This is a 5 part series that showcases my experiences at the Rainforest World Music Festival (RWMF) and also what I did in the city of Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia.
Kuching Part 3 – Sarawak Cuisine
As always, food and drink, the two extremely important entities in my life, deserve a post of their own 😀 And the cuisine of Sarawak would merit an entire book, I would say !!!
Sarawak is a melting pot of cultures right from Malay to Chinese to Indian and then the several tribes and sub tribes including those in the Highlands where unique and exotic jungle foods are used in their cooking. Their cuisine naturally, is an amalgam of all these communities and hence the choices are very exciting, especially to someone like me who has no food restrictions.
There is no dearth of eating places, be it small roadside stalls or shacks along the waterfront or stand alone restaurants to of course fine dining options.
Restaurants serving the fare of tribes like the Orang Ulu, Iban, Bidayuh etc also carry the ambience of the respective villages and are the decor uses woven reeds, grasses, thatched roofs, rattan furniture etc. The aura is rustic but the crowd is global, with tourists from all over the world choosing to dine at such places.
Sarawak Laksa and chicken curry rice are some of the breakfast staples among the locals.
My experience –
Being a part of the media group that was under the care of our local guide Salina, our dining itinerary was pre chosen and attempted to showcase to us a few of the local options.
While non vegetarians will have a great time, I must say that the variety of vegetarian food seemed limited. Of course, there is always something available in the form of rice or noodles along with a side dish or two but meat eaters definitely have the better choice.
Day 1 –
Our first lunch was at Aroma Cafe, which we were told, served more of home style Malay food. A small restaurant by the main road, this place also seemed popular among school children.
Our set meal consisted of Corn soup with egg, Black pepper chicken, Ala thai fish fillet, Dry chilli prawn, Baby kailan (a type of Chinese Kale leaf) with bean curd, steamed rice, fruits and a drink.
The normal practice is to have food with a drink of choice and there are many types of beverages typical to the region.
Desserts are not really a thing here and people end their meal with fresh fruit, as we did through all of our stay.
Dinner was at the Lepau restaurant. This is one of Kuching’s well known restaurants, popular for its local ‘Sarawakian’ fare and is a must visit for tourists interested in getting a taste of the local (pun intended).
Lepau means farm house and the place is built along the lines of the same with rustic decor created from a profusion of traditional handicrafts made from wood and reeds.
Despite being a weekday, we were also lucky to witness a live performance of an artist playing the Sape (the local traditional stringed wooden music instrument), which added to the local feel of the place. Such performances are usually seen only on weekends or special occasions. Well I guess our presence was special enough 😀
We were served a corn soup similar to the one at lunch. This soup seemed to be a common item at most meals. The other dishes were Kayan mixed vegetables (Kayan is a sub tribe of the Orang Ulu), Fried Calamari with Tepus sauce – squid deep fried with tender tepus stems (from the ginger family), Cangkuk Manis (a green leaf) with pumpkin and egg, Ayam Pansuh – chicken and tapioca leaf cooked in bamboo, Kerabu Midin – kerabu meaning salad and midin being the Fiddleheaded fern that I had always wanted to taste in India but never had the opportunity.
All this was accompanied by red Bario rice wrapped in Itun sip. Bario is the highland region of Sarawak and the specialty of crops here are that they grown on the mountainside and not on plains as is usual with paddy. Itun sip is a kind of leaf which the cooked rice is wrapped in for the purpose of serving and according to my guide, there was no English equivalent that she knew of. I assumed it performed a similar function as a banana leaf.
Well with a meal like this one can well imagine that I was completely satiated, my love for red rice and squid, clinching the deal !!!
The meal was accompanied by a very refreshing pandan lemon grass drink poured out from a quaint silver(ish) kettle.
Dessert of course was fruit in the form of hyper sweet pineapple slices.
Day 2 –
Breakfast was at the Hotel Abell where we were staying and this was a functional affair with some local staple choices like the Sarawak laksa, a Do It Yourself soupy melange of rice noodles in a tangy curry, with accompaniments of choice like dry fish, sambal, egg, tofu, coriander leaves and sauces like chilli, soya and tomato. Chicken curry with rice was another staple.
The helpful Rose at the Hotel Abell, demonstrated how the Laksa was to be assembled.
The western options had bread, butter, jams including a coconut spread, hash browns, sausages, eggs, cereal, juice and soy milk.
Fresh fruit of course was omnipresent.
The breakfast for the 5 days of our stay, was fixated on these dishes, staunchly unwavering and with no element of surprise whatsoever 😀
Lunch was at the Anna Rais Longhouse during our visit to the Bidayuh tribal settlement. A dash of Tuak (rice wine) provided much excitement to the meal 😀 This is drunk before the meal and their version of saying cheers is to yell Tara tara tara followed by a high pitched Woooo, which we gustily did as we gulped the wine in one go as is the practice. Of course we needed no practice to do that and we got it right first time … and several times after that 😀
The food was home cooked by one of the families in the longhouse. Many of the dishes bore the same pattern as our earlier meals. There was the boiled rice, Tapioca leaf stir fry which I found chewy but interesting, a tofu stir fry, bamboo shoots (young bamboo) with greens, pineapple covered steamed whole Tilapia fish, chicken stew cooked in bamboo and of course the pineapple as dessert. Quite an interesting meal which I thoroughly enjoyed.
Home made wines are sold at the longhouse and we found the Sugarcane wine the most exciting of them all. Tapioca starch chips and many other snacks and herbs are also sold in many houses in the settlement.
Dinner was at an Indian restaurant (or supposedly Indian) called Banana Leaf where the meal was served on … yes you guessed it right 😀
However, it was not Indian in the sense that we know it. There was ‘biryani’ rice, stir fried cabbage, papad, some kind of tofu, some fries and a fried fish for the non vegetarians. The fried fish felt like seer and was very good. The rest of the meal was not all that interesting, especially to someone like me who looks for novelty of cuisine when travelling.
In fact the only authentic Indian items there were the pictures of Shahrukh Khan and Aishwarya and that quite dated 😀
Day 3, 4, 5 –
Our breakfasts were always at the hotel but since the RWMF2018 had begun, our lunches were at the festival venue of the Sarawak Cultural Village. The Restaurant Bidayuh played host to us for the next 3 days with quite a large (but again unwavering similar spread) which was traditional food with a reasonably good mix of veg and non veg. Here there was beef, prawn, crab, fish, chicken and many vegetable dishes too. A good selection of beverages also gave us something to look forward to at every meal.
Between us we had the Carrot milk, Teh C peng (the 3 layered iced tea), Lychee Kang a drink with bits of black jelly, barley and lychee and many other drinks.
On the last night since I returned early to the hotel, I also managed to walk down the waterfront and have a nice meal all by myself from one of the food stalls on the walkway. I chose the Fried rice Ikan Terubok, rice with a tangy sauce and the Chinese Herring fish, which is popular in Sarawak. The fish is deep fried whole, bones, scales and all, resulting in a crisp chip that one can crunch through.
With the Sarawak river flowing gently below me and the lights of the Golden bridge and State legislative assembly building glinting and reflecting like jewels in the distance, I ended my meal and my stay with memories of this beautiful land that I know I will return to again some day !!!
Kuching International Airport –
Interestingly, the airport here has a very good food court and the prices are not ‘airport style’ 😀 The food is varied and reasonably priced and one could come earlier to the airport just to try some of the fare.
General Information –
Getting to Kuching from Kuala Lumpur –
There are several flights in a day, that connect Kuala Lumpur to Kuching. One can choose between Air Asia, Malaysian Airlines, Malindo Air which operate direct flights. There are also connecting flights from other airports like Singapore etc.
My travel dates – July 11th-16th, 2018
RWMF dates – July 13th-15th (Fri-Sun), 2018
For more pictures see My Facebook – Kuching – Cuisine
Please Note – I visited Kuching and attended the festival, on the invitation of the Sarawak Tourism Board and Tourism Malaysia, which sponsored my flights, stay and related activities and I thank them for the same. The narrative is based on the inputs that I received from various sources as well as my own experiences.