Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Red Okra

Our frequent travels in Malaysia have given us some strong gardening and culinary memories. Among these, are our welcome, regular contacts with vegetable Okra…

Some years ago, one of my most vivid memories when driving through the rural hinterland of Kuching, Sarawak with our local companions was the Okra. Lining the village roads were stand upon stand of Okra plants, proudly displaying their lovely primrose-coloured, hibiscus-like blooms. The apparent ease with which these plants were planted and grown prompted me to try growing Okra back home in Sydney.

And then there were the meals… Even though we have enjoyed Okra dishes many times in Malaysia, two meals stand out.

During a day-trip to Melaka in 2014, we popped in for lunch at the famous Restoran Peranakan. This restaurant is housed in an impressive old Peranakan-style building, serving the most delicious Nyonya dishes. By meal’s end, we had not only sated our curiosity for the beautiful architecture and gorgeous furnishings of this historic, old home, but we had also demolished three mouth-watering dishes: Beef Rendang, Sambal Sotong (or squid) and Sambal Bendi (okra). All the servings were delectable, none more so than the steamed okra in a sauce of kasturi lime, gula Melaka, chili and lemon grass.

The meal at the Restoran Peranakan, Melaka. The Okra is at the rear...

Then in December 2016, we enjoyed another delicious meal of Nyonya-inspired cuisine, this time in Ipoh, at another lovely restaurant, the Yum Yum. The flavourful food matched the fascinating Peranakan d├ęcor of the room. This time, we ordered and thoroughly enjoyed Pandan-Wrapped Chicken, Aromatic Sotong, Chicken in Creamy Basil Sauce and our favourite Sambal Bendi.

Sambal Bindhi at the Yum Yum Retaurant, Ipoh. A mouth-watering delight...

Like the meal at the Restoran Peranakan in Melaka, this meal in Ipoh’s Yum Yum Restaurant was not to be forgotten… especially the steamed Okra dish.

Okra has become one of our favourite vegetables. Throughout summer and autumn, each Okra plant bears a pretty, new flower, thence a delicious, young pod, every few days. As a result, our ten or so Okra plants supply us with an abundance for steaming, for curries, for soups and stir-fries, from December until April.

This year, however, our Okra planting was a little different. Along with our two traditional green Okra varieties, we planted some seed of a Red Okra variety… with great success. The Red Okra strain bears just as easily as our common green plants, and there is little discernible difference in flavour. The difference is the colour alone…

A harvest of mixed Okra

Without a doubt, you should allow Okra a warm-season in your garden… And should you come across the packet seed of the red variety, you should give it a trial too.

A grouping of three Red Okra plants growing strongly...

Wishing you hours of enjoyment and contentment in your garden…

Monday, 16 January 2017

Marvellous Maha Chanok Seedling (Part 2)

Last year in January, we reported on the progress of our Maha Chanok seedling mango tree. At that time, it was in its second fruiting year and holding five large mangoes. These lovely mangoes continued to hold on the tree, one harvested in February and the others picked in early and mid-April.

Now five years old and in its third fruiting year, the Maha Chanok seedling is beginning to take a more adult shape, akin to the shape of its famous parent tree: it is a small and slow-growing tree, with a drooping habit, some of the fruit-bearing limbs requiring support.

Note the compact but drooping habit of the seedling tree. Note also the limb supports...

Most importantly, the tree is holding 11 mangoes, of varying shapes, from medium size to very large, some appearing to be over one kilo in weight. This has followed an unusual flowering season. In June, a winter deepened, I was forced to remove many precocious flower heads: these had developed during an autumn of unseasonably high temperatures. After the removal of these first flowers, the tree then produced new flower heads (or panicles) to obey its normal Sydney October flowering pattern.

From small...

To large... Seedlings grown from Maha Chanok fruit may not grow true-to-type, as you can see from the shape of this large fruit. 

With local mangoes no longer available in Sydney stores in April, we look forward eagerly to our late season fruit delights.

By clicking on the Mango label of this blog (above), you can follow the progress of our Maha Chanok seedling tree over the past two seasons.

For those among you who are interested in seeing an orchard of Thai Maha Chanok mango trees, please visit this link. The commentary of the video is in Thai. However, from the pictures, one can gain an insight into the growth habit of the trees bearing these highly-rated mangoes.

Note the slight reddening of the top of the fruit: this red 'face' will become more pronounced as it ripens, a characteristic of the parent fruit.
Wishing you hours of enjoyment and contentment in your garden…

Sunday, 8 January 2017

A Day in Chemor, Perak

We best describe ourselves as inquisitive tourists: not so interested in the main tourist sites of a nation. Much more interested in visiting the local places of interest… So, with this in mind, having a few spare days in the northern Malaysian city of Ipoh, we did some research, seeking out a local ‘hidden gem’.

Our research encompassed Bidor, locally famous for its biscuits and mangoes; Sungkai and its Wildlife Conservation Centre; and Sungai Siput. Finally, however, we decided to stay close to our Meru Hotel in northern Ipoh: we would spend a day in and around Chemor… We would not be disappointed.

A short drive of about 15 minutes brought us to the township of Chemor. From the township, it was just another two or three minutes to our first destination, the Seen Hock Yeen Temple.

Driving through the ornamental entrance gates was fascinating enough. However, we were even more impressed after walking down the passageway to enter the temple compound.

Kuil Seen Hock Yeen is a most beautiful temple. Its grounds cover a vast area, and one’s first gaze is captured by the beautifully landscaped ponds and gardens. Entering further, one sees a lovely man-made cascade, beautiful temples, pavilions and pagodas, and interesting Buddhist statues.
An ornamental cascade is a feature of Kuil Seen Hock Yeen

Hungry Haruan and Tilapia inhabit the lotus ponds

It is not until one walks further into the grounds, that one sees the beautiful temple itself, framed by reflecting ponds, tall trees and magnificent mountains.

However, for me, another eye-catching and interesting structure was the Destiny Bridge, which straddles two lotus ponds. One may not cross the bridge without the permission and guidance of a temple attendant. During the guided crossing, one’s gaze should be firmly locked on the ‘uncluttered’ left side of the pond, avoiding eye contact with the densely-packed lotuses on the right.  The crossing is a cleansing ritual, symbolic of personal freedom from worries and bad luck, freedom from life’s clutter.

Clutter to the right, clarity to the left... Which way would you look?

The courtyard of Kuil Seen Hock Yeen also contains a display of the twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac. Each of the statues is painted in gold. And have I mentioned the lovely avenues of ixora and other flowering plants?

Judging by the size of the temple carpark, Kuil Seen Hock Yeen can become very busy, especially during important festivals and on weekends.

After a busy morning, admiring a beautiful Chinese temple, one needs to eat. Now, the Better-Half likes her duck, and I had read that there was a fine duck restaurant, New Old Friend Restaurant, at Kampung Kuala Kuang, just a few minutes’ drive from Chemor. This became our second destination for the day.

We arrived a little before one o’clock… to discover that the restaurant was down to its last roast duck. Quite clearly, the restaurant had had a steady stream of passing locals popping in for duck take-away. With great fortune, we sat and enjoyed our delicious meal, while at least four unlucky customers were turned away empty-handed.

Delicious roast duck and sauces

Watercress soup

If you are intending to visit this little restaurant, plan for lunch a little earlier so as not to be disappointed. However, should you miss out on a duck treat at Kuala Kuang, there is a second Old Friend Restaurant in Chemor itself. This restaurant is managed by the owner’s son, and is open every day for lunch except for Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays.

Local scene from Kampung Kuala Kuang

To end our day, a little nature was called for. On the return journey to our Meru hotel, we decided to ‘pop in’ to see Lata Ulu Chepor. Turning right from the main road towards Kampung Ulu Chepor, we followed a narrow road down to a check-point. Because this was a public holiday, we were required to pay a RM 2 entry fee before proceeding to the ‘falls’. I use the term ‘falls’ loosely, as the stream was, in fact, a series of riffles and small rapids. Many families had taken advantage of the holiday to bathe and play in the cooling stream, preparing picnic-style meals on the banks.

As a venue for a cooling dip on a hot Malaysian day, Lata Ulu Chepor is ideal. However, it would perhaps be less populous midweek during school term, with children returned to school and families back at home and work.

Kuil Seen Hock Yeen
1 1/2 km, Railway Station Road,
Kampung Cik Zainal Tambahan 1,
31200 Chemor,
Perak, Malaysia.

New Old Friend Restaurant
280, Kampung Baru,
Kuala Kuang,  

Old Friend Restaurant
No.12, Jalan Elektron U16/94,
Denai Alam

Wishing you hours of enjoyment and contentment in your garden…