not on my palm, so no balls. LOL!. Same thing for the mung bean paste. I had to add a bit more oil to make a ball. It was tedious task handlng the “balls” 36 times (skin and filling). I was so craving for AKK and when I finally made it, I was in 7th Heaven, but …..I would NOT suggest eating the AKK hot or warm, ie just coming out from the steamer (Varoma set). It was too soft and the skin was not at all chewy. It was like biting through a gelatinous pastry. Uh-uh! At that point, I was really disappointed and thought the recipe was a big, flat flop! And then I read on fatboo’s blog that the AKK can be kept without refrigeration for up to 3 days; and if they are refrigerated, to re-steam for 5 mins prior to serving. Did I follow the rule? Yes and No. I kept my orange tortoise cakes un-refrigerated for up to 24 hours only, not 3 days. Thanks to fatboo, the AKK tasted sublime the next day, like it should be – soft and chewy with the right balance at the same time. The glossy skin was absolutely fab! I did not even brush extra oil on my little orange tortoise cakes. Likewise, I was really glad I reduced the amount of sugar for the mung bean paste. It was bang on the money, not overly sweet. The subtle pandan flavour and the aroma from the banana leaf were undescribable. Just too nostalgic.

   
 

I had about 10 leftover pieces left. Since I am not used to leaving foods un-refrigerated for longer than 24 hours, I placed my precious orange tortoise cakes in the fridge. I did not re-steam the cakes because if I did, it would be a vicious circle. So I ate a piece of AKK in its cold refrigerated state. That was a BIG mistake! The skin was not chewy anymore. The sweet potato texture became more dominant. The filling was fantastic, though. In hindsight, I should have left the AKK un-refrigerated for 3 days. I guess that’s hinting me to make another batch of these Tortoise cakes, regardless the colour very soon *wink*

Ang Ku Kueh is Hokkien Chinese and is literally translated as Red Tortoise Cake. This sweet Chinese pastry is ubiquitous in Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, Indonesia and Thailand all year round. For this, I’m linking up this local delicacy to April Tea Time Treats: Local & Regional Recipes hosted by Lavender and Lovage and The Hedgecombers

  

Have a great week!

Cheers!

Down Memory Lane 

Three-quarters of the year 2015 have passed us by with the wink of an eye. 9th Aug was a very special day to remember when every single member of my family ~ my Mum, 5 sibilings and their spouses and children ~ converged in a nostalgic location, the Sarawak Museum Garden. As far as my curious young mind could remember, the Musuem ground was a sum of a subset of several activities gone by ~ the good, the not-so-good, the funny, the ugly, you name it. It all happened there. For me, I grew up visiting the garden quite often because our house at Satok Road was just a stone’s throw from the Museum’s ground.

We loved going there on Sundays watching the brassy live band performed by the Constabulary Band from the local police department. While the older folks were listening to the live band performing, we kids loved to play the see-saws, swings and popping our mouths munching boiled chick peas and peanuts! Memories are made of these.

While the gazebo that was used as a band stand remains on the Museum’s compound ~ sadly ~ it did not stand the test of time. On the contrary, the swings and see-saws vanished decades ago and our old house at Satok Road is ground Zero! *sob*

Sigh!! A Sunday today at the Museum Garden in Kuching is… Sshhh…. sshhh… it’s Oh So quiet! And so peaceful, until ….

BIM BAM!

   

Our contingent of 23 members transformed that Sunday into a day that will always be a part of us!

By the way, it was not easy to pick a date or dates for a full quorum. We had planned this exceptional family reunion since 2012!

The following were memorable snapshots which never failed to put a smile on my face. Each family came with a chosen colour dresscode. Forget the louboutins or stilletos, tight fits, mini skirts and cakey makeups. It was a 100% casual and natural day! Period!

  

 

The Matriach of the day sparkled like a rare Turqoise. After all, she’s the reason we converged full quorum in August anno 2015. Love ya, Mumsie 😉

Vitamin D and adrenaline overload day!

While the family photoshoot was a full quorum, the Kayak expedition had an equally remarkable attendance of circa 83%! Brilliant!

A hot and humid day was expected, that’s for sure, hence we assembled at a shop lot before 9am, with the supposed attire on. It was a funny but fun sight to see as we were dressed in the united colours of Benetton. Ha ha ha…

Before we dispersed in two 10-seater vans, our guide, Ricky, briefed us on the general guidelines. He shook his head looking at our attire. LOL! Out of the 19 eager ‘kayakers’, only 3 scored in the correct-type-of-shoes category, while flip-flops, crocs and sandals were the common sight that morning. Tsk! Tsk! Tsk!

The journey to Kampung Bengoh took 1 hour. There were more families gathered there, from all over the world. It was an internationally fun-filled day! A safety briefing from Ricky and 5 other experienced and enthusiastic certified guides (Richie, Macqueen, Wazir, Harris, Jeffrey) made us felt at total ease, especially for first-timers. Useful tips were given on the paddling techniques ~ the correct angle to hold the oar, start, stop, manoueuvre and what nots. By the way, I have done a similar expedition on the Lesse years ago with my other half, but not as fun-filled and boisterous as this one! 

Oh yes…. never mind the heat, we were all fired up and ready to go!

  

Semadang Kayak Discovery

I understood there were 3 Kayak Operators serving similar all-inclusive day trips adventure tours on the Semadang River. We chose the family-owned Semadang Borneo Adventure Kayak Company as recommended by 2 of my nieces, both of whom had prior experiences with no regrets! As the majority of us were first-timers, we opted for the Semadang Discovery Kayaking package, excluding bamboo rafting, caving and jungle trekking. In other words, we were simply cruising on the Semadang River and enjoying the God-given scenaries at our own “paddling” paces. We covered a total of 11 km!  

 

It was sheer fun and physical at the same time, especially when we had to manoeuvre our oars through sporadic rough currents now and then.

  

After all the physical manoeuvres, our first stop was at Kampung Danu. While the other Kayak Operator(s) served a packet of Kuching Kolo Mee per pax for lunch, our Operator offered a most scrumptious lunch buffet à volonté! All dishes were prepared from fresh, locally sourced ingredients.

Dishes may vary from one excursion/ trip to another, but as far as I could remember, we enjoyed hearty, home-cooked dishes of Manok Pansoh (chicken cooked in bamboo), chicken curry, stir-fried okra (ladies’ fingers), cangkuk manis (sweet leaf or mani chai) served with local brown rice. Desserts were watermelon and butter pound cake! YUM! YUM! YUM!

Oh yes, YUM….MMMMYYYYYY!!

 
  

(C)Roc(k)odiles!

We were given assurance that there were no Crocodiles, but abundance of roc(k)odiles! The turtle rock was a sight to behold, the gigantic “mammoth” and lots more

    

All work and no play makes Jack/ Jane a dull boy/girl.  So Jacks and Janes swam, skipped stones, fooled around, sang “row, row, row your boat”….

Yes… Merrily down Semadang River 🙂
 
Cheers people!

   

Notes: Initially, I  had not wanted to go for the reason that I can’t swim, and I’m glad I went! It was also a refresher course for me. The waters were quite shallow, hence, this adventure package is suitable for novices. For the record there were a handful of very young kids (as young as 5 years old) in our group, of course accompanied by their parents or an adult. Each kayak is provided a waterproof bag and a half litre bottle drinking water and a life jacket per person . It is advisable to bring sunblock lotion, insect repellent, a pair of sunglasses, a cap or sun hat and extra bottles of drinking water. It’s hot!!

In hindsight, footwear with good grip is recommended.

The package included transfers to pickup and drop-off, lunch buffet and digital photos DVD.

Oh yes, don’t forget to bring dry clothes/ change of clothes and towel. These are left at Kampung Bengoh upon arrival.

And last but not least, bring your smile and good mood with you, because that’s what the reunion was all about. Remember a smile is a curve that sets everything straight and it’s FREE!!

Final word of Thanks

A BIG thank you to the main initiator of the Reunion event 2015. The photoshoot and discovering Semadang river would never have got off the ground if it wasn’t for my youngest sister’s persistences. She’s the Director of the entire event. Thanks, sis from the bottom of our hearts! You have made our Family Reunion a blast and it was a moment which will be remembered forever😜

Have a great weekend everyone!

Cheers!

Kuching has transformed quite tremendously since our previous trip in 2008! The newest shopping mall then was The Spring at Kenyalang Park. Now there were several malls burgeoning the city ~ Plaza Merdeka, CityOne Megamall, Hills Shopping Mall, Boulevard Shopping Mall, Green Heights Mall, etc. All those were new to me when I was back in Kuching last month! With Kuching slowly becoming a concrete jungle, my geography of the city has gone a bit haywire.

We were really fortunate to have a reliable and faithful chaufeuress in the person of my younger sister. Thanks, sis for showing us around and the fact that you took leave from Day 1 of our stay in Kuching, made our trip remarkably easy and comfortable.

Save the Best for Last?

Our ETD was in the evening of 27th Aug. I told my Mum and sisters that ~ as far as possible ~ we wanted to stay away from ‘heavy’ meals at least one day before our departure to avoid embarrassing moments while flying. It wasn’t easy for the boys to shun good foods everyday, so they ended up having a rather heavy porky dinner at Oinks! the night before. My older son was techinally knocked out (TKO) after the heavy, slap up oinky dinner. He slept through the entire morning the next day (our last day in Kuching!!). So did my younger son. LOL!

At around noon on the day of our ETD, my younger sis drove us ~ hubby and I ~ excluding the boys around a residential area. I had absolutely no clue where my sister was bringing us to. We thought she wanted to stop by at her colleague’s house, and yes, she did stop, only to find a parking spot in front of a rather hustle & bustle looking private open car porch smack in the centre of a residential area at Pisang Road West!

  
 

It was a double~storey corner unit terrace house, with red lanterns and fake fire crackers dangling as decorations in the open car porch. Wasn’t Chinese New Year celebrated in February? I was curious. My sis didn’t say a word..

The spiked gates were wide open, beckoning us to walk into the open car porch. Then I noticed the familiar sight. I almost screamed with elation! My sister had saved the best for last! She brought us to lunch one of my favourite local dishes ~ Hakka pounded tea rich or more popularly known as Lui Cha (Fon).

Lui = Pounded or crushed

Cha = Tea

Fon = Rice

  
 

The owner and chef are a husband-and-wife team. I would not have believed the long-haired, biker/rocker-look Mr Lee was the chef! He certainly cooked up a jolly tasty Lui Cha Fon!

   
  

By the way, it was the first time my hubby tasted Lui Cha. His first impression was “Yuck! Green soup with rice and toppings! What the heck am I eating?!” And boy, was he in for a surprise! He had to eat his own words because he actually finished everything! He said the lunch was a discovery for him. He didn’t like the first spoonful but the taste slowly became more and more favourable. It was definitely an acquired taste.

   
  

And we licked our bowls completely clean! Yummy!

Verdict: We ordered the regular bowl at RM5 which I regretted at hindsight! I should have ordered the BIG bowl at RM6! It was a light vegetarian dish. Mr Lee and his wife served the Lui Cha with brown rice garnished with 6 “treasures” (cangkuk manis, long beans, chai por, tau hu, Chinese cabbage and roasted peanuts) which was one treasure shy of my Homemade Lui Cha Fon from scratch 😜

Homemade Lui Cha Fon from scratch by yours truly! 🙂

 

7 “treasures” accompanying my homemade Lui Cha Fon

 
 

Honestly speaking, the fact that my Ang Moh  (Caucasian) husband was able to finish the entire bowl showed that the Lee’s Lui Cha Fon was not done the authentic and classical or traditional way which would be a lot more bitter and bland. The Lee’s pounded tea rice was lightly enhanced which complemented the tasty minty tea soup. That’s the twist and they played their cards well (commercially).  They have converted many Lui Cha haters to lovers with their tasty Lui Cha Fon.

And please don’t forget to try their coconut jelly for RM 2 a pot. It was cool and refreshing. Perfect while waiting for your hot tea rice to be served or superb as dessert. Forget about coming after 1.30pm. The Lee’s are opened for business from 10 am to 2pm only from Mon to Sat.

FYI, I will definitely go back there for the BIG bowl. I have warned my sis 😜
 

Cheers!

My heartbeat frolicked with excitement when the 4 of us boarded the amazing B787 Dreamliner from Brussels to Doha en route our final destination, Kuching! Did I just say, Kuching??!! Yesssss!!! Finally! After 7 long years! 

Our last trip to Kuching was time stamped “August 2008”, AND exactly 7 years later on 7th August 2015, we journeyed back to the city I grew up, schooled and have worked briefly before moving permanently to Belgium. Kuching is also the city where my younger son was born 14 years ago, hence, the city re-breathed new life to my dog-tired 7 years.

Kuching means Cat in the Malay language; not that there are countless felines roaming the city, but you can definitely tell you are in Kuching by the sight of the glorious cats’ statues adorning the city centre.

Miaow!

  
 

Kuching’s Signature Dish

If there’s one dish I can name and recommend a first timer to Kuching, it’s gonna be the Kuching Laksa! It didn’t take me more than a sec to come up with that dish’s name. Kuching Laksa just stands out and hits a home run anytime 🙂

So my dear folks, with only 2 weeks and a bit in Kuching, I went liberal with one of my favourite dishes! I have had 7 bowls of Kuching Laksa at different stops on different days in less than 3 weeks! That’s a lot of laksa’s considering the fact that there are zillion other dishes to try out. LOL!

Before the tastes and looks of the laksa’s faded in oblivion in my memory bank, I wanted to put everything down in writing. All comments and verdicts are completely mine, by the way.

Now join me in my quest of binging Kuchingites’ most loved brekkie 🙂

Ready, Steady… Go!

My first bowl of laksa was actually consumed in the least spoken location, in the outskirts of Kuching! It was a Sunday and our entourage of 10 people in 2 vehicles were heading for the popular weekend border market at Serikin. Serikin is a little village bordering Sarawak and Kalimantan (Indonesia). We left before 9 am to beat the humid hot weather and the crowd. The 90-minute drive from Kuching to Kampung Serikin Jagoi, Bau was surprisingly easy with good roads.

Serikin Weekend Market started in 1992 and since then, has attracted a steady flow of visitors from every nook and cranny of Sarawak, Sabah, West Malaysia, SEA and the rest of the world. The stalls at the Market are mostly operated by Indonesians. Almost every category of items is traded each weekend. I’m afraid there are too many to mention, so here’re some pictures to sum up my list…

  

 

  

These guys were actually modelling the Javanese headgears. LOL!

After the long stroll under the scorching sun at the Weekend Market, our tummies were rumbling and growling.

By 11.30am we adjourned to a ‘kopitiam’ for some cold drinks before we left Serikin for Bau. It was at Siang Siang Garden Foodcourt, Pekan Bau that I ordered my first bowl of laksa.

My Laksa Bowl #1 ~ In the Middle of Nowhere 

  

Verdict: The moment the red bowl was served to me at my table, I gasped at the sight of the little, teeny weeny bowl. Man, I was hungry! It was laksa à la Bau. Rather diluted, with dry paper thin omelette strips, garnished with fried, crispy shallots and spring onions? Hmmm…. Spoilt the entire taste, if you asked me. But what can I say, with only RM 4 (0.89 Euro cent) and with 2 little prawns, I licked my bowl clean because I was immensely ravenous.

Will I go back to Siang Siang Garden Foodcourt? Surprisingly, yes, but NOT for the laksa, BUT for these!

Especially the multi-layered tea (gula apong, pandan juice, evaporated milk and tea)!

My Laksa Bowl #2 ~ No Choice

While my hubby and 2 boys checked in at a beach resort in Damai, I stayed back in Kuching spending time with my Mum and sisters.

Oh by the way, you know what? When I left Damai for Kuching, my older son said, “Mama, I know you are going to eat more laksa’s in Kuching without us, right ..

Gee whizz! What a sneaky sly fox my son was..! But,darn… Son, you absolutely nailed it!

It was at Peach Garden Food Centre at Jalan Song, that I had my 2nd bowl of laksa. Initially, laksa was not on my mind. I had wanted to order a plate of char kway teow, but the stall’s closed for the day. Too bad! I walked around peering the many different hawker stalls trying to get some inspirations of what to eat that evening. Lo and behold, I ended up ordering a bowl of laksa! 

Here goes …

 
  
  

Verdict: I almost cried! 2 vital ingredients were missing! Bean sprouts and wansui (equivalent to fresh coriander), and not only that, the prawns were tiny and were not fresh! Aaarrghh!! Funny, the aroma of the laksa gravy reminded me of my schooldays. Yup, cheap students’ laksa, but at RM5!

Will I go back to Peach Garden Food Centre? You bet! But definitely NOT for the laksa, but for the most addictive otak-otak and kelondong sengboi peng (iced-cold amra with dried sour plum juice). And yes, too, for the nostalgic boiled peanuts 😉

  

My Laksa Bowl #3 ~ The Truth, the whole Truth and nothing but the Truth …

While my 3 guys were still enjoying Damai, I made some time to meet up with former classmates. The place and time were totally at M’s discretion. M whatsApp’d me and told me that she’d pick me up at 8.30am. I knew it was going to be a laksa brekkie, but where?

Oh oh, not at the Peach Garden Food Centre again, because M was driving around that area that morning. Then she passed the Food Centre. Phew!

We parked somewhere at Jalan Song and walked to the café, which is a single storey shoplot. It has a canvas roof with ample tables and chairs. The moment I stood under the canvas roof, I smelt glorious smell of Kuching laksa whiffing past my nostrils. I was praying in silence that the laksa would taste as good as it smelt, especially after having 2 disastrous bowls the past days.

M and I found a good spot to sit, while waiting for L. I learnt from M that Li Yuan Café is L’s favourite take on and is one of M’s favourites. Brilliant! 2 favourites so it must be good, or was it?

By the way, I told M I would give my honest feedback on this brekkie 😉

   
  

Verdict: M ordered a “Special” for me, meaning more ‘liaw’ (garnishes and condiments), while the size of the bowl remains constant. There were 4 plump and succulent looking prawns, nice strips of not-too-paper thin omelette, reasonable amount of chunky shredded chicken meat, beansprouts and a few fresh coriander leaves (not wansui, though). The colour of the gravy looked almost perfect, ie more red than brown, and most importantly, the laksa gravy imparted a pleasant scent of all the fragrant spices that went in the broth. The bowl of laksa was served with half a calamansi lime and sambal belacan

Now the taste… Before even picking up the clusters of vermicelli and the garnishes between my pair of chopsticks into my mouth, I ducked the Chinese spoon in my bowl and scooped some broth to have a taste first. That’s how you know if the laksa is good or bad. The broth is the main actor, while the rests play supporting roles. Frankly speaking, I detest anyone who eats only the garnishes, which includes the vermicelli, prawns, chicken and omelette strips, beansprouts and the fresh coriander while leaving the pool of gravy in the bowl! People, that’s THE BEST bit! The broth! One invests a huge amount of time in making the best tasting laksa broth, so please appreciate your bowl of laksa and finish everything, including the broth!

Well, to be honest, I liked Li Yuan’s laksa, BUT…..it was a wee bit salty! Why oh why?! The broth itself was not too spicy, but rich and thick – not diluted – which I absolutely adore. Luckily the sambal belacan and calamansi lime added that extra umph!

Will I go back to Li Yuan Café? Why, certainly, on condition, M, that it’s on me the next time I’m in Kuching! Now, I haven’t the clue how much you paid for my “Special” bowl of laksa 😀

Thanks, my dear friend, for introducing Li Yuan Café to me and making it my first decent bowl of Kuching laksa.Jl

My Laksa Bowl #4 ~ My Evil Twin

Can #4 beat #3? Let’s see…

Again, M, my friend, whatsApp’d me and asked if I wanted to meet up for another laksa brekkie. Well, of course I did NOT decline. And again, I left it to M to transport me to the ultimate location that morning. She told me the café we were going to is one of her few favourites and is also a favourite of another former classmate, whom I did not get the opportunity to meet in August. Apparently, she said the sambal was to-die-for. Erm… okay! Believing is after seeing and tasting for myself. I was more curious with this rendezvous than my last.

Here’s the bowl of laksa I had at Jin Ming Café, Jalan Sekama

  
 

Verdict: My first silent comment was “Where’s the to-die-for sambal??!!” The sambal served at Jin Ming Café was completely different than any sambal condiment I ever had! It had the look of soy sauce, but was a thick sticky mass akin to Bovril or Marmite. When I tasted it, it was a taste I was quite familiar with, ie something that came out from a jar! Mae Pranom’s Thai Chili Paste (nam prik pao), which is often added to Tom Yum Soup!. It’s sour-ish from the tamarind plus half a calamansi lime? Hmmm….! I love Tom Yum Soup, but I was at Jin Ming Café for a bowl of Kuching laksa!

As for the laksa, I’m afraid there was nothing to shout about. It was a “Special” bowl, but what I got was 2 halved over-cooked prawns (which made it looked as if I had 4 prawns), very little chicken strips. Infact my laksa was covered by strips of omelette. The brown broth was neither diluted nor concentrated, which was okay but it was not at all fragrant. It was flavourless flat! Some spices were missing.

Will I go back to Jin Ming Café? Of course! Huh? Am I nuts? After all the negative comments?

I will definitely go back to Jin Ming Café BUT not for the laksa. Sorry, M!

However, yes…. however, I will be back there for the kolo mee!! I bought 5 takeaways of that “Special” kolo mee for my Mum, sisters and nephews. They thumbed up to the kolo mee!

  
 

My Laksa Bowl #5 ~ Down Memory Lane

My 5th pitstop was at Min Hong Kee Café, Jalan Padungan. This café was not new to me. Before I moved to Belgium, this was one for my late dad’s favourite locales. We used to have our breakfast there after the Sunday service. It was for old time’s sake that my younger sister drove us (Mum, big sis and myself) there for a scrumptious breakfast.

Big sis and I ordered laksa! Ha ha…

The presentation was lovely!

   
  

Verdict: The bowl of laksa had everything that’s supposed to be served as Kuching laksa, but there was a wee bit too much santan (coconut milk), which completely overwhelmed the real fragrance of a perfect bowl of Kuching laksa. 

Will I go back to Min Hong Kee Café? Without a doubt, I’m going back to the Café for their traditionally prepared congee, fresh popiah and minced stuffed kom piah (Foochow bagels stuffed with minced meat)! I will go back for the laksa but not all the time 😉

   
  

My Laksa Bowl #6 ~ Long and Winding Quest … And Some like it Hot!

The week my hubby and boys checked out of Damai, was our last week stay in Kuching. The countdown begun. *sad*

The laksa served at Choon Hui Café, Ban Hock Road, hits international spotlight when one of Travel Channel’s most famous Celebrity Chefs turned writer and CNN Presenter, Anthony Bourdain, ate his laksa there, not once but on 2 consecutive mornings! I have mentioned about it on this post, Malaysian Laksa with the Midas Touch of Sarawak

It was a Tuesday morning. My younger sister promised to bring us for our grand finale taste of the infamous Kuching laksa before we left for BE.

I was so looking forward to having a laksa brekkie at Choon Hui. I wanted to find out why Choon Hui and what was it that made their laksa so sought-after. In other words, I was curious!

 

Anthony Bourdain’s bowl of laksa at Choon Hui Cafe

 
 
 
BUT … alas, no laksa! Shucks! For the record, we were not late. We arrived at the café before 9am, however – and most unfortunately – Tuesday’s an off day for the family-run laksa stall at Choon Hui Café! Sorry folks, no photo or verdict to comment on Choon Hui Café’s laksa for now. Hopefully, I will not wait another 7 years…

My sister was adamant to let us taste some of the best laksa’s served in Kuching, before we left for BE that week. She then drove to Jalan Abell. We were heading for another pearl in the oyster – Chong Choon Café. No Choon Hui, that’s fine. Chong Choon’s great as well…. HOWEVER, no laksa!!! Grrrrr…. damn, it’s a Tuesday! They’re closed!

  

To be honest, I have eaten the laksa’s at both Choon Hui and Chong Choon Cafés when I was still a student in Kuching. They were not new cafés, but ones that have been around in years! Since it was eons ago that I have had those laksa’s there, I could not recall the tastes explicitly, but they were definitely ones of the best in town.

My poor sis was more desperate than us. She’s like our late Dad. If she promises something, she will deliver her promise on the same day, through thick and thin, rain or shine, and even jeopardising her health, as a result. Little sis, I’m truly touched by your steadfast determination. That’s when she drove a little further in search for our next stop. It was at Jalan Tun Ahmad Zaidi Adruce and the name of the café? Tiang’s Café. I have never heard of the Café, but I’m open to new things and places. Then I discovered that the much discussed Barrett’s laksa is served at Tiang’s Café.

  
 

BUT… we did not have the laksa there because, yes, BECAUSE, the laksa stall’s closed! That’s right, it’s a TUESDAY. Oh, I hate Tuesdays!!!

Then what?!

Then we just followed my sister. Our 6th pitstop was at Rock Road. The place was an ordinary looking little foodcourt with the most absurd sounding name! Very Nice Restaurant!

Okay, let’s check it out! And checked it out we did!

I even took a picture of the ridiculous sounding name of the laksa stall and the owner willingly smiled for us. At least I know laksa’s served EVERYDAY at VERY NICE 😉

   

  
Verdict: We ordered “BIG” bowl for RM8. The bowl was literally “BIG” ie bigger size-wise compared with the normal bowl. At first sight, it was not a bad looking laksa. As with the other laksa’s, I had a sip of the broth first. Mmmm… not bad, I thought. There was something special about the laksa. Everyday Laksa at Very Nice Restaurant was the first laksa I have tasted that was more piquant. It definitely had that extra spice and heat that made it quite different from the 5 laksa’s I had in the last days. If Mr Everyday prepares his laksa the same way he did when we patronised his stall that morning, his laksa would be a crowd pleaser one day. Well, names and looks can be quite deceiving, eh?

Will I go back to Everyday Laksa @ Very Nice Restaurant? Erm…a difficult one…. I believe, YES! 

My Laksa Bowl #7 – A Challenging Home Run!

My 7th bowl of laksa was a discovery. A challenge. MY challenge!

Here’re the visuals of my 7th bowl of laksa …
 

   

Verdict: For this bowl of laksa, I had my boys to voice their comments. Hmmm… nice black bowls and chopsticks, mama. And then silence… Slurp! Slurp! Slurp! And then my older son said, “Can I have another a bowl?” . Action spoke louder than words 😜

In case you’re wondering which stall we went to, well, the stall name didn’t exist and never will, but I know the person who made the laksa put a lot of work in it, because the person was the author of this post…. ME(*smile*), and the work was called LABOUR OF LOVE and the challenge was using Barrett’s Sarawak Laksa paste, which I got from a friend. I have never used Barrett’s laksa paste. I have heard of few negative remarks about Barrett’s laksa. The more I heard that, I was curious and wanted to find out why the paste was so bad.

By the way, our family favourite is the famous Swallow Brand and the creator of the laksa paste was Mr Tan Yong Him, the late father of Mr Barrett Tan! In other words, Barrett’s laksa paste is an offshoot of the original Swallow Brand. All-in-one-family…

I was fortunate to have prepared bowls after bowls of laksa with the special paste created by the master creator himself, Mr Tan Yong Him.

   
Today’s Swallow Brand laksa paste does not feature the creator’s name on the packet anymore. 

Barrett’s Sarawak Laksa paste is an alternative.

  
Verdict: When I cut open the packet of Barrett’s laksa paste, I smelt no difference to the Swallow Brand’s. If there was a variance, it was not off by miles. It was probably redder than the Swallow Brand. The addition of coconut milk will tone down the colour, but by putting too much of coconut milk will only change the name of Kuching’s signature dish to Laksa lemak, which is wrong. There should be balances of flavour, texture and colour. The taste is personal. I like my laksa piquant with lots of flavour (like my Mum’s). A lot of work is put in making the broth tasty (meat stock from the carcasses of chicken and/or pork, prawn stock from the shells of the prawns and several other fresh herbs and spices). Any laksa paste on it’s own without the additional work, will never be good. I dislike weak and mild tasting laksa’s with too much santan or too brown. Then again these are personal observations. One man’s meat is another man’s poison. Voilà!

  
For the record, the sambal belacan was to-die-for! Mum made it and I’m glad I brought it back with me to Belgium! It’s really, really good with the squeeze of lime.

Oh yes, Carol, if you’re reading this, thanks for introducing Barrett’s laksa paste. It’s not too bad after all, with some extra work, of course! I have no clue how the laksa at Tiang’s Café tastes like. All I can say is, I’ve eaten Barrett’s laksa in my own kitchen 😉

A Patriotic Bonus

8 is a good number and is believed to have auspicious meaning, according to Chinese tradition. The word “eight” in pinyin Chinese sounds like “prosper” or “wealth”, hence I will conclude this longer-than-usual post with my Kuching laksa number 8!

Infact I just had the laksa very, very recently at a friend’s house. The laksa get-together was planned before I left for Kuching. I’m glad I met up with the other Kuching gals on Sunday. We were stuffed! Angel, thanks for hosting a great potluck reunion – great efforts to everyone with everything homemade! Delish! Mwah!

   

NOTE: The emphasis of the laksa write-up in this post here referred to Kuching Laksa and not Sarawak Laksa because I believe each division in Sarawak (farther from Kuching) has her own way of preparing / serving the laksa. I understood from a friend who hails from Sibu that the Sibu laksa has tau pok (deep fat fried tofu or bean curd). The addition of tau pok does NOT in any way represent Kuching Laksa. Kuching Laksa is made up of the following ingredients ~ cooked rice vermicelli, shredded chicken meat, prawns, strips of omelette, bean sprouts, fresh wansui (or coriander), accompanied with calamansi (or lime) and sambal belacan.

  
 

Bon appétit!
Have a great week!

Cheers!

 

 
 
 

 

Lui Cha Fon,  Lei Cha Fan… whatever, but I’ll stick to my guns. It’s Lui Cha Fon for me as it was the word I first heard eons ago! It’s how the Kuching Ho Poh Hakka people called this dish …

Total Recall 

You see we used to live next door to a Ho Poh Hakka family. The patriarch and matriarch, Mr and Mrs C had 14 children!

When Mrs C was carrying her 14th child, her eldest daughter was pregnant with her first-born son ~ in exactly the same year! A big family meant more mouths to feed…

I remembered Mrs C used to cook huge amounts of foods, simple but nutritious and on very tight budget.

Even with their frugal meals, the friendly matriarch would sometimes share a portion of her cooking with us. Although my Mum used to decline her offers, Mrs C always insisted.  One of the most standout dishes was the odd and murky looking green soup with rice served with 7 components of fresh and preserved vegetables and roasted peanuts.  She told my Mum that that was a Traditional Hakka dish. Luckily, my Mum loved trying new things and that was the best opportunity for her to try out a very typical Hakka dish. 

One afternoon after school, Mum gave me a bowl of rice garnished with the “7 treasures” with another bowl of green soup at the side.  Honestly speaking, the green soup looked revolting and tasted like muddy and bitter water.  The rice with the 7-treasures were alright.  The thing was, I had to pour the green soup in the bowl of rice and eat it like a soupy rice with vegetables. 

My first spoonful was like … Yucks! Well I was only 14 then and that was my honest feedback.  Sorry, Mrs C ..

It was not the first time Mrs C shared that dish with us. After several tries, my teen-aged palate grew to like the soupy green tea rice.

I’m glad my Mum learnt the technique of making Lui Cha  from the ever-smiling Mrs C. She did make a few times tweaking the dish with more flavours by including fried anchovies.

And believe you me, I have been craving for Lui Cha Fon – literally translated as pounded or crushed tea rice – ever since 😄

  
D.I.Y Thunder Tea Rice

Yup, it’s sometimes called “thunder tea” rice, although I’m not particularly sure why. Could it be the sounds of the grinding of the tea, herbs, nuts and seeds from the special ceramic mortar? The pestle, by the way, is made from the wood of the guava tree.  I don’t have these special Lui Cha pestle and mortar, hence, improvisation is key.

I resorted to using my electric hand mixer, instead, however, the biggest challenge was to find the right vegetables, which are usually chai sim, long beans, mani chai, 4-angled beans, kai lan and chai por. 

My version as follows inspired by Mrs C and my Mum’s addition of the extra umami flavour.

Note my ingredients were purely guesstimated, for 4 portions.

Pounded ingredients (Note I ground these ingredients with my electric hand mixer to form a thick paste or pesto-like consistency)

  

  • Loose-leaf Tung Ting Oolong tea
  • Roasted peanuts
  • White sesame seeds
  • Pine nuts 
  • Flax seeds
  • Roughly chopped mint
  • Roughly chopped basil
  • Roughly torn coriander
  • 1 clove garlic (not pictured)
  • Fried anchovies (in lieu of salt)

  

Cooked Rice

My choice of 7-treasure ingredients (Note each component was stir-fried / roasted separately)

  

  • French beans
  • Pek chai
  • Tofu
  • Spinach
  • Chai Por
  • Fried anchovies
  • Roasted peanuts 

Assembling Lui Cha Fon


 

  1. Take 2 Tbsp of the pounded tea paste in a bowl. Pour boiling water. This is your tea soup base.
  2. In another bowl, scoop a portion of cooked rice. Garnish with the 7  cooked veg – fresh and preserved and the roasted peanuts and fried anchovies 
  3. Ready to eat! Note how you want to eat is up to you, ie, by eating the rice and soup separately OR pouring the tea soup into the rice. I ate how I was first being introduced to this dish ~ the latter, of course *big smile*

   

   
Mang-mang sit! An ho sit oh! 😄

Verdict:

It was hard work washing, peeling, cutting, chopping and cooking the vegetables separately.  I understand now why this dish was originally served during the Chinese Lunar New Year by the Hakka clan when all the ladies would assemble together in the kitchen helping with the tedious kitchen preps. Unfortunately, I was alone in my kitchen, hence, I made the 4 portions for myself ~ Day 1’s lunch and dinner and Day 2’s lunch and dinner. LOL! I started my prep work at 11am and the final dish was ready by 1.30pm (including taking photographs… Ha ha…).  Note I purposely made this dish for myself because I foresaw my 3 carnivores would complain if I were to serve the dish as their main course. I was extremely pleased with the result, seeing that it was the first time I had a go in making the infamous Lui Cha Fon from scratch ~ finally! Yay! I was doubly contented with the taste. It was so closed to the best Lui Cha Fons I had in Kuching. The slightly bitter, herbal and minty taste of the green tea soup was spot on for me. No salt, please as the salty anchovies made a world of difference in the tea soup. The umami flavour was a double oomph! The chai por (preserved dried radish) and extra garnishing of the fried anchovies made great natural enhancers. It’s an absolutely LOVELY dish. I wish I could eat it everyday but the only stumbling block were the tedious preps 😦

I have used loose-leaf Oolong Tea in this recipe. For this, I’m linking this post at Little Thumbs Up (July 2015 theme: TEA) organised by Zoe of Bake for Happy Kids and Doreen of my little favourite DIY, and hosted by Cheryl of Baking Taitai.
 
Have a Great Week!

Cheers! 


The word Gawai in Iban means festival. The Dayaks are the indigenous native people of Sarawak and Kalimantan.

The Dayaks in Sarawak are made up of 3 groups of native ethnics, Iban (formerly known as Sea Dayak), Bidayuh (known as Land Dayak) and the Orang Ulu (literally translated as rural dwellers/ people), comprising Kelabit, Kayan, Kenyah, Lun Bawang, Penan, Bisaya etc.

Interestingly, Melanau does not fall under the category of “Dayak” although the Melanau are considered to be among the earliest settlers in Sarawak. Originally, the Melanau call themselves a-likou meaning “people of the river” or sea-faring people. Legend has it that the name Melanau was given by the Malays of Brunei to the inhabitants of the coastal swamp flats and riverbanks of central Sarawak which signifies “coast-dweller”.  

1st June – Ritual Greeting Day

When I was in school, my friends used to send me the ubiquitous greeting of “Selamat Hari Gawai” every 1st of June. I thanked them for their wishes and greeting but was very curious why we (my family) never celebrated Gawai Dayak. One day I asked my late Dad the question. He said Melanaus do not celebrate Gawai but Kaul Festival. Unfortunately, the Kaul Festival is not widely known by non- Melanaus as it is not celebrated on the state level but more so locally only in Mukah on the right bank of the river estuary. The festival is celebrated in the third week of the month of April.

Demographically, Ibans form the majority of the population of Sarawak with 29%, followed by Chinese with 24% and Malays with 23%. The rest are made up of Bidayuh, Melanau, Orang Ulu and others.

With Iban being the most populous native ethnic group of Dayak people in Sarawak, the Gawai greeting is recited in the Iban language. 


Selamat Ari Gawai Dayak. Gayu Guru Gerai Nyama
i which means Happy Dayak Festival. May you have long life, good health and prosperity.

Oh by the way, the Gawai festival is a symbol of unity, hope and aspiration for the Dayak community. It is a day of Thanksgiving which marks the end of a bountiful harvest and ushering the new year with a new farming season of bountiful goodness.

Shopping malls in Kuching are beautifully decorated to symbolise the meaning of Gawai Dayak. Here’re photos  taken by my older brother. Thanks bro G!   
 

Simple Food of the Jungle

Honestly speaking, the local dishes are very pure, simple and straightforward. One of my favourites is this simple dish, the Sarawak jungle fern aka Midin. I will never be able to cook this dish in Belgium, for obvious reason due to non-availability of that special flora.

  
During my student days, I learnt to cook rice and chicken in logs or cylindrical tubes of bamboo from my Iban college-mates. I am glad this traditional cooking method is retained to this day!

Manok Pansoh meaning Chicken cooked in Bamboo  
Very simple ingredients are used in “Pansoh” cooking method. The typical ingredients in “Manok Pansoh” are Chicken, water, shallots, lemongrass, ginger (optional) and salt. Tapioca leaves are used to seal the top cavity of the bamboo and are then cooked over an open fire. 

In veneration of the simplicity of the cooking method and the ingredients used by the local people of Sarawak, I cooked a very simple dish today in the comfort of my own kitchen. No bamboo. No open fire. Just reliving good memories and sharing them with you.

Simple Warm Barley Salad   

Ingredients

  • 250g barley
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • One bunch of fresh dhill
  • Coarse sea salt and freshly milled black pepper 

Method

Cook the barley in stock water for 10 minutes. Add finely diced carrots and fresh dhill. Season with coarse sea salt and black pepper. And that’s it! 

To all my friends and relatives  celebrating the Gawai Dayak, “Selamat Ari Gawai Dayak. Gayu Guru Gerai Nyamai, Chelap Lindap Lantang Senang Nguan Menua!” Or Happy Gawai Dayak Day. (Wishing you) long life, health and comfort, no problems, no hardship and a prosperous life! 

 

1st and 2nd June are Public Holidays in Sarawak. Enjoy the “ngabang” … But watch your limit on the “tuak“!😜
Cheers!