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Monday, September 28, 2009

Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24: The Making of a Sarawak Layer Cake

Kek Lapis Sarawak – Sarawak Layer Cakes

kek lapis sarawak layer cake medley - copyright house of annie

Want to know what goes into making such beautiful cakes? So did we!

Getting to Know You

Kek Lapis, or Layer Cake, is originally from our neighboring country of Indonesia. It is made of many, millimeter-thin layers of cake, baked one layer at a time to emphasize the layers. The recipe usually calls for butter, eggs, sugar, flour, and other coloring or flavoring ingredients, but no leavening agents. It’s more like a pound cake than the light layer cakes that we have baked in the House of Annie’s own oven.

About 20 years ago, Sarawakians took kek lapis to the next level by incorporating vibrant colors and different flavors than the original Indonesian recipe. They went even further by crafting intricate designs into the middle of the cakes. These beautiful designs are what makes Sarawak Layer Cakes so unique. The cakes are served on special occasions like birthdays, weddings, or cultural celebrations such as Aidilfitri, Christmas, and Chinese New Year.

Getting to Know All About You

I first discovered Sarawakian Layer Cakes back in my University Malaya days when my classmate, who hails from Kuching, would bring back these cakes after going home for the semester breaks. I was amazed by how tasty they were and also how beautiful. I’ve always thought that if I had a chance to visit Kuching, I would love to get more of these cakes and, if I happened to live here long-term, I would want to take classes to learn how to make them.

Well, it just happens that here we are, living in Kuching and we have been quite enthralled by a lot of the things that Kuching has to offer. When we visited the Satok market a month ago, we found some vendors selling these Sarawakian layer cakes. I was very excited and bought one to try at home. It was decent but not as good as the ones I remembered from back in college.

So it was a nice coincidence that one day when we were looking for a place to eat out, we ended up at a restaurant that happened to be next door to this Sarawak Layer Cake shop.

My Sara Sarawak Layer Cake Shop, Kuching

my sara sarawak layer cake shop kuching - copyright house of annie

While waiting for dinner to be served, I ended up walking next door into the store and was greeted by a friendly staff who showed me a catalogue of all the different Sarawak layer cakes that they made. They had numerous cakes all stacked up in their chiller ready to go. But because it was the Hari Raya season (this was about two weeks before the end of the Ramadhan fasting month), ALL the cakes in the chiller were already reserved. Not only that, they weren’t taking any more orders until Raya was over.

Getting to Like You

Being one who never takes no for an answer, I asked if they had any samples at all that I could at least try. Off he went to the back of the shop and came back with not just a small sample, but large strips of discarded end pieces for me to try. With one bite, I could tell that these were no ordinary cakes. They were delicious—moist and buttery and with just the right amount of sweetness.

Lapis Masam Manis - “Sour-Sweet” Layer Cake

lapis masa manis - 'sour-sweet' sarawak layer cake - copyright house of annie

I hurried back to dinner next door and told Nate that he absolutely had to try these cakes. After tasting the sample, he too agreed that it blew the first cake we had bought out of the water. We ended up going to the shop after dinner because I wanted Nate to have a look at the store himself.

The staff member (who was actually the nephew of the owner) let us into the back of the store and showed us how they were baking the cakes. We told him we were food bloggers, and asked if we could come back next time with a camera to document the process. Astonishingly, he was more than happy to welcome us back. We got the number of the owner and promised we would return.

When Foodbuzz sent out the call for proposals for this months 24, 24, 24 blog event, I immediately thought that this would make a great event. These Sarawak layer cakes are truly beautiful and labor intensive. The opportunity to learn more about how they were made in a small family-run business was too good to miss out on. We were so excited when they accepted our proposal! We called the owner and arranged to meet him in his store on Saturday afternoon.

Getting to Hope You Like Me

Idris Ibrahim, Owner of My Sara Sarawak Layer Cakes shop

Idris Ibrahim, owner of My Sara Sarawak Layer Cake shop - copyright house of annie

Idris Ibrahim and his wife Hamsiah own My Sara Enterprise. They have been baking Sarawak layer cakes for over 15 years. The storefront, which is located across from the Four Points Sheraton near the airport in South Kuching, is actually only 3 months old. Prior to that, all their baking was done out of their home.

His wife first learned how to make the Sarawak layer cakes from his sister, who teaches baking and other home skills at classes out in the rural communities of Sarawak. After observing her sister-in-law from a distance, she decided that she could do it herself. Without much training of any sort, she took it upon herself to make these cakes and found that she had a knack for doing it. Soon, people started ordering her cakes. Thanks to word-of-mouth advertising, business took off. Last year, they did 700-800 cakes during the Hari Raya season alone.

Idris works only part-time at the store, as he still has his full-time job as a site supervisor for a construction company. One of his best customers and enthusiastic supporters encouraged him to open the store in town to be closer to his customers. At first, he didn’t want to do it because, as he put it, “you don’t have to pay rent if you’re working out of your house.” But the move paid off – this year, they doubled their production with the new store.

In fact, they are so successful, that they were fully booked for the whole month leading up to Hari Raya. In the last few days, he and his staff worked from 7 am in the morning to 4 am the next morning to fulfill all the orders. It was grueling work, but they filled every order. They even managed to make a few extra for last minute customers.

Their layer cakes are famous throughout Sarawak. They are sold to the Sheraton across the street, served to visiting Sultans, sent to stores in Kuala Lumpur, and even shipped to Switzerland.

What is the secret to their success?

Putting it My Way

In a word, QUALITY. They do not cut corners on the ingredients. “Many layer cake makers use vegetable oil or margarine instead of butter. With margarine, the cakes come out drier. We use butter, but not just any butter. We have found that our cakes come out best with Golden Churn brand.” They also use only Grade A eggs and real chocolate flavoring.

Interestingly, it doesn’t take an expensive oven to turn out the best layer cakes. They use inexpensive, gas-fired ovens from Indonesia to make their cakes. Furthermore, they only use the bottom section of the oven. The reason this is that you are not really baking a whole cake – you are actually grilling (broiling) each layer with top heat very briefly. If you tried to bake the cake in a conventional oven, you would end up with a dry, overcooked cake.

Gas-Fired Oven for Baking Sarawak Layer Cakes

gas-fired oven for baking sarawak layer cakes - copyright house of annie

When Idris bought his wife an expensive, industrial electric oven for the store recently, he was scolded by the wife. She told him that the electric oven would not produce cakes that were as moist and delicious. With an electric oven, the heat circulates over the whole oven, thereby drying out the layers that are already done. In the gas ovens, the cakes remain tender and moist. This expensive oven now sits in his office unused as they continue to use the gas ovens.

But Nicely

When we arrived on Saturday afternoon, Idris told us that they had gotten a rush order, so his wife and their remaining staff who were not on holiday were back at the home, making cakes. But he stayed behind because he knew we were coming. He even started baking a layer cake for us, so he could demonstrate the process of building a Sarawak layer cake to us. How nice is that?!

A normal layer cake has between 12-20 parallel layers of cake. This particular Sarawak layer cake design has 5 parallel layers on the bottom, a fanciful design section in the middle, and 5 more layers on the top. For each layer, a small amount of batter is measured out, ladled on, and spread evenly in the pan. Then the pan is put in the oven for about five minutes before it is taken out and tamped down flat with a special tool before the next layer of batter is spread on.

Spreading Batter on Sarawak Layer Cake

ladling batter onto bottom layer of sarawak layer cake - copyright house of annie

The middle design will take strips of different colored layer cakes, cut into either square or triangular face.

Green Square Strips for Sarawak Layer Cake Design

green square strips for sarawak layer cake design - copyright house of annie

Yellow Triangular Strips for Sarawak Layer Cake Design

yellow triangular strips for sarawak layer cake design - copyright house of annie

You Are Precisely

Idris demonstrated how to get a triangular slice by holding a square slice between two, right-angle brackets and cutting between the brackets with a utility knife. The utility knife makes a very clean cut with no ragged edges.

After baking and tamping down flat the bottom layers, he laid down the triangular strips in parallel rows.

Laying Down the First Layer of Triangular Strips

laying down the first layer of triangular strips for sarawak layer cake design - copyright house of annie

Oh, I forgot to mention that Idris uses condensed milk as the “glue” to hold the Sarawak layer cake design section together. Other cake makers will use jam to hold the layers together but then the cakes don’t last as long.

Drizzling on Condensed Milk Glue for Sarawak Layer Cake

drizzling on condensed milk 'glue' for sarawak layer cake design - copyright house of annie

Next, he laid down the square green layer cake strips in the grooves created by the triangular trips.

Laying Down the Green Strips Layer

laying down next layer of green square strips for sarawak layer cake design - copyright house of annie

Another application of condensed milk “glue” and another layer. This time, it’s yellow square strips in the grooves of the green strips.

Laying Down Next Layer of Yellow Strips

laying down next layer of yellow square strips for sarawak layer cake design- copyright house of annie

And green strips again…

laying down second layer of green square strips for sarawak layer cake design - copyright house of annie

Followed by a last layer of yellow triangle shaped strips, which he then presses down so it is even and parallel to the bottom of the pan.

Pressing Down the Sarawak Layer Cake Design Section

pressing down last layer of yellow strips to make the sarawak layer cake level - copyright house of annie

With the design section done, he can continue baking on the top layers.

Spreading Batter for Top Layers of Sarawak Layer Cake

spreading out batter for top layer of sarawak layer cake - copyright house of annie

The final layer is the most crucial one. As each layer is baked on, the cake gets higher and the layers get closer to the gas flame. If you are not paying close attention, you will burn the top layer. If that happens, the cake cannot be salvaged and you must start over.

Tamping Down Top Layer of Sarawak Layer Cake

pressing down last layer of sarawak layer cake - copyright house of annie

Once the cake is done baking, he cools it to room temperature before putting it in the chiller.

The process of building a Sarawak layer cake is so laborious and time-consuming. Here is a slideshow I put together of the entire process.

Slideshow of Sarawak Layer Cake Making Process

We stayed a full two and a half hours to watch him make one cake (and even then, he had already prepared some of the other layers ahead of time). I can only say that, after having the privilege of watching him make this cake, I am in awe of the people who bake these cakes. I certainly have changed my mind about baking it myself. Even if I knew how to do it, I don’t know if I have the patience to bake something that takes so long and yet is so quickly devoured!

For all the work he put in to making his Sarawak layer cake, his prices are so reasonable. He only charges $25 for a small 2”x2”x8” cake and $100 for a full 2”x8”x8” cake. Thanks to Foodbuzz and the 24, 24, 24 event stipend, we could afford to take home 8 cakes that day.

Before heading off, we walked across the street to the Four Points Sheraton. We went in to see the buffet at the Eatery Restaurant. There we found My Sara’s Sarawak layer cakes, neatly sliced and displayed on the dessert table

My Sara's Sarawak Layer Cakes at Four Points Sheraton Eatery

Idris' sarawak layer cakes at four points sheraton kuching - copyright house of annie

My Cup of Tea

After dinner, we called up our food blogger friend Mike to let him know we were coming over to his house with some Sarawak layer cakes to taste. Mike set up his special photo lighting stand in his kitchen so I could take pictures of some of the cakes.

kek lapis nilam - peanut butter flavor sarawak layer cake - copyright house of annie kek lapis mustika hati - copyright house of annie kek lapis mutiara - Sarawak pearl layer cake - copyright house of anniekek lapis nescafe - coffee flavor sarawak layer cake - copyright house of annie

Sarawak Layer Cake Medley

kek lapis sarawak layer cakes - copyright house of annie

After all the photos were taken, we sat down to enjoy the cakes over cups of tea and conversation. Mike and his wife both agreed, these were top quality cakes. Each individual cake had its own delightful character and flavor.

We’re so glad that we found the My Sara Sarawak Layer Cake shop by chance. We were totally amazed by Idris’ warmth, humility, and willingness to share by allowing us into his store to document his cake-making process. And we are very thankful to Foodbuzz for allowing us to share this experience with you, dear readers!

Cheers and Aloha, Annie and Nate

My Sara Sarawak Layer Cake Shop is located at:

Lot 9957, Aras Lantai, RH Plaza
Jalan Lapangan Terbang, Kuching
Tel: 082-459842

It's near the Kuching airport, just across the street from the Four Points Sheraton, next door to the Bella Italia restaurant.

During the Raya season, you can also find their cakes in West Malaysia, at the Shazzen Sarawak Layer Cake outlets in Jaya Jusco, various locations, KL.

We have so much more to learn and share about the foods of our new home in Kuching. Don’t miss a thing! Subscribe now to receive our latest posts to your RSS reader or to your Inbox.

Continue Reading: "Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24: The Making of a Sarawak Layer Cake"...

Friday, September 25, 2009

Stop, Blog Thief!

Thanks to a lot of commenters and personal emails, we have been alerted to a site that has stolen content from the House of Annie blog and many others. Compare the two screenshots below:

Scraper's site


House of Annie site



I am extremely upset to see my work posted on someone else's site, because I have put in hundreds of hours building our site only to see someone else just come and copy our posts to their site. (Okay, they didn't just copy -- they also edited each post to take out our signatures and also changed the internal links to point to their site.)

Because this "scraper" blog is hosted on Blogspot / Blogger (Google), there are a couple of things you can do to report it. If this blog has stolen content from your site, file a DCMA report to Google. The URL for the online report is

http://www.google.com/support/blogger/bin/request.py?contact_type=blogger_dmca_infringment

For the rest of you dear readers who are just plain mad and would like to do something about it, report the blog as Spam by going to

http://www.google.com/support/blogger/bin/request.py?contact_type=spam&hl=en&blog_ID=&blog_URL=

and entering

http://hot-kitchen.blogspot.com

in the text box.

Hopefully Google will investigate and take this site down.

To the scraper who stole our content, I leave this haiku:

I wish you would get
A hundred thousand bug bites
Where the sun don't shine

Aloha, Nate

Update Oct 6, 2009: DMCA report submitted to Google. We'll see how long it takes to get the site taken down.

Update Oct 7, 2009: Google has taken down the site! Hot-kitchen has gone cold.

LET THAT BE A LESSON TO YOU BLOG THIEVES!

Continue Reading: "Stop, Blog Thief!"...

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Simple, Sweet and Spicy Cucumber Salad

sweet and spicy cucumber salad

I bet that for those of you that grow your own veggies, you’re probably inundated by cucumbers right now if you’re growing them. That and zucchinis—well, if you’re growing zuchs, you should expect to be inundated!

Cucumbers are lovely to eat when they’re fresh. Crisp, juicy, and so cool when the summer is so hot. Living here in Malaysia, cucumbers are used raw in so many dishes (mostly as garnishes but also as a nice contrast to spicy and heaty foods).

While visiting a friend’s aunt recently, we were invited to stay for dinner (have I already mentioned how hospitable everyone is here?). She served us this cucumber salad and Nate just loved it. It was really delicious, a nice combination of sweet, tart and spicy. I, of course, asked for a recipe. It was such a simple recipe and I couldn’t wait to try it out myself.

Picking Pickle

The next day, I went off to the market and bought myself two cucumbers, some Thai chili peppers, and a lemon among other vegetables. You know, I didn’t really know how to choose the cucumbers so I let the vendor pick it out for me. He showed me how the two he picked up still had the brown flower hanging off the end to indicate how fresh and young it was. I trusted him and they were very nice.

The reason I say I don’t know how to pick a cucumber is because the variety they have here in Malaysia is very different from that in the US. Over here, the cucumbers are not dark green the way they are in the US (I still remember the first time I picked one at the store in the US and looked for the least green, most fat and smooth one only to cut in open and find that it was very seedy and bitter!). They are light green/yellowish green with speckles of dark green. If anyone has any tips on picking cucumbers, whatever variety they are, please leave a comment!

Anyway, I took these two cucumbers home and halved them lengthwise and then sliced these half moons thinly.

slicing cucumbers thinly

Then I sprinkled sugar and salt on the sliced cucumbers.

sprinkling sugar on cucumbers

Tossed it all together with my hands and then added the sliced Thai bird chilies.

scraping seeds off chiles

Lastly I squeezed the juice of one lemon on the salad.

squeezing lemon juice on cucumbers

At that point, I tossed it with a spoon (never a good idea to use your hands when you’re working with hot peppers—might come back to bite you when you accidently rub your eyes!) and let it sit for an hour in the fridge. At that point, the salad released quite a bit of water. You can choose to drain the water, or just scoop out the cucumber leaving the juices behind. Et voila! A nice, cool salad to enjoy with almost anything Asian with a little spicy zing at the end.

So simple it seems silly to write the recipe down but here it is:

Sweet and Spicy Cucumber Salad

Ingredients:
2 medium cucumbers, halved lengthwise then sliced thinly
2 Tbsp sugar
1 Tsp salt
Juice from 1 lemon
2-4 Thai bird chilies, sliced and deseeded.

Method:
1. Sprinkle sugar, salt and lemon juice over sliced cucumber.
2. Add chilies.
3. Toss with a spoon till sugar and lemon juice has coated cucumber slices.
4. Set aside for one hour or more in the refrigerator.
5. Serve and enjoy!

Simple, Sweet and Spicy Cucumber Salad

sweet and spicy cucumber salad

Cheers, Annie

This post was entered into the September 2009 edition of the Think Spice blog event, created by Sunita of Sunita’s World and hosted by Kitchen Chronicles.

Hungry for more simple recipes? Click below:

Corned Beef, Carrots and Colcannon Recipe

Quick and Easy Pasta With Light Cream Sauce Recipe

Sweet and Sour Fried Fish Recipe

Steamed Egg Tofu with Ground Pork and Shrimp

Continue Reading: "Simple, Sweet and Spicy Cucumber Salad"...

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Ramadhan Bazaar Dinner

I really didn’t feel like cooking last Thursday. It was one of those days when I just felt lethargic, and didn’t have any mood to do much. The day had started with rain and then more rain. The whole morning was dark and gloomy and by the time the sun deemed to peek out, it was already mid-afternoon. Somehow the weather just made me feel very unproductive. Or maybe it’s that one-month mark of being here…feeling not quite like this is home, missing California and feeling somewhat homesick (which is strange because I am Malaysian after all).

So when it came time to prepare dinner, I just didn’t have any energy to do it. I called Nate at work and told him that we’d have to eat out and get some food to go. He tried to convince me that we had enough food at home to make something and maybe we could just pick up a roast chicken or something to go with it. I tentatively agreed but I still wasn’t really feeling it. I was just not wanting to cook anything at all.

Then, it struck me. In all the chaffeuring I had been doing sending Nate to and from work, I passed by this Ramadhan Bazaar at Stutong Market almost every weekday. And almost everytime we passed it on the way home, I would say to Nate, “we should stop by one day and pick up dinner from here before the Ramadhan (fasting) month is over.” And by Thursday, the fasting month was quickly coming to a close; Aidil Fitri would be celebrated on Sunday. So I called Nate back and said, “let’s go to the Ramadhan Bazaar and pick up some dinner there instead!” He thought it was a great idea and so that was where we headed after work.

Ramadhan Bazaar at Stutong Market, Kuching

stutong ramadan bazaar

For those of you who were wondering what makes the Ramadhan month special in Malaysia, it’s the one month of the year when stalls pop up all over various neighborhoods in the evenings selling food and drinks to all the Muslims (and other opportunistic foodies like me) who were getting ready to break their daylong fast. Various dishes, appetizers, cakes, sweets and drinks are sold that sometimes would not be easily found at other times of the year.

This is actually the second time we had gone to a Ramadhan food center. The first was at the Satok Market that we had talked about in an earlier post. But we had gone there after walking the regular night market and we did not enjoy that experience as it was really crowded and we were already tired from all that walking. Plus, we had not planned to get our dinner at that market when we went.

This time, it was an intentional decision: we were looking for dinner. So when we walked in, I must say I was a little disappointed. Many of the stalls were empty (I think this was because Aidil Fitri was almost on us and some of the vendors had already packed up to go back to their hometowns to celebrate). The rest of the stalls were selling similar items: roti stalls selling murtabak (meat filled roti) and other rotis; stalls selling homemade dishes like curries and stews eaten with rice; and lots of stalls selling drinks.

Looking Back

But really, where was the variety? The excitement? The kuihs, cakes, desserts, finger foods, etc? As we continued walking, I had a sinking feeling that this was going to be a bust. I told Nate about how my Ramadhan experiences used to be in Kuala Lumpur. So many, many years ago when I lived in KL, Ramadhan was such an exciting time because I got to have all these different kuihs, finger foods, and ayam percik! Ayam percik was an East Coast specialty that was most easily found during this time. It was a grilled chicken that was basted with a coconut-based spicy sauce as it grilled and the flavor was just phenomenal (I guess I’ll have to attempt making it myself). After being away from Malaysia for more than 10 years, I was really looking forward to eating this again. Alas, Kuching is not KL and there was no ayam percik to be found at this Ramadhan bazaar.

Just as I was about to tell Nate we would have to go somewhere else for dinner, we came to the end of the row and saw lots of smoke rising. Ah…here was where all the grilled foods were being cooked and sold. No, we didn’t find ayam percik but we did find satay and also lots of grilled fish. We bought 10 sticks of chicken satay along with ketupat—rice cooked in a woven coconut packet. And we also got two fish—ikan pari (skate) and ikan sardin (though this translates to sardine, both Nate and I think it’s mackerel but we’re not 100% sure—where’s Pat the fishmonger when we need him!).

Chicken Satay with Ketupat

chicken satay and ketupat C

We took our dinner home and dug into the satay first. We immediately regretted not buying more. The satay sauce was really good and the ketupat had absorbed a smoky, nutty flavor from the coconut leaves. It was delicious! 10 sticks between the four of us meant the kids would only get two sticks each. Daniel calculated it out. “We should have gotten 8 to be fair.” Nate said, “no, we should have gotten 20!

Ikan Pari – Grilled Skate Wing

ikan pari grilled skate wing

Then we turned our attention to the fish. Let me tell you, these were really fresh fish. The meat of the skate was sweet, light and tender. Perfectly grilled and served alongside a sambal sauce and calamansi limes, they were wonderful! My kids kept on eating (without the sambal) and asking for more. I think Skate is one of those fish that is so kid-friendly because there are no real bones. There is only a middle cartilage which is easy to avoid. When skate is this fresh, it is just heaven.

Grilled Mackerel

grilled mackerel

The mackerel was just as fresh. It definitely had a stronger fishy flavor but again, it was so fresh that Nate and I tore into it and even though we gave some to the kids, we ended up eating most of it. And this fish was paired with a different sauce—it was a sweet soy-based sauce with grated onions and some chillies. That sauce partnered so well with the stronger fish flavor and it was so addictive that when we finished the fish, I caught Nate staring at the leftover sauce and I cracked up because I could tell he was contemplating drinking up the sauce!

Looking Forward

We were very tempted after we had finished dinner to go back the next day just to get more fish. So even though I didn’t find the things I remembered from my past, I found that there were other things that I never used to get that were just as fabulous. It makes sense I guess that they had good fish, after all Kuching is a coastal town and is known for its seafood.

I wish now that we had gone to that market earlier in the fasting month. Today is the last day and tomorrow we celebrate the end of that month. There will be other feasting opportunities now that we come to the Aidil Fitri and hopefully we will get to blog about that too. Regretfully, we won’t see those canopies heralding the month-long time of fasting and feasting till the next year when the Muslims have their month of fasting again.

For me, this month has been like going through a fast of sorts. I’ve been missing our friends in California, our church, the familiarity of my everyday life, the foods, the kitchen, the Bay Area culture and lifestyle. It’s been uncomfortable and sometimes unfamiliar and frustrating. I’ve had pangs of loneliness and emptiness.

But I’ve also made it through a month. And with a lot to be thankful for, I can now see the promise of potential, the beginning of different, exciting experiences. Who knows what other fish we will find when expecting chicken? What new finds to share, to enjoy and reclaim as my country woos me again?

I can’t wait to share them with you as I experience them myself.

Cheers, Annie

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Hungry for more celebration food? Click below:

Homemade Malaysian Pineapple Tarts, Part 1

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Continue Reading: "Ramadhan Bazaar Dinner"...

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Kuching Food Blogger Meetup @ My Restaurant (Sama Jaya)

We’ve said before that one of the things that most impresses us about Kuching is the hospitality of its people. Wherever we go in our new home, we find that Kuchingites are welcoming, open, and so very helpful. So we were excited to be contacted by Mike of the excellent Kong-Kay food blog in Kuching. He invited us to dinner at “My Restaurant”, one of the best Western-food restaurants in Kuching.

My Restaurant, Kuching

my restaurant kuching

Setting it Up

We love getting together with food bloggers. We thoroughly enjoyed getting together with Carolyn of FoodGal and Michael of Cooking for Engineers at our Chinese New Year Hot Pot dinner and also our Ultimate Rib Showdown. Sharing a meal with other people passionate about food just energizes us.

I first found the Kong-Kay blog when I was searching on FoodBuzz for Malaysian food bloggers. His site stood out to me because of his great photographs, his writing, and the overall design. When we found out we were coming to Kuching, I hoped we would be getting to know this blogger behind Kong-Kay, because he knew a lot about where to eat out in Kuching.

Mike read about our coming to Kuching through Babe in the City KL’s recent “My Sweet Malaysia” roundup. When he contacted us and invited us to dinner, I asked if he knew any other Kuching food bloggers that might want to join us. Mike sent an email out to Borneo Boy, the blogger behind CW’s Food and Travel Blog. Borneo Boy responded that he could also make it to My Restaurant. We were set to go!

Ready, Set, Meet and Eat!

Judging by the number of posts about My Restaurant on Kong-Kay, you can tell that Mike really likes this restaurant. Once we had the date and time set, Mike called ahead and spoke with Walter, the chef-owner of My Restaurant, to let him know we were coming and to pre-order some of his best dishes. This gave Walter time to plan the dishes, source the ingredients (he buys his pork from a butcher at nearby Stutong Community Market), and prepare our meal. So when we sat down to the table, there was no waiting – our food was ready to come out of the kitchen!

The specialty at My Restaurant is pork. Pork may not be a big thing in Muslim-majority West Malaysia. But here in Sarawak, where there are less Muslims, there is a greater percentage of pork-eaters among the population. Usually, though, it is prepared in the Chinese way: roasted or braised.

Walter is Austrian, and so his pork preparations are decidedly Western influenced. He used to run the restaurants at the Holiday Inn in the Kuching resort area of Damai Beach. He’d been cooking all over the world before that, but once he came to Malaysia, he stayed. He and his wife Angela opened My Restaurant about four years ago.

We arrived a bit late for our reservation, but the restaurant wasn’t too busy when we got there. Mike, his wife Lyn and son Seth were waiting for us. We made our introductions, then sat down. A few minutes later, Chee Wee (Borneo Boy) walked in and joined us.

Roasted Pork Spareribs at My Restaurant, Kuching

roasted pork ribs-my restaurant Kuching

The first plate to hit our table was these pork spareribs. I thought I’d never see meaty spares here in Kuching; every pork vendor I saw at the markets carried ribs that were stripped of almost all their meat – good for making soup. These ribs were meaty and nicely flavored. Walter said that he roasted them first for 45 minutes, then finished them on the grill before plating them up and laying some house-made barbecue sauce on them.

Spicy and Mild House-Made Pork Sausages at My Restaurant, Kuching

house-made sausages-my restaurant kuching

Walter also served up some of his house-made spicy and mild pork sausages. Here in Malaysia, most sausages are made from chicken. They can be dry and mealy, with little flavor besides salt and pepper. These sausages were the bomb – juicy and flavorful with different spices and herbs. I only got to sample one piece, but Daniel gobbled down three!

Roasted Pork Knuckle at My Restaurant, Kuching

roasted pork knuckle-my restaurant

The best dish of the night was this roasted pork knuckle. The crispy, crackling skin and the perfectly cooked pork with just the right amount of fat was heavenly. Drizzled with some mushroom cream sauce, this pork knuckle was truly divine. No wonder it’s a favorite dish at the restaurant.

Not all of our dishes were pork. Walter served us a delicious Caesar salad with real bacon and house-made Caesar dressing that Annie couldn’t get enough of. He also served us a lovely sauerkraut with bacon that I really enjoyed. And an awesome roasted lamb shank with black pepper sauce – fantastic.

It’s People Too

Over the course of dinner, we got to know each other better and build connections. Mike is an interior designer by trade, while CW is an architect who likes to travel. I was surprised that they hadn’t met before, seeing as the Kuching food blogger community is smaller than the bigger cities. But they still had a connection through Mike’s son who is studying architecture. And I had a connection to CW because he designed the exhibition area in the lobby of my workplace.

Of course, we also talked about blogging: why and how we started, why we’re doing it, what we’re doing to make our blogs better. It was an enlightening and encouraging conversation, one that I hope will continue! We all exchanged contact information at the end of dinner, with plans started to meet up again, and hopefully with more Kuching food bloggers.

Thank you so much, Mike, for inviting us, organizing dinner, and making us feel so welcome. Thank you, CW, for your openness and willingness to share your love and knowledge of Kuching food. And thank you, Walter, for an excellent meal. We will be back for sure!

CW, Annie, Nate, Walter, Mike, Lyn

borneo boy annie nate walter kong-kay lyn

My Restaurant
Lot 13186 &13187
Samajaya Commercial Centre
(at the intersection of Jalan Setia Raja and Jalan Usaha Jaya)
Kuching 93350

Tel:082-361588

Open Tues – Sat for Lunch (11-2) and Dinner (6-10)
Sunday for Dinner only

(reservations recommended, especially for weekends and holidays)

So, calling all Kuching food bloggers (especially FoodBuzz Featured Publishers)! We’d love to meet up! Doesn’t have to be fancy Western food like My Restaurant, it can be just some good Sarawak Laksa or Kolo Mee.  Leave a comment here or email us through our Contact link!

Hungry for more food blogger meetups? Click below:

Chinese New Year Cioppino Hot Pot Dinner

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Sunday, September 13, 2009

How to Use a Combi Oven

Have you seen this oven (or something similar?)

Toshiba Combination Microwave Convection Oven

Toshiba combination microwave convection oven

When we moved into our house in Kuching, we found that it was completely furnished. The owner had moved out with the intention that she might possibly move back in, so she left all the furniture, and all the pots, pans, dishes, glasses and cutlery. She also left the fridge, the washing machine, the rice pot, and this combination microwave convection oven.

Huh? Wuzzat?

Readers of this blog know that Annie loves to use the oven. Back in San Jose, we had an electric range with a large oven underneath. With it, she could bake scones and layer cakes, roast lamb shanks, braise chicken, broil salmon collars…the list goes on. (Just check out all the items under the “Baked” category on the sidebar!)

In our kitchen here in Kuching, the house does not come with a built-in oven. It only has a gas stove (two burners) and this countertop combination microwave / convection oven. We plugged it in, and found that it still turned on. (Of course, there was no instruction manual to be found)

We managed to figure out the microwave part of it and have used it to reheat our leftover food. But what has us stumped is the convection oven part.

Toshiba Combi Microwave / Convection Oven

Toshiba Combination Microwave Convection Oven panel

How exactly does “Combi” work? Why are there Convec.1 and Convec. 2 settings? Can we actually use this to cook some of our favorite oven recipes? Is it even worth keeping?

Toshiba Combi Microwave Convection Oven

IMG_9256

All these questions, but no one we’ve asked here in Kuching has offered a straight answer.

Help!

So we need some help from you, dear reader. Can you tell us how to work this combination microwave convection oven? Please, leave a comment!

If you don’t know, maybe someone you know has the answer. Would you Stumble, Tweet, or share this post on Facebook or any online forum you are active on?

Bookmark and Share

‘Cause we really want to get baking again.

Aloha, Nate and Annie.

I’m sure people out there can help us get baking again, and once we do, we’ll continue posting our baking recipes. Don’t miss a thing! So subscribe to our blog now to receive all our latest posts to your RSS reader or to your Inbox!

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Thursday, September 10, 2009

Visit to Kuching’s Satok Market

Delia, a commenter on our post “Visit to a Kuching Pasar Malam” , suggested that we visit the Satok Market to see more varieties of food there. The Satok Market is the largest open market in Kuching, and is a major attraction for locals and tourists. Imagine this: you have blocks and blocks of shophouses in one district of the city. In between those blocks are parking spaces and roads. Now imagine that every weekend, all the parking spaces and roads are covered over with tarps and canopies, and vendors from all over Sarawak come to sell their wares.

Satok Market from the Footbridge

Satok Market from the footbridge

Even though the Satok Market is popularly known as the Sunday Market, it actually starts up on Saturday afternoon, runs all night, and shuts down on Sunday afternoon. Annie and I decided to go to see the Satok Market this past Saturday afternoon, shop a little, and pick up dinner from the Ramadan bazaar that was also being held at the market.

We drove toward the Waterfront district, turned in at Jalan Satok, and parked near the Wisma Satok mall. There’s a footbridge going from the mall over Jalan Satok to the actual market site. From there you can see just a small portion of the market, covered by canopies. Underneath the canopies, you will find vendors selling all manner of items. You can find clothes, shoes, toys, plants, kitchenware, books, magazines, and other household necessities.

Satok Market Under the Canopies

Satok Market under the canopies

There was a cacophony of voices as the vendors called out, hawking their wares. We were undeterred. We were here for the food.

Just as at the pasar malam, you can find all kinds of fruits imported from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, even the US. But nothing compares in freshness and quality like local fruits. These small bananas (pictured below) are small enough that you could probably eat the whole thing in one bite. But they have a pleasant, almost green apple tartness to them. We picked up a couple of bunches.

bananas

Another local fruit that we picked up was these jambu air or water apples. They are similar to the mountain apples I used to eat as a kid in Hawai’i. The sweetness of these water apples is muted, but the interesting thing is, there is no seed inside!

Jambu Air (Water Apple) Vendor

water apple vendor

There was a large section of the market devoted to fresh meat and fresh fish. Here and there you would also find a vendor displaying bags and bags of dried anchovies, shrimp, and other fishes. I never knew there were so many varieties of dried anchovies. Next time, I’m going to have to get some to make the sambal ikan bilis that will go along with our nasi lemak.

Bags of Ikan Bilis (Dried Anchovies)

bags of dried anchovies

We found lots of fresh turmeric root, large chili peppers, and petai (stinky beans) for sale. I like how the vendors lay everything out neatly piled on plates with their prices clearly marked. The freshness and quality (tomatoes notwithstanding) were as good as the best supermarkets in town, but half the prices.

turmeric, tomatoes, chiles, long beans, petai

As dusk approached, we made our way to the Ramadan Bazaar to pick up dinner. During Ramadan, observant Muslims fast from eating and drinking from sunup to sundown. You can imagine how hungry people must be by the end of the day. At the bazaar, you will find not just Malay food but halal foods from many other cultures, even Chinese!

The bazaar was crowded with folks buying food to take home for buka puasa – breaking fast. Take dozens of food vendors all boiling, frying, steaming and grilling, mix hundreds of people packed under heavy canopies, add tropical heat and humidity and what do you have? Instant sauna. We picked up our food and got out of there as quick as we could.

On the way back out of the market, we stopped at a stall where they were grilling chickens over a hot charcoal fire. The cook held skewers of butterflied chickens over the coals, letting the fat drip down and the flames singe the skin for some great charred flavor. Every so often, he would baste the birds with his special sauce, kept in a large can on the side of his grill. The aroma was impossible to resist.

Grilling chicken

As we departed the Satok Market and headed back over the footbridge, we saw rows of food stalls and tables running off into the distance. At each table was a family, but no one was eating yet. Everyone was waiting for the evening call to prayer, which signals the end of the day and the time to break the fast. I can admire their willpower in the face of such a diversity of food available.

Waiting for the call to break fast

There’s a lot more of Satok Market that I haven’t shared in this post. So many sights, smells and sounds remain to be told. But I suppose if I tried to do so, this post would be 4 times as long! So I condensed the images into this slideshow on YouTube.

Enjoy!

Visit to Satok Market

Aloha, Nate

Want to read more about our adventure in our new home of Kuching, Sarawak?  Subscribe to our blog and receive all our latest posts to your RSS reader or to your Inbox!

Hungry for more Kuching discoveries? Click below:

Welcome to Kuching

Visit to a Kuching Pasar Malam (Night Market)

What to do With a Pandan Plant

Cooking with Leafy Midin (Fiddlehead Fern)

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