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.