Sarawak is always a joy to visit. My first ever trip to Kuching was way back in 2006 where I first started to grasp the idea of backpacking while my second trip was last year where I was on official duty during the fun-filled Malaysia Day celebrations. I knew there was a lot of unfinished business so this time I made it a point to go all out in exploring and eating as much as I can within a span of four days.
MIDIN, UMAI & DABAI – Absolute Tribal
If you’re looking for authentic Sarawakian dishes with a bit of fusion thrown in for good measures, Absolute Tribal is the place to be. This restaurant is part of Sarakraf Pavilion, a complex that also hosts a handicraft center and a boutique lodge 5 minutes from the waterfront. Eat as the locals eat by trying midin kerabu (jungle fern salad, top left), umai udang (raw shrimp, bottom left), nasi goreng dabai (olive fried rice) and kari ikan terung asam (fish curry with asam eggplant). Each dish brings their own distinct flavor to the table and if I have to sum up what indigenous Sarawakian cooking tastes like, this place sums it up perfectly.
Daily, 10:30 am – 10:00 pm
No 78, Jalan Tabuan, Kuching
MEE KOLOK – Kopi O Corner
Food court-style kopitiam can be a hit-and-miss affair but Kopi O Corner right by the Jalan Satok overpass seems to have the best hawkers under one roof. We’re talking about MSG-free food at street prices – case in point, the signature breakfast meal of mee kolok. I love the texture of the boiled strained noodles served with a bowl of soup. Then, I’m given an option of doing “dry” by eating the noodles and soup separately or “wet” by pouring the soup into the bowl, turning it into a rich beef noodles. The freedom to choose the method of eating your mee kolok is a fine example of food democracy in motion.
Kopi O Corner
Daily, 6:00 am – 11:00 pm
Jalan Satok, Kuching
MANGO DUCK & CANGKOK MANIS – Bla Bla Bla Restaurant
If you’re feeling a bit high-end, drop by the aptly named Bla Bla Bla Restaurant because talking and eating seems to go hand-in-hand, no? Be prepared to go there with an army of four or more because the portions are pretty huge for two to take down. The homey old shophouse atmosphere adds to the wholesomeness of the meals served – my wife went for the highly recommended mango duck while I propped it up with a huge serving of cangkok manis which are sweet leaves topped with chicken floss. There are just too many dishes to try but we’ll take note to bring a battalion with us next time around.
Bla Bla Bla Restaurant
Wed – Mon, 6:00 pm – 11:30 pm
No 27, Jalan Tabuan, Kuching
LAKSA SARAWAK – Madam Tang’s
In the Laksa Universe, the Sarawakian version seems like a distant cousin compared to the rest as it resembles more like curry noodles. Laksa Sarawak uses meehoon (vermicelli) while the soup has a delicate balance of coconut milk, belacan (shrimp paste) and spices, topped with chicken strips, omelet, bean sprouts and shrimp. As a lover of all things laksa, I really commend Laksa Sarawak for its fresh ingredients and the unique taste of the soup makes you agree that it’s an authentic, made-in-Sarawak laksa soup and not a typical bowl of curry.
Daily, 7:00 am – 12:00 pm
Wisma Nation Horizon, Jalan Petanak, Kuching
AYAM BAKAR – Ratu Ayam Penyet Kopitiam
Being one half of Borneo, Sarawak tend to get some cultural influence from their Indonesian neighbor and food is not an exception. Unsurprisingly, most of the Indonesian dishes here in Kuching has origins from the island of Java, a remnant from the once rich tradition of trading in the Malay archipelago. History lesson aside, Ratu Ayam Penyet Kopitiam dishes out a kick-ass chicken grilled to a nice sweet and smoky flavor while the accompanying sauce is a hot combination of chili and Sarawak black pepper. When your tongue’s all flared up, make sure to take a bite on the crunchy cucumber and cabbage!
Ratu Ayam Penyet Kopitiam
Daily, 8:00 am – 12:00 am
Lorong Lee Ling 1, Jalan Matang, Petra Jaya
Like any other travel destinations within Malaysia, I always leave out a few food joints so that I can enjoy them on my next visit. I missed out on the Iban and Bidayuh delicacies while there’s a lot for me to learn about their local produce not found in West Malaysia like the Sibu dabai and the Melanau sago. It’s beautiful to see how diversity pops up through isolation on an island and knowing that resources can be scarce one day makes you appreciate the things that you grow and catch needs to be preserved across generations. I have a lot of catching up to do with Sarawak so expect me to return to the “Land of the Hornbills” in the near future.