Ending A Fine Chinese Dinner With Canned Longans Anyone? @ Toh Yuen, Hilton Kuching, Malaysia

Date of Visit:  September 18 2013

Toh Yuen is the in-house Chinese restaurant in Hilton Kuching.  I am guessing this restaurant is very popular with the business set (expensive) and had won quite a few tourism awards judging from the certificate it displayed very prominently on table at the entrance foyer.


Toh Yuen’s Signage


Entrance: Wall paper in Chinese calligaphy and little Chinese figurines flanking an tourism award certificate

Not a fan of dark dimly-lit restaurants, I worried that I might trip over uneven carpeting (again) – as I am still nursing my cut knee and ‘bruised wound’ of my ripped 3.1 Phillip Lim sandals that I’ve only worn for under 5 minutes ¬†from the fall I suffered the other day (wounding more for sandals though). ¬†Squinting my eyes to evaluate the interior design of the restaurant, I see red fabrics busily draped from the ceiling to the walls. ¬† ¬†Some may call it ‘Chinoiserie-chic‘, but for the more imaginative – imagine a fabric-dye factory straight out a scene in a Chinese kung-fu movie where a swordsman come flying out from nowhere. ¬† To further enhance the Chinoiserie-chic experience, lanterns with tassles and calligraphy-patterned wall-covering are used.


Interior of main restaurant

Thank goodness we had a private room for dinner.   A brightly-lit festive room with a huge table with lazy-suzy, underneath a huge red lantern and calligraphy-patterned wall-covering for uniformity with the rest of the restaurant.  Even the red napkins and place setting evokes festivity in the room.  I instantly perked up.

On the table are the usual condiments of freshly chopped garlic and assorted chopped chili- red chili,  vinegared green chili, chili-padis.  We are also given sweet cooked soy sauce peanuts to snack on while waiting for the others to arrive.


Place setting

First up, a Combination Platter of jellyfish, ham, rolled squid in beancurd skin, a salad of seafood mixed with melon topped with mayonnaise. ¬†I am allergic to shell-fish so did not try the salad, not a big deal for me since I don’t like mayonnaise. ¬†The things that I enjoyed most in the platter are the crunchy jellyfish and fresh cucumbers.


Combination Platter


Close-up of a few pickings from the assorted Combination Platter

We also had Chicken Soup with a few tough chicken pieces, red dates, fungus and ginseng. ¬†It came piping hot and very tasty. ¬† Something is telling me that this dinner is going to be very healthy… so let’s wait out!


Chicken Soup

Steamed Cod in light soy sauce came next. ¬†Our host asked whether we want rice to accompany our dinner. ¬†None of us wanted any, and it seems that everyone is on a low-carb diet nowadays! ¬†(Even older gentlemen!¬†ūüėą )


Steamed Cod in light soy sauce

We also had Asparagus with whole garlics and fish jerky, which continued the health-vibe of our dinner.


Asparagus with whole garlics and fish jerky.

Unfortunately for me, I could not try the Signature Buttermilk Prawns. ¬†These are prawn balls deep-fried in buttermilk and very delicious I was told. ¬†I did take a bite of the deep-fried basket the prawn balls came in to taste, let’s just say it’s for decoration.


Buttermilk Prawns

Since dinner started late, at 8pm, we were very relieved when the dessert arrived.¬† Wait for it –¬†Canned Longans in syrup added with coconut strips and fungus! ¬†I find it very puzzling for a fine dining restaurant to be serving canned fruits. ¬†Then again, I presume canned longans and canned lychees are made very popular ¬†in Malaysia where the climate here is not inclined to producing these exotic fruits.


Canned Longan

We also picked up a Hilton Kuching Red Bean Mooncake (RM24++). ¬† A pretty pair of gold-fish embossed on salty baked skin infilled with sweet red bean paste and melon seeds. ¬†It was ‘moreish’ – well, we were at Kuching airport, the Starbucks there didn’t cut it and we were hungry…


Hilton Kuching Moon cake


X-section: Hilton Kuching Moon cake

Meeting (or Rather ‘Staking Out’) The King and Queen of Malaysia @ Hilton Kuching, Malaysia

Date: September 17 2013

I spy, I spy with my little beady eyes (actually my eyes ain’t too small, only saying for dramatics), from the corners of my eyes I saw police outriders in their monstrous vintage motorcycles with sirens blaring, followed by a Silver Maybach coming to a halt in front of my hotel… and who’d pop out, but Their Majesties, The King of Malaysia and his Queen!

So thus began my 2 hours of stake-out on Their Majesties the Yang di-Pertuan Agong and the Raja Permaisuri Agong of Malaysia, at Caffe Cino on the ground floor of Hilton Kuching (err, yes… I’m on a work meeting, but the next one doesn’t start until late so…) To while the time away, I had Iced Blended Coffee (Viennese, I believe with the generous serve of whipped cream on top), without sugar, which costed me an arm-and-a-leg at RM15++. Considering I just had lunch here for only RM17 . Nice Illy coffee by the way, a bit weak but no complaints.


Iced Blended Coffee

I saw the famous white-haired guy with white whiskers and his young chesty wife (who gave me a little wave – thrilled ūüėĄ ). They don’t need any introduction, so me no takey pictures.

And also this couple, Yang di-Pertua Negari Sarawak (TYT) and his wife. TYT is the Governor of Sarawak, appointed by The King.


TYT and Wife

But I really wanted to snap a picture of Their Majesties. I checked with securities if I can take pictures of Their Majesties. The securities gave me some ‘do and don’ts’, then told me to stand at the bend of the red carpet, for the perfect ‘direct line view’ of Their Majesties as they emerge from the lift! After hanging around for 2 hours, I finally captured my Lumix moment!


Their Majesties (in the middle) flanked by TY and his Wife

They were a lovely down-to-earth couples who shook hands with everyone! All you do is line on the the right if you want to shake hands with them or line up to the left if you want to take pictures of them! I chose to take pictures as momentos for my blog.

Since I am staying at Hilton Kuching, I might give a little run-down about the hotel. I got a room with river view


Sarawak River

The rooms were a bit tired: Nice hard bed, not lumpy, I slept well. Air conditioning worked. Desk was spacious to scatter all my docs. Mini bar was empty. Tea, coffee and 2 bottles of waters provided. No slippers in room. No turndown service. Bathrooms old and needed refurb. No free wifi, broadband internet access costs RM35++ per day, very expensive (Digi Global Roaming is only RM33++!!) House-keeping have to keep up with vacuuming, I spotted a used candy wrapper on the floor.


Twin Beds, brown colour scheme – macho-honcho


Concentrate on your work, mama says ‘No TV watching while working!”

Nothing for the commoner to harp home about, still if The Majesties dropped by, that’s a implied royal seal of approval, right? ūüėą

Dining Kelabit, But Mind The Carbon Footprints @ Tribal Stove, Kuching, Malaysia

Date of Visit: September 17 2013

The Kelabit tribe is the smallest ethnic group in Borneo Sarawak with a population of only 6,600. They live in the remote highlands, only reachable Indiana Jones-style through a few hardy days of gruelling jungle treks or via a jolly ride on a Twin-engine Otter plane. Remote and inaccessible as they are, this tribe is the cultivator of the world famous Barrio Ricedon’t embarrass yourself by calling yourself a foodie, if you have never heard of Bario Rice – this special rice has been registered as a product of Geographical Indication (GI) with the Malaysian Intellectual Property Organization (MyIPO).

This is my second trip to Kuching in less than a week and I was put up at Hilton Hotel which is conveniently located opposite Tribal Stove. Thrilled to see a sign saying ‘Serving Kelabit Highland Cuisine‘, I headed straight into the restaurant for a quick lunch. My initial thought was: “What? Another indigenous restaurant capitalising on the name ‘tribal’?”. If you have been reading my posts, I have eaten at 2 indigenous/ tribal restaurants (here and here) in my last trip and whilst I’ve enjoyed the cuisines, I couldn’t help but think that these has been modified to suit the city folks.

The restaurant is bright and cheerful, but more importantly air-conditioned and equipped with wifi. Adorned with black and white photocopied photographs depicting the traditional Kelabits’ way of life and decorated with handicrafts, I am finding myself to be quickly immersed in their culture. The recycled salvaged metal chairs, galvanised tables, old overhead lights , give a rusticated eclectic edge to the scene, practically hitting all the right chords for the Inner City set (that is, if you are from the Sydney’s Surry Hills set or somewhere where SOHO, NOHO are fashionable areas etc).


Interior of Restaurant


Interior of Restaurant

While listening to the soothing enchanting ethnic music, I checked out the interesting wall decorations – a tinge of tropical jungle vibe, perhaps?


Carved woodwork


Beaded Farm Hat


Painting depicting Kelabit traditions which are for sale


Wooden sculpture

Since the 3 of us are Kelabit cuisine virgins, rather than navigating the menu and interrogating the waitress with questions, we decided to order a set lunch each, setting ourselves up for surprises. Each set lunch comes with a choice of main, soup of the day, barrio white rice or nubaq layaq, 2 types of organic wild vegetables and a drink.


Tribal set Lunch Menu

Apparently all the vegetables are flown in from the Bario-Bakelan Highlands. If you are a Greenie, you’d be dismayed at the carbon footprint each catty of vegs produced but then again, this is only collateral damage for the ‘environmental destruction’ that pave way for development, meaning trees have to be cut down to build roads, thus ‘illegal’ loggings, etc. There are 2 sides to a coin, so just let’s stick with the idea of isolating the Kelabits as martyrs for the good of the environment. Do not pull me into the debate, I am only a gluttonous foodie.


Iced Lemon + Lemongrass Water

And for once, as a foodie, I am experiencing what is meant by ‘food truly offers an interesting insight to the various culture’.

I had Labo Senutuq (Shredded Beef or Serunding Style Beef) RM17 as my set lunch. I looked on with awe at the warm package wrapped in Daun Isip (a large green leaf) arrived. Oh, it was Nubaq Layaq, red mashed bario rice. It had an interesting mushy texture of what a mashed up rice should be, except it is not starchy. Traditionally, the Kelabits wrap their rice in isip leaves so that they can bring their rice to the farm, to keep it warm and to also use the leaf as a plate – ode to waste not, want not. The accompanying soup of the day is Soup Tengayan (jungle leaves) from the Bario-Bakelan Highlands.


Red Bario Mashed Rice Wrapped in Daun Isip with Soup Tengayan


My Labo Senutuq Lunch Set

My salad is Bunga Kantan, which is wild ginger flower. A subtle blend of crunchy deliciousness dressed in lime juice.


Kerid Lamud Busaq Keluduh (Wild Jungle Salad)

I did not know that banana leaves can be eaten, and this is an interesting. The soft shredded banana leaves cooked in coconut milk was my vegetarian curry that went very well with my mashed red bario rice.


Shredded Banana Leaves with Coconut Milk

Labo Senutuq is akin to beef floss jerky. The pounded and shredded beef was cooked in dried chilli and spices. Some bits were tough, but overall very tasty. Surprisingly, a very filling dish since I could only finish half of it.


Labo Senutuq (Beef Floss Jerky)

My other 2 companion had:
A’beng/ Luan Tunee (Fish cooked tribal style) $16 and Kari Buaq Kabar (Pineapple curry) $16


Top: Kari Buaq Kabar
Bottom: A’beng/ Luan Tunee

A quick run-down:
A’beng is deboned fish which has been shredded. Cooked in a traditional style, presumably smoked in bamboo with some spices. It had a mild taste and an interesting soft texture. One would not had known that this is fish if not pointed out!


A’beng (deboned fish cooked traditional style),

The Minced Bamboo Shoots Salad was a very fresh and simple salad. I think only salt was added to it. In this point, I should mention that the Kelabits also produce their own mineral-rich Bario Highland organic salt, wrapped in dried leaf. This is available for sale at Tribal Stove.


Minced Bamboo Shoots Salad

The wild Jungle Asparagus was very tender and cooked in sambal.


Jungle asparagus

The Jungle Ferns with Baby Corns was delicious, simply cooked with salt.


Jungle Ferns (midin) with Baby Corns

The famous Bario Rice – smaller, less starchy, totally organic (think about it, pesticides costs money! Duh!)


Bario Rice

For dessert, we had Banana and Breadfruit Chips, which we had ordered as starters but the kitchen forgot. Nevertheless, it was coated in sugar so made for good crispy dessert (sans chili sauce, of course)


Banana and Breadfruit Chips

I have never met a Kelabit. From the photos I saw on the wall, they looked very fashion-forward making even the edgiest punkster look tame with their huge ear-rings collection and long elongated ear lobes.


A Kelabit woman, picture from Tribal Stove

Tribal Stove is truly unique. The real appeal of this establishment is its wholesome, healthy back-to-roots approach of letting the organic ingredients shine through without a need for a twist. If I live in Kuching, I will certainly make this my mess! By the way, anyone be keen enough to trek up the Bario Highlands with me in 2014? ūüôā

A Nyonya Breakfast @ Kuching, Malaysia

Date of Visit: September 11 2013

Before my flight back to the Boo, my friend S insisted that I should sample what she claims to be the best Popiah in Kuching. The coffee shop is somewhere along the 3rd Mile – the name escapes me – but she was kind enough to give me the directions should I want to visit the place in the future: “Opposite KTS village apartments, behind ‘Rice n Noodles’ shop. Few doors away from Hainan Cafe”. Goobledygook to me, but perhaps might make some sense to the Kuchingites who are familiar with the landmarks.

Our vegetarian breakfast consisted of 2 popular Nyonya snacks – popiah and pie tie. By the way, Nyonyas are Chinese women married to Malay men. Their descendents of this mixed-racial marriage are called Peranakans. Nyonya delicacies often involves a lot of work – julienning, dicing and pounding the vegetables or herbs.


My Nyonya Breakfast: Popiah, Pie Tie and 3-Layer Iced Tea

The vendor of the popiah store is Joseph, a man in his 60s. What made his popiahs special were that the thin flour pancakes are stuffed with the julienned wholesome goodness of jicama, long beans, bean sprouts, cabbages and chopped up dried bean curds given a dash of life with sweet crunchy peanut and chili sauces then tightly rolled into a tight package as big as a burrito roll with a hefty tag of RM3. Being purely vegetarian, they were packed with minerals, vitamins and fibres. the notable thing about Sarawakian popiahs are that the ingredients used are all dried. In this case, the jicamas have been been steamed then squeezed dried.

Now, you may be wondering what is ‘Jicama’. It is also referred as Mexican yam or Mexican turnip. It is a large brown bulbous root. Inside the rough and tough skin is the white crunchy flesh, similar to a raw potato but wetter and crunchier. The flavor is slightly sweet, a little nutty. It can be eaten both raw and cooked, although my own favorite is raw, (a key vegetable in rojaks) since its crispness and colour can be retained over time.


X-section: Stuffed Vegetarian Popiah

Kuih Pie Tee or ‘Top Hat‘, thus called due to the thin crispy shell casings when inverted look like a lot like a top hat. This crispy shell is usually filled with the same mixture of thinly sliced vegetables that popiah uses. Considering that making the little top hats is tedious work, it commands a premium of RM1 each. This is a popular Peranakan tidbit, something to amuse the mouth.


Pie Tie


X-section: Pie Tie

I have been seeing advertorial posters of an interesting drink called ‘3 Layer Tea‘ adorning walls in nearly all the coffee shops I have eaten at but had never ordered. Today, I decided to order one too.

The 3 layers of my iced 3 layer tea consisted of black palm sugar syrup at the bottom, creamy evaporated milk in the middle and brown brewed tea on top. It is a distinctively coloured drink when carefully layered. The sweetness has a refreshing pandan leaves fragrance to it which I enjoyed.

It was a good wholesome breakfast which I appreciated. So, thanks again S!

New Spin on Tribal Dining @ Absolute Tribal, Kuching, Malaysia

Date of Visit: September 10 2013

Eager to try umai, my friend recommended me to Absolute Tribal, a modern Thai-Dayak fusion restaurant attached to Sarakraf. Sarakraf stands for Sarawak Arts and Craft Center, a semi-private initiavtive setup to conserve and promote Sarawak’s heritage in arts and crafts through cultural workshops and demonstrations. There is an art gallery, craft shop and a budget accommodation in the compound which is very popular.


Sarakraf HQ is an old Colonial Building

My friend and I had a little tour of the centre before lunch and met with Gerald, the brains behind Sarakraf, the artist-in-residence who is also the owner. All the paintings on the walls were painted by him.


Mini Museum/ Art Gallery

The entrance to the restaurant is through here – the yellow frame with a hot pink portico.





There are a number of dining spaces designed in different styles – chairs or floor seats, indoor or outdoor, modern or tribal – to suit one’s fancy and to accommodate specific functions and the number of people.


Jungle pond with a monkey swinging in the middle of the restaurant

This is where we dined, at the ‘tribal’ room. The walls are adorned with bamboos and attap leaves. It is very private, away from the main dining area and has a dark rustic feel which I liked.


Tribal Dining Room


Woven mats on floor, bamboos and attap leaves on walls


Pua (traditional weaving), spear and shield adorn the wall

As soon as we are seated, we were presented a very lengthy menu listing Thai, Dayak and local food at our table. The ‘Durian Inspired Menu‘ has just been released and I noted with interest that this menu is available from 7:30am to 9:30pm. Seriously? Durian at 7:30am, anyone? Certainly ‘takes your breath away’…as the tagline goes. *phoof*

Well, ¬†it’s 1:00pm and I am digging to try tempoyak. ¬†¬†I am currently into fermented foods for the probiotics benefits and am ¬†making kefir and kimchi at home. ¬†But so far, have never tasted tempoyak.¬†¬†Tempoyak is fermented durian, if you repel from the stink of durian, wait for this one!


Tempoyak Menu.
Source: Absolute Tribal’s FB page

So without much ado, the first to arrive was¬†Tempoyak Ikan Bilis (RM8). ¬†The speedy arrival was due to the waitress’s mistake in delivery, ¬†it was our neighbour’s order, oh well, we didn’t realise until half-way through. ¬†The white-baits were deep-fried first before re-frying with lemongrass, chili, onions and tempoyak. Additional fish sauce was added for seasoning. I identified the faint stinky tempoyak smell straight away, it also has a distinctive salty fermented taste. This dish is good source of calcium since you eat the fish, bones and all.


Tempoyak Ikan Bilis

Tempoyak Curry Fish with Terung Dayak (RM25). I quite enjoyed this dish – especially the¬†terung dayaks¬†(sour eggplants) ¬†which I have taken a liking to ¬†from my dinner at ¬†the.Dyak¬† last night. ¬†This ¬†is a thick salty tangy dish with a creamy santan base, ¬†sour¬†terung dayaks and faint hint of ¬†tempoyak. ¬† A mild tasting dish which is very moreish. ¬†I think I am a new convert to tempoyak now. ¬†A trip to the central market to get a few of these is in order. Talking about my laziness, here’s an interesting blog on a couple who went on a durian hunting trail all over the world for a year (link here). Now, if ¬†only I have the motivation…


Tempoyak Curry Fish with Terung Dayak

This is my friend’s favourite – Deep fried Kai-Lan with Chicken Floss (RM15) which she has high praises for. She liked the crunchy leaves and sweet chicken floss while I preferred the stir-fried stalks. It was drizzled with fish sauce which imparted a light sweet taste. A dish that looked healthy but certainly not!


Deep fried Kai-Lan with Chicken Floss

Smoked Duck Kerabu (RM20). Kerabu means salad (I googled). This is smoked duck strips that is deep-fried then served on a bed of slaw and garnished with a lot of lemon grass and shallots. A very salty, yet delectable dish, served with a drizzle of light fish sauce (again) ūüėä


Smoked Duck Kerabu

Umai (RM25). This is the dish I have been waiting SO long. Raw fish cooked in lime or cerviche. The presentation was nice – raw fish on a bed of slaw surrounded by a few slices of cucumbers and topped with shallots and lemongrass. Unfortunately, not what I had imagined because it was not ‘cooked in lime’. I detected fishiness from the fish and relied heavily on the accompanying sauce of chili padi, garlic, lime to mask the taste. In fact, I like the hot sauce so much that I burnt my mouth!ūüė≥ Lucky I have my cold glass of lemon -mint infused water at hand and half serve of rice to bind me over.




Garlic, shallot, lemongrass, lime sauce

Overall, an hour of satisfying meal in the company of an old friend in a totally relaxing atmosphere.  A different experience from  the.Dyak  and a different way of cooking traditional Dayak cuisine.


Orang Hutan

Dining the Headhunter’s Way @ the.Dyak, Kuching, Malaysia

Date of Visit: September 9 2013

As a foodie-culturalista, I am keen to find out what the Dayaks and their much feared forebears, the headhunters ate.

Although the indigenous tribe in Borneo collectively known as ‘Dayak’ comprises 40% of the population in Sarawak, it is perplexing to discover that there is only 1 fine dining restaurant in Kuching serving authentic Dayak cuisine – the.Dyak which opened in late 2011.

The restaurant is an attention-grabbing corner shop in a shophouse, with 2 big red pillars decorated in Dayak florid motifs. One enters the restaurant through the elaborately decorated gable entry into an Aladdin cave of Dayak treasures. Every single inch of the wall is adorned – mirrors, beadworks, weavings, family portraitures, blowpipes, sapes, just to name the few – totally making a cultural anthropologist swoon. One can truly chillax chief-of-the-longhouse-style in the air-conditioned comfort, perhaps even updating one’s Facebook status or write a review on TripAdvisor (which is a popular mode of advertising for the competitive restaurant market in Kuching) with the free wifi provided.


Elaborately decorated gable entrance in traditional motifs


Indigenous artefacts adorning the wall


More artefacts towards the back of the restaurant

I am especially intrigued with the Dayak motifs and designs – each piece tells a story. (Some introductory background info here)


R: Sape (3-string musical instrument)
L: Table cloth


Motif of a Dayak man on the gable entrance

Navigating a Dayak menu of unfamiliar food is a breeze with a pictorial menu with English descriptions and an attentive waiter on standby to explain the intrinsics of the dishes. There are many items in the menu ranging from grilled, roasted and fermented meats; fermented durians, jungle shoots and vegetables, many of which I have never tried. I was disappointed to find that sago worms, puffer fish and raw fish which were the dishes I had especially came for needed 2 weeks advance notice.

Despite that, there are other interesting indigenous Dayak cuisine that impressed me.

First to arrive at our table was the Tilapia Terung Dayak (RM35). A giant fish head thrusting out from the platoon of aromatic lemongrass, fried garlic and shallots in a thick piquant yellow turmeric soup. The star here is the unassuming ‘terung dayak‘ or sour eggplant , an indigenous fruit to Borneo resembling tomato, socking a KO mouth-puckering sour punch to the soup. I am very drawn to the toughness of the terung dayak which did not disintergrate in the cooking process, thus giving me enjoyment in every bite. The fish on the other hand was so-so with lots of small bones, so best eat with caution. My dining companion who has strong aversions to fishiness told me that this is a farmed fish because she detected ‘muddiness’ in the fish. Little wonder, since fresh river fish is hard to come by due to water pollution and over-fishing of the past.


Tilapia Terung Dayak

With the plethora of salty-tangy-aromatics, rescue came in the form of red unhusked rice (RM3 per person). Perfect for soaking up the gravies and soups to placate my over-worked taste buds.


Red unhusked rice

The dish that I was looking forward to was Manok Lulun (RM23), also commonly known as Ayam Pansoh. This is traditional Dayak cuisine of chicken cooked in bamboo with ginger, onions, lemongrass, ginger flowers and tapioca leaves. However, the zingy soup is a tad too salty and I could not detect any bamboo fragrance at all, perhaps it was overpowered by the use of lemongrass.


Manok Lulun


Chicken pieces in Manok Lulun with ginger flower petal

In the hunter-gatherer nomadic tribes around the world, fresh meats are scarce and usually preserved for important events and festivals. With fermented foods all the rage at the moment, I am eager to test out indigenously cured meat dishes.

Jani Kasam (RM25) is fermented pork with fat and skin intact (3 -layered meat), sautéed with tapioca leaves and garlic. This is my favourite dish, unfortunately not for the uninitiated. It has the pungent smell of stinky beancurd, very salty and very sour Рbut for me Рtotally appetising!

This is the first time that I have eaten the slippery and mushy tapioca leaves. It has a very interesting soft textures which I enjoyed. Apparently, tapioca or cassava leaves were part of the Dayak’s staple diet. They have a lot of beneficial minerals and were foraged plants that grew in the wild. Nowadays, they are cultivated at almost all the longhouses.


Jani Kasam with Tapioca Leaves

Another beneficial plant that I have never tried is the Daun Ubi Randau Guring (RM12) or Sweet Potato Leaves. This is a delicious sautéed vegetables with garlic and desiccated coconut, the original version has dried shrimps which I have asked to be omitted due to my allergy.

According to a new report from the University of Arkansas, sweet potato leaves has the world’s richest source of disease-fighting antioxidants and poised to become the next big health-food craze – Glad I’ve tasted it now!


Daun Ubi Randau Guring

The finale to our meal is the much lauded Tuak ice-cream (Rm6.50). Tuak is fermented rice wine akin to Chinese rice wine. The alcohol content ranges from low 10% up to 50%. This is an easy to assemble dessert at home (provided one knows how to make tuak), a scoop of vanilla ice-cream on top of fermented rice or jiuniang, which happens to be my favourite dessert (my review of the jiuniang in Hong Kong here ), doused with tuak and finished with crunchy pralines toppings. A decadently refreshing dessert.


Tuak ice-cream

My general verdict of traditional Dayak cuisine is that it is healthy food consisting of previously foraged (now cultivated) and fermented foods. I am sure that the.Dyak had modernised the menu to suit modern tastebuds, thus the afinity to Thai cuisine in the use of aromatics such as lemongrass, shallots and garlic. Taste-wise, I find the overall taste of the dishes to be quite similar and a bit salty. Food is on the expensive side, with a glass of warm water costing RM1.

While googling info on Dayak cuisine, I found this write-up on capitalising on Sarawak cultural food (here), the.Dyak’s proprietor is one of the restauranteur interviewed. Let’s hope for new Dayak restaurants openings!

‘P.Ramlee: Celebrating A Legend’ Musical @ BCCK, Kuching, Malaysia

Date of Show: September 10 2013

P Ramlee is a Malaysian icon. Ever the ladies man, he was also a hero for the macho set with his moustache, dimpled boyish grin and twinkling eyes. He was a megastar akin to George Clooney in his days. From his beginning as a musician in a kampung (village) in Penang, his talents exceeded from composing 360 songs to script writing and directing/ producing 66 movies.


P Ramlee Banner at BCCK

(My Update: 10 days in the town of Boo, seemed an eternity. Whilst deciphering non-sensical letters letters issued by a local Datuk Pemanca and his daughter whose name totally contradicts her namesake – angry, venomous and NOT happy- had kept me amused, I still need a breather!)

As if the heaven had heard my prayers, I received a text from my friend Sandy, that she had secured a ticket for me to see a P.Ramlee musical in Kuching. This is the first time a professional troupe of artistes had flown in to stage a musical in the outback state of Borneo and I was truly excited to see my first Malay musical.



The concert was scheduled for a 7:30pm start but as usual in the serfdom of Sarawak, there is always a delay to accommodate some self-important VIPs who insist on making an entrance by arriving late. Even though this evening’s performance was sponsored by the State Government of Sarawak to commemorate 50 years of entering the Federation of Malaya together with the state of Sabah to form Malaysia or under the political banner, ‘Sarawak‚Äôs 50th Year of Progress in Malaysia‘ – a free event should still start on time, especially with the time costs of over a 1000 eager audiences -young and old – seated and waiting for the show to start! (Sir Elton John never tolerate give sh*t like this! Nor Rolling Stones for that matter! 7:30pm means 7:30pm!)

In the short 2-hour musical, the show chronicles a summary of P.Ramlee’s life romances and career highlights through the use of lightings, props and video clips amid the singing and dancing.

The story begins with P.Ramlee’s early days in Penang wooing a lass called ‘Azizah‘ by penning a song after her. This song became a runaway success for him, giving him the opportunity to work in Singapore to pursue his dreams. In Singapore, he met his first wife, Junaidah. Unfortunately, Junaidah could not handle her husband’s rising fame and decided to leave him. A broken hearted P.Ramlee then met with his second wife, Nurizan who had left the Sultan of Perak for him. During their marriage, he directed his first movie ‘Penarik Beca’ (Tricycle Driver) – a story about forbidden love due to the different family backgrounds. The movie was an instant hit. Naturally, P.Ramlee got engrossed in his work, thus putting a strain on his relationship with his wife. They later divorced. P.Ramlee then met Saloma, his third wife. They remained together until the day he died. The downfall of P.Ramlee’s brilliant career ended with the separation of Singapore from Malaya. As a patriot, P.Ramlee decided to move to Kuala Lumpur. In the final scene, P.Ramlee and Saloma reminisced about their life, singing a meaningful rendition of ‘Air Mata di Kuala Lumpur‘ (Will I be remembered, Sally?) which reflected his life and his worries that he will be forgotten.

I gather from the karaoke-style singing that the leading actor and 2 of the 3 lead actresses were not trained singers, but the humorous lyrics and jokes kept the audiences amused. The lead actor is Tony Eusoff, a Sarawakian architect-turned-actor who did a fine portrayal of P.Ramlee with his trademark hands-on-his-side chicken-wing style and speaking with an intonation.

Nonetheless, the success in the musical is not only attributed to the lively singing and joget-style/ à gogo dancings of the actors and actresses but also relied heavily on the change of props. One of the highlight was the steam train puffing with dry-ice rolling onto stage which later split into two to reveal the singing troupe on the train. It was exciting and wowed the audience. Flashing lights provided glitz, glamour and drama to the stage. The trio of paparazzo provided comedic relief as well as to fill in the gaps in background stories, making the story-line even more enthralling.



I should also praise the well-behaved audiences who did not push nor shove their way into the hall through the single 1-door entrance and for not standing up to get a better view of the low stage. Kudos to the best behaved crowds I have ever came across!

All-in-all, a marvellous night out! Thanks Sandy!


Source: The Star Online

For more pictures, visit the local daily here.

While reading on P. Ramlee, I came upon an article written by Lim Kit Siang titled ‘Broke and Broken – Should P.Ramlee Have Came Back‘. He felt compelled to pen this article after watching P.Ramlee’s documentary in the History Channel. He used P.Ramlee as a case-study for any talented Malaysian contemplating on returning home to Malaysia. A provoking article as always from one of the Opposition Leaders in Malaysia.


Exhibition corner

Additional resources on P.Ramlee can be found at P Ramlee Cyber Museum and P Ramlee Museum in Kuala Lumpur.

Something’s Amiss @ Steakhouse, Hilton Kuching, Malaysia

Date of Visit: July 11 2013

Not sure whether I am alone on this Рbut, do you get a mixed feeling of guilt + depression Рwhen you stay sedentary the whole day, only shuffling between meetings and eating?   I often do.  And I have been eating sugar-laden food for 2 days in a row! (here and here)

Despite a more than filling lunch  at Bangkok Thai Seafood Restaurant less than 5 hours ago, we still have ample time for dinner since our flight back to The Boo is at 8:20pm.

Our meeting concluded at the Hilton, naturally we thought of having a quick bite ¬†at the hotel’s cafe. ¬†Unfortunately, but the cafe will only open at 6:30pm for the¬†iftar buffet. ¬†So we tried our luck at the Steakhouse, upon enquiry the kitchen was willing to accommodate us for an early dinner at 6pm. ¬†I am pleasantly surprised to find that Steakhouse has been nominated one of Malaysia’s Best Restaurants¬†for 3 years running, from the displays of their awards near the entrance.

This is a small restaurant modestly done.  Clean, no food smell along with  attentive service from the wait staff who made sure that our glasses are never empty.





First we were given drinks and then offered ¬†complimentary brioche presented in a cup. A perfect break from eating the white spongy ‘mantaos’ from Breadsense¬†which¬†I am getting rather fond of in The Boo.

Speaking of which, I am wanting to cut out all things sweet, white and processed but it is proving to be very hard, especially since sugar creeps up on you – even in their most natural forms in fruits and vegetables.



For my main, I was deciding between a Oven Roasted Barramundi (RM49) or Grilled Salmon (RM57), in the end the fennel salad that was to accompany the salmon won me over.  As I was tucking in my perfectly grilled salmon which  was still pick inside, I thought that something was amiss, I pondered then remembered that there was supposed to be a fennel salad.  I then realised that the kitchen had very cleverly  masqueraded bits of celeries as fennels hidden under the orange segments and olives.  Not wanting to kick a fuss, I sucked up in finishing my course.  The salmon itself was not bad, the bits of oranges, olives and celery imparted a tangy sweetness and earthly taste to the fish.


Grilled Salmon

While waiting for our bill, we were served house-made petit fours made of corn flakes, white chocolate and coconut butter.


Petit Fours

The Steakhouse has a good priced $105 4-course set menu which I hope to try in my next visit.


Set Menu

Opposite the hotel is a waterfront esplanade which is perfect for an evening stroll.



Before I sign off this post, this is an aerial shot of Kuching before our plane landed this morning.  Kuching is a lovely quaint town, far superior than The Boo in terms of facilities and infrastructure Рclean and rather pretty even the lawns by the roadside are manicured!   Since Kuching is only 40mins away, I must plan my next getaway to visit the Bako National Park and Damai Beach.


Aerial View of Kuching


Fabulous Thai Lunch @ Bangkok Thai Seafood Restaurant, Kuching

Date of Visit: July 11 2013

Ramadan started on July 8, 3 days ago. Although I am not a Muslim I had planned to join in their religious cleansing and purification hoping to shift some weight (by skipping lunch:-)) But with this-and-that and visitors popping into town, it is a monumental task. My blog does not feature recipes, this is because I eat very simple foods at home – blanched broccoli, stir-fried cabbages (with store-bought Lee Kum Kee chilli paste) and cabbage soup (by dumping all the vegs from the markets into a pot) – which are hardly anything interesting.

As I spoke with an overseas counterpart recently, keeping fit was a fast topic. Yes I was quite an athlete before my arrival in Malaysia early this year (without sounding cocky my partner and I came 3rd in the Lantau Race in Hong Kong a few years back. And that was our first time running a trail race!). With the change of environment, especially the weather and culture (there is NO Fitness First here *shockers*), I am missing my 6:30am training sessions with my trainer, daily spin classes and running back home in Sydney. I have also changed my diet, in order to fit into my new context – I was following a predominantly raw food diet – but ahd to abandon it because getting the food I want (organic) is very hard. Moreover, vegetarian in Malaysia means oily greasy pedestrian stuffs like noodles, rice, tofu, etc. Moreover, it is very rude to be not eating if you are entertaining. Therefore, I eat clean when I am at home.

Anyway, Dr Liu’s name came up in our conversation. He is the Chinese doctor who practise Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) in Bondi Junction, who gain fame for putting his patients on a 2-week fast subsisting only on herbal concoctions. I am very eager to try and hope to make an appointment to see him when I am back in Sydney next.

In the meantime, I had a whirl-wind trip to Kuching, the capital of Sarawak today. The flight took 40minutes, being the Ramadan month, only drinks and some nuts were offered on-board. This left me wondering whether Emirates has the same policies.

Lunch was at a Thai restaurant at a non-descript corner lot of a shophouse typical of any Borneo townscape. The restaurant was very well-patronised as it also provide buffet lunch. I had almost forgot to check name of restaurant being distracted by the striking Thai memorabilia and statues, the servers are all dressed in traditional Thai costumes to impart authenticity. I later did a google search and found out that this restaurant is the 1st Thai restaurant in Kuching.

We started off with a DIY appetizer of Betel Leaf Salad also known as ‘miang kam’. This is a typical Thai street-side snack whereby you wrap an assortment of – whatever that takes your fancy – pomelo, chili padi (bird’s eye chili, which is very fiery), fragrant fried coconut flakes, roasted baby peanuts, dried shrimps, spanish onions, fresh young gingers – to wrap in a betel leaf with tamarind paste. This was my very first time trying the snack and I was absolutely taken by it. Being a peanut-addict, I could not stop myself from picking at the freshly roasted baby peanuts.


Miang Kam with Keropok (local shrimp crackers)


Miang Kam

Chicken Wrapped in Pandanus is a must-order in any Thai meal. Chicken pieces were marinated in ginger and herb paste and then chargrilled in pandanus leaves. While unwrapping the package, a sweet fragrance wafted through the air. The chicken pieces were done just right, juicy with a lot of ginger-herb-nut paste, thus did not require a dip in the sweet chilli sauce provided.


Chicken Wrapped in Pandanus


Chicken Wrapped in Pandanus

It’s been a long time since I had Shark Fin Soup. This used to be a very traditional Chinese soup until the environmentalists kicked up a fuss. It’s a thick soup with silky smooth egg white in starchy base.


Chicken Wrapped in Pandanus

Sweet Sour Midin stir-fried with minced pork and shrimps is a twist from the usual midins stir-fried with garlic found in the other restaurants. Midins is a type of fern that is only available in Sarawak. This was also the first time I sampled a different style of cooking midins, so I had a few extra helpings. Now, why can’t the Chinese restaurants be more adventurous in their cooking?


Sweet Sour Midin

Grilled Squids, springy and creamy, I prefer the squids to be in its natural taste so did not bother with the sweet chilli garlic sauce provided.


Grilled Squids

Pineapple Rice is another must-order in any Thai restaurant. I especially like how the restaurant prepared it by frying the rice with turmeric, raisins, baby shrimps and pineapple chunks. The final presentation came in a hollowed-out pineapple and topped with generous pork floss.


Pineapple Rice


Pineapple Rice

Deep fried Garoupa. Another sweet sour dish. The fish was deep-fried in a light batter, then served with mango slices and aromatic herbs on top. A perfect dish with flaky fish flesh off the bone.


Deep fried Garoupa

Although a plate of fresh cut fruits were pre-ordered for our table, we still insisted on having some Thai desserts. There were a lot to choose from the picture menu. Since it was a hot afternoon, I chose Chestnut in Coconut Milk which I had enjoyed in my previous Thai meal (review here). Unfortunately dessert today was a letdown. My request for extra ice went unheeded, so I was left with the overly thick sweet santan. There goes my sugar quota for the week.


Chestnut in Coconut Milk

Overall, I have to say, this is the best Thai food I had sampled so far. Although the dishes seemed to taste the same – all sweet and sour – they were extremely tasty and very satisfying. I had a sugar high and had a difficult time keeping awake for the afternoon.