Tuesday, March 3, 2009

My New Kitchen

Back to basics…

I have finally a new kitchen! And it is hugely popular! No, no fine Alessi kitchenware, designer cabinets and Italian tiles: we built a plat-form at the back of the house from recycled wood, added a corrugated iron roof, decided to do without walls and installed a traditional wood-fired stove, called ‘dompuran’ or ‘dompuan’ in various Dusun languages. It comes with a bamboo smoking rack, and further up is the drying rack for firewood, promptly occupied by one of my hens who decided to lay her eggs amongst the firewood. We put her eggs in a cardboard box of a local beer brewer and now she hatches her eggs in there, still on top of the firewood, forcing us to store the firewood somewhere else.

This primitive kitchen has become so popular that we have to think of enlarging it. A recently felled tree provides, cut in half, a bench that can seat about four, and another four can sit on the floor, but then the kitchen is really crowded and there is no space any more for the dishes. And cook we do: BBQ wild boar marinated in olive oil and rosemary, fresh fish from the seas, wild vegetable soups and fragrant hill rice, and stews of a variety of hunted animals. Recently I even made French fries, and occasionally I place my oven above charcoal and go for pizza. Everything always washed down with some home made rice wine, obviously!

It is curious, but I have often wondered why in Sabah the locals don’t have traditional stoves at home. Lighting up a fire is not that much work, and firewood is easily available. In Sarawak, nearly every home is equipped with a wooden fire, right next to the gas stove. On markets there, one can even buy bamboo sections for their ‘pansoh’ cooking, that is meats or fish, together with some condiments are cooked in a bamboo section over an open fire. In Sabah this is called ‘uluon’, the meats or fish thus prepared are extremely delicious but it is nowadays a virtually unknown way of cooking, to a point where it took me days just finding the vocabulary from some old lady. In Sarawak nobody has any hang ups combining the traditional with the modern. Maybe it is because here in Sabah the only people who do have a traditional kitchen are those that cannot, for one reason or other, have a gas-stove. The gas might be too expensive – firewood is easily collected and costs nothing but sweat – or they live in such remote areas that carrying a gas cylinder is simply not worth while. As such cooking over a wooden fire is maybe considered primitive, backwards and poor… but my, how good dishes are when cooked over a fire. Now and then I even boil my tea water over an open fire, which invariably perfumes the water and gives the tea a delicate smoked flavour.

Plus, my new kitchen has added to my pleasures in life: sit out there in the back in the evening, with a nice fire going, some wild boar or fish grilling, with a couple of good friends, and a couple of glasses of rice wine. I don’t exactly have a Balinese garden, but when you sit on the elevate platform of the kitchen, your head just a little under the full height of the wild yams and with gorgeously yellow flowering ‘doringin’ (Dillenia sp) at the back, my colourful chicken happily looking for the odd grain, my cat purring contently next to the fire and the dog watching sorrowfully as we devour wild boar, you actually start relaxing all by your own!

The new kitchen also incites my visitors from far away villages to tell me stories, teach me many new words and even make some handicraft. Some afternoons we sit there and work with bamboo and rattan, tell stories and legends and look for nearly forgotten terms in Dusun for the various artefacts we make. My new kitchen…!

1 comment:

  1. in other dusun language it's called "ROPUHAN"
    many version of ropuhan in sabah such as ropuhan with pillar and without pillar....without pillar is made on the floor.it's will make easy to "magamut" or heating our body when in cool season....sambil2 minum lihing hahahahaha