Friday, September 28, 2007

Pulut Panggang and Life in Kampong Nyabor

Kampong Nyabor ,Kampong Hilir, Kampong Baru and Kampong Dato were the four Malay kampongs in the 50's and 60's Sibu.

My home was located behind Kampong Nyabor and I had a great time growing up amongst the Malays, who were my neighbours. They were at best the real neighbours any one could have at any time. My mother employed Kak (we never know her real name because she was Kak or sister to us all her life) as our washerwoman (BWM - before washing machine). And she too ironed our father's well starched khaki shorts using the charcoal iron (yes, BE - Before electricity).

She had great skills in ironing as she would burn the charcoal first and then fill the iron carefully. And then like a skilled swordswoman she would place the iron on top of the banana leaf to give the iron base a smooth run on the clothes she would iron. To this day I love the smell of the scorched banana leaves and the sourish aroma of the newly ironed well starched cotton shirts and shorts. Today whenever I make some starch for art work, I would think of Kak and her days with us. I continue to use a banana leaf whenever I iron my clothes. The wax from the leaves also cleans the base of the iron .

I liked to see her coming to our house, barefooted on the planks which linked her her house to our house and she would call out, "Nya! Nya!" (My mum was the Nya - short for Nyonya). It was such an endearing term and I cannot get it out of my head.This way of calling out a neighbour is a thing of the past. As today, most people use door bells or the handphone to announce their arrival.

She had the greatest smile I can remember. Besides I always liked her sarong and her nice scarf.Some how young girls dev elop their feminine touch by observing their elders and the more observant they are the more they will learn. Perhaps I asked too many questions too and she used to chase me away..."Go away, I have to iron your father's shirts..." But I did try my best not to get on her nerves. And we would laugh together.

Why she never married, we would never know. But we also noticed that her sister and her brother (Abang Koh) were also not married. Only one of their aunts married and had children and grand children. When Kak and her siblings passed away, they left behind quite a big piece of commercial land which was at the head of the kampong. What happened to the property I would never know now as we lost touch when the younger members of the family moved away to the new kampong as the town elders started to redevelop the kampong land and resited the kampong.

When my father was alive, he and Abang Koh would have their kopi-o in the nearby coffee shop and talk about local politics. And when the Malay Union Club had their Bangsawan my father would bring me and my brother and sisters to play tikam . Father had won some water canisters and glasses in this game of chance. Whether he enjoyed taking us to the local Malay theatre, I would never know.

But I developed a great liking for drama from that little staging of local Malay theatre in the Malay Union Club which was just about 100 metres from my home. It was truly the centre of social life for the Malays at that time.

One other great love of my life was pulut panggang. Pulut panggang was savoury glutinous rice rolled up in banana leaf and grilled over charcoal fire. It is really delicious to a young Chinese girl who had very little other snacks at that time. Today children are spoilt by the array of snacks, tid bits and other food in the supermarkiet. Life in Sibu at that time was slow paced and most of us waited for pedlars, vendors to come by our homes. Some of them walked from house to house, others cycled.

A little Malay boy would come to the house to sell his pulut panggang in the afternoons,carrying all the rolled rice in a little rattan basket covered with a little towel to keep the rice warm. And my mother would always buy some. Sometimes we would bring them to school the next day if we had some left over.

Pulut Panggang made in Sibu is always the best. The right amount of coconut milk... the best of the pulut or glutinous rice is used... and even the banana leaves must be quite special.

I like the lidi (coconut pick) used but not the staples that the more modern Malay cooks use to staple the coconut leaf and seal the rice in the roll.Staple pins can be quite illusive as I have known a lot of people who had swallowed them by mistake. One cannot swallow a lidi by mistake.

This special rolled rice is best cooked over a good open charcoal fire. And without this charcoal fire, pulut panggang will not have the "original" flavour and taste.

Some how , we always long for things of the past. And Pulut Panggang from Kampong Nyabor is still the best in my mind. I believe that many people would say a good name for pulut panggang would be Nyabor Pulut Panggang.

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