Sunday, 31 August 2008

Raw Oyster Alert

This is a follow-up on my post on raw oysters served up by Steamboat Garden. A reader alerted me to the perils of eating raw oysters when she directed me to the website, raw oyster alert . This is what Jennie said:

Check out the website I was shocked to learn that several individuals die each year from the consumption of raw oysters that are contaminated with naturally occurring Vibrio bacteria. Some gulf states have chosen to not take action in order to make raw oysters safe for ALL consumers.

Several years ago, the state of California made a requirement that all imported raw oysters must be pasteurized and since that requirement was put into place there have been NO FURTHER DEATHS in that state.

In order to affect change, consumers need to only accept oysters that are SAFE through post harvest processing or through being cooked. Consumer demand drives the market and the industry would be forced to provide oysters that did not lead to unnecessary deaths.

The website has a wealth of information available and also explains how you can help in making the consumption of oysters safe for everyone.

Friday, 29 August 2008

The Month Of The Hungry Ghosts

The month of the hungry ghosts is nearing its end and the hungry spirits of the netherworld, repleted with food, wine and song will be led through the gates of Hell while the living will have a store of provisions, offerings to the hungry ghosts, to last them for quite some time: canned goods, rice, toilet paper, soap, toothpaste, and every other conceivable articles of use. Even the lowly salt packet is a common item of offerings. That reminds me of the recent news report of a timber tycoon in Sarawak, with concessions of thousands of hectares of timber land, who (to add salt to the wound) gave packets of salt as aid to natives who lost their belongings and longhouses in a fire. That inevitably provoked a national outrage that the company had to apologize and later sent in lorries of food and other supplies. A case of too little, too late.

It is anybody's guess as to how much money is spent in buying hell money, giant joss-sticks to be burnt. It is definitely a thriving industry. Throw in the latest fad in providing the departed souls with paper mansions, plasma tvs, Mercedes Benzes, mobile phones, even laptops, and all the creature comforts of this world, and the wastage is colossal. In the name of preserving Chinese culture, the Chinese burn away millions of dollar every year. How many trees are cut down each year, just to pander to this cultural practice of the by-gone years?

Anyway, the month of August is an eventful one. There was a spate of arrests of high profile people over corruption: the arrest of the Director and Deputy Director General of Immigration for kickbacks for fast-track approvals of foreign workers, the continuing saga of Anwar Ibrahim and his accuser, Saiful, the victim who alleged that he was sodomized, the vociferous disruption by self-proclaimed champions of Islam of the Bar Council of Malaysia's forum on the attendant problems that come with the conversion of a spouse to Islam , Mara University College of Technology students staging a mass protest against the Selangor Chief Minister's suggestion to open up the university to non-Malay students by a mere 10%, the arrest of many officers in PUSPAKOM, centres for the inspection of road-worthiness of motor-vehicles, for corruption, and of course the latest by-election at Permatang Pauh, where Anwar Ibrahim won a thumping victory, despite the sodomy charge hanging over his head. There is even an attempt by religious hardliners to prevent the Canadian singer, Avril Lavigne from performing.

While on the international front, the Beijing Olympics kept everybody glued to their TVs; China displayed her superb organizational skills and flexed her athletic muscles; Phelps won a historic 8 gold medals, Bolt, the lightning achieved a triple first, and minion Malaysia could only manage a silver. It is hard to understand that small countries like Jamaica and Trinidad with small populations could achieve so much. It would do well for us to focus on sports that could win us medals instead of spreading our limited resources to train athletes that have little hope of winning. We have pumped millions into sports schools all over the country and yet we have not been able to nurture talents that can compete at international level. What is happening?

Fruit Codes

I was buying some apples when I stumbled upon stickers on some apples that got me puzzled; it used to be that fruits, particularly imported ones carry labels or stickers of their producers. However, this time I noticed some numbers on the label. A google search revealed that these numbers are codes assigned to the ways fruits are grown.

Here is the info:

  • Conventional fruit labels: 4 digits and does not start with 9. They start mostly with the digit 4. The apple above is one conventionally grown with herbicides and fertilizers
  • Organic fruit labels: five digits and start with the number 9, say for example 99222
  • Genetically modified fruit: starts with the number 8, say for example 89222.
So, folks check your labels when you buy your fruits.

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Steamboat Garden Huitre

Did you know that the Steamboat Garden at Minyak Beku has three VIP rooms for guests who prefer some privacy? The air-conditioned rooms, which can comfortably accommodate 10 people while one can take in 20 diners, are equipped with karaoke facilities so diners could only embarrass each other with their lack of singing ability.

Apart from the usual dishes that go with the steamboat, the restaurant also serves 'huitre' or fresh oysters at RM 6.00 a piece. I for one have never been into eating raw food, including sashimi, but obviously many would swear by their deliciousness. I watched fascinated as John Tan, biting and chewing the oyster with obvious relish, proclaimed in between mouthfuls, the excellent health promoting properties of raw oysters in boosting the libido. He proceeded happily to help himself to another when I refused to be drawn into taking my share.

Huitre or oyster at Rm 6.00 a piece

My share which John later 'appropriated'

The usual prawns, pig liver and kidney, and a kind of shell fish. The white bowl on the left contains crispy fried pork fat for the soup

The popular white pomfret and scallops

Shell fish and pig kidney and liver

The steamboat laden with vegetables, tofu and sweet corn

Monday, 25 August 2008

Beijing Olympics 2008

Some spectacular and enduring images of the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony. It would be hard for London, the host of the next Olympics, to upstage what the Chinese have orchestrated for the opening and closing ceremonies. Well, I don't think they missed the services of Steven Spielberg. By far, the most expensive Olympics (some US43 billion spent) and most viewed, it also signals the arrival of China, not only as an economic but also a sports powerhouse. But what of all those expensive stadia and venues that normally would become white elephants after the Games. Well, according to one report, there is no danger of that with Beijing home to 17 million people. Many of the venues were also built in universities ensuring that they will be fully used. A substantial part of the expenditure went into building infra-structures that would make Beijing a modern metropolis. Money well-spent according to most analysts.

It is going to be a difficult task for the London Olympics Committee to put up a good show, but who knows?

Sunday, 24 August 2008

Myanmar, The Forgotten Land

Mention of Myanmar, and I think of her opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, the crackdown on anti-government protests led by monks, the recent catastrophe inflicted by cyclone Nargis that left an estimated 100,000 dead or missing. Bloated bodies and carcasses in rivers and flooded padi fields. Generals that sold rice to other countries in the wake of the catastrophe and fed her people with rice rotted by the floods. A country that cuts her people off from the rest of the world to insulate them from economic 'imperialism' and cultural pollution particularly that of the West. A forgotten people.

Until last night, when I went to the Dragon Food Court where two Myanmarese work in the day time and serve as guards at night, sleeping in the restaurant under mosquito nets.

There we were sitting and talking in the empty restaurant when one of them, wearing his sarung put on a vcd on Myanmar popular music. Was I surprised. They are not as insulated as we would like to think. They are like youth the world over, modern, fun loving, vibrant, and how they love the rappers. It came as a surprise that the military government allows large-scale concerts to be held in enclosed premises as well as in the open. On second thought however, it would seem politically astute on its part to provide a safety valve for young people to let off steam. Not only were rapping popular; Chinese songs sung in the Myanmar language seem to be popular too, for instance "Xing Tai Luan" and "Wang Le Wo Si Shui", an indication of the influence China has long exerted on the country. English songs were sung too, in the Myanmar language. I heard one "When You Say Nothing At All" by Ronan Keating.

Truly, music is the universal language that they can relate to; it is the salve of the soul, a temporary respite, for a people that have lived a life of poverty, deprivation and isolation.

Saturday, 23 August 2008

Chia Xiang Restaurant

Remember Chia Xiang, the restaurant famed for its crab porridge, at Jalan Tanjung Labuh, a few metres from the one and only roundabout ? Well, it has moved to a bigger premise about a year ago. It is now at Jalan Sultanah, near the junction of Jalan Sultanah and Jalan Zabedah, opposite the road leading to Landmark Hotel. The restaurant has a spacious open-air section that most people prefer. At night, eating there is comfortable because it is airy unlike some stuffy restaurants.

It seems when times are bad, people still spend lavishly on food; rather it is a kind of madness that makes them spend even more. Maybe it is too strong a word to use, but it seems to me that they are obscenely unconcerned about how bad the economy is, that they should spend judiciously.

A couple of nights ago, I went there for some crab porridge (by invitation obviously, as I couldn't afford to feast on crabs, oysters and cray fish on my inadequate pension) and I can tell the bill came to be pretty heavy on the wallet.

Anyway, it was not only dining, but the wining too, as we had a 12 year one litre Old Parr whiskey to go with the food in addition to some beer which one of our friends preferred . I have made it a point not to step out of the house for the next few days just to avoid being invited. How long can you continue to eat without paying? It has become embarrassing to say the least although they keep assuring me that companionship is most important. I would sometimes go late explaining that I have to accompany my mom for dinner; thus skipping the food although being good friends that they are, they would continue to press me to eat something, which I would "reluctantly" do just to give them face. As far as the Chinese are concerned, 'face' is one commodity that cannot be compromised.

Fried battered eggs with oysters

Steamed crabs

Baked crabs

Cray fish fried in dried chili and spring onions and onions

Sorry, no picture of the crab porridge as I was late.

Friday, 22 August 2008

Batu Pahat Ferry Terminal

I had expected that the new ferry at Minyak Beku terminal would be busily transporting Batu Pahat male residents to Tanjung Balai, Indonesia to enjoy the flourishing flesh trade on that island. It is common knowledge that many males from Batu Pahat would drive to Kukup, Pontian to catch the ferry to Tanjung Balai. The developer of the Batu Pahat ferry terminal must have also thought of tapping into that market when the idea of a terminal was first mooted. However, the developer did not envisage that these horny males were a finicky bunch, preferring the safer option of leaving their vehicles at Kukup to avoid detection. The ferry service between Batu Pahat and Tanjung Balai has been aborted for lack of passengers. Now the ferry provides pleasure cruise to nowhere for a fee.

The completed chain of chalets remain empty of occupants. It is inconceivable that people would check into these chalets as there is little guests can do by way of recreation.

The covered jetty

The ferry

The ticketing office

The partially paved beach front

The empty chalets

A factory under construction

A seafood restaurant, inexplicably named "Kingdom"

The interior of the restaurant

Karaoke facility at the restaurant