FOR 21 days, the Tanjung Sepat community comes alive to welcome the ''gods'' visiting their sleepy fishing village along the coastline south of Banting, Selangor. The annual Tie Dai Yuan Shuai or known as the Iron General's birthday falls early April when it is celebrated with feasts and firecrackers, offerings and operas. As the deity is believed to have invited his other deity friends to attend, the villagers come seeking favours, blessings and warding off evil spells. They believe the eerie howling of wind throughout this time is the spirits coming together. Incense perfume the air day and night from the hundreds of 3m-tall red joss sticks brought by the villagers that symbolise brighter days ahead. Platters of peaches, plums and oranges are heaped upon the altar where villagers make their offerings. Early in the mornings, a chosen male villager goes into a trance (tiu tong in Cantonese) to allow the deity to ''enter'' his body and he then blesses believers and casts away evil spells from them. This year's chosen one is known as Ah Sim, a pig farmer. ''I've been very ill for over two years until a medium told me I was taking over his place to host the deity,'' said the soft-spoken Ah Sim, 30. ''It's not my choice, but I haven't been ill since.'' Comes nightfall, the Tze Ying Teochew Chinese opera troupe entertains the crowd with its dazzling visages, elaborate gowns and theatrical tales of treason, fighting and acrobatics. Clashing cymbals, gongs and drums accompany its moves. The opera shows attract mainly elderly folk who turn out even when it's drizzling. The younger people wait until the last three days when a modern song and dance group performs. ''It's all we have to enjoy every year,'' says villager Wong Sein Fong, 57, who has attended the festival for the past 40 years
"The lure of Tanjung Sepat is in our seafood, which is cooked just about any way you want it," said seafood supplier Kenny Chen. "Local fishes are sweet and tasty, even just by simply steaming them with ginger and spring onions. The fishes served here are fresh and of good quality." Indeed, fish and crustaceans are found in all dishes served at home and in restaurants – seafood porridge, seafood bak kut teh, seafood nasi lemak, seafood Maggi Mee and, most recently, seafood steamboat are available. Visitors do not return home with merely stuffed bellies, but would take with them Tanjung Sepat delicacies such as fishballs, fried bean curd, locally grown and roasted coffee beans or powder, Chinese buns (pau), tapioca chips, longan fruit, bottled Lingzhi drinks and fresh mushrooms. Chen’s stall in the local market offers one of the widest varieties of harvest from the sea. Some city visitors would even buy up to RM500 worth of seafood home to be slowly savoured over a month. Nobody goes hungry in Tanjung Sepat as the writer had discovered. 8am Now this is the place to rise and shine to the faithful call of crowing roosters. Breakfast choices abound. Abu’s Kopitiam, a ramshackle shed tucked beside the main road and school offers kampong (village) chicken eggs prepared half-boiled and eaten with a sprinkle of thick black soy sauce and pepper. Packets of fragrant Nasi Lemak still warm and wrapped in banana leaves are popular. Seafood Bak Kut Teh is solely for those with a stomach for heavy, meaty meals in the mornings. Locals favour Ah Heng’s place fronting the old, unused cinema along Jalan Besar. 10am Mid-morning hunger pangs can be settled with a plate of gooey, messy but tasty Indian Rojak Mee from the old Rahman’s eatery tucked in the corner of Jalan Besar behind the police station. The outlet is little more than a corner carved out of a row of wooden shop houses shaded by a mango tree. However, it is famous for its thick, creamy peanut sauce poured over cubes of tofu, cucuk udang (prawn cakes) and shredded cucumber. A fried egg is tossed over the sauce where the yellow yolk flows out to add a salty flavour to the sweet sauce. 1pm Several shops sell delicious Seafood Maggi Mee. A good choice is Lo Ying just across the market. It offers delectable Seafood Maggi Mee topped with a variety of fish slices, prawns, squid, cockles, la-la. Even early in the morning, you will find families tucking into steamed rice served with lots of hot Seafood Tofu Soup and Ginger La-La. 3pm Have you ever heard of a pau (steamed Chinese buns) seller who restricts customers to just buying two at a time? At the Hai Yew Heng outlet, buns are so popular that a limit is imposed on customers so that every buyer gets to take some home. "During weekends and festivals, up to 50 tour buses would stop here; how can we fulfill all the visitors’ demands unless we limit purchases?" said Lee Chin Teck, 62, who inherited the business from his father. Lee produces Hainanese styled pau, which are large and flat and the fillings are still handmade. The pork comes from the nearby pig farms, while the kaya is made from local chicken eggs and coconuts harvested from the orchards. In the early 1990s, Lee made just 100 buns a day. Now, thanks to modern mixers, he can produce over a thousand buns daily. The dough is still manually flattened and filled with red bean, kaya, peanut, Sang Yuk (pork meat) or Mui Choy Chi Yuk (salted vegetables and pork). The buns are steamed by 1pm and often snapped up by 5pm. The buns are fragrant and fluffy, but locals said the buns were even tastier in the old days when the hot gravy spews out with each bite. In the 1960s, a Pork Meat Bun cost 25sen. Now, prices run from 80sen to RM1.50 for the large Meat Buns. 4pm A cup of steaming hot local Hainanese coffee is ideal to get by a sleepy afternoon. One could smell the aroma of coffee beans roasting before one reaches the narrow lane of Lorong 5. "I hope to establish Tanjung Sepat’s very own brand of local kopi that is prized for its wonderful aroma and full-bodied flavour," said coffee producer Lim Seng Peng. Lim sources his coffee beans from the Malay farmers near the village. The beans are of the Robusta variety that grows on the lowlands. Lee’s coffee production process is fascinating, as his machinery dates back to 60 years ago. Sacks of newly-picked coffee beans in vibrant reds and greens are cracked open and sun-dried, spread across the ground for several days. Then Lim would roast the coffee beans over four hours with sugar and margarine till they are dark brown. This is the most important step, as proper roasting draws out the fragrance. The result is a remarkably aromatic coffee with a potent flavour of bitter and "golden" tastes. The brew can be savoured in most of the village restaurants today, including Hai Yew Heng pau shop, Baywatch and Arowana retail outlet. 7pm Twilight at Tanjung Sepat is a magical moment. As the sky and sea merge in a blazing finale of reds and orange to end a day, dinner calls. Several seafood restaurants line the coast where they offer fresh seafood with scenery. Leading the pack is the village favourite Ocen Restaurant, which is perched on stilts overlooking the ocean just beside the local landmark of Lover’s Bridge. Many families occupy the tables here for hours for daily dinners to birthdays and babies’ full moon parties. The restaurant serves a fantastic variety of food, from perfectly crispy Deep Fried Squid (RM9), and Curried Shark (RM9) to Claypot Seafood Tofu (RM10) and Seafood Curry. Of course, prices also depend on the choice of seafood. Even the humble Fried Oyster is prepared in grand style here. A huge mound of tiny, juicy oysters is poured over the fried egg and batter base. It is priced at only RM13. It is a huge difference to the ones we are accustomed to in the city where the eggs and oysters are fried together, and the number of shellfish can be counted with your fingers. Over in the more obscure Restoran Batu Laut 10 minutes away from the village, the cooks here are famous for their unrivalled, fabulous fish. "Customers do not ask much variety in styles of cooking; their only constant demand is freshness," said owner Foo Chee Chuan. The most popular orders here are Mango Fish with shredded sweet-sour local mangoes and the Assam Fish slathered with an absolutely addictive sauce. The artful blend of sweet and sour flavours with chunky tomatoes is poured over a Hung Cho fish topped by a lush tangle of fresh coriander. The Restaurant Tanjung Romantic Seafood Beer Garden is a mouthful but its name says it all. It commands the best seaside views with open-air dining and decent food washed down with cold beer. Additional activities to be enjoyed here include loud karaoke sessions inside the darkly lit interiors. "Romantic," however, can be interpreted in many dubious ways here. The newest addition to Tanjung Sepat’s restaurant business is Baywatch. The restaurant occupies a prime, ocean-facing plot behind the Iron General deity’s temple. Landscaping details include Balinese-styled sandstone lights and fountains beneath the coconut palms. The restaurant appeals to the young generation with its vibrant setting and a giant screen TV. The usual offerings of seafood can go up a notch in prices. A platter of Four Seasons is tagged at RM100 plus. 11pm Seafood lasts till the wee hours of the night with Grilled Fish being a tasty choice to call it a day. A small home business along Jalan Tiga offers local fish such as stingray and Pak Cho grilled in either its own juices or a chili marinade. A selection of garlic and fiery chili-garlic sauce accompany the fish. There are also plenty of food along the main road such as Fried Kuey Teow, burgers, pau and fried noodles. Note: Most restaurants are non-halal although several are pork-free. Ocen Restaurant, Lot 109, Jalan Laut, 03-3197 4443. Restoran Batu Laut, Sungai Mosok, Batu Laut, Kuala Langat (near the bridge and fishing boat jetty, 019-384 4362. Hai Yew Heng, 405, Jalan Pasar (opposite the new food court), 03-3197 4144 / 019-643 6043 Lim Seng Peng Coffee is at No 356, Lorong 5, Jalan Besar, 03-3197 4862 / 012-972 2886.
IT HAS been nearly 50 years but Ng Kee Hong can still remember clearly the first dish she learnt to cook when she married at the age of 20. The Chau Shuin Chi Choy and Tau Kuah is a Hokkien dish that speaks of a mother’s hopes and wishes for a good life for her children. “It was common in those days for women to marry around the ages of 19 or 20,” said Ng, 68. Speaking from her home kitchen in the fishing village of Tanjung Sepat, off Selangor’s southern coast, Ng added that she “could hardly cook anything” when she first lived with her husband. “My mother-in-law told me that the family’s traditional cuisine must be handed down through the generations, or else our children would not know anything about them. “So she taught me to cook Chau Shuin Chi Choy and Tau Kuah, commonly served in spring during the Chinese New Year.” The dish, said Ng, was an important item on any Hokkien family dining table. The name of the dish sounds similar to that of “minister” as well as to be skilled in calculations. “Every family dreams of having a child who can count deftly, thus he or she is able to learn the importance of savings and earnings, and that he or she can eventually rise to what is perceived as the highest responsibility in a country, which is being a minister,” said Ng. Ng’s Chau Shuin Chi Choy and Tau Kuah has evolved slightly to become her very own unique creation, as she tried hard to entice her six children to eat their veggies. The dish is a vibrant mix of colourful reds and greens, cooked with green garlic shoots, red and green peppers, bite-sized chicken strips, prawns and cubes of tofu stir-fried with soy sauce and seasoning. Ng used only the tender hearts of the garlic shoots that offered a gentle but distinctive aroma. The dish is delicious, with the pungent garlic shoots complementing the tofu’s plain taste and enhanced by the succulent prawns and zesty peppers. Ng’s children did not become ministers, but all six of them are skilled with their mental arithmetic! Ng was spurred by the success of having created her first dish but her culinary journey in life had only just begun. She went on to master the skill of cooking, especially with seafood that is abundant in her village. Her husband was a fisherman, and brought home his choice catch daily. Soon, Ng was dishing up savoury Fish Head Curry, Stuffed Sotong, Stir Fried Garlic Fish, and Claypot Chicken Curry with little effort. She eventually opened a small stall in the village market square to sell home-cooked Fried Mee Hoon with Curry at 15sen a packet, which was popular among the villagers. Coupled with her husband’s earnings, they were able to buy their own house years later. Having grown up in a poor family as an orphan, Ng could only enjoy meat during celebrations such as Chinese New Year or the Mid-Autumn Festival. One day, as she went for lunch at a friend’s home for Chinese New Year, Ng savoured a dish of Chicken with Sa Lai, a type of ancient Chinese herbal tree bark. “It was an unforgettable flavour that gave me such a comforting, homely feeling of a mother’s love,” Ng recalled. “The unique taste of the herbs with the precious chicken stayed with me for many years. “After I got married, I was buying things at an old medicine shop in the village when I picked up the unique scent of the herbal bark. “It evoked childhood memories of my friend’s mother who had so lovingly cooked nutritious dishes for her family.” Ng immediately bought a parcel of the herbs and hurried home to try them out in her kitchen. She made many attempts to recapture the taste of the dish she had tried over 50 years ago. Finally, she decided to pound the Chinese roots into a fine paste mixed with a little water. Some chopped onions, garlic and sliced chicken fillet were tossed into a hot wok with a dash of salt, pepper and black soy sauce. The precious Chinese herb was added in, and Ng was finally able to re-create the dish based on this simple recipe. The dish is fragrant with a unique flavour, which fills the mouth with a distinctive bitter tinge of the herbs. But the only praise Ng savours through her cooking is seeing her 18 grandchildren tucking in to her dishes every day, especially the two that holds the most precious memories for her – the Hokkien Chau Shuin Chi Choy and Tau Kuah, and Chicken with Sa Lai. * If you have tales to share from your family dining table, write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SEPANG: When Cheng Poh Guat decided to give up a RM3,000-a-month job in sales to go into mushroom farming in 1991, relatives thought it foolish. Even her husband thought so, as mushroom farms rarely survived beyond two years at that time because the fungi are fragile and easily contaminated. However, the chemistry graduate followed her heart, won over her husband and bravely started her new venture in Tanjung Sepat here. Today, the 44-year-old mother of two is co-founder of Vita Agrotech, running a business worth RM2.5mil in annual sales that makes delivery of 2,000 half-kilo packets of mushrooms daily. And the company's range of white and grey oyster mushrooms can be found on the shelves of hypermarkets all over the Klang Valley. “My chemistry background was an advantage. I knew in my heart I could put my knowledge to good use. Luckily, my husband was willing to give it a try as well,” recalled Cheng. . Back then, the going was tough. Cheng and husband Ooi Ching Kiau, 45, a former secondary school teacher, would harvest their mushrooms and go from restaurant to restaurant and from one market to another to sell their produce. Some people were kind enough to buy a few kilos at once but others would tease her and even ask her to cook up a mushroom before making a purchase. Their big break came when hypermarkets started up in the country. Cheng said the growth of their business paralleled that of the hypermarket boom. “But convincing the hypermarkets was not easy because they wanted consistency and quality. They also wanted me to deliver from January through to December,” she said. Now, she has also gone into cultivating mushroom with medicinal properties, such as the prized lin zhi and monkey-head variety. Cheng has been trying to sell her lin zhi in the United States and Taiwan but there are obstacles to breaking into the market there – potential buyers want scientific proof to back her claims about the properties of the mushroom and also question why her price is higher than some other sources. However, she is undeterred as her heart tells her it is a road worth taking and she is prepared to listen to her heart. After all, she did the first time around, and it has made her what she is today.