Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Dong Dong Dong Chang

This has got to be the wettest CNY ever in KK. It usually is very hot and dry during CNY, but then most CNYs fall in the month of Feb, not Jan, when it is dry. I like the rain and the coolness (around 24 C daytime) but for visitors, it is a bummer. My niece is coming for a 3-day visit from Guangzhou this weekend and the weather forecast is clouds and thunderstorms. There's nothing much in KK but nature, and with this kind of weather, you can't go to the islands, the Padas River is swollen, the fireflies don't come out and it is wet and foggy up in Kinabalu National Park. Maybe we can just stay home and play cards.

In this rain, even the lion troupes have to stay in. But we were lucky that Day 1 & 2 of CNY was cool and dry. Yesterday, the 2nd day of CNY, at least 6-8 lion dance troupes came to my area. After a while, it was a scramble to close the gate everytime we hear them coming, announced by the beating of gongs and cymbals for the unicorns, which aren't popular because they are considered weak, and drums for the lions, who are considered powerful. Then we'd scramble to duck from view so they won't keep chang-changing for us to come out if they see someone is home despite the closed gate. You see, at RM5 per red packet, I'd be giving away RM30-RM40 each day. I still let one or two dance for us because I feel sorry for the guys walking house to house in the sun in their lion suits.

Every 1st day of CNY, my kids'll (not the oldest though, she'll sleep through a volcanic eruption) only wake up when they hear the lion dance troupe. We'll hear 'dong chang dong chang', then the drummer whacks his sticks and--this part I love--the sound goes 'TAK dong chang'!

Last night, to add to the CNY mood, Yi made us all (including her 3 grandparents and uncles) watch the Chinese movie 'Ipman'. It was good, very entertaining and a feel-good movie for all Chinese. We all enjoyed it but after the end, there was a big discussion on whether the film was really anti-Japanese or pro-Japanese as the Japanese general was portrayed as a man of principals. My FIL thought it was rubbish, and against the reality of the times during the Japanese occupation in Shanghai when he had to bow and keep his head down everytime a Japanese soldier walked by. If you didn't, you'd disappear forever. If you thought some of the scenes were exaggerated and beyond reality, you should've watched the David Wang movies. Ipman was more believable than Bond too.

As I'm going to be busy the next few days, here's some pics from the 1st day of CNY in my house:

Prosperity knots on the front door

Ornament made by Yi

A lacquered lazy susan tray holding melon seeds, jelly and candies.

You must have a lazy susan tray, preferably a lacquer one like the one above which my MIL gave me years ago, to serve tid bits, or you've broken the tradition. In the old days, the tray would hold candied fruits but they aren't popular anymore because they are too sweet and artificially colored.

White radish gao

Indonesian lapis/layer cake

Homemade seaweed crackers, pineapple tarts and roasted cashews.

Tid bits are usually stored in plastic or glass containers that are airtight because the high humidity here turns everything soft.

Pink tiger lilies

These are medium-sized lilies from Taiwan, a present from my MIL, and I've never seen them so fresh. They are scenting the whole house and I loathe to see them wilt.



The azalea (which is quite dead by now because I forgot to water them the last 3 days) and phaleonopsis orchids are from a nursery at the foot of Mt Kinabalu.

Fresh flowers are essential for CNY because they signify spring and a new start. I make sure there's fresh cut flowers in the house for the duration of CNY.

Our stash of fireworks and firecrackers, child's play compared to the big guys being lighted every night.

The string of red fire crackers are ancient ones from MIL's house and Hub pestered her for it before she gave in on condition we don't light it because it is illegal. I used to play with fire crackers and I remember I was so daring I held the red crackers (one by one of course) in one hand and lighted it with the other instead of sticking it to the ground. Once, the cracker lit up so quickly I panicked and threw it at my sister who was standing next to me. She may have scratched me with her long fingernails, her weapons, because I don't think she'd have let me off so easily for that. I hate long pointy fingernails because of her.

Where do you find firecrackers, we wondered every year. We only discovered the open secret this year, by accident. All 'old' Chinese grocery shops have them. You just have to drop your voice and ask but do try to look like an ordinary citizen and not an undercover cop. The new crackers are like matchsticks (no more wicks or fuse), you have to strike them on a hard surface, something I now cannot muster the courage to do. Wey is enjoying himself (school's out for a week) but he said this isn't his best CNY ever because Ming's not home. Many times we missed him and said "If Ming was here, he'd..." If Ming was here, he'd play Blackjack, and not:


"Red Dots", a game my mother gets to play with us once a year. You should've seen how excited and happy she was.


Mandarin oranges and tangerines are must-haves during CNY because kum as they are called also sounds like the Chinese word for gold, and everybody wants prosperity, no pretense about it. But now people also wish each other "Healthy New Year/Xin Nien Jen Kang" besides "Prosperous New Year/Gong Xi Fa Cai". And the kids would always add "Hung bao na lai" (gimme the red packet) to rhyme with the greeting.


The Hakka Association lion troupe (members not in picture) was the first to come, and they asked for a drink so Yi gave them some cola and mandarin oranges and they pranced around a bit more than usual. It was funny, and a little sad, to note that all the troupe members weren't Chinese and they didn't even have the right moves for the dance. The really good lion dancers make the lions come alive, with twitching of the ear, fluttering of their eyes and scratching of the body and all kinds of movements.

If you haven't yet noticed, red is the preferred color during CNY, especially on the 1st day. The belief is that red brings good luck and drives away bad luck. Even if you don't believe it, you should wear a bit of red, or at least pink or maroon, when you visit your friends. Never wear black on CNY.

My Documents1

My Documents2
Friends and family who came to bai nien.

There's another 12 more days to celebrate CNY, so everyone, "Gong xi fa cai Xin Nien Jen Kang"!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Reunion Dinner 2009

I'm lucky that my MIL is not only the best cook I know, she's also obsessed with cooking, even at 75. She wouldn't let me bring over any dishes (not up to her standards?) and insists she cooks everything for every festival and family dinner. Lucky old me just sit and wait to eat. This year, all I did was make the dip for the plain boiled chicken and even then I had Vero make it for me.

But I was busy, too. I waited till the last minute (bad habit) to make my pineapple tarts, seaweed crackers, lapis cake, butter prune cake, radish cake and waterchestnut jelly. Didn't make it to bed until 2 am on the eve of CNY, and people were told to come at 9 am the next day.

How was the midnight celebration at your place on CNY eve? It was like a war zone in Penampang, with all kinds of big and small firecrackers let off. The fireworks display was fantastic, burning thousands of $ in the sky. I was running to Hub's SIL's house 2 streets away, at midnight, as the firecrackers blasted everywhere around me and the sky lit up with an awesome display of colorful fireworks. I was in my casual top and pants (this is for you guys who need to put on a jacket everytime you step out at night, yes, eat your heart out, this is the tropics), and the air was cool and filled with the exciting smell of gunpowder as small groups of teenagers played with firecrackers and fireworks outside their houses. Out the main road some car started honking to ring in the Year of The Ox. A police car strolled by, and didn't stop. A miracle, because you'd think they'll stop to ask for ang pow since firecrackers are illegal.

Oh we just love CNY. A friend from Singapore and another from KL called and both lamented that those big cities didn't celebrate CNY like we do in KK. Many families don't bother to get together for the reunion dinner anymore, especially when their old folks are gone. Some-oh, God forbid if it becomes a trend--eat out in whatever restaurant that is open.

MIL's reunion dinner dishes have toned down in amount and richness considerably as she finally acknowledges that her children have all grown up and are begging for leaner meals. Still, CNY dishes are more meat-based, and after the dinner I felt nauseous. The thought of eating and eating for the next 2 weeks made me shudder, but I'm a true glutton because by morning I was looking forward to dinner again. And so that's the way it will be nearly everyday or so for the next 15 days, especially now that one of my nieces in Guangzhou has decided to visit us this coming weekend. There will be more reunion dinners.

'White cut chicken'

'White cut chicken' (plain poached chicken) is always on the reunion table. It is not only tasty and simple to cook but it also balances the fried dishes since it is boiled. I LOVE white cut chicken but the chicken must be home-reared, not from the farm. This one is home-reared but still left me dissatisfied because I miss the CNY and festival chickens of those old days where roosters are neutered and reared on corn for at least 5 months or more so that they grow into big giants and their meat become tasty, sweet, flavorful and firm (sometimes tough) and their skin yellow with corn oil. It is nearly impossible to find these capons because the art of neutering roosters is lost and it is economically unfeasible to raise chickens for so long (a capon can cost over RM100 now since home-reared mature chickens cost about RM70 during festive seasons). Also, the demand isn't there as the younger generation have gotten used to eating wimpy, soft, tasteless flavorless farm chickens.

Lu mei of eggs, beef, pork tongue, pork stomach and hard tofu.

A dish MIL prepares only on festivals, and once you've eaten it, you'd crave for it, according to my friend M. Shanghainese are big on 'red-braising', a method of cooking meat in spices, wine and soy sauce over a slow fire. I have never bothered to cook this since MIL does it so well.

Abalone on kailan.

Despite their rubberiness, abalones are decadently delightful to eat, and sometimes I wonder if it's because they are one of the priciest food around. Abalones have a yummy flavor and are best served with a light sauce made from the liquid they were canned in, as in the dish above, arranged over lightly scalded kailan, a veg related to broccoli. I found these abalones a little lacking in flavor (Skylight brand) as compared to the bigger, more mature ones (Moon and Wheel brands).

Deep fried giant yellow prawns

Yellow prawns have the best flavor and texture, tender even when they are big, unlike tiger prawns which become tough and dry. This is MIL's simple way of cooking the shelled prawns, seasoning them with a light mixture of pepper, salt and 5 spice powder, coating them in cornflour and deep-frying them in very hot oil briefly so that they are crispy outside and moist and tender inside. These prawns were bought 10 days ago through a friend, Peter, who knows where to eat the best food and get the best ingredients. I am so blessed! Thanks, Pete.

Stuffed brinjals

A Hakka dish from Hub's SIL's aunt.

Steamed 7-star grouper

Fish is a must item for the reunion dinner as fish in Chinese sounds like the same word for 'overflowing abundance'. Also, the fish must be served whole because of the saying "there's head, there's tail" meaning completion (as in not doing things halfway).

Koe rou

Another Hakka dish, as KK has a large Hakka population. My parents were true Cantonese and didn't like Hakka koe rou. They preferred mei cai koe rou, and when I was young(er), I couldn't understand why all my friends ate Hakka koe rou and we had to eat mei cai koe rou. But now I love mei cai koe rou.

MIL fought for this bowl of Hakka koe rou from the famous stall in Bukit Padang a week before CNY! She lined up and when she got to the front, she took "quite a few bowls" but some people ("liu mung" -hooligans- she called them) behind her tussled with her for the koe rou. She was most upset and indignant at the ridiculous incident, saying there was no rule to how many bowls each person could buy.

Stuffed mushrooms

Also from SIL's aunt, another Hakka dish.

Superb Shanghainese soup of fish maw, sea cucumber, Chinese ham, mushrooms and salted bamboo boiled for hours with kampung/village chickens.


Dessert was bai he tangsui (a sweet soup) that signifies unity and harmony. And that was our reunion dinner this year, with 8 (the Chinese lucky number that sounds like prosperity) dishes and a soup. And now I've got to get back into the kitchen because we have a 2nd day reunion dinner in my house and I'm making shuijiao, a perfect thing to eat after all the fried meat dishes.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Waterchestnut Jelly/ Ma Ti Gao

Note: the recipe has been corrected on 30/1/09. I made a mistake with the cup measurement.

Waterchestnut jelly

I bet those of you celebrating Chinese New Year (CNY) are up busy running around shopping and cooking and getting stuck in the traffic. Would you believe me if I tell you I haven't started cooking yet because there's no space in my fridge to store whatever I cook. I'm very stressed at the thought of baking over the next few days.

On the first day of CNY (which falls on Monday 26th Jan this year), I go really traditional and breakfast is always nien gao (sticky cake), lo boh gao (Chinese radish cake) ma ti gao (waterchestnut jelly cake) and tang sui. I'd have the Chinese radio station on full blast, and for once I welcome the crazy irritating CNY songs for their merriment, gaiety and cacophony. I'd shout for the kids to get up (it's so different from my time when we respected and feared our dad and get up early on our own), get upset that every year I have to prod them into wishing me "Gong Xi Fa Cai" before giving them their angpows, a small red envelope with 'lucky' money inside, given to all the unmarried.

I make extra gaos for anyone who comes to bai nien (ushering the new year by visiting friends in their homes). This year, we've been having rain non-stop for the past 10 days and I couldn't make any prawn crackers. Also, I found out that those greyish thin-skinned prawns in the market are cultivated prawns and I've stayed away since. Besides the mandarin oranges and candies and melon seeds, I will have prune lapis cakes, pineapple tarts and honeycomb cakes for visitors to my house. I'm still deciding whether to make the seaweed crackers Nee posted recently. And if you are lucky, I may still have some ma ti gao leftover.

Ma ti gao is found in dim sum places, but are usually not tasty because there's so little waterchestnuts and too much flour. I love my MIL's best friend's ma ti gao. It has chunks and chunks of ma ti and the jelly is soft yet chewy. It tastes good when cold, good when fried and hot. It is easy to make so I usually make a large one and keep it in the fridge. Or my mom's fridge, because my fridges are just bursting with CNY food like chinese sausages and seafood and meat, bought early because the prices will go double and stores will be closed for about 2 days, some 4, to avoid opening on the unlucky fourth day (just because 'four' in Chinese--and Japanese, and Korean, btw--sounds the same as 'death') of CNY.

There's still time to go grab a bag of waterchestnuts (look for full, round shiny ones) and make this gao. As with nearly all Chinese 'cakes', no butter or eggs are used so you can chomp away without fear. Just remember to fear the koe rou, yuan ti, sausages, roasted ducks, fried prawns, boiled chickens, sweet sour fish, stuffed tofu balls and whatever your family dishes, for the 15 days of CNY.

Ma Ti Gao
300 g* waterchestnut flour
700ml water
--mix until smooth

2 packets (about 0.9 kg) waterchestnuts, unpeeled
--peel, wash, smash and dice

700ml water
300 g rock sugar

*A packet of w/chestnut flour is 250g you can decrease the amount of water and sugar accordingly. Apparently waterchestnut flour is available in loose form, packed in plastic bags.

1. Peel the waterchestnuts, smash lightly with a cleaver and dice into small chunks or finer bits if like. Boil the rock sugar and water until the sugar has melted, add the diced waterchestnuts and heat through i.e. until it starts to boil, switch off the heat, add the waterchestnut flour batter through a sieve and 1 T oil, stirring well. It is good to have an extra pair of hands in this step. The mixture will thicken and become slightly translucent, especially if mixture is very hot.

2. Grease a pan (size depending on the thickness you want), tip the batter in, level and steam at high heat for 30 to 40 minutes.

3. Let the gao cool before cutting. It's best to chill it first, preferably overnight.

The gao can be served chilled but usually it's cut into small pieces and pan-fried in a little oil and served hot or warm.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Jelly Oranges


It's been at the back of my mind to whip some jelly oranges up and then guess what? Yi made a batch after seeing it on some website. She's forgotten about the jelly oranges we ate at little Masae's house a long time ago. Masae is the daughter of Yoko, a neighbor from Japan whose soba sushi I had blogged about.

Instead of making another batch of jelly oranges using Yoko's recipe, which I prefer because she uses the juice from the oranges, I will put up the photos Yi took of her culinary masterpiece.

Why make jelly oranges when you can eat the real thing? It puzzles me too, the Japanese knack for imitating this and that and generally tinkering with nature. Haven't you noticed? Imitation crabmeat and square watermelons, enhanced eyes and noses, fake eyelashes that can SLICE, wannabe singers (karaoke) and even cartoon characters (cosplay). However, besides copycatting, the Japanese are good at improving on whatever they copy. Cars, cameras, you name it. When I was little, anything Japanese-made was fa hok or fragile/not-lasting and nobody would buy it. Then the Taiwanese came along and elevated the Japanese because their (the Taiwaneses') products were even more fa hok than the Japanese. Now it is the Chinese who supply the world with fa hok things from fridges to food products. While the Japanese are eager to prove their ingenuity, they also make sure they uphold their country's reputation, but the Chinese have only one thing in mind: profits.

And what was this post about? Oh yes, jelly oranges. So, anyway, if you have a children's party coming up, jelly oranges are a sure hit. Which child will eat the real thing anyway.



Yoko's Jelly Oranges
Oranges, preferable NOT navels because they have obtrusive navels (duh)
juice from the orange, strained
gelatine powder

1. Cut oranges into halves, scoop oranges sections out to make cups.

2. Use 1 tablespoon gelatine powder to 500 ml water, or adjust to your liking. Heat half the amount of water required to boiling and stir well to dissolve the gelatine powder and sugar. Remove from heat. Now add the juice and water to make up to the correct water level.

3. Scoop jelly mixture into the orange cups and chill until firm in fridge. Cut each half into half.

You can also use orange-flavored Jello instead of the juice and gelatine. Cheat if that's your style.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Chinese Tied Pork Knuckle



Here's the recipe Nick and friends and some of my friends requested for: Chinese tied pork knuckle. Translated literally from the Chinese name ze ti (tied leg) for this dish, tied pork knuckle is usually served cold as an appetizer. The only restaurant that serves tied pork knuckle in KK is King Hu in Tanjung Aru. King Hu's version is bland but goes very well with black vinegar. I have eaten another type of ze ti from Sandakan, obviously a Hakka version, because 5 spice powder is added as seasoning. I myself like to add some Sichuan peppercorns, whole or grounded, for the flavor and numbing kick. Feel free to adjust the seasoning to your liking. If you are going to make it for CNY, do it now because pork knuckles are going fast. The knuckle or hock by the way is the lower part of the leg and our butchers call it ti or leg. The upper leg is usually cut up and sold in chunks.

I've not seen this recipe anywhere so I am proud to present it to you in time for CNY. I am almost reluctant to post this because this recipe is a guarded one by those who know it. I guess after this post it'll be all over cyberspace. This recipe is based on my own try, my MIL's experience and information I sought from a lady who makes it commercially. How to cook the pork knuckle is easy but to tie it is not if you have no idea how to do it and I have not been successful in a previous attempt. I had my MIL over to teach me this time, and it really is not hard once you've seen how it's done. MIL too learnt it by experience so there may be other ways to do it and you probably will adapt my recipe and improve on it.My MIL uses plastic and raffia strings to tie her pork knuckles. I tried both plastic and muslin cloth but am not sure if the cloth is a good idea because it soaks up the pork juice/liquid/seasoning. Raffia is definitely better than cotton strings because it is thinner and broader so it doesn't cut into the skin as easily as the string does. Raffia also covers and binds a bigger surface area so the ti will be more tight and compacted. In the photos, I've used plastic sheets because they are clear and give a better picture of how the ze ti looks and I had only cotton strings so that's what I used.

You can keep the tied knuckles for a couple of weeks in the freezer so they come handy when you have unexpected dinner guests. Just thaw the knuckle slightly (too soft and it will break apart when you cut it), still wrapped in the plastic, and cut into thin pieces and serve cold or on a plate of pickles, or even better, with dressed jellyfish or other cold cuts. I think Sichuan garlic sauce will go very well with it, but usually I don't bother and just serve it with several dips: black vinegar, chili-lime and even mayo.

Tied pork knuckle must be served cold. When warm, it goes soft and oily, so serve in small portions, keep the rest in the fridge and top up as required.

Chinese Tied Pork Knuckle
2 pork knuckles, skin & bones intact & cleaned*
3 star anises
1 t salt (or more, up to you)
white pepper
1 t Sichuan peppercorn, grounded or 1/2 t 5 spice powder
msg (optional)
shao xin wine

*Since our butchers sell the knuckle with the trotters, you can remove the trotters from the knee joint but boil it together with the knuckle until the trotters are tender, then chop the trotters into small pieces and season with salt and shao xin wine for drunken trotters.

1. Put the knuckles (and trotters if making them into drunken trotters) into a pot of boiling water (enough to cover) with the star anise and let it boil gently for 1/2 hour. If you skip this step, your ze ti will have an awful smell. Of course I learnt this the hard way.

2. Throw away the water and the star anise in which the knuckles were boiled and add fresh water, enough to cover. Boil gently for one to one and a half hour, depending on the knuckle. How do you tell? Well, this is where experience comes in. Test by poking the skin with a chopstick. It should be soft but not mushy. Remember that upon chilling, the skin will firm up. Too hard and the skin will be hard when it's chilled. Too soft and the skin'll cut when you tie the knuckles.

My Documents

3. Remove knuckles from the water (you can save it as stock) and let them cool slightly. Use a sharp knife to cut knuckle down one side (keep the other in a pot, covered) and remove the bone. Now cut the de-boned knuckle into half lengthwise and put into a large bowl or plate.

4. Season the knuckle halves with 1/2 t salt, 2 t shao xin wine, some pepper, some msg if using, and either 5 spice powder or Sichuan peppercorns, rubbing in well with your hands. Adjust the seasoning amounts according to the size of the knuckle and your taste. Work quickly because the knuckle must still be warm when you wrap it or it won't stick together well. Sprinkle more wine over if like.

5. Put the knuckle on a piece of plastic, invert the halves so that the thinner part of half will have the thicker part of the other on top of it. Got it? Wrap the knuckle by rolling it in the plastic sheet. Fold the plastic on one end loosely to close, giving about 1 cm space and start tying the knuckle, pulling on tautly as you go down the length of the knuckle. The knuckle will lengthen because you are pressing it tight. If you don't tie tautly enough, the meat will break up when you cut it. Close the other end of the plastic sheet by folding over like you did the other side and tie tightly. A good tied knuckle should be even in thickness.

6. Repeat with the other knuckle and put into freezer until ready to serve. Cut into thin slices to serve. Serve with Chinese black vinegar or other dips.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Borneo Deli

Fresh pork sausages from Borneo Deli. Borneo Deli's link sausages are not tied and the ends are left open.

There is a deli in KK! Our one and only, with freshly made pork sausages, cheeses, fine Italian dressings and oils, wines and many other foodstuff all in one store.

When I was young(ger), there were two small delis (although at that time they were not called delis), Fah Hing and Huat Lee, both located on Gaya Street. That was where you get mayo, olives, ham, canned herrings, those western things. Of course now we have Merdeka and Tong Hing Supermarkets, but whenever I need to cook for a western dinner party, I go crazy running everywhere because these supermarkets just aren't well-stocked. Merdeka, especially, where I always shop because it's near my house, has gone down in its variety of imported foods. Even the choice of local foodstuff has gone down. I recently searched for Tastie Breadcrumbs to make pork schnitzels but they only had Japanese panko which is twice the price of Tastie's crumbs. And yesterday I couldn't find any Aunt Jemima pancake flour. Don't even get me started on their breads, meat (minced beef very fatty) or choice of imported potato chips (Oregon Fresh?? Sucks). But this is not a grouse post, no. I still prefer Merdeka to Giant or Servay even though I complain each time I shop there. So if you see me scrowling down the aisle, be understanding.

Shan had me and a number of food bloggers over to Coffee Bean for the launching and tasting of their December drinks and I committed a big flogger sin--I didn't bring my camera. Hey, I thought I was just there to relax and drink. But anyway, I met Andrew, the proprietor of Coffee Bean, and he was really nice and amicable especially when we talked about food and travel, he being also a graduate of a Canadian uni. Round about Christmas, I got a call from Andrew's (who was away skiing) staff about a package for me to be picked up at Borneo Deli.

I picked Yi up from Louis' where she's learning the ropes and we sped to 1 Borneo, up in Kingfisher. The place is so far I needed to plan my schedule just to go there. And guess what? I forgot my camera again! So yesterday when Yi made a trip to 1 Borneo, she took the pictures you see here with her new Nikon D90. You can see that the dslr pics have a more mellow and elegant look while photos of the sausages taken using my Lumix are less classy but still pretty okay.


Borneo Deli
is a beautiful shop next to--guess--CoffeeBean, 1 Borneo. When you step inside, you could be anywhere in some deli in some western country except that there are no jambons hanging from the ceiling. But anyway, I had a fine time choosing some cheeses and snacks, not too many because we couldn't keep these things too long in the car while we shopped in 1 Borneo. That's what you need to remember, shop first and then check Borneo Deli out on the way out. It's on the ground floor, to the left of the building in the front. It is hidden by a large renovation partition of the store in front of it so you may need to ask at the information counter.

Borneo Deli's prices are very reasonable. A 400g of Bonomi (made in Italy, mind you) lady fingers cost only RM11.20 and their fresh sausages are RM40 per kg. I hope Andrew's not reading this, but I think that's the cheapest so far for fresh sausages. Borneo Deli is able to keep its prices reasonable because it has a wholesale link. Here's what we carried home, in a beautiful green bag. Well, a brown green bag.






The package was 4 packets of sausages! (Thanks, Andrew.) We couldn't tell which was what because the sausages weren't labeled. Of the 4 types of sausages, we liked the paler types because they had just the right amount of herbs while the red sausages were spicier which detracted the flavor of the meat. While we think the sausages were great in terms of flavor, the texture could be smoother. I also like sausages to have a slight bouncy bite, as per those we ate in Brisbane but maybe that's only expected from bratwursts and not English or Italian-type sausages.

Next time you venture out to 1 Borneo, remember to check out Borneo Deli, next to Coffee Bean. I am already planning to get some Lindt chocolates on my next trip there, and chow on it with a cuppa from Coffee Bean.

Borneo Deli & Wine Shop
Lot G-813A, Ground Floor, 1 Borneo Hypermall
Tel/Fax: (088) 485 933,

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Chinese White Radish Beef Ribs Soup


Cantonese are big on soups and their soups are the easiest things to cook. You only need very few ingredients but lots of time because traditional Cantonese soup is boiled for hours. I am not a patient person, and I don't like to boil my soups for too long. The most I'll boil my kampung (village) chicken is 1 1/2 hours and for my pork bones soups, lightly longer, about 2 hours. Beef bones soups take the longest, nearly 4 hours, and I do cheat with a pressure cooker.

For rainy days such as what we are getting now, Chinese white radish (daikon) with beef ribs soup is bound to please the family, especially the guys. I think it's because the beefy goodness is more hearty, more macho, as versus sissy soups like corn soup. This soup is flavorful and nutritious but a little heavy on the oil so I usually boil a big pot and scoop off the top half into a big bowl and chill it so that the hardened layer of oil on top can be easily peeled off.

I have seen some recipes for the same soup with a hotch potch of ingredients including dried squid and dried oysters and I can tell you something's gone wrong there. You never put these dried seafood in white radish beef ribs soup, at least that's not the authentic Cantonese way. It's fine to use dried seafood with pork bones for winter melon soup but not beef and white radish. My dad, if I don't remember wrong, liked to add a piece of dried tangerine peel to his white radish beef ribs soup. The dried peel gives off a citrussy flavor and goes very well to blend the beefy stock with the more subtle-flavored white radish. However, sometimes the peel may overpower the beef flavor so I usually omit it or use a very small piece.

As with most long-stewing dishes, the soup's flavor develops and deepens the next day so most times I make sure there's enough leftover for a light lunch the next day. When Hub comes home for lunch, and it's rainy out, this tasty soup with plain rice though simple, is warming and satisfying, and life feels good. Just because of a soup.


Chinese White Radish Beef Ribs Soup
1 very large white radish/daikon
1.5 kg beef ribs, chopped into 4 to 5 cm lengths
a handful of good red dates (with seeds intact), soaked n washed
1 4X4 cm piece of dried tangerine or mandarin peel (optional), washed
1 slice of fresh ginger, about 1/2 cm thick by 4 cm long

1. Peel and cut the white radish into chunks of about 4 cm long, turning the radish as you cut so that the chunks are diagonally cut.

2. Trim the ribs well of any fat. Blanch the ribs with plenty of boiling water for a minute to remove any dirt and smell. Drain.

3. Boil a large pot (you can use a pressure cooker too) of water enough to cover the ribs 2 times over and add the ribs, mandarin peel, ginger and red dates. When the water boils again, lower the heat to medium and boil for about 2 hours or until ribs are half-tender. Add some water if it has evaporated, but not too much or the taste will be too diluted. If the lid of the pot is tight and the fire not too high, you may not need to add water at all. Some water loss is expected from all the boiling.

4. Add the white radish and boil again in medium-low heat for 1 1/2 hours or more, until the beef is tender but not falling off the bones. Season with salt and pepper.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Shikai Restaurant

We've been having birthdays galore recently. It was Hub's Lunar calendar birthday on 9/1, Ming's 2oth birthday, Roman calendar, and Yi's 23rd Lunar calendar birthday on 10/1 and MIL's Lunar calendar birthday on 11/1. As usual, I forgot the birthdays, especially Lunar calendar ones. It was MIL's other daughter-in-law who reminded me, so guess who's more favored with MIL.

Anyway, I was given the task of choosing a good Chinese restaurant and in KK, that's as hard as choosing a good spouse. Maybe harder, because there are so few choices. Many times we've eaten at some restaurant and came away fully satisfied but on a later visit the food turned out totally different from the previous visit's. The most recent case was the Dynasty Restaurant at Promenade Hotel. In the end, we narrowed our choices down to Equatorial Restaurant, which we haven't been to in a long time, Port View at The Waterfront and Shikai Restaurant in Asia City.

The name Shikai may mislead many people into thinking this is a Japanese restaurant. I personally think they should make the name more Chinese-sounding and looking to attract more customers who want to dine on Chinese cuisine. Now, I've been to Shikai (in Chinese, it is Si Hai Ting, Four Seas Hut) about 4 times and although I liked the food, Shikai wasn't a place you'd bring old folks to because the lights were too dim and the seats were low backless stools. Places with low backless stools aren't exactly fitting for banquet meals, especially if you want to impress your guests. However, I was told that they have added more lights recently and that they were able to give us proper chairs so I checked the place out about 5 hours before the dinner. The young chef, Ah Pheng, was very helpful and accommodating. When they couldn't serve a whole fish on such short notice, I was allowed to bring my own fish for them to cook for a minimum charge of RM15/US$4.40, depending on the size of the fish. I also brought some large yellow ocean prawns to make up for the smaller prawns the restaurant had.

I will start with the best dish and work down the list.

Crispy skin duck with tang gui, RM52/US$15.

I don't know the difference between this and pipa duck, which is also on Shikai's menu but this was excellent in taste and flavor and the skin was very crispy without a disgusting layer of fat as sometimes ducks can have BUT the meat was quite tough. I gave up on using chopsticks and used my fingers instead while the old folks didn't bother to eat any more after one slice.

Fish maw soup, RM65/US$19 for a large bowl that can feed 10 to 12.

This was yummy and they didn't scrimp on ingredients. For the price I think some crab meat wouldn't hurt.

Steamed lu ton grouper, cost of steaming RM15/US$4.40.

I brought this beauty to the restaurant and requested for it to be steamed simple, with soy sauce and oil. It was excellent, surprisingly tender and sweet. Lu ton groupers are prized for their heads, fins and skin because of the gelatinous fat and flavor, and their meat is firm yet fine and smooth . The bigger lu tons cost more because they have thicker and more gelatinous skins and fins, and I had a memorable meal of a stewed lu ton head in The Sandakan Golf Club many years ago. The fish must've been a monster because the skin was as thick as 2 cm in some places and the flavor was supreme, unbelievable.

Brinjals with salted fish, RM25/US$7.30.

Ah, this was very well done and superb with plain rice. However, the amount was miserly even though we had ordered a large portion.

Creamy butter sauce prawns.

I brought the large prawns and I think Shikai made a mistake with the price. A medium portion would be about RM25 but they charged me RM40 even though half the prawns were mine. Must teach Hub to check the bills before paying.

Long life noodles, RM15/US$4.40.

I liked this although someone said it was rather bland. Be warned that Shikai is lighter on the salt than most restaurants, which suits us fine as we eat a low-salt diet anyway. We also didn't go numb from msg; in fact, we hardly detected msg, compared to most Chinese restaurants. I like that. I intend to age with a full head of hair.

Garlic fried Hong Kong kai lan, RM25/US$7.30.

This was done very well, simple yet refreshing but for a medium portion that was more small than medium, this was very expensive.

Chicken in shao xin wine, RM30/US$8.80.

This was quite ordinary, more home-style really. This would be better with plain rice.

Beancurd seafood claypot, RM35/US$10.30.

A good pot of beancurd claypot should have fried beancurd as the main ingredient but this had way too much a mixture of ingredients and not enough beancurd in a so-so gravy that was definitely way too soupy.

Fried rice with salted egg yolks, RM15/US$4.40 for small portion.

This was more fried rice with frozen peas and corn niblets, which was very cheap-looking and tasting. There was neither the distinct flavor of salted egg yolks nor that of a well-fried rice. A big "NO".

That was a good meal, and I hope Shikai will keep up its standards. The service too was very good, with friendly and polite staff. You get a plate of cut fresh seasonal fruits (watermelon and honeydew) free with the meal. One thing to note is that Shikai has become a 'no-pork' restaurant, which is unfortunate but still, try this place for simple delicious dishes. Their crispy ducks are particularly good, but make sure they cook you either Huey, Dewey or Louie and not Uncle Donald. And another thing to note is while many places impose 5 % service charge Shikai charges 10% and with the cost of drinks and tea, expect to pay another 15%.

Shikai Restaurant
Kompleks Asia City
Tel:088 484242
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