#Sibu #Breakfast This is my typical breakfast in Boo Town. A bowl of pork wontons and a mug of iced coffee with evaporated milk. (My #myfirstpressgram post BTW 😉)
#Sibu #Breakfast This is my typical breakfast in Boo Town. A bowl of pork wontons and a mug of iced coffee with evaporated milk. (My #myfirstpressgram post BTW 😉)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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! 😈 )
We also had Asparagus with whole garlics and fish jerky, which continued the health-vibe of our dinner.
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.
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.
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…
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.
I saw the famous white-haired guy with white whiskers and his young chesty wife (who gave me a little wave – thrilled 😄 ). 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.
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!
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
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.
Nothing for the commoner to harp home about, still if The Majesties dropped by, that’s a implied royal seal of approval, right? 😈
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 Rice – don’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).
While listening to the soothing enchanting ethnic music, I checked out the interesting wall decorations – a tinge of tropical jungle vibe, perhaps?
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.
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.
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.
My salad is Bunga Kantan, which is wild ginger flower. A subtle blend of crunchy deliciousness dressed in lime juice.
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.
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.
My other 2 companion had:
A’beng/ Luan Tunee (Fish cooked tribal style) $16 and Kari Buaq Kabar (Pineapple curry) $16
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!
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.
The wild Jungle Asparagus was very tender and cooked in sambal.
The Jungle Ferns with Baby Corns was delicious, simply cooked with salt.
The famous Bario Rice – smaller, less starchy, totally organic (think about it, pesticides costs money! Duh!)
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)
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.
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? 🙂
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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 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…
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!
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) 😊
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!😳 Lucky I have my cold glass of lemon -mint infused water at hand and half serve of rice to bind me over.
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.
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.
I am especially intrigued with the Dayak motifs and designs – each piece tells a story. (Some introductory background info here)
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.
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.
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.
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 – but for me – totally 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.
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!
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.
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!