Weekly Challenge 7: A tale of two (preserved) eggs

The seventh in our weekly challenge series was a challenge I’d kept in mind for a while. I’d given a hint about it a couple of posts ago (when I tried the Grass Jelly), and I’d mentioned it on Facebook.  I was quite excited about this one!  But then I got a cold, and it’s taken a while to  wade through all the snotty tissues and naps to actually write it.

This post the tale of two preserved eggs, and the engineer who willingly ate them.

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We’d both heard of different kinds of preserved eggs before.  But you don’t really see them around in New Zealand.  Then we got here, and suddenly they were everywhere.  Not on menus all that much, weirdly enough, but at plenty of supermarkets, mini-marts, mega-marts, and market stalls.  So it was only natural that they went on the challenge list.

Initially, the challenge was going to be just a Century Egg (the brown one above, preserved in some mad concoction for 100 days).  But plans changed when we could only buy them in a four pack.  We did not anticipate enjoyment (The Engineer got progressively more nervous the closer we got to the challenge), and didn’t want to be wasteful.  We thought the market might allow us to buy just one.

But when we got there, there were no Century Eggs to be seen. We did see the weird black eggs though, and decided to go for those.  Despite my great requesting, and gesturing (“numbers are EASY” I thought), we did not get just one.  We walked away with three of these, not quite certain as to what was inside.  When we googled and discovered they were Salted Eggs, The Engineer was relieved, but I was disappointed.  I decided that the challenge should be extended, and should include both Salted Eggs and Century Eggs (which we bought in a four pack, despite the wastefulness).  I was intrigued.  The Engineer was not impressed.

This is what The Engineer thinks of this challenge.

This is what The Engineer thinks of this challenge.

The first step was actually getting into the eggs (pretty easy).  Then the Salted Egg needed to be cooked (again, pretty easy – just like boiling a regular egg).

Then the fun stuff started, with the peeling of the Century Egg.  Apparently we weren’t very good at this stage (well, he wasn’t, I stayed as far away as possible).  Because our egg didn’t come out looking like the google image search Century Eggs.  It looked a whole lot worse.  The photo is (disturbingly) accurate, so I won’t bother trying to explain it…

Our (very unusual) Century Egg.

Our (very unusual) Century Egg.

We did quickly check whether a preserved egg could be rotten.  But when we didn’t find anything much, we decided to just go for it.  (hint: we both survived, so it must have been okay).  I laughed evilly.  The Engineer laughed nervously.  But eventually he got it together, and managed to eat a mouthful.  The scowl and slightly nauseated look on his face said it all.

“I am not a big fan of this challenge”

But his verdict was actually that the taste was not too bad.

“Why do you look like you’re about to spew then?” I asked.

“It’s the smell…”

And as I got closer, I could see what he meant.  Ammonia and sulphur rose up out of the grey yolk, and definitely did not smell like food.

But when I took a very small nibble, I realised that he was right.  The taste is actually not too bad.  I didn’t want to eat more.  But I also didn’t spit it out.

I’ve been told that you don’t generally eat them alone, and that having them in porridge/congee is the way to go.  And, to be honest, I’d consider giving it a go.  Maybe if it was out of the shell for a bit, the smell would dissipate a little, and you’d just be left with the slightly interesting taste.

Then again, if you can eat a lovely fresh egg, why would you bother with one that seems kinda rotten?

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We tackled the Salted Egg second, partly because of the cooking time, and partly because we thought it was a bit less scary.  And when we cut into it, we saw that we were right.  In fact, it looked positively egg like.  After the grey/brown sulphury mush of the last attempt, this was quite a relief.

Salted Egg looks far more egg like.

Salted Egg looks far more egg like.

The yolk had a slightly odd texture, but at least it was yellow (/orange).  The white looked fairly normal.  The smell was quite salty, but almost smelled like it was not sodium chloride.  It reminded me slightly of a chemistry experiment, but wasn’t entirely unpleasant.  (Heck, I think most things would smell quite pleasant after the Century Egg!)

This one we both tasted at about the same time.  The Engineer felt pretty cocky after managing the Century Egg.  And I actually thought this one might be pretty good.  I like salt.  I like eggs.  I like them together.

But in this case, the taste was far worse.  The first taste was fine.  Salty, but nothing too crazy.  And then it hit.  SUPER salty, sharp, and actually quite off putting.  I thought that we’d probably finish this egg.  But there was no way…

Again, I suspect that eating it alone was a mistake.  But also once again, I wonder why I would eat a preserved salted egg, when I could just have a regular egg with a little salt.  The choice seems kinda obvious.

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Overall, the eggs were not quite as bad as expected.  But as far as the challenge goes, they were still the worst of times.  Because the best of times was the post-challenge ice cream.  (And yes, I know how awkwardly I incorporated that Tale of Two Cities reference.  My head’s still a bit stuffy from the cold, okay?)

When I went to buy the Century Eggs, I felt so bad giving The Engineer this tough challenge that I also picked up some Double Dutch ice cream.  Vanilla with chocolate, cashew nuts, and marshmallows.  And he dug it.  I didn’t capture a smile on his face, but you can see how fast he scoffed it by the blurriness of his hand…

The best of times... Ice cream!

The best of times… Ice cream!

(turns out the ice cream was nothing to write home about, but after those eggs, it was pretty darn good!)

It’s on Facebook

When we first thought about moving to Brunei, I wanted information.  And lots of it.  And being me, I first turned to my good friend Google.  I couldn’t even tell you how long I spent searching for ‘expat life kuala belait’, ‘what to do in kuala belait’ ‘expat brunei blog’, and various other combinations of the words expat, kuala belait, brunei, information, blog, along with specifics like restaurants, spa, tailors, supermarket.  I didn’t expect to truly understand what it might be like, but I wanted to know a little bit to prepare me.

And when many of these searches resulted in nothing, or very little, or old websites in Comic Sans with horribly out of date information and clip art, I figured “Oh well, they’re just not that into the internet, that’s cool” and decided to just wait and see when we got here.  And that did work.  People were helpful, and we managed to find out most things by asking.  But I was still doing my best google research to try and find some things out (and I’m pretty nifty with a search engine, if I do say so myself), and still getting pretty frustrated.  But then I discovered an important piece of information:

Brunei is not big on websites, but they are big on Facebook.

Want to find out what time a movie’s on? Like them on Facebook.  Want to know about specials on mobile phones? Find them on Facebook.  Want to find out what’s happening at the Panaga Club?  Head to Facebook (they’ve actually got a pretty good newsletter too…)

So yesterday, when The Engineer told me that he was having trouble finding up to date information on the Boat Club (we want to hire a powerboat for a river trip) I told him I’d try and find something this morning.  I had some printed information from when we first signed up, and didn’t want him to get too distracted from his work.  I read, and I searched.  And then I stumbled on the goldmine, and sent a link through to him.

His response?

“Of course, it’s on Facebook

(The Facebook rule is handy, but it takes some getting used to…)

Weekly Challenge 6: The whole fish (and caboodle)

This week’s challenge was a little different to most of our others.  It’s not trying something that we think sounds weird or will taste bad.  It’s just something that we’ve never done before, but is very common here.  Which is really the point of this series.  So this one will probably sound pretty easy to many of you.

The challenge was to buy and cook a whole fish.

Both of us have led rather sheltered lives, and we’ve always had our fish filleted.  Sometimes by The Engineer’s Dad, who’s pretty nifty with a filleting knife.  More often than not by someone at the supermarket/fish shop before we even see it.  But here, that’s not really an option.  You can buy it whole, or not at all.

You may not know this, but The Engineer used to work at the fish counter at Pak’n’Save.  I always thought this would mean he knew his way around a fish, but apparently not.  So neither of us had any clue what was involved in buying and cooking a whole fish.  (I’m kinda embarrassed to admit that actually…)

We tackled the challenge on Saturday morning.  We were wandering back from a lazy breakfast at Marilyn’s Cafe, and our route took us right past the market.  The stalls outside were only just getting going, but we knew that there should be  some fish stalls open inside.

‘Should we head in now and see what they’ve got?’ I asked The Engineer, and we made a slight detour.

There were only a few stalls open in the big blue building, so we wandered around fairly quickly.  When I saw the crabs crawling around in their cages, I was tempted to change the challenge, but we saved that one for later, and found a stall selling some nice looking fish, which the young man running the stall told us were Snapper. We were not completely convinced, but it looked nice and fresh so we picked one out anyway.

‘I clean?’ we were relieved to hear, and nodded.  One less challenge for us!

A couple of minutes later, we were $5 poorer, and had our wee fish in a plastic bag.

On the way out, we stopped at some vegetable stalls, to grab lemons, limes, and coriander for the fish, and at the mini mart for some aluminium foil.  We had big plans for this bad boy.

And that was the hard part of the challenge over.  Not very hard after all.  Now we just had the fun part!

That evening, we grabbed our supplies, and got working.

First up, we gave it another quick clean, patted it dry, and laid it out on our foil.

Our little fish.

Our little fish.

We rubbed it with ghee, stuffed it with coriander, piled it up with lemon and lime slices, and added a little soy sauce.  It looked amazing.

Ready to go in the oven.

Ready to go in the oven.

We popped it in the oven, and waited.  Forty minutes later, we pulled out the parcel, and opened it to release the delicious tangy steam, and reveal the perfectly cooked fish.

The finished product.

The finished product.

Serving it was another slight challenge.  My fish anatomy is terrible (their spine runs down the middle?), but a quick google search soon revealed a nice easy method.  We only missed a few little bones, which I think is pretty good for a first attempt.

"Carving"/serving the fish

“Carving”/serving the fish. The photo’s probably a bit late to really show the process, but that’s all we’ve got.

And then?  All that was left to do was eat!  We served our soy/lime/coriander fish with rice, and pak chye.  As you can tell, I was pretty happy with it.  And that was before I ate it.  The smile only grew later on.

Challenge completed! (The tasting's the easy part)

Challenge completed! (The tasting’s the easy part)

The lesson that this challenge taught us is that things that sometimes seem a bit scary are usually really not.  I don’t quite know what had been stopping us from buying whole fish (well, for the last few weeks it was that it was on our challenge list, but not yet at the top, but before that it was just a weird worry of ours).  And I regret not doing it earlier!  We have this great resource JUST down the street from our house, and we could have been making the most of it.  At least we know now.  And on those days when we haven’t got anything out for dinner, we’ve got a quick and easy solution!

Next time we might even extend ourselves and attempt to fillet one.  I suspect that could be messy though!  Maybe best to leave that until we have our resident expert filleter here in June.