Sunday, January 31, 2010

Mango Fresh Cream Cake


MIL, Hub and Yi's birthdays fall within 3 days consecutively, according to the Lunar calendar. We've become jaded with cakes recently, having celebrated many birthdays at the end the year. I thought of making my bountiful fresh fruit cream cake but the price of berries is just too high. And then I saw my favorite fruit, mangoes (well, they tie with durians as my fav) at only RM8 per kilo. I don't know of anyone who doesn't like mangoes so mango cake it was. I didn't want a mango cake that when sliced will separate into layers because the mangoes don't stick. I don't like spongy mousse either. I was concerned about fresh dairy cream melting in our tropical island heat. I wanted something in between mousse and ordinary fresh cream and it had to hold up to the weather yet not be firm.

In the end, I made a very light mousse, so light you can't tell it's mousse. Instead of just scattering diced mangoes over the fresh cream, I added a cup of mango puree and covered the whole cake with the mango puree cream. A cake this luxurious will cost a bomb from the made-to-order home-bakers. As it is, this 23 cm/10" cake cost only about RM40 to make. And the taste? Just imagine it for yourself: soft moist sponge layers sandwiched with mangoey fresh cream and mango bits, full of flavor and taste.

The mangoes I used were the yellow-skin Filipino mangoes. They are quite a good substitute for the best mango--the Luzon mango--although not as rich in flavor or color. It was hard to fold the mangoes because I didn't cut them thin enough. Check out the mango cheesecake I made with apple mangoes; they folded better.


Mango Fresh Cream Cake
1 x 10" sponge cake, cut into 3 layers

700 ml fresh dairy whipping cream
1 egg yolk
8 T castor sugar
1 cup diced mangoes, pureed
2 pieces gelatine leaves
150 oz fresh dairy whipping cream, very well chilled

2 cups diced mangoes
extra sliced mangoes for decoration

1. Put 150 ml of fresh cream into a small pot. Soak the gelatine leaves briefly in water and when it just turns soft, add it to the cream in the pot. Add the egg yolk and 3 tablespoon of sugar and stir with a small whisk over low heat until the gelatine has melted. Take off fire and stir in the mango puree. Let cool and put into freezer until the edge or side is set and the middle very thick and syrupy.

2. Whisk the remaining cream with the remaining 5 T of sugar (you may need more; we're on a low-sugar diet) until it just becomes stiff. Now add the nearly-set mango puree and stir through the cream quickly to blend. Quickly stir in the diced mangoes.

3. Working quickly, sandwich the cake layers with the filling and cover the sides and top of the cake too. Decorate with extra mango slices, glaze the mangoes with diluted piping jelly or apricot jam and put cake to chill for at least 4 hours.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Kelp Salad

Kelp salad.

Yup, kelp. Those big ribbons of seaweed you find growing especially well off the North Western coast of the US (Oregan & Washington) and other temperate waters. The Japanese call it kombu and the Chinese hai dai (sea belts). My Cantonese mom never cooked kelp but my Shanghainese MIL often serves kelp salad as a cold side dish so I suppose this is a Shanghainese dish.

When you are sick of fried food and you want something to chew but not give you any calories, make a kelp salad. Not only is kelp calorie-free (except for the sesame oil you use to dress it with), it has high levels of iodine, an element we need to prevent thyroidism, that awful condition where your eyes bulge like goldfishes' and your throat looks like you've swallowed a football but the doctor tells you it's a goiter. Of course these days we get enough iodine in our salt but if you live away from the sea and you don't use sea salt or iodised salt and you feel restless and anxious and your jowl drops to your collarbone, eat some kelp and other seaweed now and then.

Kelp comes dried and tied in small bundles. One bundles costs only RM1/US$0.30 (just a few years ago it was 50 sen) and that makes lots of kelp salad. It stores well for an indefinite amount of time but only if there's low humidity or it'll get moldy. Dried kelp usually comes with a layer of whitish powder which I think is salt. Kelp is not only eaten as is; it can be used to make jelly powder and thicken ice creams.

Those who haven't eaten kelp before will be grossed out because it is slightly slimy and briny in flavor. But I like it. It has a texture between a crunch and a chew and I eat it like I eat noodles. That's because a doctor once told me I was developing a goiter. I ran to my family doctor who measured my neck and he assured me that the girth of my neck was normal. Still, I make sure I eat kelp now and then.

You can make this a fancy kelp salad by adding roasted and minced dried shrimps, chopped garlic and coriander/cilantro leaves but I'm used to my MIL's simple kelp salad of just kelp, sesame oil and Maggi soy sauce. Sesame seeds and spring onions are optional. This salad is best eaten very cold.


Kelp Salad
sesame oil
Maggi or other tasty light soy sauce
toasted sesame seeds and chopped spring onions to garnish

1. Soak the kelp in lots of water for an hour. It will swell by 10 times or more. Wash under running water, then soak and rinse twice times more until no more sand is left in the bottom of your soaking basin.

2. Put the kelp in a large basin or container and add enough warm water and a couple of white vinegar (MIL said this is to stop the slime coming out but I don't find it any different from if I don't use vinegar so it's up to you) for 1 hour.

3. Drain very well. If kelp is in one long piece, cut it every 10 cm (4 ") and stack 2 or 3 on top of each other. Roll into a tight scroll and cut into small (1/2 cm) strips.

4. Soak the cut kelp in very cold water and drain very well. Keep in fridge to chill.

5. When needed, take some kelp out, put into a bowl and add sesame oil and light soy sauce to your taste. It should taste a bit more saltier than your usual dish. Transfer the dressed kelp onto a serving plate. The idea is to make sure the kelp does not sit in the liquid that comes out which would dilute the seasoning. Garnish and serve cold.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Home-Made Sausage Patties


I've always wanted to make my own English muffins and pork sausages, mainly because they aren't easy to find here. While we can get frozen pork sausages (at prices 10 times the ordinary wiener sausages), I've never seen English muffins anywhere except for McDonald's. McD's Sausage McMuffin is the only item I like on their menu (yes, my family prefers Burger King burgers) and I do occasionally make my way there for one (ok, two) of these 'thigh-breakers'. McD's sausage patties in Malaysia are made of chicken but they taste like pork. Btw, did you know that an uproar by bloggers in Singapore against McD's replacement of the soft toy pig with a cupid toy for their current Chinese New Year offer of Chinese zodiac animals led to an apology last week by the burger chain and reinstatement of the pig toy? I wish everybody would just lighten up.

I don't have a meat grinder and sausage casings are only available in bulk from KL. I've been experimenting with making English muffins the whole week but both recipes that I tried failed and right now my poolish for the 3rd recipe is growing. I think this might be it. In the meantime, my ground pork can't wait, so I went ahead and made sausage patties, which turned out very well.

When it comes to sausages, chicken or beef or lamb just don't taste as good as pork. Pork fat is the perfect fat for sausages, being more neutral in flavor than chicken, lamb or beef fat. If you need to go kosher, then use chicken or beef or lamb. The sausages taste better if there's more fat but for health reasons, I use about 70% lean meat to 30% fat, which give good sausage patties but probably not sausages. Sausages will need more fat to make them moist and less coarse. The texture of the meat is up to you. For patties, I used a coarser-ground pork than I would if I made sausages. Since I don't have a meat grinder (a food processer would grind the meat too finely into a paste), I leave it to the butcher to grind the meat for me. Next time I would tell him to grind the meat finer because there were ungrounded chunks in the mince. I found the recipe for breakfast sausages here. Wey said the sausages were nearly as good as McD's, 'nearly' thrown in because he thinks my patties should have a little more salt. I am giving you the recipe based on my own try out which was about half the recipe in the link. Now if only I can make good English muffins I wouldn't need to get up early and get into town for McD's breakfasts before 11 a.m.

Breakfast Sausage Patties (makes 15 patties)
1.5 kg ground pork
3/4 T salt
3/4 T sage
3/4 t thyme
1/4 t ginger
1/2 t nutmeg
1/4 t white pepper
1/8 t cayenne pepper (omit if you don't like hot)
1/4 cup water

1. Mix everything together until very well blended. Test by frying a small thin patty and adjust the seasoning if necessary.

2. Divide the mixture into 15 balls, each about a fistful. Roll and pat each into a patty about 1 to 1.5 cm thick and place on a piece of greaseproof paper. Chill in the fridge to set.

3. Grease a skillet or pan and fry the patties for about 5 minutes each side, pressing the patties when you first place them in the pan to prevent the patties from growing thicker as they cook. If you press the patties after they are half-cooked, their juices will run out and the result will be dry patties. It's a good idea to make the patties thinner if you don't want to bother pressing them when you cook. Serve hot.

Love Is The Greatest Of Them All

I never liked AJ but she touches me with her love for her mom. This latest video posted by Angelina herself today moved me so much I want to share it with you. In the vid, the innocent Jolie swings happily with her mom, her brother shyly kisses her and you can feel her contentment as she hugs him. Jolie's beautiful mom was so young, happy and full of love for her kids. It also made me a little sad, because time passes so quickly and kids grow up and life changes. I am reminded that my kids are now older than Jolie and her brother in the video and I hope my kids will remember many happy times with us too. If you've been busy, take time to love your kids today. Make everyday happy!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Long Bean 'Nests' Stuffed With Fish Paste

Stuffed long beans, a little overcooked.

I thought this was a very creative way of stuffing long beans. The idea was from a stall at the Waterfront which Bobby the hairdresser told us about that serves all kinds of fish paste stuffed into veggies and it's been years since we last ate there. Recently we had a late-night snack at the stall and the stuffed veggies were good although I generally don't eat commercial fish paste which is more flour and msg than fish.

Long Bean 'Nests'Stuffed With Fish Paste
12 long beans
3/4 cup home-made fish paste

1. Blanch the beans in boiling water until just flexible and plunge into a bowl of cold water to stop the cooking.

2. Wind the long beans into circles and stuff the fish paste into the center and between the beans to stick them together. Tuck in the tops and the tails.

3. You can either fry the stuffed long beans in a little bit of veg oil (tasty) or boil them (healthy) until they just rise to the top of the water.

4. Make a sauce by frying sliced red onions and then add a cornstarch solution of 1 heaped teaspoon cornflour + 1/4 cup chicken stock + some white pepper and 1 tablespoon of oyster sauce and add to the onions. Cook until the sauce turns transparent. Pour sauce over the stuffed long beans. Serve with a lime hot sauce.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Easy Butter Chicken



Everytime we eat Northern Indian food, butter chicken (murkh mahani) is a must. It's like how some people order sweet and sour pork everytime they eat Chinese.

I'm not good with Indian spices and until now I can't tell between fennel and cumin, especially when they are ground. In this recipe, which is from a 2006 issue of Delicious, the garam marsala is made from scratch but that's like making my own fireworks, so I used the bottled stuff. The recipe doesn't call for plain yogurt, which is fine by me because it's an item that's hard to find here and even if I do, the remainder always goes to waste. I call this easy butter chicken because you don't need to marinade the chicken overnight. With so many spices, I don't think anyone would taste the difference if the meat is marinaded or not. Surprisingly, there's very little butter in butter chicken so it's not as sinful as it sounds. Vary the amount of cream and tomato paste to your liking; I used more tomato paste and less cream but my kids think it should be the other way around. I made slight changes to the recipe, like frying the chicken separately in a non-stick pan first.

A small dish of butter chicken in restaurants will cost about RM25/US$7, enough for one person only. The last time we ate butter chicken out, there was plenty of sauce but we had to fish for the almond-sized chicken so I prefer to cook my own butter chicken.

The best bread to eat butter chicken with is naan but at home I prefer to make chapatties because they are faster and easier to make. Chapatties are nearly oil-free, full of nutty wholemeal and very easy to make. Another easy flatbread (meaning they are flat, because no leavening agent is used) is puri but puris need to be deep-fried which makes them tasty but greasy. When I was about 8, my dad determined that our Eurasian neighbor could help me with my English. Aunty Epps whacked my fingers with a ruler whenever I made spelling mistakes and I was terrified of her but I was in awe of her too because she was a great cook. If she was in the right mood, she'd let me stay back after lessons and watch her cook curries, stews, cakes--food my mom didn't cook. Other housewives looked like housewives but Mrs Epps was different. She was always trendily dressed and her home always tidy with music playing all the time. She always greeted her husband at the door with a kiss, which to us then was like watching a peep show. Valerie, her grown-up daughter, listened to The Beatles and wore mini skirts and danced a-go-go while Uncle Epps drove a Volkswagon. I thought they were so cool and I wanted to be like Mrs Epps. It was Aunty Epps who showed me that cooking is fun and it was her who triggered my interest in cooking. Puris remind me of Aunty Epps, who I never met again after they moved to Perth.


Easy Butter Chicken
1.5 kg chicken, jointed or deboned as preferred
1 brown onion, chopped finely
4 garlic cloves, chopped finely
2.5 cm piece of ginger, grated and 5 cm piece ginger, in thin julienne strips
1 T lemon juice
1 t chili powder
2 t paprika
40 g butter + 1 extra spoon if like
3 T tomato paste
1 T brown sugar
150 ml thickened cream
1 cup water
3 t garam marsala
3 T veg oil
1/4 cup coriander (cilantro) for garnishing

1. Put the onion, garlic, grated ginger, lemon juice, chili powder, paprika and 2 teaspoon of marsala into a food processor, adding 1 to 2 tablespoon of water to make a paste.

2. Heat 2 T oil in a large non-stick frypan and fry the chicken, in batches if necessary, until browned on all sides. Remove and set aside.

3. Add the butter + 1 T oil to a pot large enough for the ingredients. Add the spice paste and fry 5 to 10 minutes until oil starts to separate from the paste. Add the water, tomato paste, sugar and salt (you can mix all these together in a bowl first) and let sauce simmer 10 minutes.

4. Stir in the ginger strips, cream and chicken and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes or until chicken is tender.

5. Before taking the curry off the fire, add 1 t garam marsala and an extra spoon of butter if like. Top with the coriander leaves and serve with Indian bread like naan, chapati or puri.


The Garam Marsala
1 1/2 t cumin seeds
1 1/2 fennel seeds
3/4 cardamon seeds (from inside the pods)
1/4 t kolonji/nigella seeds (which I couldn't find here)
1/4 t black peppercorns
1 small stick of cinnamon
4 cloves
1/4 t nutmeg

Heat a heavy pan and fry the spices at medium heat (except the nutmeg) for a few seconds until aromatic. Tip into a spice grinder and grind into a fine powder. Add the nutmeg. The garam marsala will keep in a glass jar in the fridge for several months.


300g fine wholemeal/atta flour or plain flour
1/2 t or less salt
1/2 t sugar
1/2 T butter, softened
300 ml (depending on the flour) warm water

1. Mix everything in a bowl and knead to form a firm smooth dough.

2. Divide the dough into half then each half into half and so on until you get 14 pieces of dough. Roll into balls and flatten each ball to make a small disc. Dust the work surface with flour and use a rolling pin to roll each disc into a thin 3 mm thick 6 "/15 cm circle.

3. Heat oil to deep fry (the more oil, the puffier and smoother-surfaced the puris. I didn't use enough oil) and fry each puri one by one, gently pressing it down so that it is immersed in the oil. As soon as the puri is puffed, turn over and fry for a couple of seconds and remove onto kitchen paper. Serve immediately.

300 g fine wholemeal/atta flour
less than 1/2 t salt
1/2 T butter, softened
300 ml or more warm water
extra flour for dusting

1. Mix everything in a large bowl until the dough is soft and smooth. Cover with a damp cloth and let stand 1/2 hour or preferably overnight to give a softer bread.

2. Divide the dough into half then each half into half and so on until you get 12 -14 pieces of dough. Roll into balls and flatten each ball to make a small disc. Dust the work surface with flour and use a rolling pin to roll each disc into a thin 3 mm thick 6 "/15 cm circle.

3. Heat a frying pan or griddle (no need to grease) and cook the chapatties over medium heat, 30 seconds on each side. Keep fried chapatties covered in a tea towel until serving time. Chapatties can be frozen and reheated when needed.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Ming's Beef, Mushrooms & Mixed Beans Soup

Beef, mushrooms and mixed beans soup

I really like our weather the past several days, with cloudy skies, light rain and cool afternoons of around 25 C and colder at night, the coolest days we've had in years. The only problem I have with such nice weather is the floods in the rural areas. Those in dreary grey places will not understand but if you live in hot sunny weather 365 days a year, you'll welcome the rain and clouds like the Brits welcome the sun.

This started out as 'beef & barley soup with mushrooms and dill' from a copy of Australian House & Garden but because Ming preferred mixed dried beans to barley, because shiitake mushrooms are cheaper than button mushrooms (he loves mushrooms) and sherry reduced with the onions is one of his fav cooking secrets, he came up with a different soup but one that was so superb we (except for Wey, who probably is planning to run away from home soon--we've had a pork-free week) didn't eat anything else but the soup for dinner last night. The only thing you can't omit or substitute though is the dried porcini mushrooms which gave the soup that special savory flavor.

Stews and thick soups always taste better the next day when the ingredients have been given time to absorb the liquid and flavor, and the soup infused with the ingredients. If possible, cook the soup the night before but I don't think that'll work because honestly who keeps freshly cooked soup for the next day? So the next best thing to do is cook this ahead of time, say hours before dinner. And if your family is like mine, always trying to loose some weight, all you need with the soup is some crusty bread.


Ming's Beef, Mushrooms & Mixed Beans Soup(serves 8-10)

1/3 cup dried porcini mushrooms
2 T extra virgin olive oil
2 T sherry
1 kg chuck or rump steak, in 2 cm cubes
2 brown onions, chopped
2 large carrots, in 1 cm cubes
2 stalks celery, 1/2 cm slices
150 g button mushrooms, quartered
150 g shiitake mushrooms, in 1.5 cm pieces
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 can beef stock
2 l water
2 1/2 cups mixed dried beans, washed well* (chick peas, butter beans, kidney beans etc)
2 bay leaves (in place of 1/4 cup fresh chopped dill)
salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste

* you can use 2 cups pearl barley instead

1. Put porcini in a small bowl and add 3/4 cup hot water to rehydrate it for about 20 minutes. Pick through the softened porcini to remove any dirt and drain the soaking water through a sieve lined with a damp paper towel to remove any grit. Keep the liquid.

2. Heat up a heavy based pot and add the oil, then the beef cubes and let it sear all over and remove. Add the onions, carrot and celery and cook 10 minutes under low heat (have patience) until softened. Now add the sherry, stir for 15 sec. Add the porcini and the other mushrooms and stir for 5 min.

3. Stir in the tomato paste, stock, water and porcini soaking liquid. Bring to a boil, add the beef and bay leaves. Simmer, with lid slightly at angle, for 1 hour.

4. Add the beans and simmer another 1 hour 30 minutes, stirring from time to time. Turn off the heat and let soup sit for at least 45 min and then heat soup up again. If the soup becomes too thick, add some water. Season with salt & pepper to taste.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Finally, Tuaran Mee Recipe!

Finally, the recipe for Tuaran/Tamparuli mee (noodles). You won't find this recipe online (until now) and I don't think you even get to eat this anywhere but in Kota Kinabalu-Tuaran-Tamparuli because the dish originated from the Tuaran andTamparuli (small towns north of KK) and hasn't made it out of the state yet.

Tuaran and Tampurali mee are the same to me (for convenience, I'll use the term 'Tuaran noodles') although there may be some difference such as the width of the noodles, Tuaran noodles being very slightly narrower and rounder than Tamparuli noodles.

Tuaran noodles are ordinary fresh egg noodles without alkaline water so they don't give the springy bite you find in wonton noodles. The flour and eggs noodles smell so good that I am always tempted to eat them raw. The unusual thing about Tuaran noodles is that they are fried in oil first, then boiled and finally fried with egg. Fresh noodles, like fresh pasta, are impossible to fry. They will clump together in a soggy mess and if water is added, they will become pasty. The ingenious way of cooking fresh noodles by first lightly toasting them with some oil in the wok could have come about because toasting made them last longer without refridgeration. Remember Tuaran and Tampurali were sleepy countryside towns. When needed, the fried noodles are boiled and then fried. The lady who sold the noodles taught me the steps in preparing them for frying but I worried that the noodles, being heavy and wet, would break upon frying. But it's a new year and I want to try new recipes, just like you do.

To be sure, I dropped by a coffee shop near Austral Park to buy some roasted pork for the topping but the real reason was I was hoping to talk to the cook. Was I lucky, because the lady who owned the shop was tending to some customers and the cook happened to walk by. He confirmed that Tuaran noodles are first fried, then boiled, then fried again. Why, I asked, are they boiled? He answered, like a teacher talking to a dumb student, that if the noodles aren't boiled, they'll be too crunchy and stiff to fry. Oh. One more question, I quickly asked, seeing that the owner was moving towards us, when do I add the egg? I enjoy asking restaurant cooks their recipes and methods. Most of them will tell if the bosses aren't around.

I am very happy with the results of my first plate of Tuaran mee. The noodles aren't hard to fry and are not as greasy as the restaurants'. The greasiness is one reason I avoid Tuaran noodles. Even Yi turned out a good plate, better than mine (if Yi can cook, anyone can too). The frying, boiling, then frying make sense. The first frying is to dry the noodles out and to give them a toasted fragrance. My plate of noodles were slightly under-fried; more browning would give the noodles a slightly charred and toasted flavor. The boiling is to soften and re-hydrate the noodles so that water needn't be added during the next frying step, reducing breakage. Boiling the noodles also washes away most of the oil. The final frying is to season the noodles and to add an egg to give the noodles a slightly creamy taste and texture.

I buy Tuaran noodles at the Dah Yeh shops, second shop on the left. If you can't get Tuaran noodles, I think you may use fresh wonton noodles the same way.


Fresh Tuaran egg noodles.


First frying of the noodles.


The noodles after the first frying and before boiling. The more browned or toasted the noodles, the better the flavor.


Tuaran Fried Mee (2 persons)
2 'nests' of Tuaran mee
1/2 cup meat topping*
1 large handful of sawi/chai xin greens, in 4-5 cm lengths & blanched
1 large egg, beaten lightly
1/2 t salt
white pepper to taste
1/4 to 1/2 t sugar
1 t chicken stock powder or a pinch of msg

*This can be slices of cha sau, sau rou (bbq & roasted pork) or fresh meat, seasoned and fried, or even cooked prawns and slices of fish if pork is not your meat of choice.

1. Heat up the wok and add 2 T (or more if like) of veg oil. When wok starts to smoke, throw in the noodles, loosening or fluffling them with your hands in the air. Spread out the noodles and let them fry a while before moving them around to get even frying. When some of the noodles start to brown, (turn over to see), turn over and fry another few minutes. More browning gives more flavor. Remove onto a plate. The fried noodles can keep for a few days in the fridge.

2. Boil a pot of water and add the fried noodles. Do not add too much noodles so that after adding the noodles, the water will come to a boil quickly. One way to make the water come to a boil quickly is to make sure there's plenty of water and little bit of noodles. Keeping the heat very high, stir the noodles gently and check for doneness by tasting. Do not let noodles cook too long. Drain well and quickly go to the next step because the noodles will soften and clump after the boiling. For this reason, it's best to have the pot side by side with the wok, timing it so that you can add the noodles from the pot to the wok without waiting too long from step 2 to 3.

3. Heat up the same wok, add 3 T of veg oil and pour in the egg. When egg is half cooked, add the noodles and toss well with a pair of chopsticks. Add the salt, sugar, pepper and chicken powder/msg. You may need to add more salt; adjust the seasoning. Add the cooked veg last and dish onto a serving plate. Scatter the topping over and serve with a hot chili sauce.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Guilin : Day 6 Longji

We left Yangshuo in a private van driven by Xiao Jiang ("Little Say", remember him?). Our agreed fare was 600 Yuan/RM300/US$83 from Yangshuo to Longji (4 hours, because Little Say drove at 50 kmph) and back to Guilin and we were to provide meals and accommodation. If we took the bus, it would have cost us less than half that amount but that would have meant that when we got to Longji, which we knew nothing about, we would not have any transport.

Longji (meaning the dragon's backbone) is only 2 hours from Guilin, hidden in the mist and slopes of hills. It is an area famous for terraced rice fields, like those in Bali. I love Longji for the scenery (although it was not at its best that time of the year, the terraces being brown and heavy mist covered the hills most of the time) and the fact that the Zhuang people of that area still keep their traditional way of life. Because it was cold, the famous long haired girls of Longji were not out to show off their floor-length tresses.

We got to the gate of Ping An Village in Longji at 2:30 pm and confusion awaited us. We were told that we needed to pay an entrance fee to get pass the gate into the village. To buy the entrance fee, we'd need to show our accommodation booking but we didn't make prior booking so we couldn't buy the entrance fare. Tour guides and hotel agents then surrounded us, all claiming to have the best inns up in the mountains. Hub settled on Countryside Inn, the cost being the highest. He figured that that would be the safest bet. Besides, 'highest' was only 120 Yuan/RM60/US$17 per room. Once we paid for the rooms, we were allowed through the gate. Porters grabbed our bags, hoisting them over the baskets on their backs, charging 20-30 Yuan depending on the size.


We followed the porters up the hill, admiring the terraced rice fields around us. It was misty, but we could still see the surrounding scenery. Up and up we climbed and I had to stop and buy a boiled sweet potato because I hadn't eaten anything since my bowl of instant noodles the night before. The sweet potato was amazingly smooth, sweet and full of aroma, almost like perfume.
We turned a corner and there stood multi-storeyed wooden houses, ancient and beautiful with the mist thickening around them. I felt like I was back in time by 700 years (the rice fields of Longji were first cultivated around 1300 AD). Yi and Hub wondered at the scenery while my sons walked on like they'd seen it before. Another example of why (most) men are from Mars.


Our inn was good and clean. Because we took two rooms and it was low season, Little Say was given a free room. We spent the afternoon exploring the village, going up and down the narrow steps of the paths that connect the houses. Imagine a whole village of 800 people perched on hills, connected by steep stone paths. The lower and scenic-facing slopes were taken up by inns while the houses of the villagers were in the background. Some areas were off-limits by their smells: pigs kept underneath some houses gave off a stench that stopped me from walking further. Chickens and ducks searched for food and a rat rotted on the path; I nearly stepped on it. That was Longji--breathtakingly beautiful but shocking when you look close, especially between and under the houses.
The mist thickened and it got very cold (4 C at night) so we returned to the inn to rest. I was awakened by the chill in my body (despite the heater in the room) and went downstairs to the lounge where my boys were playing computer games (the internet service up in Longji was fast but Blogger, Facebook and most sites were blocked by the government. The only service available was the email) and my Hub, Yi and Little Say were watching Liu sanjie, the movie. An Israeli couple with two toddlers checked in, speaking beautiful perfect Mandarin that put us all to shame. A backpacker walked in. Vic was from Poland and he and I spent the next hour exchanging travel tales, warming our hands (and my frozen toes which were numb) over glowing charcoals placed in an old wok. He told me about a village wedding that he was invited to in Yunnan, up north, and how he was told to run for the forest when his stomach acted up after the feast. As he ran, a pig followed him. The rest is up to your imagination but Vic's timing was quite bad because right after he told me how he realized with horror that the pig probably habitually ran after anyone who ran into the forest, we were called to dinner. If you remember, I didn't have a proper meal in two days because of all the spitting I saw in Yangshuo (and Guilin) and I totally lost my appetite. I watched as my family hungrily ate all the food; I nibbled on some to keep warm/alive. In China, veggies and pigs are human-manure organic, I concluded. I just couldn't tell them at that point about the pig because they were going "Wah, seriously tasty meal!" Wey was a little upset about our Guilin trip by then because meat was always served sliced thinly (not in chunks) and in small portions. He obsessed about the food he wanted to eat when we get home.

Vic was in another Longji village, a couple of hours away, a few days before. He said the trekking was great and that we must trek to a totally remote village about 2 hours away once the weather got better. But the next morning, our last day in Longji, we woke up to mist so thick we couldn't see beyond 10 meters. We packed to leave Longji because the mist was not going to clear. It was so unfortunate because Longji was so amazingly beautiful and off the beaten tourist path at that time of the year.

A simple dish of scrambled eggs with Chinese chives.

'Return to the wok' or twice-cooked pork was superb, I was told.


Another tasty dish was tofu in soya beans sauce.


Waxed bacon with dried bamboo shoots.


This brinjal dish was so good that I went into the kitchen to ask the chef for the recipe but he was non-responsive, saying only that a good douban jiang (soy bean chili paste) made the dish good.

Yi or Ming dropped this onto Wey's side plate and it made him sick. When we were small, my sister and I would dig the brains (that whitish pulp) out with our chopstick. It was yum but now it does look rather gross. For those who don't know, this is the head of a chicken, likely a cockerel.


Cobs of corn drying at the front of every house, stored to feed the pigs in winter.


Bamboo filled with rice and meat or shrimps and toasted over fire. And we thought lemang was only found in Malaysia.


The next morning, my boys ordered pizza for breakfast while Yi, Hub and I ate instant noodles. That pizza looked good and I was impressed that they had mozzarella up in the hills but my boys said it tasted of dried bamboo. In Guilin, if you smell pee, remember it is likely to be a kind of bamboo (very tasty) and not pee.

On the way down, we passed stalls selling souvenirs and other stuff. Hub stopped at a stall, taken in by some black seeds called 'Mandarin Duck Fruit' (yingyang guo), and asked me for 30 Yuan. Now, if you know me, you'll know it's hard to sell me anything, from direct sell products to insurance. I am by nature a very discerning person. I would've stopped Hub, because I've never believed in all those claims of certain plants curing hypertension or diabetes or cholesterol or whatever. But since it was 30 Yuan, I gave him the money and moved on to the next stall where I bought 20 Yuan worth of dried black ants that were supposed to turn white hairs into black. Did I just say I am a discerning person? I didn't really believe it, but I bought it to play a trick on my mom.
In China, the hand-held balance scale is the most common weighing instrument and it is useful for short-changing customers.

You must read on, for your sake, if you ever go to China. After coming home, Hub remembered the mandarin duck fruits that he bought and did a search on the net after which he came to me, tail between his legs. Instead of 30 Yuan, he had bought 300 Yuan/RM150/US$42 of mandarin duck fruits (one handful only) and he now suspects that he had been duped. You can read stories about how people were tricked into buying the seeds at a stall up in the slopes of Longji on the net but only if you google in Chinese. The story is the same as Hub's: He stopped to look at the dried lizards and strange produce at a stall where a well-dressed man with his wife were haggling the price of the seeds. The man asked for the real stuff, wild mandarin duck fruits, not the cultivated ones, and the lady seller pulled out a bag from under the table and and poured the 'wild' seeds out. The man, who claimed that he's a Chinese herbalist from Guangzhou, bargained for a lower price, telling Hub in a lowered voice that in China, the standard haggling rule is to slash prices by 70%. He then told Hub the wonders of the seeds (cure for hypertension, cholesterol, diabetes, insomnia, whatever--that would be a red flag for me, if I was there to hear it) and asked that Hub get some because he was buying as much as he could.

Hub wants this lady on a 'Wanted' list but then they probably work in a team, rotating their shifts in selling dried mountian lizards, mandarin fruits/seeds and other rubbish to gullible tourists.

Be very very careful when shopping in China. Expensive tea leaves can turn out to be inferior leaves, face creams can be full of mercury and jade can be glass injected with dye. Everybody is out to get the tourists, and the government can't or wouldn't control the situation.

Longji is most beautiful when the rice terraces are green in the spring and summer and when they are golden in the fall. I've seen photos of Longji in those two seasons and it looked like Shangri La.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Guilin: Day 5 Yangshuo

cOur last day in Yangshuo was not a very pleasant one for me. I was out-voted 4:1 against staying in a farmhouse inn 15 minutes outside the town so I wasn't happy.

We were once told that the best time to see a city is to get up early and get to the streets before everybody else. That's what my Hub does everywhere we go because he's a morning person. I made an effort to climb out of bed early on our last day in Yangshuo and we took a walk at about 7 a.m., just when Yangshuo was waking up. And it is true, the place is so different in the early morning. The Li River was only 10 minutes from our inn, and groups of people were doing tai chi excercise. Some stalls were being set up. Amidst all that, my pleasant morning walk turned more and more disgusting as people were revving up their throats and spitting as naturally as they were breathing. The spitters always made a drumroll ("Krarrrkkk!!") before shooting out their sputum. I felt sick even at the sound, learning to quickly avert my glance (and my steps) to dodge the sickening blobs.


We heard and smelt firecrackers in the peace of the morning and much later, a procession of mourners appeared, led by a guy throwing firecrackers into the air and tailed by a small band of gong players. Family members of the deceased wore the traditional white mourning robes, flanked by assistants on their left and right, and walked backwards facing the coffin. Every few steps, the relatives would stop and kneel. Judging by the pomp of the procession and a paper mache stork/crane (signifying long life) on the coffin, the deceased must've been quite well-off and aged.



Crispy skinned ducks, each only 18 Yuan/RM9/US$2.50.


The sign said 'dog meat boiled, stewed, charcoal roasted' but lucky for us the shop was closed. Another exotic meat that Guilin is famous for is horse meat.

The market was bustling with early morning shoppers. Persimmons were coming to the end of their season and the overripe persimmons were pressed and dried so they can keep longer. They were very tender and sweet, very different from the stale ones we get in Malaysia which usually have a dodgy white powder coating. The green apple-like fruits in front are green dates, very crisp and crunchy but quite bland.

These strawberries and kumquats were straight off the orchard and very sweet.

True to my resolve, we had been eating Guilin mifen every single day of our stay in Guilin. However, this was a hard bowl of noodles to eat as I got pretty nauseous by then, hearing and seeing all the spitting around me.

I don't know why but we seem to do caves wherever we go. I think it's the parent in me thinking that it can be educational for my kids. But after the Silver Cave in Yangshuo, I swear I'll never do caves again. Except Mulu Caves in Sarawak, which I enjoyed visiting because it is so interesting and natural. But of all the caves I've visited (many), Silver Cave is the most unnatural I've ever been too.

Typical of the Chinese love for colors, the caves were lighted brightly with multi-colored lights, turning them into mysterious discos. I was disappointed that there was no prohibition from touching the walls of the caves.


More horror awaited at the exit of the cave, where lighted ads were nailed to the walls. What a waste of 65 Yuan/RM33/US$9 per person.

We returned to Yangshuo for lunch. By now I was sick of Guilin food. It was always beer fish or yam and pork or veg with waxed bacon. I wondered how it could be that there's so much variety of dishes in Guangzhou and so little in Guilin. Hub said it is because Guilin is very poor. Ming, Wey and I out-voted Hub and Yi for a western lunch at Bar98, a cafe and bar operated by two Australians. The meat pie was reportedly (I read it somewhere on the net) the best in Yangshuo, which, when I think of it now, meant nothing because nobody else served meat pies in Yangshuo.

This didn't look convincing. The crust was just flour mixed with water.


It tasted like what it looked: fried beef mince with onions. Ah well, what did we expect anyway. My guess is the Australians were not in the kitchen or maybe not running the inn anymore. I've learnt that travel websites can be very misleading.


I think Wey had better luck with his breaded chicken.


Hub and Yi thought they were smarter than us by ordering fried rice instead of western food. The fried rice was disappointing, considering this was China.

We still didn't do what people do when they are in Yangshuo: enjoy outdoors activities. So Hub made us all get on the rented bikes. 10 Yuan for good bikes, free for old bikes from No Name Inn which we moved to on the last day there. No Name Inn is only 2 doors away from Lazy Men's Inn and it was not only cheaper but the rooms are better and much bigger. He thought he was being romantic when he appeared at the inn on a two-seater bike. I felt a little bit silly and spoilt sitting behind him so I pedalled very hard.



The above 2 photos remind me of Norman Rockwell's painting, The Outing : happy eager faces (well, okay, Wey had a not-so-happy face because he didn't want to cycle) at the beginning of the journey and glum faces on the way home (like a before and after of a courting couple?). Wey acted up like the baby he is and refused to cycle halfway. We were 1/2 hour from Yangshuo. It started to drizzle and turn dark and we nearly left him there. It was Ming who finally persuaded Wey to get on the bike again. Hub and Ming were pissed with Wey and couldn't smile at the camera but Yi was ready with a smile when a camera was pointed at her.

I wouldn't recommend cycling on the highway of Yangshuo. Although the road was wide with bicycle paths on both sides, there were too many vehicles and the air was polluted with their fumes and those of the manure from the veggie farms.
But we did catch some beautiful scenery. There's a famous saying that Guilin's mountains and waters are the most beautiful in China but Yangshuo surpasses Guilin's beauty. I agree.


My appetite was totally gone by dinner time, and I opted to stay in instead of going for dinner and walking West Street again. I took a hot shower and watched TV while eating a bowl of instant noodles in bed. It tasted so good. It also felt good to be alone for once. I was still sulking about not spending the night at Outside Inn. Hmmphh!
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...