In Penang, Malaysia, single Chinese women would stand by the river and toss tangerines into the water. Why? We single ladies are eagerly awaiting the very special man in our lives to pick it up, which reminds me so much of the good old message in a bottle. What a fun when there’s so much mystery surrounding it!
According to C, my co-worker who hails from Penang, Gurney Drive is the place for single ladies to toss their wishes nowadays. Of course, that isn’t open to only singles. Married, widowed and divorced women are welcome to toss their wishes into the sea, too! She did invite me for a stay at her hometown this weekend. Too bad, I can’t due to other commitments! Sorry, C! I promise I’ll visit Penang one of these weekends and snap lots of pictures! Thank you!
Anyway, ‘nuff said! Here’s to share with you some of the meaningful moments from my Lunar New Year before it ends. On the Second Day (大年初二) of every New Year, my family never fails to visit my mom’s hometown in Malacca (or Melaka.) We’d usually have a quick breakfast and then hit the road. This year though, both my baby brothers refused to join my parents and I because they claimed the whole deal was “boring.” Yes, they’d been part of this ritual growing up in this family. Sadly, they now would rather stay home and glue themselves to the computer playing online games. Sigh … I only came to appreciate family and kinship even more after my 3-year stint in the U.S. One day, these brats will learn their lesson! (As the eldest, I’ve failed a big part here … I can’t teach them!)
Malacca isn’t that far from Kuala Lumpur. When we behave while driving on the crazy roads here, it usually takes us a little less than 2 hours to get there. Most importantly, we were there to catch up with our relatives. I was also there to escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. It was indeed relaxing with its slower paces and simpler way of life.
Sugar cane plantation by the road
The moment we landed there, it was a little past noon. My aunt already had lunch ready to feed eight hungry bears, including her daughters, grandchildren, my parents and I. Feeling stuffed after lunch, I decided to take a walk around the neighborhood with my darling camera.
The Malay neighborhood next door
Green unripe starfruits
It was quiet. I felt relaxed. I snapped and snapped – until the sound of a lorry broke the silence and brought me back to the ground. I saw eight or so happy little Malay kids running excitedly towards the vehicle. Curiosity killed the cat. I, too, made my way toward the lorry.
A messy trunk: beverage, trash & prop for lion dance
The crowd grew as each second vanished. It was a good – a truly Malaysian crowd. We had Chinese, Malay and Indians standing side by side anticipating its "awakening." Each of us waited patiently. The kids sure went wild when the Lion finally “woke up” and started to “dance.” It was my first lion dance (舞獅) experience in 3 years.
Besides businesses, some wealthy people would hire a lion dance team to perform the ritual on their compounds. They believe it will bring them good luck and prosperity in the year to come. It was no doubt a stunning performance! The crowd reveled and cheered. But, my inner thoughts traveled deeper than that.
I stood and observed. My camera told me to watch and listen. I obeyed. In minutes, tears started rolling down my cheeks gently. I was still sane. I was simply touched by the innocence and tolerance shown by the people. Stubbornly mirroring on my own beliefs at the same time, I couldn’t help but sighed. Malaysia is such a lovely country, if only it’s more innocent and liberal. It’s such a shame that it’s been blemished by fallen angels. I’ve said a thousand times how I wish I don’t have to abandon this beautiful land. But, I have to leave Her eventually. While in search of a better life and equal opportunities, my family is left with no choice.
I hope you won’t be turned off by my sentimentality. Despite my efforts in trying to be a rational reasoning animal, I sentimentalize easily. Anyway, I guess we’re getting sick of cookies, huh? It’s time for a change. (Well, I’m sort of. But, I don’t mind having them around me 24/7. They’re a handy snack!)
I’ve been meaning to share this fabulous dinner idea with you. But, I think I’m suffering from attention deficit disorder. I just keep getting distracted. Argh …!
Dim sum (點心) is a southern Chinese specialty, which literally means “touching the heart.” At authentic dim sum restaurants, light dishes are served. To touch someone’s heart, I suppose these hors d’oeuvre are, traditionally, made painstakingly with love. They’re only meant to be taken as a light snack, not a meal. But, we always end up stuffed in the end. Hahaha …!
Made when I was in the U.S. Taken in March, 2009.
Steamed spare ribs in fermented black bean sauce (豉汁排骨) can be found at many dim sum restaurants. Ask anyone who’s had authentic dim sum, he or she has probably heard of or even tried these ribs. Fermented black beans (豆豉) lend a pungent and sharp, salty and slightly bittersweet flavor. They're an acquired taste. Joining forces with other seasonings and spices, you’ve got yourself a savory marinade. Immersing the ribs for hours in this unique blend gives you utterly flavorful ribs.
To steam these spicy ribs together with rice, it renders you an easy fuss-free meal. Thanks to my favorite Hong Kong-based blogger Siukwan for sharing this fantastic idea! In Chinese, we call this type of dish 一鍋熟, which literally means “cooking with one pot.” I’ve been making this one-dish meal since I was a student in the States. And I always have a side dish of stir-fried or blanched vegetable to go with it, making it a complete meal after a tiring day at school or at work. What’s best is you can prepare the marinade and marinate the ribs ahead of time – and it requires no additional oil to cook them because they’re steamed. Healthy!
Steamed Rice With Spare Ribs in Fermented Black Bean Sauce 豉汁排骨蒸飯 (Adapted From Siukwan’s)
Serves 2 persons
*Typical of Chinese cooking, the recipe is just a guideline. Please feel free to adapt it to suit your own palate. I guarantee you that many of the (B) seasonings can be found at Asian grocers, especially when you're residing in the West.*
240 g (pork) spare ribs -- washed to clean well and pat dry, then cut them into smaller sections
1 Tbsp caster sugar
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 fresh small red chili pepper 紅辣椒仔, diced into tiny bits
**I used dried ones when I was in the States, which worked just as good. That obscure small town only had fresh jalapeño peppers. Sad, huh? Obsession for Tex-Mex food!? Probably.**
1 Tbsp fermented black beans 豆豉, diced into tiny bits if possible
***When I was in the U.S., I used those jarred ones that had been soaked to preserve in oil. Because they were already mushy, I simply mashed them up.***
****The ones I'm using are a hot variant of the regular ones, are also jarred and mushy. If you so happen to have these spicier ones, omit the chili pepper.****
1 tsp minced garlic
1 tsp minced fresh ginger
1 Tbsp oyster sauce 蠔油
1 tsp light soy sauce 生抽
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp caster sugar
1/2 tsp granular chicken bouillon 雞粉
A little bit of sesame oil 麻油, or to taste
Pinch of ground white pepper
1-1/2 tsp cornstarch
240 g jasmine rice 泰國香米
240 g water
Sweet soy sauce 甜豉油, to taste (optional)
- Combine the cleaned spare ribs with (A), then leave aside to tenderize the meat for 1 hour
- After the 1 hour is up, wash the spare ribs very well to remove the baking soda; drain well or pat dry to remove excess water
- Marinate the spare ribs together with (B) for 30 minutes, covered (to avoid unnecessary "visitor," LOL!)
*****I've tried marinating the ribs for 4 hours and up to overnight, covered with cling wrap and refrigerated, which makes them taste so much better, I think.*****
- Place a steaming rack over the wok, then fill it with enough water until it's about 5cm/2 inches below the rack. Cover and bring it to a full rolling boil over high heat. Alternatively, you can steam the whole deal in a steamer, if you have one.
- Wash the rice to clean, then drain well. Combine the rice together with 240 g water in a "stove top-friendly" bowl (i.e. heat-tolerable), then place onto the steaming rack. Steam over high heat for 20 minutes or till almost cooked. In other words, the 240 g water should have been almost soaked up by the rice and the rice itself should look "swollen" and rather "fluffy."
To cook for a bigger crowd, I cook it in the rice cooker. Simply cook the rice in the rice cooker till it's almost cooked -- like what's described above -- then, proceed with the following steps.
- Uncover the lid of the wok, steamer or rice cooker, then transfer the ribs and marinade onto the rice -- making sure they spread out so that they can cook evenly. Cover again and cook or steam over high heat for 10 minutes or till the meat is cooked through.
- Turn off the heat or the rice cooker. Dish out and serve hot. If you like, splash a bit of sweet soy sauce over to serve.