Sitiawan, Malaysia - A Foochow/Fuzhou Culinary Journey
Sitiawan is a large Foochow-dominated town (Populace: 75,000) in Perak state, Malaysia. Most of its Chinese inhabitants descended from early immigrants from Gutian County (古田县) in Fujian Province, China, who came enmasse to British-Malaya in early 1900s. Today, the Foochow people (Mandarin: 'Fuzhou ren'/福州人) or, as they call themselves, "Hockchiew Neng", constitute the majority of Sitiawan's population, as well as nearby townships of Air Tawar and Kampung Koh.
So, it's not a surprise that our search for a taste of Foochow/Fuzhou food should land us in Sitiawan, about 3 hours' drive north of Kuala Lumpur. The first Foochow pioneers in Sitiawan are mainly Methodist Christians, as evidenced from the number of Methodist churches and missionary schools about town. There are a few well-known Foochow restaurants about town, like Beiking, but we're not ready for another sit-down meal barely an hour after our Cantonese lunch at Tanjung Tualang earlier (http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/918601), so we settled on trying Foochow street foods at the huge food-court in front of the famous Chinese Ping Sien Si (Tua Pek Kong) Temple by the seaside instead.
It was a bit of an experience for me to hear the relatively rare Foochow dialect spoken by virtually *everyone* at the busy food-court, from young kids, teenagers to adults my age, and older. The food stalls there all sell Foochow food - from fried noodles to dumplings and soups.
What we tried:
- Chicken cooked in red wine (紅糟雞) served with "misua" (麵線). I'd tried this dish before in Fuzhou restaurants in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur (http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/838131), but the rendition here blew all those other versions away. After all, we *are* in 'Foochow Central' here in Sitiawan, with the largest Fuzhou community in Malaysia. I'd always found this dish slightly unpalatable due to the bitterness and brassiness of the soup, but the one here was sweet-savoury and very tasty indeed. I polished off every single drop of the soup even, unthinkable previously.
- Fish balls stuffed with minced pork (包心鱼丸) which many Singaporeans and Malaysians equate with Fuzhou cuisine. The ones I tried here were delectable: soft, smooth-textured fish paste formed into ping pong-sized balls, each containing a tasty filling of minced pork. The fishballs were served floating in a clear, subtly-flavoured pork-flavoured consomme.
- "Kampua" noodles (干盘面), which is the Fuzhou answer to Cantonese dry ("kon low") wanton noodles, dressed in dark soysauce, pork lard and shallot-flavoured oil. Like other Fuzhou noodles, the one here has a chewier, pasta-like texture compared to other types of Chinese noodles. Whilst Cantonese wanton noodles needed only 2-3 minutes of quick boiling or blanching, Fuzhou "kampua" noodles need at least 5-7 minutes of parboiling. I loved the stretchiness and chewy texture, more reminiscent of Northern Chinese "lamian".
- "Kong piah" (光餅) a stuffed pastry-biscuit, baked in a tandoor-like earthen oven, much like the stuffed Hakka biscuits. We tried two types of Fuzhou "kong piah" here: one with caramelised onion filling, and another with caramelised pork-lard and sweetened wintermelon filling, studded on top with sesame seeds. Fuzhou "kong piah" biscuits are boiled before being baked, like Jewish bagels, which resulted in a chewiness to their texture. It does seem like the Foochow/Fuzhou people like to have this chewy texture in their foodstuff.
Ping Sien Si (Tua Pek Kong) Temple (品仙祠大伯公廟).
Pasir Panjang, off Kampong Koh
Just sharing, some pics of the foodcourt at the Ping Sien Si (Tua Pek Kong) Temple - everyone's Foochow, except us. In fact, when we wanted to order our food, we were wondering what dialect group each of us are: one friend said he's Hokkien, another said she's Hakka, and another said he's Cantonese, ... then a woman vendor for the "kong piah" biscuits overheard us and quipped, "Oh, but we all also speak Hokkien" :-D
Funny how we were so afraid to communicate to them, in case our own respective dialects were not understood, and using Mandarin had seemed a tad too formal when *everyone* else's using Foochow dialect :-D
Interesting temple. New? I'd never even realised it was there. I've got a couple of old friends living here in Penang who're originally from Sitiawan. Of course, they are Foochow - one surnamed Doh and the other is Ding. They get upset sometimes when the other non-Foochow Chinese people mispronounce their surnames as "Toh" and "Ting", thinking that they were written hanyu pinyin style (which they're NOT), and hence to be pronounced that way. Of course, they should be pronounced with a hard "D". The Foochow dialect consists of a lot of "d"s, not that I can speak it :)
ah very cool; they use alot of hong zao 紅糟, you see that being sold everywhere in chinatown in NY and those fishballs are also sold everywhere
the guang bing 光餅 you posted, ive seen those as well in NY chinatown, but they always have looked like they were sitting around a long time so id be hesitant to order them since i find things like that are best eaten fresh. did you like them?
The freshly-made ones, which the Foochow pronounced "kompiang" were extremely chewy and really are an acquired taste. But the ones I brought back to KL and distributed in office turned out to be very much nicer - softer and with more pronounced flavours. Maybe allowing the biscuits to sit, and let the pork lard seep through, is the trick!