Friday, February 29, 2008

As I was driving back down to Kota Kinabalu this morning, I was remembering my outlaw brother and sister, Alain and Giselle, and their reaction to Sabah roads when they visited us a few years back. "What does 'awas' mean?" they asked. "Basically, it means watch out, danger, take care, and it's cheaper to put a warning sign than repair the joke of a road you are about to encounter", I told them. To enliven our 6-hour drive, we started grading the "Awas" spots with *, ** or ****, a sort of Michelin system for dangerous road conditions.

As I crossed the 20-km stretch of collapsing road on the edge of the Crocker Range (a place I've dubbed Killer Hill), I decided to stop and take a few photos to share with you. At least a couple of these spots are *** Awas, wouldn't you agree?

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Life in the Orchard

My friend from way back when (would you believe 1968?), Vivienne, wrote from London asking me where Kudat is located.

Kudat's a small, rather delightful town in the far north of Borneo, which we first sailed into by yacht more than 20 years ago. The boat theme continues ... Jean-Francois is now working on a boat project here for a few months, so we've rented a second house almost 7 km out of town.

Kudat district is the heartland of the Rungus, Sabah's most traditional tribe, some of whom still live in longhouses and make great baskets and weavings. It was the first capital of British North Borneo in 1881, and is where the earliest boatloads of Chinese immigrant labourers (Hakka Christians from southern China) landed.

Today the town is a mixture of Chinese (very laid back and friendly they are, too), local Muslims, Rungus and (unavoidably, given our proximity to the Philippines), a number of Filipinos. Kudat is astonishingly orderly for Sabah. People park correctly (and there's actually plenty of parking, unlike the nightmare that Kota Kinabalu has become), there aren't any traffic jams, and the public toilet by the market is spotless and decorated with pot plants and plastic flowers (yeah, I know, but it's better than wodged-up wet tissues and other unmentionables).

We're living in the semi-rural area of Sin San, where the Chinese were given a few tools, seedlings etc and told to go forth and plant. And plant they did — mostly coconuts, which are still everywhere. It's really lush and green, masses of fruit trees (and birds, especially nasty Glossy Starlings that attack the papayas. In a small road going up a hill not far from our house, and where I like to do a late-afternoon walk if it's not raining, people are still growing crops to sell. "Our" garden here is full of old fruit trees — see the jackfruit I picked yesterday, alongside my pot of Italian basil brought up from KK.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Inspired by Basil

Released from incarceration by a break in the rain, I dashed into the soggy garden and gathered one huge ripe jackfruit, 3 pomelos, a bowl of kalamansi (little round green limes known as calomondin to botanists) and a bunch of intensely fragrant Thai basil growing wild amidst the long grass.

Last night, the basil inspired me to prepare a Chinese aubergine/eggplant dish that I seldom made because the aubergine is deep-fried. Don't stop reading! If you have the temperature high and drain the aubergine thoroughly, it's not too oily, and the flavour and texture is excellent.


3-4 long slender Asian aubergines
plenty of ordinary olive oil (not EV)
3-4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1-2 tablespoons light soy sauce
1-2 teaspoons sugar
large pinch of salt
handful of Thai basil, stalks discarded

Roll-cut the aubergine by laying it on the board, cutting in about 3-4 cm length, rolling the uncut portion 180 degrees, cutting again. Repeat this until you have a pile of wedges. Or if I haven't explained the technique correctly, just cut across diagonally in 3-4 cm lengths.

Heat a generous amount of oil in a wok. when hot (but not smoking, you don't want the vegie to burn), add a small handful of aubergine wedges and fry, stirring occasionally, until it is golden and soft — about 3-4 minutes. Drain well on paper towel and repeat until all the vegie is cooked.

Tip out all but a smidgen of oil, reheat the pan and gently fry the garlic for a few seconds. Put back the fried aubergine and stir fry for a moment or so. Splash with soy sauce, add sugar and salt, then stir in the basil just until it wilts. Serve hot. (Left-overs are great at room temperature for lunch the next day.)

And the Rain it Raineth

I suppose rain in all its variants, from drizzle to lashing downpours, is to be expected during the northeast monsoon season, but weeks of the stuff gets boring. I wanted to visit the local tamu in Kudat — a market where tribal Rungus folk sell heart of palm, fern tips, pea-sized aubergines (great for Thai sambals), roselles (wonderful Jamaican sorrel flowers) and other exciting goodies. But the sheets of rain are a total deterrent, so I'm going to spend good shopping time trying to create a blog. Lots of recipes, photos and news to come.