Sibu Ching Ming Trip Part I: Malu Apa Bosco? Big Prawn Noodles at Bosco Café, Sibu Pasar Malam, Kompia Burger, Ruby Restaurant

I just came back from a short trip back to Sibu to clean my mom’s grave. It’s Ching Ming, an annual practice by Chinese for remembrance of the dead. I brought along Mandy along and the first thing she wanted to eat was Foochow red wine mee sua. We headed to Happiness Café in Delta – they do one of the better versions in town. I wanted to eat kampua mee but I couldn’t resist ordering this too.

It’s a new stall selling kompia burger! Technically, this is chu nu miang – the sweet and soft version of kompia. I think it’s called thus coz chu nu means virgin in Foochow and virgins are supposed to be sweet and soft. Don’t quote me on that though. My Chinese is terrible and I could be making all these up. I asked the two ladies manning the stall if it’s their own stall but it turns out they’re only working here and couldn’t tell me the background of the stall.

The stall is called Zen Don Bin and they have different types of kompia burgers with beef, sausage and fish fillet patties. I asked for a recommendation and they unreservedly told me the Fish Fillet Burger with Egg and Cheese (RM 3.90) was their bestseller. This actually tasted pretty good! I liked the crunchy fish fillet and the creamy egg with the pillowy soft chu nu miang. Nice!

I also had my kampua mee fix. This is a tossed dry noodle that’s a Sibu specialty. You don’t find a lot of people making this with lard nowadays. There has been a trend of using vegetable oil on the pretext that it’s a healthier option. I suspect it’s also a cost-cutting measure too since lard is significantly more expensive. I love the ones with lard.

Mandy had the Foochow red wine mee sua. This is chicken soup with Foochow unfiltered red wine with sediment. It tastes surprisingly good. I’m not a fan of this dish but they do a really nice version here.

Of course, you can’t leave Sibu without trying the Big Head Prawn Noodles. These are freshwater prawns with huge heads that’s cooked into a Foochow style soup dish. The noodles are fried then boiled and it’s quite a distinctive local taste. The head juice from the prawn heads leach into the soup, adding tons of flavour.

This dish costs RM 38 at Bosco Café, which is considered a reasonable price. A lot of other places charge upwards of RM 50 for this.

My sister came back in the evening with my niece and nephew so we went to pick her up from the airport and headed to Ruby Restaurant for dinner. This is a favorite among our family. The must have dish here is their butter prawns but since my niece is allergic to dairy, we went for the Nestum prawns instead. It’s not as good, but decent.

We also had their famous pandan chicken. These are dark boneless chicken pieces marinated in various spices before being stuffed into a pandan leaf and grilled. It’s smoky, sweet and delicious!

I also ordered midin belacan – a type of jungle fern – for Mandy. You can’t leave Sarawak without tasting midin. It’s a crunchy type of vegetable with a core like okra – ever so slightly slimy.

This is sour lamb, another dish I always order at Ruby. The lamb pieces are tenderized till they’re melt-in-your-mouth and tossed in a sour mayonnaise based sauce. Very delicious!

We also ordered a tapah curry fish head since there were so many of us. Tapah is a local fish that’s similar to catfish. The flesh can be incredibly fatty due to their sedentary lifestyle but it’s a real treat – creamy mouthfeel juxtaposed with firm flesh. This is quite a small fish head but costs RM 63. Tapah is a local favorite so the prices tend to be higher.

The meal came up to RM 186 for the 4 of us plus 2 children. We usually run up at RM 50 bill for two pax so this seems par for the course. I feasted until I was absolutely stuffed! This is one of my favorite places to eat in Sibu.

Mandy has never been to the Sibu pasar malam before so we headed there after our dinner. Our pasar malam has lots of stalls specializing in pork. Sibu is a majority Chinese town so pork is the choice of protein here. You can get various different cuts of meat from pork belly to tail to even a full pig face!

I bought a few pieces of chai kueh and also a crispy apam balik. Both were dismal. I had better versions of both during my Penang day trip for work before coming back to Sibu.

It was still fun to walk around town and do all the things I normally wouldn’t do. It’s nice to see my hometown from the perspective of someone else too!

Part II of my Sibu Ching Ming trip coming soon!

Weekend Update: Outdark Malaysia, Xing Fu Tang Bubble Tea, Surprise Care Package, Homemade Sarawak Laksa

Saturday is our date night and I listed 3 options for Mandy to choose from – Carpenter’s Daughter, Big Hug Burger and Outdark Malaysia. They’re all around the SS15 area coz she wanted to check out Xing Fu Tang. That’s the latest bubble tea shop from Taiwan to open in Malaysia and the queues are insane. We actually went there first but had to wait till 7:30 pm for their drink allocation to open up so we headed to Outdark.

Outdark Malaysia is a Korean franchise that came from Busan. I went to Busan a few years ago for a work trip – it’s a nice place but I prefer Japan to Korea. They had a glass wall where you can write on with felt tip markers and Mandy drew both our names there.

I like the ambience of the restaurant – the warm lights provide a nice vibe. However, the tables can be a bit sticky despite the guy wiping it twice, the second time quite carefully. It may be the type of lacquer which makes it prone to retaining the stickiness from food instead of wiping clean.

We ordered the The Ultimate Cheese Kingdom (RM 88). This is their flagship dish of Korean fried chicken, tteokbokki and gooey cheese. There are sides of kimchi, short grained rice with seaweed, sweet corn with more cheese and mashed potatoes.

The server waits for the cheese to melt then wraps each fried chicken in a cocoon of cheese. It tastes pretty good. The fried chicken is covered in a sweet tomato and gochujang sauce which can be very cloying in large amounts but the savoury cheese cuts through the sweetness well. We both enjoyed it.

The bill came up to RM 104.50 including drinks which is decent for a weekend dinner. They serve reasonably priced soju compared to grocery stores too.

We left promptly at 7:30 pm and joined the long queue in front of Xing Fu Tang. There was a girl giving out tickets. Each slot (about 2.5 hours between slots) only has a maximum of 100 cups of their signature Stir-fried Brown Sugar Pearl Milk and 25 cups of their Strawberry Pearl Milk tea. I hear these tickets are fully taken up within 10 minutes! Each person can only have 2.

I wouldn’t doubt it. We got 84/100 for the brown sugar boba and 10/25 for the strawberry boba and we were there at 7:30 pm when the slot opened! Part of the problem is the newness – it’s only been open 4 days so people want to see what they’re about.

It took us 45 minutes before we got to the front. There’s a staff stir-frying the brown sugar pearls in a huge wok. This is then poured into a cup, making sure to get the liquid on every side, to produce their signature look. It costs RM 25 for two bobas which is on par with other imported Taiwanese brands. They also use a better barista fresh milk to make their drinks.

One quirky thing about Xing Fu Tang is they let each person who buys a drink have a go at their lucky draw. You pick a random stick from a huge basin and the number is matched to one of the drawers. This is similar to the Buddhist fortune telling sticks. You basically get your fortune told, with a grand prize of a free boba drink.

Mandy got Great Luck while I got Greatest Good Luck. We both wondered if they have a Bad Luck drawer. Probably not.

Xing Fu Tang’s flagship Stir-fried Brown Sugar Pearl Milk was disappointing though. It tasted tepid and dilute. It’s still better than the commercialized Chatime/Tealive but nowhere close to The Alley’s standard. It’s milky, but not very tea-like. Mandy gave it 7/10 compared to The Alley’s 9/10. The Strawberry Pearl Milk Tea was better – acidic and refreshing, yet sweet. I quite enjoyed it!

I made a care package for Mandy and surprised her by putting it on our living room coffee table with no comment for her to find. I filled it with Korean and Japanese face masks, a chocolate bar, a packet of Ribena, a lotion and a comic book. I noticed she really enjoys masks but finds them expensive on her salary so I thought I’ll get them for her. She uses them so frugally that I felt sorry for her. Haha.

Sunday night was my experiment with homemade Sarawak laksa. I bought the paste during my trip to Kuching over CNY. Mandy’s mom provided me with some mystery seeds which she says tastes good in laksa so I thought I’ll make some. I made a deluxe version with chicken leg, lots of prawns, sambal, lime, coriander and shredded omelette. You can barely see the rice vermicelli! It’s decent but missing something. I’ll cook the paste with prawn heads and shells next time. We’re off to Sibu next weekend for Ching Ming! I also have a work trip to Penang this Friday and another one to Ipoh when we come back from Sibu so it’s a busy week ahead.

CNY Trip to Kuching 2019 Part II: Pizza Ria, Kolo Mee, Sarawak Laksa, Prawn Fritters, Big Pao, Gula Apong Ice Cream, Crispy Tomato Mee

The first thing I did after sending Mandy off to the airport was take a Grab to Kubah Ria. I’ve been craving for Pizza Ria, our local Kuching pizza/pasta/pancake chain. This is their original outlet in Satok – they’ve been open for over 30 years at the same spot! My dad used to bring me here when I was a little kid (we moved to Sibu when I was 7).

I also indulged in my favorite beef pancake many times when I was working in Kuching around 24-25 but I haven’t eaten it since. That’s a good 12 years without this sinful creation. It’s basically mince beef inside a crepe that’s doused with tomato sauce but it’s extremely nostalgic. The best pairing is Pancake + Spaghetti (RM 8.50) – you get both options on your plate. You can even request to have it mixed up into a gooey mess!

The pancake used to be topped with a made-to-order sunny side up runny egg but they’re all line produced now so that reduced the enjoyment factor a little. The runny yolk mixed into the minced beef was one of my favorite things – a bite with umami tomato sauce, gossamer thin pancake, savory minced beef and creamy yolk is the perfect mouthful!

You can’t leave here without ordering a slice of pizza too. It’s not the best but I love it. You probably wouldn’t enjoy Pizza Ria if you didn’t grow up eating it. This isn’t exceptional cooking. It’s the taste of nostalgia. Every true-blooded Kuchingite should have fond memories of eating this, especially if you’re born in the 80s or 90s. I’m glad I had a chance to revisit my childhood. It was delicious!

I woke up bright and early to go to Choon Hui Café the next day. This is the place made famous by Anthony Bourdain. He claims it’s the best Sarawak laksa in Kuching. Unfortunately, it wasn’t open and wouldn’t be open until a few days after I leave. Alas!

Not to be dissuaded, I went opposite to the only kopitiam open at 7 am to eat some breakfast. I ordered kolo mee, which took over 1 hour to arrive! To be fair, the guy warned me that it’ll take a long time to arrive since many out-of-town people were back for Chinese New Year. I probably wouldn’t have minded if it tasted good.

Unfortunately, it was almost inedible. The guy was so rushed he barely tossed the noodles and the texture was disappointing. The flavour was barely there too. I left the bowl after eating two mouthfuls. That’s something I very rarely do as I don’t like wasting food. It was that dismal.

Thankfully, my morning meal was saved by Kelly’s Fritters. This was a stall selling various fritters. I went for heh piah (prawn fritters). These is a crispy Kuching specialty served with a chilli dipping sauce. I have fond memories of eating this during tea time at the start of my career in Kuching.

This tasted really good! The fritters were crispy and flavorful, with just the right amount of prawn. 🦐

I went to Sin Kwang Foochow Big Pau twice over two days but they sold out and closed before I arrived both days. 😭 This is another item I ate during my working days in Kuching. It’s a huge pao with pork and egg. Quite delicious! Too bad I didn’t have a chance to eat it again.

Mandy suggested Hock Hai Dim Sum Café down the road. They also have a big pao, at a fraction of the price of Sin Kwang (RM 3.40) but it was oversteamed. The bottom is hard and crusty.

There’s no egg inside and the mystery meat is a rolled-up ball instead of identifiable chunks. Sin Kwang’s version is way better.

I have never eaten gula apong ice cream in Kuching before. It wasn’t available back then. This is a relatively new thing. Now there are many different ones mushrooming around town. I had to try it!

I wasn’t impressed with DP Ice Cream Gula Apong’s version though. It was very icy and diluted. Disappointing.

Since Kuching hawkers don’t like making tons of money, a lot of stalls are closed over the first week of CNY. That includes all the belacan bee hoon stalls in Song Kheng Hai rugby field. Sigh.

However, I managed to get my tomato crispy mee fix. The best version is in Hui Sing Hawker Center but that’s quite far away so I had this at a random coffee shop in Padungan. It was pretty good too! I had this at an odd hour too – 3-4 pm in the afternoon. You can’t do that in most places. These noodles are kolo noodles that’s been deep fried and doused with seafood filled tomato sauce. They have a kueh tiaw version too but I prefer the noodle ones.

Another must-eat in Kuching is kueh chap – various innards and offcuts of the pig in a thin braising liquid. It’s served with rice sheets. I’m actually not a fan of kueh chap. I never crave for these things but it’s nice to eat once in a while. I can’t remember the last time I had kueh chap. Definitely more than a decade ago.

I also found a durian stall at the cat statue in Padungan. I hear this is the designated seasonal fruit vendor’s location now.

We don’t get branded durian cultivars in Sarawak, but that is slowly changing. This is a kampung durian for RM 10. Not bad!

I managed to squeeze in one last meal at Mee Sin Café before I had to catch my flight to Pontianak. I woke up very early at 6:30 am and went there to eat seafood kolo mee. They’re famous for sheng rou kolo mee (fresh meat kolo mee) but I prefer the seafood version.

The kolo mee here is very delicious! I requested for cha siu oil to be added so it’s red. The proper way to order this is “pang ang” (literally “put red”). The kolo noodles were springy and chewy, a very pleasing toothsome bite. This more than makes up for the disappointing kolo mee I had the previous day.

I’ll love to go back to Kuching again to catch up on the places that I’ve missed or were closed. I suspect I’ll come here more often now that my girlfriend’s hometown is Kuching.

CNY Trip to Kuching 2019 Part I: Lao Ya Keng Laksa, Mandy’s House, Chun Yang Tea, Topspot, Darul Hana Bridge, Pork Leg Rice

I planned a 4D/3N stay in Kuching starting Day 4 of Chinese New Year to visit my girlfriend Mandy in her hometown. I’ve worked and lived here for many years but it’s been a while since I’ve been back, with the exception of my cousin’s wedding the year before. So many things have changed, but there are constants especially around my old workplace of Padungan.

Mandy drove to the airport to pick me up. We checked in at my hotel and went out for a late lunch at Lao Ya Keng. She wanted to eat Sarawak laksa (we just call it laksa here) and this is one of the few places still open so late in the afternoon.

Unfortunately, I once told her that I found the tall and fair young woman who owns this stall attractive. I also told her the story about how I asked said laksa seller for her personal Facebook and added her. This was during the ethanol-induced loose lipped era before we got together. She remembered the anecdote from that time I mentioned it in passing and kept her watchful eyes on me the entire time.

I kept my gaze directly on my laksa bowl the entire time. I did not dare to peer elsewhere, lest my eyes accidentally locked on the roaming laksa seller. My neck was sore by the time we finished eating.

I have to state for the record – I only find my girlfriend beautiful and have no time for other girls besides her. I was also not forced to write this. Okay – Approved by Mandy Chua. No further changes required.

Mandy was quite against her family meeting me at first. She thought they’ll not like me. Little did she know, I do quite well with parents in general. As a well-spoken, educated and relatively good looking young man I seldom encounter issues in this realm. Hehe. Her mom asked me to sit down and eat lunch with them.

I spent the most of the afternoon here.

We managed to go to a new bubble tea place in Kuching called Chun Yang.

New as in Mandy has never tried it before. I was surprised to see that this chain originated from Taiwan!

I refused to believe it at first and lost the bet with Mandy after Googling.

We headed back to the hotel to refresh ourselves before a seafood dinner at Topspot. I wrote about it in a separate post, but it was a mediocre feast.

There was a huge fireworks show in Kuching as we left Topspot and we stopped the car by the side of the road to watch it. These are huge aerial shells, and lots of them too. Definitely government sponsored, you need a license for these large shells.

Mandy brought me to Darul Hana Bridge at Kuching Waterfront, which is one of the hottest new attractions in town. The place was PACKED with people. This may be due to the fact that it’s still early in the CNY celebrations so a lot of out-of-towners were there.

There were projected screens on the river that shows videos of Kuching.

The bridge across the river is brightly lit and very well maintained. Throngs of people took the trek over in the cool night breeze. We did as well. It was good, wholesome fun. I’ve never been here before. The waterfront of my time was dodgy and crime-ridden. Kuching has managed to gentrify the area successfully. Good work.

The next day we had a pork leg rice breakfast. I have been craving for Kuching style pork leg rice. I got a special (whole trotter) and a normal portion, with egg. I really enjoyed this thick-cut pork leg rice back when I was living in Chong Lin Park. These thinly sliced and meagre pieces did not hit the spot.

I was a little disappointed with the flavors and the amount of meat. The pork leg rice of my dreams may have been tinted by nostalgia (and the hunger resulting from smoking weed after 3 days of no food while on meth before eating) but this was quite mediocre.

We headed for a walk in India Street after that.

It was a nice 2D/1N before I sent Mandy to the airport for her flight back to KL. I was staying an additional 2 days before heading to Pontianak. Part II of my Kuching trip is a solo food adventure coming up soon!

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