Order Quick Or Wait 365 Days…

Well, this is a quick plug for my aunt’s once-a-year jam tart business.
Mrs Wong (that’s my aunt, my dad’s sister) is soooo shy about promoting her business that it is actually good that I have a big mouth and a blog. Everyone pitches in to help my dear aunt to market her tarts although her tarts actually market themselves due to their utter fabulousness (but then again, I am biased and I digress)… but really we are amazed that she herself does it all each year.
Ah, my aunt only makes them during this Chinese New Year season. She makes them ALL by hand. She doesn’t hire any Indon maid or anyone else to help her because of her stringent quality control. Each tart must meet Mrs Wong’s own rigorous and exacting standard- generous filling of not-too-sweet pineapple jam rolled in a melt-in-your-mouth buttery crust that’s baked just so.
You can never stop at one monster tart. I call them monster tarts because my aunt believes that one must never be stingy with ingredients and one must get the absolute best from each piece. Even if that means her tarts are huge compared to the miserly things we call cookies in the supermarkets.
Anyway, I did blog about her and how you can order from her directly (I’m just the messenger) in last year’s post at https://mayakirana.com/blog/?p=94
One jar of approx. 45 tarts are priced at RM21 (the same price as last year’s even though eggs and butter have become more expensive – I told her to raise prices because it is justified, what with inflated prices of raw ingredients but Mrs Wong is the kindest, nicest person I know, so kind that she won’t raise her prices…sigh).
Only available to Penangites because you have to collect the tarts from her house – she does not do deliveries not because she won’t but because she can’t – her whole day is full of baking and more baking! And no, she doesn’t bake any other type of cookies. Only jam tarts. That’s her specialty.
Order fast if you want some because she stops baking about 5 days before CNY. (Click on the link above to get her phone number.)
Over and out.

Surprisingly… Taiping

Lisa, Nic and I took off on a whim of a trip to Taiping before Christmas – we thought it would be fun to nose out some good eateries in that rain-soaked town.

View from the car of the beautiful old trees lining the Lake Gardens road.
We didn’t have much planned and I basically did some groundwork by googling for the best makan places in Taiping plus I could also fall back on my tattered Flavours guidebook (but then again, not every recommendation in that guidebook is accurate. Some places missed the mark all together!).
It is a one-hour leisurely drive from Penang to Taiping, and we three were looking forward to a lovely lunch of authentic Hainanese chicken chop. We followed the Flavours guidebook only to be sorely disappointed! The pork chops and chicken chop were so-so only, and I found the pork tough and tasteless.
We decided to find another popular Taiping food – popiah. But luck really wasn’t on our side that day. We found the place, a corner shop which sold popiah and soya bean drink but everything had been sold out by the time we meandered there at 4pm. The sky darkened and the threat of rain was real.
Perhaps popiah at Taiping’s market? Lisa decided to park her car near the market and we decided to nose about the market area. Of course, Taiping is not called the wettest town in Malaysia for nothing. In no time, we were running for shelter as it started its ubiquitous evening drizzle! Dreadful and no popiah in sight either!

Our barista in action….
We sat down at a coffee stall in the market to rest our tired and frustrated selves – and ordered some kopi o and tea, and since we were hungry (it’s easier to get hungry as a group!), we ordered roti bakar, a set each. A set means two slices of toasted bread with margarine and kaya.
There’s something about small town folk. In those few moments, we had started a conversation – yes, something friendly and warm about people who lead simple lives, unlike us complicated city folk. We asked about popiah but when we started sipping the coffee and tea, we were bowled over. The beverages were just right – and later we found out that these people (who are Hainanese by the way) toast their own coffee beans. No wonder the coffee was fragrant and Nic swore that it was better than any old Starbucks any day.

See that old style coffee cup in the back?
And the roti bakar. I’m a purist when it comes to toasted bread. I can’t stand the new-style, modern kopi tiam(s) which serve roti bakar which looks like the bread had been run over, all flattened and compacted. And no brown bread either – I want plain white slices, the kind we all used to eat before Gardenia and Hi-5 came along. The older I grow, the more I want things my way. Yes, dogmatic crankiness is a sign of old age, definitely!
This roti bakar was the real deal – plump slices of crisp toasted bread slathered with homemade kaya and margarine. The kaya was truly old-style – smooth, fragrant and not too sweet. It complemented the Daisy margarine well, and of course, paired well with black coffee and milky sweet tea. (You can buy the kaya – RM2 for a plastic container. Their coffee is not for sale, according to Erina of Cooking Island who is related to these people! Small world! She had to remind them of their ancestral relationship in order to wrangle us some heavenly coffee. Thanks, Erina. The coffee is like gold in our home. Only to be brought out for special occasions because it needs to be brewed the old way. None of the 3-in-1 for these Hainanese – absolutely no!)
It was pure addiction – in the end, we three had gulped down in total five cups of beverages and ate 6 sets of roti bakar. Yes, we were absolute pigs.
We promised to come back – yes, the coffee and kaya are so out of this world that they warrant a one-hour drive to Taiping.
How to get there:
Look out for the Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet in Taiping. When you spy the KFC outlet on your left, turn left into the market. The coffee stall (located in the market) will be on your right as you turn in.

Mathematician Who Writes

I’ve known his mom for a long time now. Let’s call her R. Now R’s a gracious, funny and honest woman and she loves to read! She used to run a cosy little bookshop in the heart of Georgetown a couple of years ago but she was simply too busy for her own good – yes, she has a day job and she lives in KL mostly.
Unbeknown to many, R has an adventurous streak in her. She recounted how she travelled across Siberia with her son, beginning from Mongolia and right across the continent towards Europe. And this is not your usual tourist type of travel we’re talking about.
This is one woman in her 50s, who rolled up her sleeves and backpacked across Siberia with her 30-something son, in what I call a sojourn of life. They ended up in France or the UK, where I think they split up, each making their own trip back to Malaysia.
What amazed me was her sense of adventure and joy for living. How many women in their 50s willingly take on such risks? And in Siberia!
Anyway, I’ve never met her son but when I saw his piece in The Sunday Star two weeks ago, I knew this was the guy. When I was in my old job as a web content editor for a woman’s web portal many years ago (I quit that job 3 years ago to do my own thang and yes, even that portal has disappeared. It literally died when the content editor left!), Dzof on behalf of his mom’s bookshop, used to contribute insightful and well-written book reviews.
And now this mathematician has his own column in The Sunday Star which has been renamed Star Weekender or something (as an aside, tell me, doesn’t the new Star remind you of one other newspaper which is given free at McDonalds?).
Of course, the next thing I did was quickly email R and tell her (OK, I gushed) how fantastic to know her son was now a columnist. R told me Dzof has a blog and of course one thing led to another and I being Miss Wanna-Know-It-All (hmmm, I am exhibiting some cat-like curiosity, no?) surfed over to investigate.
Yes, folks, you heard it from MayaKirana ya. You won’t find the link to Dzof’s blog from his column in The Star but you get it from the horse’s mouth – Dzof Azmi’s blog is at www.dzof.org (I wonder why it’s dot org…maybe I’ll go ask Dzof later.) Anyway, if you are a new fan of his writings, pop on over.

A Sarawak-style Christmas

This blog post was supposed to be uploaded a long time ago… but with the slow Internet, it had to wait. It’s a bit weird, timeline-wise, but still valid. Have fun!

=================================

It’s been a few days of no posts but I have been well and truly busy. In fact, as I was lamenting to my friends who called on Xmas Eve, I was still working on a proposal for a client right up till midnight on the eve. But never mind that – I took complete rest on Christmas Day and yes, today too. Boxing Day is for relaxation I suppose, and anyway, one is still recuperating from the after-effects of feasting!

I started the Xmas weekend all worked up for feasting – well, Vern and I had a lovely, cosy lunch at 32, The Mansion on Saturday (thanks Vern!). She even got me a souvenir from Australia – bless her soul. This wise old gal just turned 18 (how I envy that age where one is young and carefree about life – but then again, Vern is nothing like the average youth one meets).

Christmas Day was fun because I did not go near the laptop at all – and I watched lots of TV. Actually it was two whole hours of Channel 11 on Astro of sexy old Nigella Lawson and lisping boy Jamie Oliver. They both put me in the mood for celebrating as they were going on and on about food for Christmas; from Alaska Bombe to pork roasts, from simple sushi to pizza. And in between, I was busy cooking Sarawak laksa for a small dinner party I was (ahem) having. It was something I had been meaning to do for a long time now.

Cooking Sarawak laksa isn’t difficult – it’s just tedious!

I took photos to document the cooking process so that those of you who want to try it out for yourself, please do.

The most important ingredient is the Sarawak laksa paste. Now this part is a bit tricky because you have to beg, borrow or steal. You just can’t find it here in Penang (anyone who can get Sarawak laksa paste here, please give a shout out.) I can get it easily because it comes from my client who manufactures this laksa paste for export and for use in her shop in Kuching. This is one of the advantages of having clients in the food business – we get plied with lots of samples!

The few packets of laksa paste that we have in our fridge are like precious gems. Only to be opened and cooked for special occasions like Christmas. Also, it’s more fun to cook when there are lots of people coming over; everyone loves a good bowl of kickass laksa, particularly displaced Sarawakians like my husband who hanker for their hometown food and some KL friends of mine who have been asking for some (sorry Jana, I wished you were here to try it out but you are in KL, of all times).

OK, besides the laksa paste, you will need some a packet of mee hoon (rice vermicelli), 2 eggs, 300gm medium-sized prawns, some chicken breast meat, chicken carcasses, lots of limes, coconut milk and some coriander. You will also need some real Sarawak sambal belacan too and I get mine courtesy of Barrett and Stefania. (By the way, they’re also mentioned in Wikipedia. See end of this post for the link.)

You can prepare the laksa soup or gravy first and let it simmer over a slow fire for 3 hours or more. Get a huge stock pot and fill it halfway with water. Bring to a boil and add in the chicken carcasses and prawn shells. I have not tried cooking it with pork bones (like what I do when simmering Chinese herbal soups) because Nic tells me no one uses ‘bak kut’ to make the laksa stock.

Once the stock has simmered for at least an hour, you can add the laksa paste. Once the paste goes into the stock, the whole apartment smells like laksa! The fragrance wafts around and those in the know will know that someone is cooking laksa. Free smells for the neighbours then. Let it simmer for an hour or so first.

You can now prepare the other ingredients. In another pot, bring some water to boil. First, blanch the mee hoon. Rinse the mee hoon under running tap water after it comes out of the pot of boiling water. Next, blanch the chicken breast meat; when the meat has cooled, you need to tear the meat into strips. Finally, blanch the prawns.

Finely slice the coriander and put aside. Also, slice some limes. These two will be the laksa garnishing.

Next, beat the eggs lightly in a bowl. Heat up your pan and make thin omelettes with these eggs. Cool and julienne. Set aside.

You will need to ‘tapis’ or filter your laksa gravy. This is the part which I find tedious. Get another pot of similar size and place a metal strainer on the mouth of this pot. Filter the gravy well. Once you have filtered it, you will need to bring it back to a simmer on the stove.

The next step is to add coconut milk. I would prefer freshly squeezed santan from the wet market but sometimes I have to make do with Ayam Brand Coconut Milk in tetrapak. I used 200ml of this coconut milk – you can use more if you wish, depending on how rich or ‘lemak’ you want your laksa gravy to be. I tend to watch the waistlines of my friends so I go easy on the artery-clogging santan.

You can add your seasonings now – a bit of salt, a bit of fish sauce or nampla, a bit of oyster sauce and some sugar. Or you can just omit all these and pop in some Maggi chicken stock cubes. Let it simmer for another 30 minutes or so and your gravy is ready. Let it sit for another 30 minutes before you serve the laksa.

To assemble the laksa, place the mee hoon in a bowl. Add prawns, chicken meat, coriander and egg strips. Bring laksa gravy to a boil and ladle hot laksa gravy on top of mee hoon. Before you tuck in, squeeze some lime juice over. Stir in a generous dollop of Sarawak sambal belacan. Mix well and bon appetit!

Note: Sarawak laksa doesn’t look appetizing – in fact, it looks rather muddy and awful. There’s nothing gorgeous about this ubiquitous Sarawakian breakfast. But if you’ve tasted it once, you’ll never forget it.

Update: More rave reviews of Barrett’s sarawak laksa at this quirky blog which writes ONLY about Sarawak laksa! The link is at http://real-sarawaklaksa.blogspot.com/2006/10/tiangs-cafe-bormill.html

The honourable Wikipedia mention at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laksa

A Huge Relief

The past one week or so has been utterly terrible. The slow Internet speed did nothing to help make post-Christmas lives easier. And on top of that, too much feasting does odd things to people. Either that or end of the year often makes me very reflective and not much real work gets done (anyway, half the clients and people I know are on long leave and etc.)
While surfing is hard enough, my Vaio decided to take a break too. It went nuts four days ago – refusing to connect to the Internet, not recognising certain programmes and certainly not very useful generally. All I could do was some spring cleaning – deleting and junking all old files from my laptop. I did suffer from some Internet withdrawal symptoms but had to be brave and do what I could, instead of lament over what I could not.
But of course, Nic is a lifesaver (perhaps that’s why he is a Mensan – he solves intricate problems like these which a woman like me cannot understand head or tail of!). The good news is, my Vaio is now ‘cured’ but it also helped me speed up my spring cleaning. Most of the junk on my laptop is gone due to the re-formatting. Is it good? Is it bad? Oh well, if I can start the year anew, so can my trusty machine.
If you don’t know yet, Margaret my cat is back! Yes. She made her appearance about 6 days after disappearing rudely. Now she gets even more royal treatment. Bought her a collar with a bell which she won’t wear (she thinks it’s a yoke and cowers whenever we put it around her neck). That was our Xmas gift to her.
Anyway, I’ve a few posts which I will put up soon, now that the Internet and my blog is accessible. Just shows how much technology I depend on! Anyway, just a quick one – I have to thank Dean for this true honour. I made Dean’s List LOL. If you sneak on over to read his list, you know why I am pleased as punch being mentioned.
OK, I will be putting up more posts soon – especially one on how to cook Sarawak laksa for non-Sarawakians. (Heck, I’m not from Sarawak but I have been married to one long enough to know what these people actually like!)