Saturday, November 28, 2009

Where do foals come from? - Star


When Tanjung Rambutan is mentioned, most people automatically think of a mental asylum. Few people outside the racing fraternity know the existence of the National Stud Farm (NSF). Security is tight and only staffers are allowed in.

The idea was first put forth by our first Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj and the farm was established in 1969 by the Malaysian Totalisator Board. It is the only commercial thoroughbred breeding farm in South-East Asia and its horses are registered in the Malaysian Stud Book, which has been internationally recognised since 1996. Basically, it means these horses can race anywhere in the world.

NSF’s mission is simple: to develop the breeding of thoroughbred racehorses in Malaysia, to reduce the reliance on imports and to develop equestrian sports. Pan Malaysian Pools Sdn Bhd assumed management of the farm in 1991.

Young horses going through their exercises at the National Stud Farm in Perak.

Spanning over 97ha (240 acres) of land, facilities at the farm include two six-horse rotary exercisers, an equine clinic and laboratory, a training track, practice starting gates and a horse treadmill. The stables are well ventilated although not air-conditioned.

Breeding is done year round but the mating season is restricted from Sept 1 to Nov 30 every year. Since the gestation period is 11 months, the foaling season is therefore between August and November, coinciding with the breeding season.

“Mares are more receptive when they’re in heat. We use ultrasounds to monitor when they’re ovulating and when the time is right, we put a stallion in,” said Dr Thang Su Ling, NSF’s senior manager.

“Since we have about 92 mares and three stallions, the stallions are under worked! They can do more!”

Stud services are provided by selected stallions and the farm has its own band of broodmares with imported pedigrees. Dolphin Street is NSF’s top stallion and it “services” 35-40 mares a season.

A horse on a high-intensity treadmill. — SAIFUL BAHRI/The Star & NATIONAL STUD FARM

Periodic examinations are carried out to ensure that the mating has been successful and towards the end of the foaling, these mares are watched round the clock for imminent foaling.

Dr Thang added, “Once it delivers, dams hardly go back to racing. It’s too much hassle because it takes time for the body to readjust, so after pregnancy, we keep them for breeding purposes.”

There is also a high dropout rate. For example, for every 100 mares that deliver, only 60 foals are capable of racing.

Dr Thang Su Ling’s favourite spot is here, where the yearlings come in from the meadow to joyously greet him.

“We’re looking at a span of three years before they’re sold, which includes the 11-month gestation period. The pregnancy rate is usually 85%, 5% miscarry and 2% are born with complications. From foal to yearlings, there’s a 10% drop out and from one to two years, another 5% drop out,” he said.

That’s how the horses are screened. It’s the survival of the fittest. At the end of the day, winners are determined by the genetic compatibility between the sire and the dam, no matter which pedigree they come from. There are currently 268 horses at the farm, including 15 stallions, which were just imported this year.

When he was a varsity student, Dr Thang did his attachment at the farm, loved it and decided to stay on after graduation. The veterinarian’s favourite spot is where the yearlings graze on the undulating terrain, with Mt Korbu in the background.

When the horses see his car driving by, they canter over to greet him at the fence, like children waiting for treats. Apparently, the colts and fillies are already separated when they turn one.

“Yes, they can get randy at one so we have to keep them separated!” chuckled Dr Thang.
Horse sense

Foal: a young horse of either gender, under one year old

Colt: a young male horse, usually below the age of four

Filly: a young female horse, usually below the age of four

Mare: adult female horse

Stallion (or stud): uncastrated adult male horse or a male horse used for breeding

Broodmare: a female horse used for breeding

Gelding: castrated male horse

Dam: the mother of a horse

Sire: the father of a horse

Damsire: maternal grandfather (sire of the dam)

National Stud Farm, Jalan Chemor, Tanjong Rambutan, Perak, Tel: (05) 533 2144, 533 2145 or Fax: (05) 533 4900. The farm is located about 16km from the Ipoh town centre.

Friday, November 27, 2009

How to make dumplings

Video clips on:

Chinese Dumpling:

Shanghai Dumpling:

Japanese Dumpling:

Wok Over To Penang - NST

Nov 27, 2009

Gulai tumis fish with ladyfingers

Cincalok pork

Explosive flavours of asam laksa

Char kway teow is worth every bit

Jiu hu char with fresh lettuce leaves

If you crave for Penang nonya cooking, char kway teow, prawn mee and asam laksa, you don't have to go to the island. TAN BEE HONG finds it all at The Wok

IN the midst of all the modernity that's The Strand in Kota Damansara, it's a little thrill to walk through elaborately carved wooden doors gilded with gold paint.

But then The Wok Cafe is an oasis of Penang nonya cuisine in a township with a high concentration of mamak and kopitiam outlets. The corner shop is airy and pleasantly cool without a blasting shock of cold waves from the air-conditioning to turn appetising hot food into congealed servings.

Inside, old wooden tables with marble tops add to the ambience of being inside an old nonya house. On the walls hang old pictures of nonya women with their sanggul, and of Penang in the 50s when policemen wore flared khaki shorts and motorcars were only for the rich and famous. The only thing that seems incongruous with the decor is an LCD television set hanging from the ceiling.

Most of the rich trappings on the walls, the old carved doors and frameworks come from the private collection of restaurateur Mervyn Yeoh's father, Robert. The Wok has a sister restaurant, Hot Wok, in Burmah Road, Penang.

"I first learned to cook by watching his grandmother in the kitchen. I've always liked fiddling around in the kitchen and I enjoy good food. I've been cooking for 15 years," says the much-tattooed Mervyn, 33.

Customers come in for brunch on weekends. The Wok Cafe serves char kway teow, asam laksa, prawn mee, loh mee, Penang Hokkien char and beef hor fun. There's curry mee too but I don't know if it's Penang white curry mee or the thick, creamy Klang valley version.

The char kway teow (RM8) is quite impressive, with lots of wok-hei (frying at high temperatures). There are no cockles but Mervyn makes up for it with lots of prawns, squid, fish cake and Chinese sausages. The prawns are big, fresh and crunchy, Not only that but he's probably one of the few chefs who uses lard to fry the noodles, resulting in a fragrance that only those who've had char kway teow with lard will identify with immediately. There are bits of crunchy fried pork fat hidden in the noodles.

Asam laksa is an explosive serving. Rich with the flavours of fish and the various herbs like mint, daun kesum and bunga kantan, the aroma is totally irresistible. Black prawn paste (heh ko) adds to the flavour and if you like more of it, help yourself from the dispenser. The asam laksa is as fiery as it looks, so unless you have a tongue weaned on chili padi, maybe you should stick to char kway teow and prawn mee. Or have some chee cheong fun, flat rice noodles with lashings of sweet sauce, chili sauce and heh ko -- Penang style. A sprinkle of sesame seeds and fried shallots is the cherry on the icing. Would have preferred the chee cheong fun to be unraveled instead of being chopped in rolls.

But it's not all noodles. Diners come in for home-cooking and usually nibble on otak-otak (RM5) and lorbak (RM10) while waiting for the main courses to come.

Wrapped in banana leaves, the otak-otak is fish fillet steamed with egg, herbs, lemongrass and santan. I find it a tad on the bland side though. The deepfried lorbak is stuffed with pork marinated in five-spice and rolled in beancurd sheets. Eat this with the thick brown sauce and chili sauce provided. "We buy the five-spice powder from Penang. The cheaper local version isn't good enough," says Robert.

We also have jiu hu char (RM10). The yambean is finely shredded and cooked with carrots, cabbage, mushrooms and dried cuttlefish. To eat, just fill a leaf of lettuce with this and sambal belacan.

The Wok is mostly about foods served in Penang nonya households on a daily basis. Mervyn says: "A customer told me his aunt could cook the dishes he had just eaten. That's probably so but where is his aunt? He gave me a sad look and said she had passed away. That's the point. We offer home cuisine that you may not be able to get anymore or have the time to prepare."

Like perut ikan (RM9). Literally translated as fish stomach, it's a nonya favourite where pickled fish stomach and roe are cooked with finely sliced daun kadok, pineapple, longbeans, brinjal and various herbs in a tangy and spicy gravy. Not all nonya restaurants offer this as it's time-consuming to shred the vegetables and pound the spices. The fish roe is lovely but I find the fish stomach tough as leather.

We also have a whole red bream for gulai tumis (available with fish fillet, stingray or prawns too). The piquant, tamarind-based gravy is aromatic with herbs like daun kesum and ginger flower. The fish comes with lady fingers and do watch out for the whole chili padi. One bite could immolate your tastebuds.

Pork cincalok (RM14) gets the thumbs-up from everyone. Thick slices of belly pork are stirfried with cincalok (tiny shrimps pickled in brine), onions and red and green chilli. The salty edge of cincalok brings out the best side of the pork, with onions adding a contrasting crunchy texture.

Then there's asam prawns. Marinated in juice from the tamarind fruit, these fried prawns turn my eyes watery with nostalgia. They are just like how Mama made them -- shelled with the head and tail intact to let the tamarind flavours seep into the flesh -- and served with sambal belacan and cucumber.

For dessert (RM4.50), we have sago nangka and mango cendol.

The Wok Cafe is open daily from 11am to 10pm. It's closed on Mondays.