Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Foochow breakfast in Mui Shun Coffee Shop

I have not been able to get a photo of some one playing Erhu in Sibu, specifically in a coffee shop. So I found inspiring photo of Wong Lee Hom playing erhu. I find him a very amazing musician even at my age. So it is fun just to help him advertise here a bit. In my younger days I would have put this poster in my office. However, the point is I do wish he can play his erhu in Sibu and perhaps join the old folks in Mui Shun Coffee Shop.

Mui Shun is a coffee shop that must have existed since 1903, or at least since 1928 after the fire of Sibu, when the whole Sibu town was rebuilt with concrete and steel. It is situated on Channel Road and faces the Sibu Express Jetty. You cannot miss it because it is at the corner of Island Road and Channel Road. It can be considered the busiest corner of Sibu, especially during the 60's.

The coffee shop has another beautiful feature - in the evenings, the Foochow orchestra of Er Hu and other instruments would be practising even while people began to go home for their evening rest. Mr. Wong Nieng Siing was the leader of this Foochow musical orchestra at that time. Perhaps they were the only ones who kept Foochow music alive.

Many people would associate eating you char kueh with soy bean milk, with this coffee shop.

You Char Kueh has an unusual story behind its existence. This popular breakfast food, for as long as I can remember, first became known to me in Mui Shiin in Sibu and the towkay made good ones in the days of my youth. The night market stall owners came much later. But then, I am not very sure, after so many years, who was the one who introduced You Char Kueh to Sibu. That would be a great find indeed.

So whenever you are in Sibu, go to Mui Shiin Coffee shop and order a nice cup of coffee and watch the people go by.

Perhaps today, you might not be able to buy you char kueh directly in the shop. But you can get other breakfast items.

Below is the story of you char kueh:

You Tiao and You Zha Gui - Deep-fried Ghost came from China, naturally. You Tiao, or You Zha Gui (deep-fried ghost), the Chinese deep-fried breadstick stuck in pairs, is such a common breakfast for hundreds of years. Often eaten with hot soya milk or plain rice porridge (some call it congee) in the morning, it is also used to complement Bak Kut Teh (pork rib in herbal soup) and all sorts of rice porridge such as chicken porridge.

What’s interesting is, the breadstick gained its intriguing name from a rather heavy and serious part of the Chinese history. During the Song Dynasty (960-1279), there was a famous and well-respected General, Yue Fei (岳飛), who had been known for his loyalty towards the kingdom and his Emperor, to the extent of getting the four words: 精 (jing - utmost) 忠 (zhong - loyal) 報 (bao - serve) 國 (guo –country) meaning “serving the country with the utmost loyalty”, tattooed on his back by his equally patriotic mother. Yue Fei had fought hard to protect the kingdom, against the outer invasions particularly the Jin Dynasty (or the Kingdom of Jin: 金國).

However, the Prime Minister of the time, Qin Gui (秦檜) had unusually resented Yue Fei for some, or no reason. With the manipulative influence from his wife and to gain real power, he accused Yue Fei of a crime “Mo Xu You” (莫須有: could be or could be not guilty, but not necessarily innocent) and executed him.

Although frustrated, there was nothing the public civilians could do. To relieve his anger, a baker thought of an idea of making bread in the shape of 2 people twisted together and deep-fried it in burning hot oil. The shape was to signify Qin Gui and his wife, and this fried bread was named “You Zha Gui”, meaning deep-fried ghost, because the word ghost in Chinese is pronounced the same as “Gui” in Qin Gui’s name; and in the public’s eye, they surely were as bad as ghosts. Symbolically, they had burnt the Qin Gui couple in hot oil and eaten them up.

Through the years, You Zha Gui has been given another name as You Tiao (plainly means deep-fried breadstick), and its shape has also been much simplified to what we see today. This is however, just what we’ve learned in primary school history, and a small extract from the much more complicated Song history (which is good enough for You Tiao). To know more about the Song Dynasty and the detailed biography of Yue Fei, a library that stock academic books on Chinese history would be a good place to go.

Crullers are a popular Chinese breakfast item.
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon alum
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon ammonium bicarbonate
7/8 cup water
2 cups all purpose flour
8 cups oil for deep-frying
Place salt, alum, baking soda, and ammonium bicarbonate in a mixing bowl. Add water and stir until thoroughly dissolved. Add flour. Stir with chopsticks to make the dough soft and smooth.

Knead the dough until it is elastic.

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