Monday, September 30, 2013

Sunday ritual

WE LEAVE HOME by 6.10am on a Sunday for 1st Mass at St Joseph's Cathedral. Mum and Dad always sat at the same pew at the end of the east wing of the church. So much so the church wardens put 2 hymn books on the bench to reserve the seats. Woe betide anyone who dares sit here as Mum has a stern stare or she will edge the intruders off the end of the pew. If I'm home now, I take over the spot vacated by our late Dad. Old friends nodd in our direction. I have to ask Mum who they are. When it comes to the part of the Eucharistic service where we offer each other the sign of peace, we are showered by many wishes of peace and goodwill.

   After service, Mum and Dad would treat my brother, nephews and nieces to breakfast. They will join other friends at different food centres or kopitiams. So this Sunday, the tradition continues and we would go to a current favourite, Kwong Hup Cafe which houses over half a dozen stalls.
   We would always reminisce about what Dad used to like to order and this morning we remember him and Mum ordered what he used to love, fish congee. It 1s also her favourite and she pronounced it the best by finishing the whole bowl. She said it had the freshest fish pieces, topped with you tiao, dried seaweed strips, and garnished with kien phang (fried shallots) and spring onions.
  I had the chicken laksa which was a good blast, my brother Gerard had kolo mee. All breakfast favourites, interspersed with the best popiah around with a luscious sweet plum dip of hoisin sauce. The popiah is made to order so freshness is guaranteed.
   As there is a nonya kuih stall here too, there is an array of Peranakan-inspired snacks and kuihs on offer. Of course they reminded me of my earlier years growing up in Kuching where as a treat we would buy a kuih or two, and savour their absolute freshness. Today we had ham chin peng, chai kuih and bee pau bee, followed by chai tau kuih and yam cake.
   We left our most favourite till last, the declectable kuih pai tee (top hats). This is a labour of love, seldom found in any of the major koptitiam food centres. A little fluted holder is made from a mould dipped in the batter mix. When deep fried, it comes loose from the mould. It is filled with a mix of bangkuang (jicama), julienned, carrot (julienned), shallots, shelled and deveined trump chopped into small pieces, shallots white pepper and dash of oyster sauce. This mixture is quickly stir fried and popped into the pie tee then garnished with chopped spring onions. I did request a non-prawn mix for mine. We had Teh C to go with our food extravaganza.
   Today Mum visited our uncle Father Peter. We ta pau for him kolo mee and char kway tiaw. When were arrive we sit around the mahjong table and start eating again. My brother had brought kong pia which Father Peter loves, since he grew up with this Foochow specialty from Sibu. I recently visited a kong pia maker 400km from the house. It's a Foochow version of the bagel, the cooking process is the same as the dough with a hole punched in the middle and stuck to the inside wall of a hot earthen oven. Best eaten while it's still warm, people (like Al Brown) have been making fillings for it - spicy minced pork or beef is most popular. My uncle had it with butter and a cup of green tea. One of the Aunties had made nori seaweed chips. It was irresistible.
   Mum and Father Peter decided to go for a bit of shopping so I joined my other Uncle on a trip to retrieve some iron frames. It was hot hard work (for them) so before we unloaded, we stopped at King's Centre for lunch - 2 types of roast pork and duck and barbecued pork. The meats were perfectly roasted/barbecued. A rojak also appeared, a salad of bangkuang (jicama), raw sweet potato, pineapple and taupok, mixed with hay ko (prawn paste) and topped with crushed roasted peanuts. It looked very delicious, tempting even but I couldn't battle The Prawn Factor.
   So I waited until we dropped off the goods and sat down for a cuppa and Korean moochi buns that was crispy on the outside, chewy and milky on the inside. This was another Sibu speciality, hand-delivered at the request of 2nd aunty.
   That was breakfast that morphed into lunch. I wonder what Vero is cooking for dinner.

Kwong Hup Cafe (廣合茶餐室)
Jalan Tun Ahmad Zaidi Adruce (formerly Jalan Kereta Api)
93300 Kuching

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Let’s go for ABC!

ABC is Ais Batu Campur (Malay for shaved ice). It's the most famous Malaysian dessert. Not quite a sorbet but there is nothing else to compare it with. It's the top cooling treat we all grew up with and we respond without a second thought to the usual catchcry "Let's go for ABC!"

   I'm waxing nostalgic again. Our eternal fondness of Shaved Iced desserts stem from our growing up  in the tropics where afternoon temperatures reach 35℃. We had a Kopitiam nearby our house and we always hung out around there, buying lollies, sweet and sour preserved fruit and nibbles. We had to restrict ourselves to our most favorite item Kantong as our pocket money didn't stretch that far. Kantong is shaved ice clumped around a stick, with syrups added. You will have colourlful patches of orange, yellows, reds and greens. Sarsaparilla was my favourite flavour. Then the sweetest splash of all, a good dousing of atap sugar (palm sugar syrup). So you start sucking on the clumped ice shavings, leaving your favourite spots to last! Most times you'd end up like The Joker in Superman with red stains all around your mouth. A certain giveaway as to what you have been up to when you get home.
   You don't see much of Kantong anymore, nor the ice-cream sandwich slider-style in a heavenly soft, fresh and very slightly sweet bun. ABC has surpassed the humble kantong, more akin to the humble muffin being replaced by cupcakes buried in frou-frou toppings and accoutrements.

   Chang Ling said Tang Cold Drink Centre served the the best ABC in Miri. She took Towkay Neo and I to the residential area of Pujut. Apart from ABC, you can order Cendol, Ice Kacang, Rojak (Malaysain prawn paste salad), Cucur, Keladi Ubi (yam fritter) or Udang Tauhu (shrimp tofu), Sotong Kangkong or just a stick or two of fish balls.
   You can say the ABC from Tangs are like soft, luscious Matterhorns, crowned with fruit and coloured agar agar and lovingly drizzled with evaporated milk or coconut cream/milk (santan) and rose syrup. The basic ABC is Ang Tau Cendol, sweet red bean and corn green starched noodles with pandan flavouring and palm sugar (gula melaka). Grass jelly (suan chow) is also a favourite ingredient. Then you move into the combinations of fruit: lychee, kiwifruit, soursop, strawberries, blackberries or raspberries, sadly none used fresh. You can also have Peanut Ice Kachang, crushed peanuts scattered on top of the shaved ice with sweet corn and red beans. If you are feeling adventurous, there's nothing to stop you from having a durian flavoured ABC with slices of banana.

   The days of manually producing shaved iced over a shaving board (akin to razor blades) is over. You now position a block of ice in the ice machine and churn out shaved ice mechanically, like snow flakes falling onto the bowl of ABC mix below.
  Have to stop chatting and have the ABC before the shaved ice melts!

Pujut 2C Jalan Berlian

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Fresh beginnings

IT TAKES a major change in 
your life to make you determined 
to change the surrounds of where 
you live, to rid the ghosts of the past 
and reminders of what you used to 
think was important. Photographer 
Ken Downie captured the changes, Geraldine Johns wrote about it and Your Home and Garden featured it in their latest issue, 
out now.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Vietnam comes to Surrey Crescent

VIETNAMESE FOOD CONNOISSEUR Aunty Jenny spied on a new eatery Café Viet in Surrey Crescent, Grey Lynn and rang up from there. As the Warriors were performing under par even though their whole final 8 hopes were pinned on a win, I decided to pre-empt the disappointment and venture out to try a Vietnamese restaurant that might end the dearth of any Vietnamese restaurant of note. And what a better way than try the cuisine with a Vietnamese food expert.

   Café Viet is a welcoming place. Chef Joni Hong Hoang said I looked familiar before I sat down. "Are you a film star?" she enquired. I was rather flummoxed and muttered that in my previous life, I could have claimed some vestiges of printed fame. Joni's mother Dap Nguyen has been brought in to assist in the kitchen. She does instill a sense of comfort and confidence that we will not be served pseudo-Vietnamese with lashings of nouc mam, as if that is a panacea for indifferent food that claims Vietnamese rite of cuisine.
   Hoang and her partner Darryn Bell started with an an empty shell with white walls. Their concept was to re-create an old Vietnamese alley with broken window, cheap advertisements on the wall and an overall rustic look. The look is achieved, best experienced in the evening when the warm lights lend a glow to the culinary delights that is to descend on the table.
   Aunty ordered 2 dishes. Bánh Xéo and Thịt Kho Hǭt Gà. I left the choices to Aunty as she knows best, but only on the proviso that prawns and beef be left out. The Bánh Xéo is a crisp Rice Flour Crepe with mung beans traditional from southern Vietnam, stuffed with braised pork, prawns, sprouts and fresh herbs, served with nuoc cham. Instead of prawns, chef substituted with seared tofu. And a lemon, garlic, chilli and salt dressing with a hint of sweet as a alternative to the dreaded fish sauce. I was well pleased. Even Aunty was impressed by this dipping sauce. Her only reservation, the crepe should have been crisper.

   The Thịt Kho Hǭt Gà  is caramelised pork hotpot, pork belly with free-range deep-fried boiled egg, served with crunchy sprout salad and steamed rice. The pork belly was perfectly cooked, and the texture fell away as you eat it. Only reservation was that it should have been rewarded with more kick in flavours as it was predominantly soya-based with the traditional sweetness.

   The Café Viet Durian Ice-cream Sundae looked tempting but we had been well sated. You can also have the Café Viet coffee, served with condensed milk.
   Aunty was well pleased with her find. I can only concur with her. Lately only Café Hanoi has been serving Vietnamese food worth noting but it suffers from a lack of kick in their flavours. The new Mekong Baby is more fusion and has other Southeast Asian influences. Hansan disappoints with their bland approach to a vibrant cuisine, and the Vietnamese joints in Otahuhu like Samwoo and Vietnam Café has not moved on from the days when Vietnamese food meant pho, nuoc mam, bean sprouts and petite deep-fried spring rolls.
   Café Viet is promising. It's more homely Vietnamese, though the presentation is top notch. Tonight, there are a few family groups, a testament to it's approach to cooking. And it's a cuisine where you can add the accompaniments, be it in the fresh herbs and sauces that are nouc mam-based. We also noted some diners who just order a dish for themselves. All Asian cuisine should be shared dishes, if you have a table of 3, you can easily share 3 different dishes.
   We left Café Viet happy. But on the car radio, I learn the Warriors had lost their must-win match to the Dragons. Drat! But the All Blacks would end up beating the Pumas but it wasn't the trouncing that was expected.

2 Surrey Crescent
Grey Lynn
Ph: (09) 3788738