Sarawak, Ibu Pertiwiku, is the land of hornbills and four-wheel drives. While we do not live in trees as most west Malaysians often ask, we do have amazing food and exotic fruits that are hard to find anywhere else. Listed here are a mix of famous and lesser known food or fruits that Sarawakians go gaga over.
Disclaimer: Some food listed here is not halal.
1. Kolo Mee or Kampua
This dry noodle is a staple for young and old in Sarawak. It is usually served with a few slices of char siew, some minced meat and spring onions. You can also opt for Kolo mee with sweet Chili sauce (the noodle will be slightly red in color).
It is usually served in a traditional bowl but most Sarawakian kids would have eaten it out of a plastic-drinking-bag as that’s how kolo mee is packed to go. There are different varieties of the Kolo mee available. The Kwanton kolo mee has flatter noodles and nicer texture but the taste doesn’t run far. There is however, a never ending debate about the difference between Kampua and Kolo mee.
Ask any Sarawakian, they probably wouldn’t know but it doesn’t really matter. Most believe its just a difference in name due to the location it originated from or due to the different condiments that comes with it. Whatever the case, the Kolo mee is must-have ‘fast food’ of Sarawak. Unfortunately this dish is non Halal.
2. Sarawak Laksa
Sarawak Laksa has a pretty different taste compared to the its contemporaries from other States. Sarawak laksa’s broth is usually made with a mixture of sambal belacan, sour tamarind, galangal, lemongrass, coconut milk and other herbs and spices.
It is served with egg strips, prawn, chicken slices, bean sprouts and lime garnished ever so beautifully on top of the mee hoon (rice vermicelli). A personal favorite is to opt for kolo mee in the laksa instead of mee hoon. Before devouring the laksa, make sure to squeeze the lime for a tangy after-taste and bring on the sambal belacan!
Image credit: 3 Hungry Tummies
Kacangma started off as a traditional confinement dish for women but has since evolved to an all-rounded popular dish craved by men and non-pregnant women alike. Some might say that it is an acquired taste due to the strong herb and alcohol.
It is a chicken dish traditionally prepared with a type of dried herb (motherwort), lots of ginger and a combination of Tuak (rice wine and Chinese cooking wine). The ginger is suppose to help take out ‘air’ from the body while the alcohol is meant to keep the body ‘warm’. So it would be best not to eat this dish in a confined space or travel long distance in a confined vehicle after consumption of this wonderful dish, unless you want it to get “stuffy” in there.
A word of warning, even though it is a fairly non-PG rated dish, over-consumption can also cause intoxication!
4. Mani Chai with eggs
Image credit: Celsius – 273
Mani Chai (Sauropus androgynus) or simply Cangkuk manis is a sweet shrub or leafy vegetable that often get sidelined in West Malaysia. It is mostly used only as a condiment for Pan Mee in the Klang Valley but it is, however, a main dish and local favorite in Sarawak.
Stir fried Mani Chai with eggs, when cooked right, is naturally sweet (not added with sugar), slightly wet and chewy with a smoky after-taste of the fire. While it may look like a simple dish but not many can cook this dish right.
The most important ‘ingredient’ aside from garlic, eggs and sometimes a dribble of oyster sauce, is the ‘taste’ of the fire. As with many Chinese dish, this extra ‘kick’ comes from the skill in stir-frying the vegetable with extremely hot oil and fire in a wok but not overcooking it. When visiting Sarawak, you have to try this in any of the Chinese restaurant.
5. Chao Zhu Mien (Foochow Braised Fried Noodles)
Literally translated, Chao Zhu Mien means stir-fried and boiled/braised noodles. The name comes from the double-cooking method in which the yellow noodles are prepared. It is first stir-fried to get the wonderful ‘fire taste’ and then boiled in a soy sauce based broth with a cheeky dash of cooking wine.
It is served with succulent prawns, a few slices of juicy pork and some greens. This is a dish that would have you slurping to the very last drop.
Dabai is a cheap and delicious snack that is usually available around Durian season. This is an exotic fruit that looks like black olive and can be bought from native markets in Sarawak. Dabai can be used to cook various dishes including fried rice but is more often eaten plain or lightly salted. The yellowish flesh is creamy and has a soft prune-like texture.
Just when you think that you’re done with the fruit, it gives you a pleasant little surprise. The seed of the fruit can also be eaten! And it taste almost like kuaci or sunflower seed. The only problem would be the task of getting into the seed. Old fashion mortar and pestle is highly recommended.
7. Kuching Mee (Tomato Fried Noodle)
The Kuching mee or tomato fried noodle is another mouth-watering Sarawakian noodle that probably deserves more hype than its getting.The egg noodle is deep-fried and covered with thick tomato based broth with runny eggs, slices of pork and some greens. A different variation uses Kueh Tiao (flat noodles). The condiments may differ between stalls with the most expensive variation uses gigantic prawns and squid.
This noodle is often compared to the Kung Fu Cao or Wah Tan Ho in KL with its crispy fried noodles or kueh tiao and thick sauce. However, the taste is entirely different. The tomato broth gives the noodle a distinct sweet and sour taste and the pre-fried noodle (sometimes burnt) gives it a wonderful smoky aftertaste.
8. Buah Tarap
Buah Tarap is an exquisite seasonal fruit available in both Sabah and Sarawak. Whilst it is not as pungent as the Durian, it is also not allowed on board a plane, which is a huge disappointment. Buah Tarap is closely related to the Jack fruit or Cempedak.
The fruit is easily peeled when it is ripe and is sweet and creamy; though some may be a little sourish. When in season, the fruit can often be found for quite a bargain, ranging from RM 3 – 8 per fruit. Excluding GST of course ;).
9. Buah Bambangan
On the outside, this unique fruit looks like a mature or brown coconut while the insides looks like a juicy mango except for the excessive fiber in its flesh. This fruit is also known as the wild mango and is closely related to mango species.
The taste is sourish and sweet while the texture is fibrous and often get stuck between the teeth, which can get pretty annoying! This fruit can also be used in cooking or perhaps as a budgeted bowling ball if you like.
10. Sarawak Kueh Chap
This dish is derived from the Hokkien word, kueh chap which literally means “cake” and “mixed”. Kueh chap isn’t as common (or for hipsters – mainstream) as the other foods and one may need to explore further in order to find this. It looks quite similar to Bak Kut Teh, but the soup is often much saltier and savory.
Kueh chap is made out of various parts of pork consisting meats, tongue, ear and stomach, ‘tau fu pok’, flour (kueh) and hard boiled egg. By just looking at the picture, one could only assume that this could only taste like heaven; which in fact it does.
11. Layer cakes and cakes with ‘browning’
Sarawak is famous for its layer cake or Kek Lapis. The layer cake comes in so many different flavors and patterns that it is hard to pinpoint a single most delicious cake. This cake is expensive because of the hard work and time consuming method of baking the cake layer by layer. Skilled ‘layer cake artists’ often design beautiful patterns into the cake to captivate fan boys and girls with its craftsmanship and vibrant colors.
Perhaps the lesser known but equally delicious cakes in Sarawak are the various steamed cakes with ‘browning’ flavor. The ‘browning’ is a type of caramel available only in Sarawak that adds a slightly chocolaty flavor to the cake and gives it the signature ‘black’ color. The Seri Kaya cake or black cake, Horlicks cake and Prune cakes are some of the steam cakes that contain the browning sugar. Because the cakes are steamed instead of baked, they are extremely moist and heavy.
If you have not visited Sarawak before, perhaps it is time to consider a gastronomic journey to this wonderful land of hornbills. Just be sure to bring a sense of adventure and an empty stomach!