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steamboat dinners

August 12, 2009

“So Shez, what did you do on your birthday?” It’s a fair question. After all, I’ve not-so-surreptitiously mentioned its approximate date and the gifts-of-a-sort I received on my return home.

Home. It’s a funny term that one. It changes from time to time, subtly, almost imperceptibly, and then one day, you let it slip in conversation and realise that the place you’re talking about isn’t the place you’d usually refer to as home.

When I was younger (and I realise that in saying this I sound as if I’ve collected years of life like pairs of odd socks in a drawer, when the opposite is closer to the truth) I would dread going back to Malaysia. It was so hot. The showers were cold. The streets were dirty. They all spoke a language I didn’t understand. I wanted to be with my friends. To stay in this familiar, clean, English-speaking world over my holidays instead of being over there.

steamboat06

There.

How time has changed things. Because now, even as I write this, I ache to be back there. To be with my funny, quirky grandparents and the light that appears in their eyes as I talk in pidgin, all-patched-together-and-mostly-coherent Hokkien. To poke fun at my cousins over a glass of Limau Ice Teh at Palm Grove. To listen to the stories of my uncles and aunts over morning bakuteh. Or a plate of dragonfruit in all its purple splendour. To be back home in the mosquito ridden, dusty, hot streets of Malaysia.

And so I’m sure you’ll excuse me if my posts on my trip (oh! the glorious trip!) are spaced a touch further apart than may be expected. It’s just that every time I see the pictures, I find myself there. And for that brief moment in time, I wonder why I’m not – and posting goes unattended for just another day.

Hai Wei Steamboat Restaurant, Klang

steamboat03

There’s two steamboat restaurants on opposite corners of this intersection. I would tell you where it is, only I don’t know. My cousins refer to it as the “One Utama Steamboat, you know. That one.” and not a single description more could be garnered from them.

We’d gathered here for dinner, as many of the family as could be collected at one day’s notice. Two tables, twenty people (give or take) and a whole heap of crazy as my father & sister arrived direct from the airport with a “Happy Birthday Cheh!” and a “Oh, hello there birthday Sheryl” respectively.

I’d told them that I was buying – and why not?

steamboat

We are seated quickly, in our usual formation. Children on one table, adults on the other. My fifth uncle, clever as he is, knows that there will inevitably be more food (and a bit more crazy) on the kids table and so settles there too, ignoring the missives being sent his way by the other adults.

“One tom yum, one normal” orders one, and like that, two gas burners are popped down on the table, their plastic pipes snaking along the worn, red tablecloth to the cylinders concealed underneath. Almost as quickly, fires are lit and two big steel pots are brought out and popped on top of the waiting burners.

Bright orange plates, bowls, spoons and chopsticks are doled out after receiving their standard rinse in a hot bowl of water, and we look expectantly at the kitchen, waiting for food.

steamboat02

a serve of food for six people

You order per person at Steam Boat, with prices sitting between RM12-RM15 per person (about $4 to $5 in Australian dollars). Don’t order one serve per person eating though, unless you’re starving… or my family. The adult table was full and content on a six person serve between the ten of them, while my table of nine ordered enough for nine and polished off the lot.

noodles and eggs

noodles and eggs

The medley of seafood (prawns, fish noodles, fish, fish tofu, fish balls, dumplings, quail eggs and more) is accompanied by rounds of crispy ee-min and bee-hoon (vermicelli), and a serve of four eggs. We also ordered some tung-hoon (a thicker noodle made in a similar way to vermicelli) later, but my over-full stomach (and the looks of derision from my cousins) prevented me from photographing them.

warning: eating in process

warning: eating in process

So you start. Dumping anything and everything you want into the big pots. None of this delicate dipping and swirling and fishing out only the bits you fancy for this lot. Oh no. Lid on, and once it boils, lid off and a frenzied free-for-all into the pots. A literal pot luck.

And at the end, as stomachs slow and chopsticks lie abandoned on the table, the eggs are flung in. Some whole, some cracked into the sweet, seafood-y broth and fished out with ladles for a final mouthful of tom yum stained white and oozy yellow yolk.

birthday cake

And then, cake.

“It’s your birthday?!” the cousins exclaim. “You didn’t tell us! How come?” And ever-watchful aunts slip red packets into unsuspecting hands. “Happy Birthday” they will say, a smile on their face that spells “You’re very naughty for not telling us, but it’s ok because now we know.”

Candles are blown out and a cake is divided into 19 pieces, with the remainder left over for the cousin who is off playing basketball. “I’m so sorry I wasn’t there” he will say later “I didn’t know it was your birthday or I would have skipped training”.

Eggs cracked, cake eaten, we head back home, piled into various cars – air conditioning on full blast to save us from the sultry, humid air. Home, where we later sit until the wee hours of the morning rifling through photo albums and planning for the week ahead.

steamboat07


  • #1
    August 12th, 2009

    Hee hee what a great to celebrate! Even though a lot of them didn’t know at the time 😛 Happy belated Bday ^^!

  • #2
    August 12th, 2009

    Aww I didn’t know it was your bday over there, Happy belated Birthday! The photos (oh the red plastic chairs and orange plastic plates!) and your descriptions of what your relatives were saying take me right back to Malaysia too! Looks fantastic 🙂

  • #3
    August 12th, 2009

    Happy belated birthday to you, and I agree, there’s nothing like communal food and the happy commotion of a family gathering (and red packets too! woohoo!).

  • #4
    August 12th, 2009

    Happy belated birthday! Nothing better than being on holiday for your birthday I say! Or just always being on holiday…

  • #5
    August 12th, 2009

    aww….just reading this makes me ache to be back in KL and PJ with all the relos and food! Even looking at the hawker plastic-fantastic chairs makes me homesick! And the weather, and the drinks, and the shopping then there’s the noise, smell, pollution and more food…. I’m so craving Malaysia now 🙁

  • #6
    August 12th, 2009

    Happy belated birthday! I haven’t had steamboat for a long time. No ‘kaki’ (friends who share the same liking) to go with!

  • #7
    August 12th, 2009

    We have a little steamboat at home we need to use more often 🙂 Though, steamboat in KL rocks

  • #8
    August 12th, 2009

    Steam-boat for birthday celebration. Now that’s Celebration!

  • #9
    August 12th, 2009

    happy belated b’day shez!

  • #10
    August 13th, 2009

    Happy belated birthday Shez! (Sorry I didn’t know and didn’t get to say that the other day!)
    Awesome time in Malaysia I see 🙂

  • #11
    Michael Ahn
    August 13th, 2009

    Happy belated birthday Sheryl..! I finally found your website site! 🙂

  • #12
    August 18th, 2009

    @FFichiban: Thanks dude! They found out quite quickly though 🙂

    @Steph: Thanks Steph 🙂 Gotta love the orange plates – I don’t know what I’d think if they ever got rid of them!

    @Helen: Thanks (and oh yes – gotta love the red packets)

    @Forager: I’ll pay that. Imagine being on holiday forever…

    @Karen: Funny how even the noise, smell & pollution are worth missing – but I understand the feeling!

    @Ellie: Lordy, I’m always on the hunt for kaki! Can never have enough of them 🙂

    @Fiona: So do we! It only comes out in winter though – we’re far too lazy (and hot) come Summertime.

    @Ahn: I reckon!

    @Panda: Thank you 🙂

    @Yas: Hehe. I am master sneaky when it comes to birthdays! I had a great time!

    @Michael: Haha! Thanks Michael 🙂 Good sleuthing work!

Shez