Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Then and Now

APAI WAS ON THE HUNT for fresh fish for a dinner party. He said they were going to the coast via Batu Kawa. I jumped at the opportunity to re-visit childhood places. You drive to Batu Kawa without having to cross Sungai Sarawak by ferry. The more I move around Sarawak on my trips home, villages that used to be accessable by boat are only a drive away. But then you bemoan the loss of lush primary forest to oil palm plantations. The scourge of so called development, without environmental and social conscience.
   The shophouses at Batu Kawa are your typical terraced rows. Apai of course knows the best stall for lunch. This is a Hakka community and I was well pleased. My father is Hakka and I'm the only one of my siblings who can speak Hakka well as I used to converse in Hakka with Dad. I have noticed lately that if I speak Hakka to him, he would reply in Hokkien or as a surprise, add a fast quip in English!*

   Hakka cuisine is rather robust, a throwback to days when the Hakka worked hard and had to be nourished with food that does not have time for niceties. They cook a lot of pork (usually fatty), used a lot of carbohydrates like yams and sweet potato. Sugar and soya sauce were used liberally. 5-spice is the seasoning of choice. Leafy vegetables and mustard greens were preserved in times of plenty. Yong Tau Foo is a popular Hakka dish. Kiu Nyuk (fatty pork like pork belly) is cooked with soya sauce. Everything seemed to come in chunks.
   But not today at Batu Kawa. This stall specialised in Kolo Mee and soups with sliced lean pork, offal and other spare parts. The stock was made with pork bones and presrved mustard greens. The Kolo Mee was made with great care, the char siew sliced thin and fine and the noodles curly and al dente. Perfect! I digress, not a typical Hakka selection.
   After a chinwag in Hakka (the louder the better), we departed on our drive to Kampung Telaga Air. The trip was fast, the road well sealed. The Padawan Municipal Council (formerly Kuching Rural District Council) has built a food and drink complex (in Malay architectural style) at Kampung Telaga and the outlook across the Sungai Sibu to Sibu Laut was as serene as the pace of life. We had drinks as temperature was nudging 34°C. Nothing better than ABC of shaved iced or Limau Kasturi with ice.

   I had Teh Tarik because Apai had bought cookies and local cakes and that was the best drink combination. The Pisang Goreng was freshly deep-fried, same with the Cucur Udang and Curry Puffs.  Mix that with the sesame balls and Kuih Sepit (Love Letters), this was a decadent mid afternoon tea. I resisted sticking the Kuih Sepit on my fingers as we used to do when young. Kuih Sipit makes it's appearance at Chinese New Year and Hari Raya but now you get them all year round. They are either rolled into a cylinder after being picked up from the heated patterned mould clamp or they can be folded twice from it's circular shape. The Sarawak home-made Kuih Sepit uses santan (coconut milk) to impart a lemak flavour and taste.

  Time to head across the river to Rambungan. The ferry took us across the Sungai Sibu and we passed through the nipah palm groves growing out of the coastal waters. There are a lot of small tributaries and in days old I once accompanied Grandad on his visit to his mates who had a provisions store in Rambungan. The whole trip was by boat and as we got nearer to Rambungan, the waterways became narrower and narrower. So much so the boatmen had to use poles to push off from the nipah groves. Then the heavens opened after a prolonged spell of lightning and thunder of the tropical kind. I had to stay inside the claustophic boat, dark, airless and laden with charcoal and prompted fainted.
   This was turniing into a break I didn't need. A series of wooden walkways led us to the store which was built on stilts. This was extremely low lying land, just above sea level. As with Chinese hospitality, all kinds of seafood was cooked, from scaly ones to shell and crab. None of which I wanted to eat so I had to request for fried egg with a touch of soya sauce on rice.
   Back to the future. The drive to the fishing kampung is picturesque. Most of the houses are freshly painted and had more than 5 colours in the Malay tradition. Picture perfect. The roads and lanes are recently sealed, an election special to garner votes. There were a few fish stalls but none of them could sell the fish to Apai as they had been pre-sold to restarants in Kuching.
   Life has certainly changed.

* Since this blog was posted, my Dad passed away on 6 August 2013, coincidentally my birthday. His was a long life well-lived, the best Dad you could ever wish for. He never ever raised his voice at any of his children and we have never heard him utter an adverse word about  anyone. When he was able, there was nothing he wouldn't do for us
or his grandchildren. On this Father's Day, I posted on Facebook my most favourite photograph of him, paddling a canoe with Mum on the flooded surrounds of the old family house at Jalan Green. It flooded
regularly after heavy tropical downpours.
Of our Dad, we miss him very much.

1 comment:

  1. Your birthday will never be the same again. i was attracted to the canoe yr Dad and Mum were rowing.