Monday, 9 November 2015

Pigging Out On Dim Sum

           Swanky Weil Hotel opened in Ipoh in December 2014 but it has taken me nearly a year to step foot in it. Taking advantage of the extra day of holiday in conjunction with the Deepavali celebration, we organised a yumcha session at Weil Hotel's Chinese restaurant, Yuk Sou Hin. Word has been spreading of its scrumptious food, which is not surprising as the kitchen is helmed by Master Chef Chung Ho Shi from Hong Kong.
Yuk Sou Hin Chinese Fine Dining Restaurant

Waiting area at the restaurant

        Yuk Sou Hin is running an eat-all-you-can dim sum promotion at RM28 per person. They have 11 steamed varieties, 6 pan fried/deep fried/baked varieties, 2 types of rice rolls, 4 different sweets and 1 type of congee on the eat-all-you-can menu sheet. In addition, they have other types of dim sum like the ubiquitous steamed prawn dumplings on their a la carte menu.
Round 1 of our orders
11 of us (colleagues, ex-colleague, ex-travel mates)
        The food took some time to arrive but the flow of conversation among the 11 of us made the wait bearable. And there were many patrons at the restaurant today, perhaps due to the fact that many are back in Ipoh for the "long" weekend.
        When the food came, we tucked in ravenously, not minding the fact that food presentation was not what one would expect at a fine dining restaurant. There were some really tasty dim sum and some that could have been better.

Some really tasty varieties :
Baked BBQ Honey Glazed Chicken Puff
Pan Fried Siew Mai with Fish Roe (my personal favourite)

Does not look tasty but this Steamed Turnip Cake was good

Some that could have been better :

Congee with Century Egg and Shredded Chicken, which was far too thick for our liking
Deep Fried Crispy Seafood Bean Curd Roll, which was very oily and didn't have much fillings 
Steamed Vegetarian Crystal Dumpling with Mushroom (the skin was too soft and the fillings were not tasty)
        All in all, we had a very enjoyable yumcha session. If you have time to spare plus a big appetite, then this is the place for you. Otherwise, other dim sum places like Ipoh Garden's Chooi Yue would be a better bet.
Group photo at the hotel lobby (minus Pn. Ng, who had left earlier) after the yumcha session

Friday, 23 October 2015

Developing An Interest In Chinese Opera

       The might of the camera lens stirred my fascination in an old Chinese art that had never piqued my interest.

Backstage preparation
Getting ready
"Fa Dan" in the making

Demure beauty
Seasoned beauty
Pondering over upcoming performance
Deep in his thoughts

Casting his spell on the audience

The "tuk tuk chiang" or Chinese opera is one of the oldest dramatic art performances in the world, and also plays an integral role in Chinese culture. However, due to a lack of exposure to it as well as an inability to understand the dialogue, the Chinese opera has never made me throw a second glance….till now. At the recommendation of some photographer friends, hubby braved the crowds to venture to the recently concluded Nine Emperor Gods Festival at Ipoh's Tow Boo Keong Temple. I was hiding at home from the haze, secretly glad that he did not drag me along. But the photos that he came back with made me stop in my tracks and propelled me to learn more about the Chinese opera.
The facial make-up of the performers must be the highlight of the shows.The painstaking process of painting the faces has the power to portray a character's personality, role and fate. A red face represents loyalty and bravery while black can symbolise valour or evil. Besides colour, the lines or patterns drawn also hold their meaning. To the uninitiated like me, some of these colours and patterns may not mean much but to the ardent fans, they can immediately tell who's who.
The astounding acrobatics that accompany the opera performance is another much-awaited part. All that prancing around in tune to the music, sword brandishing, somersaulting or making fire spray out of their mouths are the result of years of arduous apprenticeship. "One minute's performance on the stage takes ten years' practice behind the scenes" is a popular saying among opera performers.
I remember my mother telling me how she used to tag along with my maternal grandmother to watch the opera shows in the late 1940s and early 1950s at the Jubilee Park, Ipoh. As a little girl, my mother did not quite understand the shows but to be able to go there with her mother, it was a treat.
Jubilee Park, which was once THE amusement centre for Ipoh folks (it was also famous for being the cabaret where the famous Rose Chan striptease acts were held), has long stopped operating. Part of it now is used as a car park and another section has been turned into Sensation Of Sound, one of Ipoh's hottest nightspots.
All the Chinese opera performances that once brought so much delight to the Ipoh folks too would have been forgotten. And it would be sad if the glory of Chinese opera slowly diminishes, stays buried in the trove of Chinese culture, only to be dug up for annual performances in tandem with Chinese festivals.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Dishing Up A Hakka Meal

        A perfect Hakka dish must fulfil the three principles : salty, fatty and fragrant. And pork is the main feature in the majority of Hakka cooking.
        Despite possessing only Cantonese roots, I have always had a penchant for Hakka dishes. Braised pork with preserved vegetables (mui choy kau yoke), braised pork with yam (wu tao kau yoke), Hakka style fried pork belly, drunken chicken in glutinous rice wine, braised pig's trotters with vinegar, Hakka yam abacus, Hakka noodles and braised pork belly with black fungus…all these are my favourite dishes.
        To my delight, my Hockchew hubby has fallen in love with Hakka style fried pork belly (which is a regular dish in my kitchen) and braised pork with black fungus (after I introduced it to him at Ying Ker Lou, a famous Hakka restaurant in Kuala Lumpur). Taking a break from marking dreary exam papers, I decided to try my hand at cooking the braised pork with black fungus.

Ingredients :
500g of pork belly (skinless and cut into pieces)
30g of black fungus (soaked in water till softened)
4 - 5 cloves of garlic
1 tsp of five spices powder
1 tbsp of soya sauce
1 tbsp of oyster sauce
1 tbsp of shaoxing wine
1 tsp of pepper
2 tsp of sugar
1 tbsp of tapioca flour
2 tbsp of plain flour
2 pieces of preserved red beancurd
1 egg
800ml of water
2 cloves of star anise (which I didn't put in because hubby is averse to it)

Method :
1.   Season pork belly pieces with 1 preserved red beancurd, soya sauce, five spices powder, pepper, 1 tsp of sugar, and the two types of flour. Leave to marinade for at least 3 hours.
2.   Add egg to the marinated pork belly 30 mins before cooking.
3.   Deep fry the marinated pork belly in hot oil over high heat until golden brown. Dish out and drain well.
4.   Saute garlic and the remaining preserved red beancurd over low heat till fragrant.
5.   Add in black fungus, 1 tsp of sugar, oyster sauce, shaoxing wine. Toss well. Pour in water and bring to boil.
6.   Add the fried pork belly pieces (and star anises). Cover the wok. Simmer for approximately 40 minutes until the pork belly pieces are tender and the flavour has been absorbed. Serve hot.

Hakka braised pork belly with black fungus
        Hubby's verdict : very good, better than Ying Ker Lou's

        And all that slaving in the kitchen to dish up a Hakka meal was worth it!

Saturday, 3 October 2015

Devouring Freshwater Prawns In Tanjung Tualang

        I am ashamed to admit that as an Ipoh girl, I had never been to Tanjung Tualang. This was rectified by Derrick this evening, en route back to Ipoh from Kuala Lumpur after a shopping trip.
        Tanjung Tualang is a small town in the Kinta District, near towns like Batu Gajah, Malim Nawar, Kampar and my father's hometown, Tronoh. In its heydays, Tanjung Tualang was one of the mining hubs in Perak. In those days, there were about 300 dredges operating around Perak but sadly, the loner that remains afloat (but not in working condition) today is one in Tanjung Tualang. Many of the abandoned tin mines have been converted to freshwater ponds to breed freshwater prawns and fish. And from this, Tanjung Tualang lays claim to another boost of fame - freshwater prawns, resulting in its nickname "Freshwater Prawn Town" or Pekan Udang Galah in Bahasa Malaysia. I had always thought that udang galah means lobsters but I suppose for want of a better word, it can also be used for these big-headed prawns.
        For tonight's dinner, Derrick took me to Sun Mee Fong, one of the many seafood restaurants in Tanjung Tualang, all situated around the market. Jason Yeoh or better known as Axian, the famous food show host, has featured this restaurant in one of his food adventure episodes.
        To have the best of both worlds, we decided to have our 1 kg of prawns cooked in two ways : pan fried with soya sauce   and steamed. I really cannot say which tasted better; they were both finger-licking good. 
        The prawns that were pan fried with soya sauce were slightly smaller but they were so fresh and the soya sauce complimented the prawns beautifully. Although the sauce was a little oily, I could not resist slathering my rice with it. I believe that one should not act dainty and attempt to peel off the shells with the refined way of using cutlery. It simply kills the joy of getting your hands oily and then licking each oily finger.

        The steamed prawns were incredibly fresh, juicy and creamy. They were laid out in a fan shape on a bed of its own juices mixed with a really tasty wine, which I could not help slurping down spoonfuls after spoonfuls. The roe was superb and there was so much of it, with some tucked in between the legs. I was so busy stripping off the shells, sucking the roe, delighting in the sweet meat, that I had no time to dwell on the implications of this cholesterol-laden feast.
        Although the prawns were the highlight of the meal, we also ordered two other dishes. The stir fried potato leaves with garlic were sweet and tasty. The oyster omelette, on the other hand, was below par. In fact, the teeny weeny oysters were not very fresh. Call me biased, but nothing beats the Penang and Malacca oyster omelettes.
         This sumptuous meal did not come cheap. It set us back RM128.45 (after all, the prawns were priced at RM88 a kg), but we agreed it was a fitting finale to a fairly fruitful day of shopping. And now I can say that I have been to Tanjung Tualang, thanks to Derrick.

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Reminiscing About Childhood Over Tea

STG Boutique Cafe, where Hotel Thye Loy was situated
     Sunday tea with Mummy today evoked childhood memories...hers to be exact. We had tea at STG Boutique Cafe, which occupies two shoplots in Jalan Tun Sambanthan in Ipoh's Old Town.  And it is precisely at these two shoplots that Hotel Thye Loy once stood. My maternal grandfather, Yip Chee Cheong, was the hotelier.
     As a young man, my grandfather came over from China to seek his fortune. In days when hotels were rare, my enterprising grandfather rented two shoplots at Hale Street (now renamed as Jalan Tun Sambanthan) from Lam Look Ing, a rich man in Ipoh. And from there, he started his pride and joy, Hotel Thye Loy.
The 2nd shop, where Mummy used to stay in, is now a "Tao Fu Fah" shop
     In its heydays, Hotel Thye Loy was popular among merchants and traders, some of whom came from China. My grandfather rented a shop diagonally opposite the hotel for his family to stay. And my mother grew up in this vicinity with her eight siblings.
     My mother remembers my grandmother cooking huge amounts of food as they also needed to feed the hotel staff. Being the youngest daughter, my mother was assigned "lighter" tasks, one of which being the bearer of report cards. She had to collect all the report cards of her siblings and herself, then take them to the hotel to obtain her father's signature. Unfortunately, she also bore the brunt of my grandfather's grumbles when her siblings' grades did not meet my grandfather's expectations. 
     Another of my mother's assigned duties was to walk over to the hotel to ask her father for the family's daily allowance of RM20. In those days, RM20 was an enormous amount of money; my grandmother was able to feed her family and an army of hotel workers with that money. This childhood chore was most disliked and to this day, my mother is financially independent and NEVER asks anyone for money. 
The back lane where a little girl stood sentinel
     The laundry of the hotel linen required copious amounts of hot water, which was boiled over firewood. My grandfather had to hire a woodcutter to chop the firewood after the lorry had delivered the tons of valuable wood. It was also my mother's responsibility to stand watch at the back lane of the hotel so that the woodcutter did not pilfer any. 
     Skipping over to the hotel to look for her father also held its rewards. When my grandfather was in a jolly mood, he would take my mother's hand and lead her to a father-daughter yumcha session at a nearby dim sum restaurant. My mother recalls fond memories of sharing char siew bao, har gow and fish balls with my grandfather.
     When other hotels started coming up in the late 1960s, Hotel Thye Loy's business was adversely affected. Despite his wife and children's nagging to close it down, my grandfather held on tenaciously to his hotel. By then, the family was no longer staying diagonally across the hotel at Leech Street (now renamed as Jalan Bandar Timah), but had a house in Canning Garden. My mother and her sister, Aunt Sow Kwan, would take turns to drive their father home from the hotel every night.
     My grandfather finally, albeit reluctantly, let go of Hotel Thye Loy to retire. After all, his nine children were already working. Unfortunately, he did not get to enjoy his retirement as he succumbed to a heart attack in 1972, three years before I was born. Some of his children believe that his ill health could have been brought on by closing down Hotel Thye Loy as he did not seem a happy man since then.
     So it was over today's Sunday tea that Mummy reminisced about her childhood at our Sunday tea venue. And I got the chance to feel closer to the grandfather that I never had the opportunity to meet.
An opulent yet reasonably-priced cafe
Tempting array of desserts

I detect a colonial feel to the tasteful decor
Our heavenly walnut brownie

My Baby Strawberry Tea Mocktail and Mummy's Green Apple Juice
Sideview of STG Boutique Cafe, where there's another entrance

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Serving Dry Curry Prawns For A Sunday Dinner

     The Internet is indeed an inexhaustible mine of information. I once stumbled upon this blog "Elinluv's Tidbits Corner" and have been an ardent fan ever since. Elin Chia, a fellow Ipohite, is a recently retired blogger who thinks of her kitchen as her playground. It was a pleasure to meet her in person while we were browsing through cookbooks at the recent Big Bad Wolf book sale in Ipoh.
     Elin shares many mouthwatering recipes and tonight I put to test her latest recipe : Dry Curry Prawns. She served it with her own turmeric glutinous rice but since Derrick and I are not keen on that, I opted to serve my dry curry prawns with the usual white rice.
Dry curry prawns for dinner

     Derrick's verdict? "Nice! Lovely!" he kept on saying, so need I say more? Yes, I do need to add a big thank you to Elin Chia for the recipe of this extremely easy dish to cook.

1/2 kilo of large prawns
fresh ground curry paste (upon Elin's
     recommendation, I went to the Central Market
     for this)
1 or 2 stalks of crushed lemongrass (serai)
3 to 4 tbsp of oil
2 twigs of curry leaves
2 chopped shallots
1/2 cup of full cream milk or coconut milk

1.   Heat up the wok.
2.   Add the oil and heat it up.
3.   Throw in the shallots, curry leaves and 
      lemongrass. Fry till aromatic.
4.   Put in the prawns. Stir fry till the prawns are 
      cooked and the curry paste coats the shells.
5.   Pour in the full cream milk or coconut milk.
      Continue to cook till the gravy thickens.
6.   Dish up and serve hot.

Bon appetit!

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Delighting In Bukit Mertajam's Food

     When hubby suggested going to Bukit Mertajam again for the weekend, I was delighted for two reasons : tucking into good food and attending Mass at St. Anne's Church. He made plans with his photography buddy, Boey, for their nocturnal outing, while I gleefully listed out food that's not to be missed out on.
The front of the coffee shop
First stop (for Saturday's lunch) was at Sentosa Corner, off Jalan Kulim (this is along the main road leading to St. Anne's Church). This coffee shop seems to be extremely popular with the locals, so bagging a table may be a little difficult at times. But the jostling with the crowd is really worth it as there are plenty of stalls selling great food.
     One of the biggest crowd-pullers is the famous BM Yam Rice stall. I first
Fluffy yam rice with its sidekick
tried it several months back and have been hankering for another go ever since. The rice is cooked to perfection with a hint of dried shrimps, a slathering of dark soya sauce and a generous amount of the star ingredient, yam. It comes with a bowl of pork slices, pork balls, some oink oink stomach, kidney and intestines in salted vegetable soup. I shy away from innards so I requested for them to be omitted. If one chooses (though I cannot fathom why),  one can opt for white rice instead of yam rice. There's also the option of having the yam rice with braised pork belly and egg, which I resolve to try some other time. A meal for one person comes up to a reasonable RM5.

     Another stall here at Sentosa Corner that is highly recommended by hubby's friend is Peter's Jawa Mee.
A dish of amazing goodness
Hubby ordered a plate (RM4.50) and we were surprised to see the huge serving. You will never get this amount for RM4.50 in Ipoh, where prices of food are escalating. The hawker was incredibly generous with the crispy bits (everyone's favourite). There were also peanut bits sprinkled onto the gravy, which was a pleasant surprise. And the gravy, which will make or break this dish, had the right amount of sweetness, sourness and spiciness. In fact, I find the gravy not as sweet as those at the Ipoh Jawa mee stalls, and this definitely wins me over.
     You can usually see an orderly queue in front of the stall that sells Portuguese egg tarts. 
With the ovens right beside the stall, you are guaranteed some heavenly smells and some very fresh egg tarts. Hubby and I bought some to be eaten for tea later. The Portuguese egg tarts were crunchy on the outside and superbly soft inside...yum! This stall, which has been featured in local newspapers, also sells other types of egg tarts as well as Seremban siew pao.   

     Our dinner stop later in the evening was to Mei Le Hwa coffeeshop, diagonally opposite Sentosa Corner. At night, only one stall operates at the coffeeshop and it is the sole reason why people flock to this eatery. It is for its famous duck egg char koay teow. We did not get to try this a few months ago because hubby's friend had insisted on giving us a dinner treat elsewhere. This time around, he tried to do the same but hubby knew he would be in for an earful (plus a long face) from his wifey should he accept. So hubby wisely put his foot down and insisted that we would like to give this much talked about char koay teow a try. The ravings on the internet were well justified. Someone even said that the famous Sisters Char Koay Teow at Macalister Road, Penang, can "move over". Having now tasted the heavenly plate of char koay teow fried with duck egg and bits of crispy fried lard, all done with gusto over charcoal fire, I can attest to its oomph! Hubby and I ordered a big plate each topped with an extra fried duck's egg (RM5.50). Plunge your chopstick into the yolk and it comes oozing out onto the flat noodles, giving it additional allure. Cholesterol? What's that? You do not exist in my dictionary tonight. I paused by the stall on my way out to give a big thumb's up to Ah Heng, who fries non-stop from 8pm till 1am, to which he smiles shyly.

Look at all those bags of koay teow, poised to be fried throughout the night
Behold the duck egg char koay teow, which Anthony Bourdain called as "the tastiest ugly mess"!
     Third foodie stop for this Bukit Mertajam weekend was at 7 Village Noodle House for Sunday breakfast, courtesy of hubby's friend, Boey. Quite well-known among the locals, 7 Village Noodle House boasts of several branches on mainland Penang and one on the island. It all originated from humble beginnings when old Mr. Lim used to sell his koay teow th'ng (flat noodles with fish balls and pork in broth) on a tricycle around some residential areas in Butterworth. Today their signature dish remains as koay teow th'ng but they have also diversified their menu to include la mian, toasts, soft boiled eggs and an assortment of side dishes like lor bak, deep fried squid, blanched boneless chicken and dragon balls in seaweed soup. Hubby opted for a big bowl of koay teow th'ng, which he enjoyed heartily. I, on the other hand, could not resist the dry la mian with chicken pieces, minced pork and an egg. Fortunately, I remembered to save the GPS co-ordinates of this Bukit Tengah branch so that I can find my way there again in the future.
Mix all the ingredients up in my bowl of  dry la main and I go oo-la-lla
Hubby's bowl of koay teow th'ng in really flavorful broth
Popular side dishes (clockwise from top right : deep fried squid, dragon balls in seaweed soup, lor bak and blanched boneless chicken)
     As I write this, I am planning another trip to Bukit Mertajam soon, this time with Mummy dearest. Shall we go there this coming St. Anne's Feast?

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Ushering In My Fabulous Forties

     Yay! I have finally reached the big 40! I somehow feel I have been empowered, as if I have attained a certain status in life. No longer am I some young chickaloo, someone wet behind the ears or someone to trample on.
     To some, it may just be another number. But I feel differently. And I definitely intend to make it my fabulous forties, a decade of new resolutions and goals.
     During my fabulous forties, I hope to or intend to :
1.   Deepen my faith in my Lord
2.   Prioritise my health 
3.   Return to a permanent exercise regime
4.   Engage in more me-time
5.   Delight in more time with my loved ones
6.   Further my studies (guess I have been putting this off far too long)
7.   Plan seriously for an early retirement
8.   Give back more to the community
9.   Eliminate all negative elements (including people) around me
10. See, experience and revel in the wonders of the world

     Life is what we make out of it. I will endeavour to make it my fabulous forties so that when I reach  the grand 50, I can look back with a sense of pride and joy.

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Bidding au revoir to my thirties

     Tonight's my last night being in my thirties. In less than 2 hours' time, when the clock strikes twelve, I would be stepping into the big 40.
     I have no fears of growing old. Well, at least, not that fearful or apprehensive. I just feel a tinge of poignancy and can't help being a little melodramatic about leaving behind my thirties and waking up in an entirely new phase of my life.
     Throughout my thirties, I have, first and foremost, my Lord Almighty to thank for. He has been a constant force in my life. He has borne me on His shoulders through many trials and tribulations. 
     As always, my parents have been my pillars of strength. They have supported me incessantly and have dispensed invaluable advice. They are my role models, whom I love with all my heart and am eternally indebted to.
     This third decade of my life has also brought me bliss in the form of my husband. I met Derrick and married him. He has taught me a lot, made me a stronger person and has shown me that I am capable of all these and more. Merci beaucoup, mon amour.
     I have been fortunate enough to have a host of good friends, who have shared my ups and downs. They have proven over and over again that they can, and will, stand by me.  
     Therefore, when I am so richly blessed, what have I to fear? Goodbye, my thirties! You have been an awesome part of my life. It is now time to move on. Forties...bring them on!!!

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Understanding the Umang-umang

        The umang-umang or hermit crab is a crustacean (any aquatic animal that has a hard shell or crust to cover its body, like prawns and lobsters). However, unlike other crabs, the hermie, as it is fondly referred to as, borrows other animals' shells for protection. As it grows in size, it outgrows its borrowed shell and needs to search for a new "home".
        Despite its given name, the umang-umang is no hermit. On the contrary, it is an extremely sociable animal as it lives together with other hermit crabs and are often foraging for food together. Especially active at night, it emerges from its hiding place (usually under rocks or tree trunks) and roams about in search of food. It is an omnivorous animal and a scavenger too.
        During the recent school break, at the aptly-named Umang-umang Chalet in Kuala Linggi, I had an eye-opening encounter with lots of these hermit crabs. Falling instantly in love with these adorable creatures, hubby and I had a thoroughly enjoyable time seeking them out on the beach in the dark (with the help of our headlamps), observing their delightful antics, photographing them and their unique shells and video recording their pursuits.
Time to go jalan-jalan

Jalan-jalan cari makan

Two's company
Bo cheng kor! Shame! Shame!
My mama taught me it is good to share
Friendship transcends everything, including size

It was a bonus when I landed this awesome shell. Would hate leaving it when it's time to change shells.

My shell's not bad either. Hope to find a fancy one again next time around.

Little one, not to worry. You'll get to my size one fine day.