Umai and other local delights @ Fisherman Restaurant

claypot tom yam prawns

I’ve been craving for umai lately and had the chance to eat it again for dinner with Arthur last night. Fisherman Restaurant is a popular local restaurant to bring visitors coz it has a lot of Melanau native delights like lokan, umai and ikan terubok. These are all Sarawakian dishes – they even have dabai (a local type of olive) when it’s in season.

umai

Umai is a local version of ceviche. Fisherman Restaurant does it in a style that’s similar to umai jeb in Mukah. I’ve had it when I went to Mukah in 2008 – it’s very fresh fish (in this case white pomfret or ikan bawal putih) that’s been cured with lime and mixed with chopped onions and chillies.

sarawak prawn crackers

It’s delicious when you eat it with the prawn crackers they serve as an appetizer.

prawn crackers umai

(although it’s traditionally eaten with sago pearls)

individual prawn claypot

We also ordered an individual serving of large prawn in a mini claypot. These prawns are huge and used in big head prawn noodles. The prawn is cooked in an assam tom yam broth soup and it costs RM 20 per prawn. It’s worth it though coz they do it very well – the broth is flavorful and spicy and the prawn meat is firm and juicy and sweet.

paku santan

The fibre quota was fulfilled by paku santan. It’s a local fern cooked Melanau style in santan (coconut milk) and shrimp. I really liked this dish too, everything the cook sent out really hit the mark.

fisherman restaurant

That’s why Fisherman Restaurant is so popular despite being relatively decrepit – peeling paint on the walls, dated single-unit wall air conditioners, and a musty interior. There were a lot of people who came after us coz we went really early – the place was quite full. I do wish that they put some money into renovation though – it looks the same (except a bit more worn) as when I went in 2008!

fisherman restaurant sibu

This isn’t even the original restaurant – they were located at a different part of town at first and shifted to this place.

fisherman restaurant us

I have to say that the best dish of the night is the roast lamb with mint sauce. This is a newer dish that came to pass with the current generation (the son came back from New Zealand where he had his own restaurant and brought some recipes home) and it’s cooked really well. I have to say that it’s even slightly better than my late mom’s famous lamb (sorry ma). smirk

roast lamb mint

The roast lamb here is sliced generously thick and the meat is juicy. You’ll love this if you’re fond of the slightly gamey taste of lamb, and they don’t overcook it unlike other places. They have two sauces – the mint sauce and a garlic inspired Asian dip, the former is the one you want since the latter is uninspiring. It costs RM 50 for the dish with two large slabs of lamb, definitely a must-order if you visit.

thick lamb slabs

The bill for the two of us came up to RM 126.40 but the roasted lamb (RM 25 per slice) and the tom yam prawns (RM 20 per prawn) accounts for RM 90 so the dishes aren’t really that expensive if you don’t order the premium stuff. Thanks for dinner Arthur! It’s always good to catch up when I’m back home. :)

Dinner at Payung Cafe, Sibu

Payung Cafe Sibu

My better half came back with me to visit my dad during the weekend and since it was just a 24 hour trip, we only had *one* dinner and this is the place we chose to go to – Payung Cafe! I was one of the first people to visit when they started six years ago (we were even asked to name the first iterations of the desserts which are refined staples now) and I make it a point to visit when I’m back in my hometown.

Payung Cafe Sibu 2014

Payung Cafe opened in 2008 and it was very unknown back then since they only had dinner service and the place was shuttered during the day with no signboards. It didn’t help that it looked like the reception area for a marine survey company either. However, the same Joyce who gave us the number of Glory Cafe in Sarikei is also very active in a Chinese language local forum and a bunch of us paid this newly opened place she heard about a visit.

Payung Cafe Couple

The rest, as they say, is history. smirk

Payung Cafe Christmas

The food here is unique and the service is great. That’s what makes Payung Cafe a favorite among certain locals and visitors alike despite the relatively higher prices it charges on average. The Christmas decorations are up when we went – we opted to go to the original al fresco outlet instead of the new Payung Mahkota (which is located in the lobby of a hotel). I feel the former has a much better ambiance since the latter can be a little antiseptic due to it’s location.

For starters, we all shared a Pomelo Salad (RM 8). I love the choice, the pomelo comes in large chunks and the dressing is restrained, making it a fresh and vibrant dish. My late maternal grandma used to have a pomelo tree and I remember this fruit as being bitter but like Brussels sprouts, it seems to have been genetically modified to be less bitter nowadays!

Pomelo Salad

It’s sweet and juicy and we all were ready to dig into our main courses after popping a couple of the large chunks of fruit.

The special of the day is Sour Chicken (RM 16). It’s not on the regular menu, this is written on the chalkboard that lists what’s fresh and cooking on that very day and I like to order from here since I’ve tried most of their menu items. This is something I’ve never had before and all of us loved it! The chicken is moist and tastes appetizingly sourish.

Sour Chicken

I asked how it was made since we were all trying to guess what the sour element is and was told it’s a mixture of laksa leaves (Vietnamese coriander/Persicaria odorata/daun kesum) and coriander seeds (which provides the sour citrus tang). I highly recommend this dish – it’s delicious!

I also ordered Kacama Chicken (RM 16) for my dear. I wanted her to try this uniquely Sarawakian dish while she was here. Kacangma chicken is made from a herb the Hakka people call yi mu cao (益母草) or motherwort. The taste is like nothing else, it’s traditionally used as a “confinement dish” and the liberal use of pounded motherwort makes this dish taste bitter and earthy.

Kacangma Chicken

Kacangma chicken is always doused with copious amounts of alcohol which is intentionally *not* cooked off. It’s meant as a tonic as thus the alcohol is never fully evaporated or burned off – some preparations are so strong you can get *tipsy* from drinking the stew! Payung Cafe’s version is quite strong too but it’s delicious to me! It’s an acquired taste, kacangma…

Of course, the Otak-otak Fish (RM 13) is always a must-order when you’re there. The price has more than doubled since 2008 but if Payung Cafe had a flagship or signature dish, this would be it. They actually make it in-house every day! The ground fish meat with tapioca is wrapped inside a banana leaf and baked to perfection.

Otak Otak Fish

The otak-otak is served bursting from the seams and the generous use of chilli and tumeric makes this a dish not for the faint-hearted. It’s very spicy but if you can take the heat, you’ll love it. It’s very different from the steamed otak-otak from Johor or grilled otak-otak we get in Malacca. They really make one of the best versions around.

Durian Shake

My better half also had the Durian Shake (RM 8) – a very thick concoction sure to please all durian lovers and connoisseurs of milkshakes.

Payung Cafe Ling Dad

The bill came up to RM 82 for the three of us, which is quite reasonable for dinner at Payung Cafe.

Sambarina Ice Cream

We made room for dessert and shared a Sambarina Ice Cream (RM 8) which is made in a yin-yang fashion with large scoops of chocolate and creamy vanilla ice cream stuffed into a jumbo sized ramekin and topped with a mixture of crushed nuts and other crunchy bits. I approve!

Mulu Ice Cream

My dear loved the Mulu Ice Cream (RM 10) – a beautiful creation of huge slabs of their own ice cream layered and sandwiched with cake and cream and sprinkled with muesli. It’s a gorgeous and deliciously messy end to a wonderful dinner together.

RM 16 bowl of Heng Hua Spicy Assam Tom Yam Fish Noodles

henghua assam tom yam noodles

There are a lot of fish and prawn noodles in town but none quite like this. The most (in)famous one would be the RM 35 bowl of fish noodles from Min Kwong. There’s also a RM 15 bowl of prawn noodles in the small and hilariously named town of Jakar. However, the closest tasting one would be the justifiably popular RM 14 bowl of Asam Tom Yam Big Prawn Noodles in Glory Cafe, Sarikei.

It was my dad who suggested this place for dinner. He’s a Heng Hua and this is a Heng Hua owned coffee shop, and since it’s a small community, we might be somewhat related. smirk

sieng hing cafe

The first question the lady asked me when I ordered this RM 16 bowl of goodness is whether I can eat spicy food. I replied in the affirmative, taking pride in my cast iron stomach (and tongue) and the chilli flakes in the broth gave me the sniffles and nearly drove me to tears…in a good way.

I asked why they use a thick kind of rice vermicelli noodles called hung ang in the local dialect and it’s coz that’s the best pairing for the dish. The thick but short noodles doesn’t clump together and unlike wheat based noodles, the rice vermicelli noodles is the perfect vehicle for *transporting the broth* to your palate.

henghua assam rice vermicelli

There’s a lot of space between the rice vermicelli – you can’t really pick them up with chopsticks without large gaps – so the spicy asam tom yam broth gets into the crevices and it allows the full flavor impact to hit you.

cat
Resident cat approves of this nomz!

The fish is a mixture of tapah and patin and there’s easily 3-4 times the amount in the regular Foochow twice cooked noodles I had for RM 14 at Y2K Cafe. There’s also generous amounts of lemongrass, egg, tomatoes, chilli flakes, baby corn, fungus and a special type of pickled salted vegetable in the asam tom yam soup.

assam tom yam noodles

It left me sweating but very satisfied when I finished the dish. They also sell a large prawn version for RM 26. The generous amounts of fish and the ultra spicy broth made the Sieng Hing Cafe fish noodles one of the best gastronomic finds in Sibu. It’s perfect if you have a blocked nose since the spice will clear up your sinuses in no time! :)

Sarawak Laksa @ Madam Tang's Cafe, Kuching

madam tangs

You know how I always say I prefer Asam Laksa to Sarawak Laksa? Well, I don’t know if it was the rather intense workout this morning but I just had lunch with the Project Alpha Season 1 bloggers at Madam Tang’s Cafe in Petanak and it was fucking good.

madam tang interior

The Sarawak Laksa Special (RM 10.80) comes with a lot of huge, juicy prawns. It is as good as the one in Golden Arch Garden Laksa which was a favorite haunt of mine when I was working in Kuching due to the proximity to my office back then.

sarawak laksa

Sarawak Laksa is a bit different from the other santan (coconut milk) laced concoctions and it was refreshing (not sure if this is the correct adjective but it feels right to me) to get reacquainted with this superb specialty from my hometown again.

A squeeze of lime into the belacan paste mixed into the Sarawak laksa is a ritual I haven’t done in a long time. Heavenly.

beef noodles

The Beef Noodle Special is pretty awesome too! We had a taste of it and ended up ordering a bowl to share.

I also managed to meet up with a lot of Kuching bloggers and good friends today – that was another highlight of the trip! :)

sarawak laksa special

Next up is dinner at Topspot @ Permata Carpark which is really famous for their seafood. I’m still full from lunch though so I’m not sure if I can handle a lot of that tonight. >.<

Seremban Siew Pau

caydence seremban

Caydence, the self-dubbed Princess of Seremban, brought me around her hometown for a food tour – the best of Seremban’s offerings. It is rather ironic considering that she doesn’t eat that much to begin with (understatement of the century). We went to three places, two of them with her folks who insisted on paying for everything and even bought me Seremban siew pau to bring back.

seremban siew pao

Seremban Siew Pau is a crispy BBQ bun filled with pork goodness.

I remember someone saying that you can get Seremban Siew Pau in KL now…

…but nothing beats the real thing sourced from Seremban.

seremban siew pau

I wholeheartedly agree!

Satay Celup

“It’s like lok-lok…but with peanut sauce!”

satay celup

Satay Celup originated in Melaka but like most other things it has migrated far and wide. I hear it’s even available at the mobile lok-lok trucks around here, but for the Real Deal (TM), nothing beats going to Melaka to eat satay celup!

ban lee siang

The place we went to is none other than Ban Lee Siang - one of the renowned satay celup establishments in Melaka. There are two other satay celup places flanking Ban Lee Siang and it’s very telling that Ban Lee Siang is the only one packed to the rafters, with people waiting for a free table while the other two are practically deserted.

satay celup sticks

Satay celup is a Malay word meaning “sticks of stuff” and “dip”. The skewers are kept refrigerated and you walk around with a tray to choose the items you want. There’s easily 50 different items on offer, ranging from clams to quail eggs and everything in between. The prawns are surprisingly fresh and sweet, and the balled up vegetables provides a nice, crunchy texture. The mushrooms and stuffed chillis are pretty good too.

satay celup sauce

Satay celup invariably comes with the same setup – there is a communal satay celup pot in a recessed pit in the middle of the table. The satay celup pot is constantly kept full by the staff, who roams from table to table to refill the sauce. The sauce is none other than satay sauce a.k.a. peanut sauce!

fill

This is what makes satay celup interesting. It’s like lok-lok (where you dunk food skewers into boiling hot water or broth) except you dip this into a simmering pot of peanut sauce. The sweet (albeit diluted) satay sauce tastes delicious with the meat, vegetables and seafood on sticks. It’s a great twist to a classic dish.

offerings

The satay celup system, for the uninitiated, is rather like a buffet. You pick the items you want from the bank of fridges and put it on a tray. Each stick is RM 0.50 except the red color coded ones, which goes for RM 0.60.

satay celup skewers

You’re free to eat as much as you want and by the end of the meal, a waiter comes over to count the number of sticks you’ve consumed and you pay accordingly. Easy!

bread

Satay celup in Melaka is served with bread. The bread is used to soak up the delicious peanut sauce.

jenn dad mike

I think the peanut sauce actually tastes better after a lot of people have eaten from the same communal pot. The satay sauce absorbs the taste of the ingredients dumped into it by previous diners since the pot is never emptied but refilled.

me satay celup

It’s the shiznit, yo.

Aho Mee Sapi Nasi Ayam Restauran

aho restaurant

Aho Mee Sapi Nasi Ayam Restauran (Literally: Aho Beef Noodles Chicken Rice Restaurant) is one of the best places in town to have beef noodles. It’s a halal establishment operated by Malays and as the signboard suggests the two flagship dishes are the beef noodles and the chicken rice.

aho interior

The place tends to be a bit packed during lunchtime and parking can be a bit of a problem. I went with Autumn, who doesn’t eat beef (or pork for that matter). I’m not a big fan of chicken rice but I love beef noodles. Aho does a very good version of beef noodles, Malay style. I just love the chicken shaped menu for chicken rice and the cow shaped version for beef noodles. Heh!

aho beef noodles

I had the mixed beef noodles (RM 4) which can be ordered with the noodles in a separate bowl (dry) or mixed into the soup (wet). Soupy dishes during lunch isn’t really my thing, not just coz of potential Splash Damage (TM), but coz it increases the body temperature at the warmest time of the day.

aho noodles

Thus, I ordered the dry version with the noodles on the side. The noodles are mixed with Essence of Cow (TM) – it’s so full of mooing goodness, you can taste the beef in the noodles. It’s delicious!

aho beef soup

The soup is even better – you can opt to have certain parts of the cattle or a mixed bowl, which has everything except the genitalia (that part is reserved to make Sup Power). Aho does a very good beef noodle soup. It’s hearty and has that elusive umami taste to it.

aho chicken rice

Autumn had the other specialty of the house – fried chicken rice (RM 4). Aho serves fried chicken instead of the usual steamed or roasted chicken.

aho chicken

However, they do a very good version of fried chicken – it’s not over fried, so the skin comes out crispy but the inner parts are still tender and juicy.

aho us

Aho Mee Sapi Nasi Ayam Restauran is a great place for beef noodles and chicken rice. The restaurant name can a bit of a mouthful though (pun intended) so we just call it Aho. ;)

Moo…

Noodle throwing @ Siong Kee Mee Kampua

siong kee

Siong Kee is one of the most famous kampua noodle stalls in Sibu. Siong Kee Mee Kampua is located in Taman Muhibbah. The proprietor is the one manning the stall and has almost acrobatic displays of noodle handling from the pot of boiling water to the bowl.

siong kee kampua

This friendly and unassuming owner is a Guinness World Records holder (!) though not for kampua noodles. He is credited under Most weddings attended by a best man. Mr. Ting Ming Siong from Sibu, Sarawak has been best man at the most weddings in the world with 1,393 occasions and counting. His record holder status can be verified here.

siong kee card

He even has a name card that lists his achievements in…er, matrimonial services, and he is also the Malaysian Book of Records holder in that department. Siong Kee Mee Kampua is very busy almost every night due to the good noodles that he churns out (and I suspect his acrobatic feats and record holder status as well).

Kampua noodles is actually very simple to make but this man is the only one who makes it entertaining to watch:

siong kee 1

1. Blanch noodles

siong kee 2

2. Throw noodles up in the air (no one else does this except him) and catch it again

siong kee 3

3. Mix noodles with a lard based sauce

sibu noodles

I’m not sure if the noodle throwing actually adds anything to the flavor (though rumor has it that it makes the noodles more pliable) but it certainly makes for a very lively performance.

Everybody loves kampua throwing!

sibu kampua

I’ve been told by kampua aficionados that you should always eat the noodles plain to gauge the taste properly. Kampua is served plain de facto but you can opt to have it with soy sauce, soy sauce and chilli, or chilli sauce.

kampua me

I ate this one plain and I pronounce it good!

kampua us

I was searching for his record in the Guinness World Records website and chanced upon a record that I could easily beat – Most Ferrero Rocher chocolates eaten in one minute which currently stands at a meager five (5).

Watch out Reuben Williams! I’m gunning for your record. I can do six easily. ;)

sixthseal.com Guide to Eating Umai

umai stall

Umai is a raw fish dish prepared by the Melanau tribe in Mukah. It’s a must try dish if you ever go to Mukah. It’s the Malaysian version of the sashimi and is traditionally the working lunch for Melanau fishermen.

Umai is made of thinly sliced slivers of raw fish and served with toasted sago pearls. The popularity of the dish for the fishermen is pragmatic – it doesn’t need to be cooked while deep sea fishing and the sago pearls provides the carbohydrates for a filling lunch.

me slicing fish

The fish has to be really fresh for umai to be prepared since it’s eaten raw. I tried my hand at slicing the raw fish and gave myself a nasty cut to the index finger.

umai segar

Umai is readily available in the markets of Mukah and it’s one of the flagship dishes that Mukah is known for (besides sago grubs). There are two different versions of umai – the traditional umai sambal campur and umai cecah jeb.

The sixthseal.com Guide to Eating Umai

umai step 1

Step 1: Ensure that a reputable umai stall is patronized. The fish needs to be really fresh for raw consumption to avoid uncomfortable conditions like E.Coli and explosive diarrhea.

umai step 2

Step 2: Find a comfortable place to mix your own umai. The ingredients for making umai can all be purchased at the stall and most of the stuff is prepackaged and premixed to the right amounts.

umai step 3

Step 3: Receptacles for the mixing of umai is essential. You would require a plate and a bowl in addition to forks. Sago pearls are eaten using your hand. Empty the raw slivers of fish into the plate. You can opt to retain a small portion of the raw fish for the the other version of umai.

umai step 4

Step 4: Inspect the contents of your umai sambal campur package. It should contain a bag of premixed ingredients essential to the umai experience containing raw onions and chillies. Calamansi limes should also be in the package for the original umai as well as a small packet of salt and the crunchy peanut cookies.

umai step 5

Step 5: Open the packet of crumbly peanut cookies and put it on top of the raw fish slivers. This is the secret ingredient in all good umai dishes that provides the sweet and crunchy texture to the dish.

umai step 6

Step 6: Crush the peanut cookie into a finely grounded powder using the fork. You need the peanut cake to be evenly distributed throughout the dish.

umai step 7

Step 7: Pierce the calamansi limes using a fork to enable a reasonable flow of the juice into the umai. Do not attempt to squeeze the lime without penetrating it with a fork (or another sharp utensil) first. Splash damage is likely to occur.

umai step 8

Step 8: Squeeze the calamansi lime over the raw fish.

umai step 9

Step 9: You need all the calamansi lime juice provided since the acidic nature of the fruit “cooks” the raw fish. I’ll explain the scientific principles at the bottom of the guide.

umai step 10

Step 10: Open the small packet of salt and empty the contents into the umai. The salt offsets the sourness of the calamansi lime and makes it sweet.

umai step 11

Step 11: Open the plastic bag containing the thinly sliced onions and chillies and empty it into the plate of umai.

umai step 12

Step 12: Toss the umai with a fork as you would toss a salad. The motions are similar and so are the aims – to mix everything as evenly as possible. The traditional umai is now ready for consumption!

umai step 13

Step 13: The final step is to empty the sago pearls into a bowl for easier consumption. The sago pearls are eaten using your bare hands to go with the umai.

umai step 14

Step 14: Consume the umai with a handful of sago pearls. The umai should be eaten first and chased with the sago pearls for the authentic Melanau umai experience.

Guide to eating umai video

Optional:

umai jeb

There is a new variant of umai called the umai cecah jeb which is dipped into a sambal (spicy paste) concoction.

umai jeb eat

You’re supposed to take a forkful of umai (raw fish) and then dip it into the special sambal sauce and eat it. It’s delicious! The sambal really got oomph! Very spicy. I like!

Guide to eating umai cecah jeb video

Caution:

splash damage 2

Splash damage is likely to occur even with the proper piercing technique as can be seen on Clare’s top. Respect the calamansi lime and it shall respect you. ;)

Explanation:

difference is clear

The calamansi lime has acidic properties that “cooks” (cures would be a better word) the raw fish in the umai due to reasons beyond my understanding. It just works.
The left fork contains the raw fish before the calamansi lime treatment and the right fork contains the slightly “cooked” fish after being marinated in calamansi lime. You can see the difference in the coloration and texture of the fish.
The difference is clear (TM). ;)

Pek tin yok – Eight Herb Soup

pek tin yuk

There is a popular Foochow concoction over here called pek tin yok which is translated literally as “eight herb soup”. I haven’t had much contact with this particular broth while growing up, being rather adverse to soup dishes in general. I’ve had it a couple of times at my maternal grandmother’s house (who is a Foochow) and didn’t particularly like it.

little umbrella

Faye is a bit of a traditional Foochow in the stuff she eats. She actually loves “8 herb soup” and has cravings for it from time to time. There is an eating establishment here that doesn’t have a signboards so the locals just all it “xiao yu shang” (Little Umbrella) from the seating arrangements outside which has a huge beach umbrella covering it from the rain (since the place is not open in the morning, it can’t be the sun).

little umbrella chairs

Little Umbrella is supposed to have the best pek tin yok in town and props should be given to the proprietor for attempting to install some fittings in the interior that makes the place look more upscale. There are glass tables inside and artsy fartsy chairs made out of real tree branches. Unfortunately, the clash of the old and new styles contrasts too garishly. A for effort, F for execution.

eight herb soup rice

The place serves a bowl of Eight Herb Soup for RM 7. Eight Herb Soup is a concoction brewed in 8 different types of herbs and spices with pork leg. It’s considered to be a traditional nutritional supplement of sorts and is often force fed to overactive little children. At least, that’s what my mom used to do. ;)

eight herb soup

Eight Herb Soup is served with a complimentary plate of rice in Little Umbrella. It’s rather similar to bak kut teh in this sense, but the two dishes tastes totally different. Eight Herb soup tastes very “sweet” for a lack of a better descriptive adjective.

chicken feet

There are also other Foochow specialties in Little Umbrella – this is chicken feet cooked with peanuts and soy sauce. I don’t mind eating chicken feet but it can be a bit of a bother at times coz of the little bones inside. I like the de-boned chicken feet in Kuching.

eight herb soup pork.

Eight Herb Soup is brewed with chunks of pork meat. The meat is tender and juicy and absorbs much of the soup’s flavors. It’s eaten with soy sauce and rice and some people add a little bit of soup to the rice as well. I don’t remember liking it when I was a kid, but I was force fed a couple of scoops of the stuff and found out that I actually kinda like it now. It’s a little like vegetables – I hated the stuff when I was younger, but have started loving some kinds of vegetables now.

feed me

Don’t make me hungry. You won’t like me when I’m hungry. Feed me.

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