Monday, May 30, 2011

Duck Breasts In Hoisin-Plum Sauce

Pan-fried to render the oil and finished in the oven to crisp the skin.

Duck breast with hoisin plum sauce.

Duck breast on pancakes, a la Peking Duck style.

Today's a public holiday, the Ka'amatan or Rice Harvest Festival. For lunch, I cooked duck breasts with hoisin-plum sauce. This was the second time I cooked duck breasts. It was only recently that I found duck breasts at Hong Seng, the cold storage mart in Damai. At about RM8/USD2.60 per piece, duck breasts are  much cheaper than beef or lamb. And easier to cook and fancier too.

The first time I cooked duck breasts, I pan-fried them until they were nearly done. The meat was slightly pink, moist and sweet. This time, I decided that frying four breasts in two batches just takes too long so I fried them until half-done (7 minutes each side) and finished them in the oven. However, I was distracted and the breasts were in the oven for a good 20 minutes instead of 7 minutes. Duck breasts, as you know, are best slightly underdone. Anyway, although the duck breasts were a slight disaster, my Peking duck pancakes were good--  they popped apart. That was great, because I've always had difficulty pulling the pancakes apart. Now I know that the reason my pancakes were always stuck together was because they were underdone. That, or maybe because they used to stick together because I've always used my finger to smear oil on the pancakes but this time I used a brush. Oh, and another good thing about today's cooking experiment was that I found that potatoes fried in duck fat is heavenly! I saw cans of duck fat in Europe and imagined that they were rather gross, but oil rendered from the duck breasts didn't smell ducky at all and somehow made better potatoes than even butter. Wow. I actually preferred the potatoes in duck oil to the duck.

Duck Breasts In Hoisin-Plum Sauce
One breast per person is good. Score the skin (for easier rendering of the fat) and pan-fry the breasts, skin-side down, two each time, without any oil in the pan. In no time, the breasts will be swimming in oil. Halfway through, after 7 minutes on each side in medium heat (I actually cooked the breasts on low heat but I think medium heat will render even more fat out and make the skin crispier), season the breasts with coarse salt and pepper (black or white or even Sichuan peps is good), pop the breasts into the pre-heated oven at 200 C for another 7 minutes or so. Remove and let rest for 5 minutes. Slice thinly (mine were too thick). Spoon some sauce onto a plate, place duck slices over the sauce and serve. If serving with potatoes, boil the potatoes until just done, cut into smaller pieces and then fry in the rendered duck oil until golden. Season with salt and pepper.

For the sauce, just heat 1 spoon of hoisin sauce with 1/2 spoon of plum sauce for one breast.

Peking Duck Pancakes
1. Put 1 cup plain flour into a bowl and add 1/4 cup boiling water. Stir quickly with a pair of wooden chopsticks or fork, until small lumps form. After 30 seconds of cooling, gather dough into a ball and knead until smooth. If too sticky, add more flour and if too dry, add a little bit more water. Cover and let dough rest about 30 minutes.

2. Roll dough into a long cylindrical shape and break into even number of small pieces about twice the size of your thumb. Dust well with flour.

3. Take two pieces of dough, roll each into a ball and press to flatten into a disc/circle. Brush oil liberally (veg or sesame oil) on one disc and press the other piece on top, placing it slightly askew so that it'll be easier to see when you pull them apart. This is a very clever space-saving way of frying two pancakes at once, allowing more pancakes to be fried.

4. Roll (make sure not to press too hard or pancakes'll not pull apart easily) into a thin pancake and fry, without oil, in a non-stick pan until it turns slightly transparent on both sides, about 1 minute each side over low heat. Do not fry until golden or scorched. When cool, pull apart. Keep covered with a cloth as you work on the rest of the dough.


Friday, May 27, 2011

PW's Short Ribs In Tomato Sauce


That PW. She takes awesome photographs. She surprised herself by marrying a rancher. She helps deliver the cattle babies. She grows veggies and flowers. She keeps basset hounds. She remodeled her guest house, plank by plank. She keeps the house, apparently with no help. She washes. She cleans manure off boots. She homeschools her children, all four of them. She writes one of America's most popular blogs. She recently published a cookbook and a children's story book. She keeps her handsome 'rugged and virile' Malboro Man happy. She does more but I can't keep count. She's one of those people who gets 48 hours out of her 24-hour day.

She cooks too, did I tell you, not for the photographs as many food bloggers do, but to feed her brood so they grow big, strong and happy. She has at least three hands, because she can cook and take photos of herself stirring and whipping. She's funny and she laughs at herself and everything. To me, PW's draw is her fun and funny attitude towards cooking. She's a seriously good cook but she's doesn't cook seriously. So what if the souffle failed--Charlie the basset hound has risen from the (almost) dead. So what if dinner's burnt--the fire in the field has been put out and her virile man (check him out, he does look like a Malboro ad man) is home. That's what's so endearing about PW. She really is about the life in her years, not the years in her life. She's a superwoman. I want to live on her ranch too. But I can't so the least I can do is try to cook like her.

Short ribs in tomato sauce is delicious and easy to cook although it does take a long time, four terribly long hours. But it's not so bad because you don't have to stir or check on it because it stews slowly in the oven. If you have a Dutch oven, great. But I don't so I used a glass casserole dish. As PW advised, it's best to cook this dish early the day before so that the fat can be removed after chilling in the fridge. As with all stews, the meat tastes best when allowed to cool down and reheated the next day. Prolonged simmering softens the meat but doesn't let the flavor of the sauce seep in. Cooling and resting will draw the flavors of the sauce into the meat. This recipe is similar to the one that most of us do with lamb shanks except this one is simpler, without celery or carrots. If you like the tomatoes to look red like PW's, cook the stew a shorter time and serve on the same day. Mine went into the fridge for two days and the color deepened but so did the flavor and taste. It was really yum. I can imagine restaurants charging a bar of gold for a dinner of short ribs in tomato sauce. The best thing about short ribs is that it's not as unhealthy as oxtail (which is a top favorite in my  family) and it is cheaper too. You must try this.

PW's Short Ribs In Tomato Sauce (serves 6-8)
1.5 kg short ribs, in small pieces
1 medium brown onion, chopped
4-5 cloves garlic, chopped
1 can 28 oz tomatoes (whole or chopped)
1 can 10 oz tomato sauce (I used 2 heaped T tomato paste + water)
1 cup red wine
1/4 t dried thyme
1/4 t dried chili flakes (omit if little kids are eating)
salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste
oil for frying

Garnish: grated parmesan and chopped Italian parsley
500 gm dried pasta

1. Preheat oven to 150 C. Season the ribs with 1 full teaspoon of salt and some freshly ground black pepper. Put a little bit of oil in a fry pan and brown the ribs in 2 to 3 batches.


2. In an oven-proof pot, fry the onion and garlic in a little bit of olive oil until transparent. Add the ribs, the tomatoes, the tomato sauce/paste, the wine and the seasoning. If the ribs aren't fully immersed in the sauce, add some water and stir through. Cover the pot and place on middle rack of oven. Cook for 4 hours without removing the lid. Taste and season if necessary.

3. When thoroughly cooled (I left the pot in the oven to cool), place the pot into the fridge to chill so that the hardened fat can be skimmed off. Reheat and serve hot over fettucine or rice or with toasted baguettes. Garnish with some grated parmesan and chopped parsley.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Karaage Chicken


Karaage chicken is just chicken nuggets, Japanese style. I suppose the only difference about Japanese chicken nuggets is in the seasoning, which is just light soy sauce, sake or mirin and some ginger juice. The coating flour can be corn or potato starch. Cornstarch is the flour of choice for Chinese cooking because it makes very crispy coating that stays crispy longer and doesn't brown as quickly as plain flour. The Japanese seems to prefer potato starch which makes very light, flaky and crisp coating but it doesn't stay crisp too long in humid weather so it's best to serve the nuggets as soon as they come out of the oil. The fried flakes that come off in the oil do taste like bits of potato chips. To cut the grease and freshen the palate, serve karaage chicken with some chilled cucumber slices.

Here's a very useful little gadget that I picked up in Tsukiji Market, Tokyo years ago. It's a ceramic plate that you can use to grate ginger, horseradish, tumeric and so on. The grated ginger is superfine and soft and I can get nearly a whole teaspoon of juice from a little thumb-sized knob of ginger.


Only about 7 cm from mouth to tail, this little grater plate is very handy and efficient.

Karaage Chicken
400 gm (2 deboned chicken legs or breasts, skin on is tastier)
juice from a small knob of ginger (size of the first joint of your thumb)
3 to 3 1/2T Kikkoman light soy sauce (to your liking)
1 T sake or mirin
3/4 cup potato starch or cornstarch
oil for frying
serve with: lemon wedges. mayo
garnish: cucumber slices

1. Cut the chicken into small bite-size pieces and marinade with the soy sauce, ginger juice and and sake/mirin for about 20 minutes minimum.

2. Coat each piece of chicken in the flour, pressing firmly to coat well.

3. Heat oil in a wok or fryer and fry the nuggets a few pieces at a time in high heat for about 1/2 minute, then turn down to medium heat to finish cooking. As with all food with flour-coating, a second frying will further crisp the coating or skin  but remember to do that in very hot oil and for a brief half minute or the meat'll dry out.

4. Drain on paper towels and serve hot as an appetizer with lemon wedges, Japanese mayo and cucumber slices.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Cereal Prawns

Cereal prawns (artificial light gives bad food photos doesn't it), a tasty dish of crispy cereal, prawns, butter, curry leaves and chilies.

This is a simple recipe from a Singaporean TV cooking show that I found on YouTube. I adjusted some of the ingredients to my taste and also peeled half the prawns and left the balance unpeeled just to see which ones taste better. Usually the prawns for this dish are not shelled and yes, my conclusion is that the unshelled prawns taste better. Instead of large prawns, I suggest using medium-sized prawns for their thinner shells because they crisp thoroughly so that the shells can be eaten too, along with the cereal sticking to the shells. Prawn shells are made of chitin which has been found to have health benefits (glucosamine is made from prawn shells and chitin speeds up healing of wounds and skin) so no harm there. This is a delicious but rather rich dish so proceed with caution.

Cereal Prawns
500 gm (10 to 12) medium large prawns, shells and heads on & butterflied
1/2 beaten egg
2 to 3 T cornflour (plain flour in original recipe)
2 sprigs of curry leaves
1 to 2 t chopped bird's eyes chilies (or milder red chili)
1 cup cereal
3 T milk powder
2 T icing sugar
optional: a few shakes of msg
3 T butter

veg oil for frying

1. Mix the milk powder, cereal, icing sugar and msg in a bowl. Marinade the prawns with some salt, white pepper, the 1/2 egg and cornstarch.

2. Deep-fry the prawns in hot oil until very crispy and cooked but do not overcook or prawns'll get tough and dry. Drain well. In restaurants, such prawns can be deep-fried until half-cooked and re-fried upon orders. The second frying makes very crispy prawns that stay crisp longer. If shelling the prawns (remove the shell from the body only, leave the heads and tails on), just shallow-fry both sides in a pan with a smear of oil.

3. In a clean frying pan or the same wok used for frying the prawns earlier, add the butter and the leaves (so that the leaves have more time to crisp) under medium-low heat. When leaves are crispy, reduce heat to very low, add the cereal mixture and stir, until the cereal turns golden and crispy. Be careful not to burn the cereal; they burn easily. Add the fried prawns to mix and dish up. Serve immediately.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Kedongdong Juice

Refreshing kedongdong juice

It's not that I haven't been cooking. I have but since our main meals are dinners and it's the season for afternoon thunderstorms, all my photos came out dark and grainy.

I had a refreshing kedongdong juice three weeks ago in Kuching. This morning I found some kedongdong at the market. They were old with brown skin (age spots?) unlike young kedondong which have clear, clean green skin. My MIL likes to say "Everybody is beautiful at 18". That statement is true with all living things, isn't it? Only antiques get better looking with age. Anyway, the kedongdong. Kedongdong are back-yard fruits not grown commercially so they are not often available. The lady who sold me the kedongdong asked if I was going to "jarok" or pickle the fruits and was surprised that I was going to juice them.

Back in the days when everyone was juicing their cucumbers, celery, carrots and even bittergourds, I resisted the craze. I managed a straight face and shut-mouth when juice-believers swore how juicing can clear the body of toxins and cure diabetes, hypertension and whatever the current disease. My kids never grew up having the luxury of mommy juicing their fruits once a month, let alone daily as expounded by my juicing friends. I also avoid food supplements because I think that's a lazy way to get your nutrients. I have a friend who eats supplements instead of real food and her biceps are flabbier than my 80+ year-old mom's. Anyway, I never believed in juicing because all that fibre is removed and I couldn't resist stirring some back into the juices and of course that didn't make them taste as good and so the kids never craved for juices. Now of course we know that the biggest problem with juices, fruit juices especially, is that you can get too many calories. One orange is about 60 calories so five oranges in one glass is 300 calories. That is a sure way to get fat and diabetic, especially since Asians are predisposed to diabetes. However, once in a while I do love some juice and this glass of icy sweet-tartish kedongdong juice was enough to get me chilled through the hot day.

Mature kedongdong have a brown-green skin and are about the size of a small chicken egg.

1. Peel the kedongdong. The fruits are so sour that by the time I peeled 12 of them, my fingers were all puckered.

Mature kedongdong have a spiky fibrous seed while young kedongdong have no seeds but are more sour.


2. Top the juice with lots of ice and a bit of cold water. Add about 1/4 teaspoon of salted plum powder for the ultimate drink. You can substitute the salted plum powder with a small pinch salt and sugar but it won't be as good.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Fish Pieces In Soy Sauce


The ludoon (known as jewfish in the USA) is the largest of the groupers. Found in deep waters, this giant brown fish can grow bigger than an adult human.  The best parts of this giant fish are the head and the belly because those parts have lots of thick gelatinous collagen membranes which are smooth and tasty, with a slight bite. As I've said before, Chinese food isn't only about taste but also about 'mouth feel', how the food feels in your mouth, whether it's pleasurable or not.

Decades ago I had the best ludoon head stew in Sandakan, a town on the east coast of Sabah. That must've been the grandma of all ludoon because the skin was about 2 cm thick. I've never eaten a better ludoon since. The thing about the ludoon is that the bigger the fish, the more prized it is because the gelatinous stuff gets better and more. The flesh, if you bother to eat it (connoisseurs go for the head and stomach) is surprisingly tender and moist. Ludoon are hard to come by since restaurants get the first right of refusal, as they do with all seafood. I was lucky to stumble upon a seafood stall in Kepayan that had a medium-sized ludoon (about 1 meter long) for sale probably because it was too small for restaurants.

I bought two pieces of lutoon steaks for RM40 (RM35/USD12 per kg) but the price at restaurants is many times higher. One piece of the steak was more than enough for our family of four because it was mostly meat. I wasn't sure about cooking the head but next time I will because it's more fun--and tasty--to eat the head than the flesh.

This recipe was cloned after the popular 'stewed fish head & belly' dish in Dong Fung Restaurant, Inanam. Other than the great flavor and taste, Dong Fung's stewed fish pieces have a thick coating of potato flour (you can use tapioca/cassava flour too) that bulks up the fish (cunning) and also gives a slippery, gelatinous bite. I am pleased to say that my son Wey, who is very selective about his seafood, pronounced my attempt 'the same' in taste to the restaurant's. That fella can charm me to death sometimes.

Fish Pieces In Soy Sauce
500 gm steak* of a large fish
1 to 2 cups of potato flour/tapioca flour for coating
1 egg white
2 T cornflour
5 slices of fresh ginger
2 T dark soy sauce
1 T light soy sauce
1/2 T shaoxin wine (not too much so that it wouldn't overpower the other flavors)
1 T Chinese rice wine (to give a sweet taste)
a dash of Thai fish sauce
1 t of chicken stock powder
1 T brown soy bean paste or Korean miso paste
1 t sugar
2 T sesame oil
salt and white pepper
spring onions to garnish

*the bones are usually left on but you can use fillets too. For this recipe, the fish must not be too soft and fine and should not fall apart upon cooking

1. Chop the fish into large bite-sized pieces. 'Massage' the cornflour, egg white, a large pinch of salt and white pepper into the pieces of fish and leave for 1/2 hour.

2. Coat each piece of fish with the potato starch, pressing on as much flour as possible. Deep fry the coated fish until just cooked and leave until ready to cook.


3. Put about 2 T oil into a heated wok and add the ginger. Stir until fragrant, add the fried fish and the shao xin wine and stir well. Now add the rest of the ingredients except the sesame oil, wok at medium heat, and stir well without breaking the fish pieces up. Sprinkle about 1/4 cup of water over the fish and cover with a lid for a few seconds. When water dries up, add another 1/4 cup. This dish takes only a minute to cook.

4. Turn off the fire. It's hard to give the exact amount of seasoning so you need to taste and season according to your liking. Sprinkle the sesame oil over. If the liquid had dried out, add a spoonful of hot water or stock. This is a saucy but not soupy dish. The potato flour on the fish will thicken the sauce. Sprinkle the spring onions over and serve immediately. Goes with plain rice.

Note: I celebrate the 1 millionth click on this blog today! I am encouraged by you the readers who tell me that the recipes on this blog have enriched your palate and family meals. Now why don't you tell two people about A Daily Obsession and make my day:)

Thursday, May 12, 2011

No Whip Whipped Cream


My niece asked if she could come and make a pavlova. I've made pavlovas twice and both times they suddenly deflated minutes before they were due out of the oven. But, being a person who enjoys challenges and because a reader wrote a couple of weeks ago asking if I've made pavlovas before, I told her I could give it another try.

This time the pavlova didn't fall. I think the difference is that I didn't reduce the sugar and I also baked the meringue at a lower temperature of 125 C instead of 140 C. The last two times, the pavlovas were an egg-shell brown before they suddenly fell flat. That was quite a frustrating experience watching two pavlovas fall.

Although my third pavlova didn't fall, it was far from being a success. The crust was soft and sticky and the meringue had a ring of clear liquid sugar around it. I didn't know what to do with it so I left it out on my dining table for a whole day and night. The pavlova shrunk a little and the crust crisped up a bit but it was nothing like the crusty pavlovas I've picked up in Australia. I had followed the instructions carefully. My bowl and whisk (borrowed from a friend who doesn't bake; my mixer problem still not solved) were squeaky clean. My egg whites were at room temperature which btw is very warm these days since we are getting into the rice harvest season. I had beaten the whites until they were stiff and shiny. I had put the meringue into the oven at 150 C and turned it down to 125 C less than a minute later. I left the meringue in the oven to cool completely before taking it out. I even baked the meringue for 1 hour 45 minutes, 15 minutes longer than stated in the recipe. Did all that, and the meringue was still soft outside and in, and smelt rather egg-white eggy. If anyone has baked a successful pavlova in this humid weather, please give me some advice.

Niece wanted to bring the disaster meringue home so I filled a plastic peanut butter jar with dairy whipping cream and left it in the fridge until she was ready to leave. As we walked to her car, I started shaking the jar rapidly to see if it would thicken into whipped cream, like those whipping cream in canisters. After about 30 seconds, there was no more slushy sound from the bottle.



So although I have no solution or recipe for a no-fail pavlova, I'm sharing with you a quick, easy way to whip up a small amount of cream. No need to drag out the machine or wash extra utensils. No need for electricity. Next time you have a ladies' tea and you are bringing scones, just put your cream in a plastic bottle (I think air and space are important for the cream to whip up so do not fill more than 1/4 of your bottle), chill it and when ready to use, shake the bottle until there's no slushy sound and there you are, whipped cream ready to use, straight from the jar. The whipped cream will not be as stiff as machine-whipped cream so it's best for non-decorating purposes such as for serving with tarts, pavlovas, trifle and so on.

I suppose if you want to be even more resourceful, you can continue shaking the jar and make butter for the bread too.

Note: as with cream whipped by machines or otherwise, results are best if the cream is chilled very well. One way to tell is if the slush sound is slow and dull when you shake the carton. A fast, sharp slush that sounds more like milk than cream will not work. I actually put my carton of cream in the freezer for 5 minutes or so, and use the sound test. Do not leave cream in the freezer to freeze because it will spearate into solids (fat) and liquid.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Kuching In 12 Hours, Part 2

Despite our hurry, we couldn't get to Choon Hui cafe before 11 am when they close and the other place for Kuching laksa as recommended by Kuching's golden blogger boy Kenny was Golden Arch at Golden Arch Mall. We got there but the laksa was all gone and they told us to get it from the cafe behind.

Kuching laksa, RM4/USD1.30. Big portion but not exceptional soup. Maybe we were too full. I think Chinese vermicelli (thicker, more breakable and in individual pieces) is more suitable for soup while Thai vermicelli (thin strands, not easily breakable and usually in a large uncut bundle) is better fried.

Boiled chicken and roasted pork with curry sauce on rice from Golden Arch Cafe RM4.50/USD1.40. Nah.

We sat alfresco behind Golden Arch Cafe. The pavement was uneven and broken, the floor dirty and the air smelt bad. A small roach came from under the table and explored our plates. Golden Arch Mall is such a nightmare, avoid it. It isn't even a mall. It's just two rows of crummy shop houses linked by an overhead shade.

Help came in the form of Greg and Nee, a couple I know through Nee's aunt, Linda. I hadn't intended to meet up with anyone in Kuching because of the lack of time but I messaged Nee for advice on where to eat Fuzhou ding bian hu. It turned out that everything I wanted to eat was in Sibu, the Fuzhou town of Sarawak. Kuching is a Hokkien town. But, true to Malaysians' reputation of being super hosts, Greg, Nee and Nee's bro Roger who was visiting from Melbourne made sure we were happy for the rest of the time that we were there. Greg and Nee are both university lecturers and busy Nee not only owns a cake shop but also became a mom two months ago to a beautiful baby girl.


Nee's cakes are made with the finest ingredients and baked at home with passion. Greg's creative masterpieces liven up the cafe walls.




I especially liked the banana choc mousse cake, the banana cheesecake and the double chocolate cake while Yi loved the Rocher chocolate cake. Oh, the cookies are addictive!

A friend said to me one day "Kuching people are so lucky! How come they get a place like Nee's but not us?" I agree. Every piece of Nee's beautiful cakes was awesome. Her cakes are perfect in texture and taste, rich yet not cloying and the sweetness level just right. I am inspired by this young woman who only started baking seriously less than 6 years ago. I'm sure that if her cake shop is in a city like KL, she'll have big investors knocking on her door.

Our dinner, hosted by Greg and Nee, was at Stall ABC on the rooftop of Permata Carpark, the place where the locals will without fail take their visitors. The rooftop is the place to go for good seafood dishes.

A thick seafood soup.

My favorite dish of the meal, very fresh and sweet baby razor clams in soy sauce and lemon grass. 

An oyster 'pizza', something new for us. I think this was the only dish I didn't like because the oysters were too fishy and the sauce too gooey.

Done very well if not too oily but then it was butter prawns.

This is midin, a jungle fern. It tastes like a cross between the pakis and sayur manis. Love it and wish we have it in KK.

I was probably wrong about Kuching being the second best place in Malaysia for food after Penang. I actually think that KK is better because whatever they have in Kuching, we have too in KK and more, maybe because there is a sizable Sarawakian community here but not the other way around. The upside to Kuching is the much lower cost of living and the city is less crime-prone.

Kuching reminds me of colonial KK: big trees, big old bungalow houses, a lot of land and greenery. I can imagine that growing up there must be fun and coming home to a place that hasn't changed much is comforting.  It does feel homey, even for me, and would I prefer to live in peaceful Kuching than chaotic KL. However, I didn't expect the city to be so far behind KK. Some say that Kuching is left behind because of its immigration policy. The state government is very careful about the people going into the state and although I am from the same country, I was only given 2 months' stay.  The official reason is to protect the state from unwanted people and influence but this protective stance is a double-edged sword as it isolates the state. That still doesn't explain Kuching's lack of progress because Sabah has the same immigration policy although not as stringently enforced. I think that there are political reasons in keeping Sarawakians in the backwaters.  While development is not always necessary for the better, the young and educated are not going back to Kuching because jobs are scarce. Every family that I know in Kuching has family members (some are whole families) who have emigrated. The same situation exists in KK but I'm guessing that it's not as bad as in Kuching.  Kuching should be a much better city given that Sarawak is the biggest and one of the most resource-endowed states in Malaysia. I may be wrong, but this is my impression of Kuching (Malay word for cat), the City of Cats.


p.s. The best Kuching laksa according to Nee is found at Chong Choon Cafe.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Happy Mother's Day!

Wey came to my bed an hour ago with a breakfast tray. What is it about breakfast in bed on Mother's Day? It just melts me and makes me happy to be a mom!

"The milk has gone bad, there's no juice and I can't find the maple syrup. If I could drive, I would shop and make you a better breakfast."  The pancakes were soft  and fluffy, the egg perfect and the nutella and jam a nice change from maple syrup. And I love the scented rose from our garden. Wey, this is the best breakfast ever.

My two older kids used to compete with each other to make Mother's Day breakfast for me. One year one of them made bacon n eggs with toast and the other instant noodles. I had to eat everything. Both older kids haven't been around for Mother's Day for many years. Yi has lived and studied in Australia the last 7 years and left last Friday to start work in the Shanghai branch of Australia's largest architecture firm while Ming is studying in Australia. I miss them but hey I have my Wey.

Motherhood is bittersweet but I won't complain today.

Happy Mother's Day to all!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Kuching In 12 Hours, Part 1

It's always been a hassle for us Sabahans to get a Chinese visa because the Chinese embassy maintains only two branches in the country, one in KL and one in Kuching. The runners make their trips on Tuesdays and Fridays and if your schedule doesn't fit, you need to fly to those cities yourself. And that was what Yi and I did yesterday. We flew into Kuching in the morning and left the same night.

I've been to Kuching once, more than 10 years ago and I can't remember much of it. Kuching is said to have  some of the best food in Malaysia, after Penang. Some would say Malacca too but I wasn't impressed on my previous trip there so Malacca's not on my food wish list.


My first impression of Kuching's airport was that it was better than the budget Terminal Two in KK but Yi informed me that Kuching has only one airport. Strike One KK, because we have a Terminal One and it's an in-ter-na-tion-al airport. On the way into the airport, I was walking up the steps when I suddenly bumped my head against a ledge overhead. If the steps are crowded and you are taller than 5 feet, you will get a nasty bump if you walk up on the left of the stairs. While I was rubbing the bump on my head, another lady hit her head too and it wasn't funny because I could see she was in pain.


After submitting the forms at the Chinese embassy, we found ourselves in the middle of no where, with no taxis. A vehicle that looked like a bus came along. We got on excitedly since it's been ages since we've been in a bus in Malaysia. In my excitement, I didn't take a photo of the bus, a relic kind of vehicle which was last seen in KK (Strike 2) in the 1970s. Here's a photo taken inside the bus. I think that's how it must be like in Cambodia.


My impression of Kuching from the bus (fare was RM2/USD 70 cents per person; inflation has caught Kuching up) was that it is very big and widely spread out. There's no proper zoning and the city and residential areas are all merged so that there's no distinct city center. I'm not sure where the CBD is, or if there's any (not that we have much of a CBD in KK) and all the buildings were low rise, the tallest being about 10 storeys.

Old buildings such as the one in the photo above are still standing and they give a nostalgic air to the city (is Kuching a city?). Kuching reminds me of KK in the old days when I was growing up. I think what I like most about Kuching is the large expanse of greenery here and there although I think that whoever cut those dozens of big trees along the road from the airport should be jailed, if not executed.


This looks like some parts of Penang.


Shiou bee are like siew mai but not as tasty. I couldn't tell what meat was in them, but there were bits of crunchy stuff which I think were jicama (bangkuang). Yi thinks that shiou bee are the precursors of the Ausssie dim sims, those awful giant meatballs you find in fish and chips places.


Kuching's got character. Unlike Malacca or Singapore where old shop lots with wooden shutters have been perfectly copied or touched up, the ones on Kuching are authentically old and the 1st storeys of the shop lots are still occupied by the shop owners.


They even have columns with carvings, so European. KK has demolished all the old buildings and the city, like most modern cities in Asia, is characterless and uninteresting.


Yi loves kuey chap (RM4/USD1.30), a noodle dish we don't get in KK. Kuey chap noodles are small broad pieces of rice noodles in a slightly herbal soup with pieces of pig offal. I was told by a shop keeper later that the best kuey chap is in Johor Bahru and it's called kuey chap gia (kuey chap kid) because the noodles are thin, not broad.

Straight from the kuey chap stall on Jalan Ang Cheng Ho, we went to Min Joo, THE place for Kuching kolo mee. Kuching kolo mee (white dry-tossed noodles) is the city's second most famous dish, after Kuching laksa.

Min Joo was crowded and we have heard that it takes an hour to be served. We couldn't spare an hour because we wanted to get to Choon Hui Cafe, about 15 minutes by taxi, for Kuching's best Kuching laksa.


RM6/USD2.90 per bowl. You can choose to have the toppings on the noodles or in soup.

Leaving Min Joo, we went a few steps away to Kim Joo, the copycat. There were lots of seats and we were served immediately. I found the kolo mee in Kim Joo just okay, a 7/10, not something I'll crave for  mainly because I can get the same thing, more or less, in KK.


But this I like, the iced kedongdong juice RM2.50/USD85 cents. KedongdongYi sweated so much she needed to change her top.



How rustic is that. We don't get such places in KK anymore.


 A strategically-placed trishaw in a street for tourists.


This stall by the side of a road serves the best iced cendol in Kuching. I was relieved it wasn't open.


We turned the corner from Bishopgate and found an interesting street where people were selling colorful (but yukky) lapis (layered) cake. There were many souvenir shops too but they banned photo-taking even from the outside so too bad for them because I won't be giving them free ad space here. There were also some shops that sell local hardwood furniture and solid one-piece hardwood table tops which were absolutely gorgeous.


Sarawak is the leading pepper grower in the world and besides the peppercorns, this shop sells pepper roots (for soup) and pepper candies. No pepper spray.


The shop keeper was an elegant lady, beautiful and standing straighter than a soldier at 82. She used a Chinese abacus to total up our purchase and told me to use her calculator and yes, she was faster than me.

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