Friday 31 May 2013

A Dancing Rojak Man at Gurney Drive

When in Pulau Pinang, dining at the Persiaran Gurney (Gurney Drive) hawker centre (Anjung Selera) is a fun night out. You have many choices about what you want to eat, and as we discovered recently, you will even be entertained while you eat! By a dancing rojak man, no less!

If you google 'dancing rojak man' you are sure to find many sites about this Gurney Drive 'celebrity' who dances to (mostly) Hindi music as he prepares pasembur (rojak mamak or 'Indian salad')  for his customers at his stall.

It all starts with a customer picking out from an array of more than twenty mostly cooked ingredients including cucur udang, potatoes, tauhu, keropok, crab meat, cuttlefish, etc. Then Ayub Khan (or 'Ayub Disko Rojak') begins his dance routine as he prepares the pasembur dish by rhythmically cutting up the ingredients. He will even 'sing' Rojak! Rojak! as he does so. Lastly he tops up the dish with cucumber and sengkuang (turnip) shreds, then whirls about as he drizzles spicy peanut sauce over the plateful, ready for the amused waiting customer. Anyway, you can watch him on YouTube or better still, get yourself to Gurney Drive for the real thing!

Ayub Khan begins his dance with a 'plate salute'! (CNB 2013)

At the end he whirls around while drizzling peanut sauce
on the pasembur (CNB 2013)

On our night out with friends at Gurney Drive, we were at a table near Ayub Khan's stall and so had a good view of his antics. His dance gimmick certainly brought in many customers, mostly drawn to record or take pictures (that includes me).

Apart from pasembur, other dishes worth trying at this Anjung Selera Gurney Drive include laksa, satay, rojak buah, etc., etc. You will be spoilt for choice, and we certainly over-ate during our Pulau Pinang weekend trip.

A Very Late Lunch at Minah Restaurant

The good old unpretentious Minah Restaurant (CNB 2013) 

Restoran Minah is a must when you visit the foodie heaven of Pulau Pinang. I know, I know it is not one of your favoured mamak nasi kandar ori(ginal) place, but this restaurant serves the best Malay food ever. Maybe I am biased because Minah and I go back a long way ... to 1976 in fact! When the restaurant catered for my wedding kenduri (feast) in the days when it was 'lima ringgit satu kepala' (five ringgit pax).
Minah Restaurant has an open kitchen concept from as far back as I can remember. It is very much a family run restaurant, named after their matriarch,who passed away in June 2011. I remember her quietly going about supervising the staff, some of them her own children and/or their spouses. Somehow the food has remained unchanged over the years - very delicious and authentic Malay fare. I also remember the many, many times the family dined here, also our tapau (takeaway) for buka puasa, and the celebratory treats with work colleagues.

During our recent weekend rendezvous (sebut betul-betul!) in PP we headed for Minah Restaurant for a late, late lunch on Sunday. If you are early, the food is at its freshest. But then parking is a great big hassle. Anyway, the four of us had mutton korma (M's favourite, ja-ye shoma khali), acar (cucumber, carrot, onion & chili 'salad'), fried mixed vegetables, bergedil,  fried chicken, ulam (herbs) with sambal belacan, ikan rendang asam, kerabu (kacang botor, etc salad). Being late, we missed our other favourites of the rojak/pasembur, fish curry, beef and potato curry, sambal tumis ikan bilis & petai, and chicken soup.

The acar that goes so well with mutton korma(CNB 2013)

The fried chicken and special yummy sour sauce (CNB 2013)

 B & I

A & F
26th May 2013

Wednesday 29 May 2013

A Big Breakfast at Gelugor

Pasar dan Balai Rakyat Gelugor (CNB 2013)

We used to live in Gelugor (Pulau Pinang) for nearly twenty years during my working stint at USM and A & B's growing up/schooling years. Gelugor Market at Taman Tun Sardon was a very convenient place to go for our food needs. Marketing early in the morning there called for breakfasts at the adjacent Astaka's gerai-gerai makanan (food stalls).

During our recent weekend trip back to the Pulau, we could not help but revisit this market and Astaka. This time around, we started on the other side of the road, at the apom manis/telur (sweet pancake) push cart run by Indra. She has been in this business for nearly three decades and makes the most delicious pancakes. We bought ten pancakes, of which six were eaten hot and fresh from the earthen cookware! Next was Pak Arshad's nasi dalca 'bawah pokok', to eat and also to take away (for 'sleeping beauty', you may know who).

Then we crossed over to the market area and the first thing we looked for at the food stalls was the serabai. Most unfortunately the stall was closed. So I settled for another favourite, the roti canai and a teh tarik. B had to have her usual favourite of kwayteow soup and a newly recommended ketam (crab) sandwich. Actually here at the Astaka, there are 101 food/dishes to choose from and they are all delicious.
Note to self: I have to return for the serabai of course, also for the roti jala, capati, nasi lemuni and nasi campur, etc., etc.

Indra making apom manis/telur (CNB 2013)

The ever popular roti canai stall (CNB 2013)

After our hearty breakfast, B and I went into the wet market just for a 'look see, look see', for old times sake. Most of the vendors we used to frequent are still around - at the fruit, fish, egg, vegetable, meat, grocery stalls. Some do still remember us, but some have forgotten. C'est la vie ...

B at the vegetable section of Gelugor Market (CNB 2013)

The egg stalls (CNB 2013)

Mazlan cuts up ikan pari/sting ray (CNB 2013)
26 May 2013

Tuesday 28 May 2013

A Road Trip to Pulau Pinang

On the road to the North (CNB 2013)

Over the weekend, with B at the wheel, we drove up to our kampung in Pulau Pinang. We had a family meeting to attend and as my brother AW put it, 'wajib hadir, urgent kena balik!' ('compulsory attendance, urgent to come back'). It was a beautiful day when we started out at 10.00 in the morning, and remained so for the rest of the day. We had one bio-break at Tapah, then by 3.00 pm we were crossing the Penang Bridge.

Crossing the bridge into the island (CNB 2013)

After eating a most delicious lunch at the Rumah Puteh (our family home), we got down to business. The family meeting had all siblings and families from Johor, Kelantan, Selangor, KL, Kedah and PP attend, and everything went well with much congeniality. After the meeting we lounged around just catching up. I also checked out the garden and noted that the trees around the house were fruiting - there were rambutans, jambu air, cempedak, durians, and bananas.We ate dinner before leaving to check in at the Eastin Hotel next to Queensbay Mall. The family house was 'full', hence the hotel stay.

Jambu air (guava) at the house (CNB 2013)

The next day was spent on a gastronomic journey around the island, revisiting old food haunts in Gelugor and Gurney Drive. On Monday I drove on our journey back, leaving the island in the afternoon and reaching home in Shah Alam before dusk.

25th May 2013

Thursday 23 May 2013

Nature into Culture

My garden harvest of pegaga, sambung nyawa, 
daun kari, daun selasih, and wild Pepperomia   

Michael Pollan said "Cooking is how we transform nature into culture".  He is also the man who famously said, "Eat food, not too much. Mostly plants". I say yes, we should eat a lot of plants ... but you need not even do any cooking to transform nature into culture. From our tropical edible garden we can have lots of herbal plants that translate into the ulam we all love so much. Just add a cicah (dip) - sambal belacan, budu, cincaluk, even nuoc mam!

From my own little garden my ulam platter may consist of pegaga (Indian liverwort), daun kari (curry leaves), daun selasih (Basil leaves), beluntas, ulam raja, wild pepperomia, sambung nyawa, kadok, mint, bunga kantan (Torch ginger), mengkudu Siam.

Not only do we eat plants, we flavour our food with plants (pandan, vanilla, etc.), we wrap some of our food in leaves, and we can also eat off leaves. Think nasi lemak daun pisang or banana leaf restaurants.

A banana leaf lunch at a restaurant in  Bangsar (CNB 2013)

7 April 2013

Monday 20 May 2013

Ba & a TLR Camera

Ba & the TLR at Anak Bukit (195?)
My earliest memories of photography is in the 1950s when Ba, my father, had a twin-lens reflex camera or a TLR. A film camera that uses the 120 film. One where the viewfinder is at waist level, remember? I think it was a Rolleiflex brand. (Was it? Not too sure ...)

Our family pictures then were mostly taken at home or in the beautiful Sultan's Garden at Anak Bukit, Alor Star Kedah.

I think my own first camera was the Kodak instamatic which started being available in 1963. It was so easy to use, but the photos that turned out were not so great.

"For photographs to be memorable, shoot with intelligence and purpose"

Wednesday 15 May 2013

Books I Love: Iraniana Biographies/Memoirs

I have many Iraniana books in my collection, some of them biographies/memoirs of Iranians now living in countries other than their own. The 1979 Iranian Revolution seemed to be the catalyst for so many of these Iranian memoirs, mostly written and published outside Iran. Most are not written in Farsi (the Iranian/Persian language) but in English, and some in French.

Some Iraniana - Ex Libris CNB

Out of Iran; one woman's escape from the Ayatollahs (1987) is by Sousan Azadi (with Angela Ferrante). The author Azadi, born of the deposed Shah's westernised elites, tells her story of persecution after the Revolution and her hazardous escape from jail and country.

Sattareh Farman Farmaian wrote Daughter of Persia; a woman's journey from her father's harem through the Islamic Revolution (1992) with Dona Munker. Born into the lavish household of a Prince of the Qajar dynasty,the author gives us a vivid account of her life from the end of the Qajars, through the Pahlavi years and the beginning of the Revolution. 

Unveiled; love and death among the Ayatollahs (1995) is by Cherry Mosteshar, who was mainly educated in Britain, but on her return to her homeland, found it 'wasting in the potential of both country and people'.

English translations of the French "Persepolis"

Persepolis 1 & 2 (2000 & 2001) by Marjane Satrapi are autobiographical graphic novels in French that have been translated into several languages including English. A 2007 French animated film has been made based on Satrapi's memoirs. Satrapi gives a 'no holds barred' graphic account of her childhood in the Islamic Republic and leaving to live overseas, and then a return to the homeland as an adult that also did not work out for her.

I especially love books about books. Reading Lolita in Tehran; a memoir in books (2003) was written by Azar Nafisi about the secret 'book club' sessions she conducted in her home for a few of her students. The book became a best seller and she inevitably followed it up with another memoir, this time about her childhood and family secrets, entitled Things I've been silent about; memories (2008). Nafisi was a university lecturer in Iran before she left her home country to work and settle in the US.

Shirin Ebadi, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, wrote (with Azadeh Moaveni), Iran awakening; from prison to peace prize: one woman's struggle at the crossroads of history (2006). Ebadi proves to be a very strong woman in a turbulent country. The book reveals her public career and her private life.

Azadeh Moaveni also wrote Lipstick Jihad: a memoir of growing up Iranian in America and American in Iran (2005), and Honeymoon in Tehran; two years of love and danger in Iran (2009). Moaveni is a Time Magazine Middle East correspondent/journalist and her first book is about the dilemma faced by most Iranians living abroad, about searching for a sense of belonging in both the homeland and the adopted country. The second was an assignment that led her back to Iran where she fell in love and married. But in the end she had to concede that her family's future lies outside the homeland.

My name is Iran, a memoir (2007), is by Davar Ardalan, about her 'remarkable life between the worlds of Iran and America'.

A Mirror Garden; a memoir (2007) by Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian & Zara Houshmand is an account of Farmanfarmaian's childhood in Iran, her art studies in the US, and her disastrous first marriage. She returned to her country following a second marriage to an Iranian of royal descent. In the decades before the rise of fundamentalism, she led a very charmed life playing hostess and art connoisseur. But she left to finally settle in New York.

There are other Iraniana biographies/memoirs I have not read (last count of titles available was about 60!) but will do so if  and when I can get my hands on them. Having lived in Iran just after the 1979 Revolution, I read these memoirs with a sense of deja vu.

Tuesday 14 May 2013

Vallaris Glabra

The beautiful and very fragrant white blooms of Vallaris glabra (Common name: Bread flower, Malay name Kesidang, also Kerak nasi) is one of my favourites, but I do not have this plant in my garden. The above picture is one I took recently in my neighbour's garden - she has the vine growing along the fence and presently they are flowering in abundance. The scent is rather heady, especially at dawn and dusk. (I do not think the scent is anything like bread or even scorched rice, which is what Kerak nasi alludes to).

Monday 13 May 2013

The Art of Architecture

Yesterday on our Mum's Day outing, we caught The Art of Architecture Foster + Partners exhibition at the Petronas Gallery situated on the 3rd floor of the Suria KLCC, Petronas Twin Towers. It was the last day and I particularly wanted to see it because of my interest in architecture and interiors.

The exhibition was most interesting in that it was arranged around the themes of infrastructure, high-rise, urban design, history and culture. There were sketches, models of buildings and masterplans of cities that were very detailed, some complete with model furnishing, people, and automobiles. I especially loved 'The Gherkin' building (Swiss Re headquarters in London). Other distinctive buildings of Foster + Partners include the HSBC headquarters and its plaza in Hong Kong built in the 1980s, Commerzbank - the world's first ecological office tower, the 'well regarded' Hearst Tower in Manhattan, the 'sublime' Millau Viaduct in France, the Dresden Railway Station in Germany, the Standsted and the Beijing International Airport, etc.

No photos inside, so B poses outside (CNB)
Verbatim from the exhibition programme: 'Foster + Partners is one of the most innovative architecture and integrated design practices in the world. Over the past four decades the practice has pioneered a sustainable approach to architecture through a strikingly wide range of work, from urban masterplans, public infrastructure, airports, civic and cultural buildings, offices and education to private houses and product design. Based in London, with offices worldwide, the practice has an international reputation, with buildings on six continents. Since its inception in 1967 it has received more than 600 awards and won over 100 national and international competitions'.

I noted that in the Foster Studio, 'the design process is always rooted in research'... , 'drawing is a way of thinking' ..., and that they design for a sustainable future ...

Foster buildings in Malaysia include The Troika, KL, and the Universiti Teknologi Petronas main campus in Sri Iskandar, Perak. The campus building was the winner of the 2007 Aga Khan Award for Architecture. I have been to the university campus, particularly visiting the Library there. The campus and the library are most impressive (but if you suffer from vertigo, I do not think you can work in that library!). Building projects in progress include Mont Kiara and IB Tower.

(Pic UTP Library)

Note: Norman Foster (Lord Foster of Thames Bank), founder and chairman of Foster + Partners, has been called the 'Mozart of Modernism', and 'an architectural phenomenon'!

Sunday 12 May 2013

Happy Mother's Day

A very happy Mother's Day to all. Remember that even if you are not a mother, you do have one!

Pic: Roses, Gerbera, Daisies, etc. in my Mother's Day basket of flowers. Very thoughtful, tqvm.

From My Mother's Kitchen: Rasam

Rasam to warm up on rainy days (CNB 2013)

This posting is a tribute to my late mother on this special day for mothers.

During my childhood years, my emak/mother used to cook this particular 'soup' on rainy days when the temperature is lower or rather 'less hot' than usual, and believe me, the warmth that you feel as you imbibe this soup is just comforting.

Rasam may also be eaten with plain white rice because the eggs in this tangy and hot (pepper hot, not chili hot) soup make for an interesting combination.

I understand that Rasam is originally from South India and that there are many varieties. But here is the Kedah version that my emak used to delight my siblings and I with, when we were children decades ago. Her recipe calls for 'some' of this and that, so I have added 'about' so much of the same thing!

2 or 3 shallots
6 garlic cloves
some black pepper corns (about 2 teaspoons)
3 eggs
3 glasses tamarind juice
some halba campur (fenugreek + fennel + cumin + mustard seeds) (about 2 teaspoons)
some curry leaves (about 6 or 7)
a little oil to fry
salt & sugar to taste

Method/How to
1. Pound black pepper corns and peeled garlic cloves.
2. Put above ingredients and tamarind juice into a pot and boil.
3. Slice shallots and fry with halba campur and curry leaves.
4. Add the above ingredients into the boiling soup. Add salt and sugar to taste.
5. Break the eggs into the boiling soup and ready to serve when cooked.
6. Enjoy!

Note: Rasam spice mix (powder) is available at the supermarkets, but it is my mother's recipe that gives me great comfort.

Friday 10 May 2013

SA Garden Catalogue: Mock Orange

It is the beautiful month of May and definitely spring time in the garden. Weather wise, the sky still rumbles and rains every so often, drenching 'the darling buds of May'. The days are getting longer, the humidity is very high and just being in the garden warrants a change of clothes, what with the drenching from copious sweat!

Many plants are in flower including the Mock orange. The Mock orange may be a compact shrub or small tree and loves the full sun.The white flowers are very fragrant, especially at dawn and dusk. They don't last long though, only 2-3 days.

                          Murraya paniculata (CNB 2012)

Common name: Mock orange
Scientific name: Murraya paniculata
Malay name: Kemuning
Family: Citrus
Origin: India and Southeast Asia to Australia

The fruits are small and citrus-like, going from green to yellow to crimson. Propagation is by seeds or marcots. I only have one potted plant of the Mock orange and placed in the full sun, it flowers quite a number of times yearly. If I had more space, I would definitely have one or two of this plant in the ground to grow into small trees, because the fragrant flowers then would make any garden a paradise ... (dream on ...)!

A potted Mock orange plant (CNB 2011)
10.05.13 6.56 pm

Wednesday 8 May 2013

My Story of Kermanshah

'Kermanchah (sic) - uniformly passive and plaintive as a forgotten cradle, Kermanchah sighs in the sun and gently rocks the gaze, with neither shock nor revolt' - Houshang Seyhoun, 1974. *

I once lived in Kermanshah, a city that is the capital of Kermanshah province in Iran. It is a city nestled near the Zagros Mountains and has a climate almost Mediterranean-like. It is one of the cradles of prehistoric cultures ...

'Steps up an alleyway lined with brick houses. The walls are pierced by square openings letting through the light and merchants' cries. On the bend the exquisite shape of a plain wooden door studded in copper'.

After the Iranian Revolution, Kermanshah became Bakhtaran (because the Mullahs did not like the 'shah' in the name). But then the people never took to the new name, so it reverted to the old. So Kermanshah it is. I lived there during the beginning of the Iran-Iraq war, so life was pretty harrowing. There were the curfews, the queues for necessities, the bombardments ...

'A sloping street where the charm of crooked houses joins with that of the telegraph pole held in its precarious position by its untidy headdress'. 

But life had to be lived. M worked as a chemist in a paint factory when the local university closed indefinitely and I was busy bringing up baby B. Living in the upstairs apartment in an uptown house was interesting enough. Our landlord and his family lived downstairs and sometimes 'babysat' B. I would then step out the front door, hail a taxi and go to the shops or bazaar or roadside stalls to get whatever was necessary.

In Kermanshah, the Kurds/Kurdish people in the streets always fascinated me - in part because I thought they were carefree gypsies. Their clothes were distinctive - the men in their unique trousers and the women in their long and colourful skirts. Although I could not speak the Kurdish language, I had no problems 'communicating' with them in my 'bazaar Farsi' - buying fruits, vegetables, even silk scarves and shawls.

Aside from the historic (and prehistoric) sites, Kermanshah's valleys and mountains are a sight to behold. We had picnics with friends in spring and summer to enjoy the great outdoors as much as was possible.

Kermanshah valley and mountains (1981) 

*Drawings of Kermanshah by Houshang Seyhoun, architect extraordinaire of Iran, are from the book, 'Regards sur l'Iran; dessins de H. Seyhoun. 1974.
Ex Libris CNB 1325

Tuesday 7 May 2013


PTPM staff  (199?)

During my working years at the Universiti Sains Malaysia in Pulau Pinang, I was a librarian, mostly at the Main Library or Perpustakaan Utama (later named Perpustakaan Hamzah Sendut; after the first Vice Chancellor of USM). But for a good number of years I was also with the Pusat Teknologi Pengajaran dan Multimedia/Centre for Instructional Technology and Multimedia (previously the Pusat Teknologi Pendidikan dan Media/Centre of Educational Technology and Media, which started as the Unit Teknologi Pendidikan/Educational Technology Unit). Err ... have I got you confused already? Never mind, even some of the USM folks are, about all the name changes that happen when an educational unit becomes a centre becomes a department becomes a school/faculty!

With the Media Library Staff: Hasan, Annanda & Shidah

Anyway at the CITM, I worked at the Media Library, mostly dealing with the lecturers and future teachers. If our library meetings (at the Main Library) were quite sedate, the meetings here were quite an eye-opener for me. I never knew that educators could be quite a riotous bunch - in a nice way.

The Director of CITM plants a tree for the renovated centre

One very traumatic if not unforgettable event was a fire that razed the building, and destroyed the library almost totally! So we had to move to a temporary place until the building was renovated and the library collection built up again from scratch.

(In progress)

Sunday 5 May 2013

GE 13

Did you vote today? We did. We think the 'star' of the General Elections 2013 must be the indigo blue indelible ink! So much publicity ... and controversy ...

Saturday 4 May 2013

Landmarks of Selangor: State Memorial

The Tugu Peringatan Selangor or Selangor State Memorial/Monument in Shah Alam commemorates those who gave their lives for the state. It is located in the formal landscaped garden of the Bangunan Sultan Salahuddin Abdul Aziz Shah, the State Secretariat building. Constructed in 1981, the architect is Dato' Dr Hj Baharuddin bin Abu Kassim.

'Four pointed arches are raised high at the four corners supported on faceted pylons, forming a soaring tower topped by an octagonal dome with a bronze finial. Islamic geometric patterns decorate the haunches of the arches, pylons and drum of the dome. The underside of the dome features a series of rising niches, decorated with gold mosaic and sealed with a rosette at the apex'.

The first time I tried to visit the monument, I went to the State Secretariat building with another purpose - to pay the quit rent. But I went in via the back gate/entrance and could not locate the monument in my walk through the grounds. I asked a few people I met, and they did not know anything about it! Then a security guard told me of its location outside the front gate/entrance. So I returned on this date with B to take these photos. We had the monument to ourselves except for a wedding couple and their photographer.

Ref: Landmarks of Selangor. Jugra Publications, 2003.

Wednesday 1 May 2013


Life is a puzzle
To solve as you live it through
To do as you will

CNB 01/05/2013
Shah Alam

Pic: Mealy bug on Chinese gardenia
by CNB (2013)