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20 Must-eats on the Central Sarawak Food Trail

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  • 20 Must-eats on the Central Sarawak Food Trail

    Source : Air Asia Travel 360 Magazine
    20 Must-eats on the Central Sarawak Food Trail
    Published On:September 6, 2017
    By Abby Yao

    20 Must-eats on the Central Sarawak Food Trail

    Sample the pleasures of slow travel and authentic Foochow, Iban and Melanau cuisine on a food trip in Sibu and the towns on the Rejang.

    The town of Sibu in the Malaysian Borneo’s Sarawak state may not have the tourists that the state capital of Kuching does. But what Sibu does have is access to the Rejang River—the longest river in Malaysia—and the varied cultures of the people living along it. This lend diversity to the gastronomy, in addition to novelty because of the rare ingredients, from the sea into the hinterlands on the tributaries.

    Let me take you through a selection of noteworthy eats that I sampled on my trip to Sibu and its surrounds.

    FOOCHOW HERITAGE

    Chinese settlers from the city of Fuzhou in Fujian province arrived in the early 1900s, bringing to Sibu their dialect, customs, and of course, food. Collectively known as Foochow (or Hock Chew), they came in such numbers that their cuisine became closely associated with Sibu.



    Start off your food trip with the Sibu’s famously simple but satisfying kampua mee, dry handmade noodles mixed with pork lard and topped with spring onions and fried shallots. It’s similar to Kuching’s kolo mee, but softer and less curly. These days, it’s served with some sliced pork, but the noodles are what you’re really after here.



    For an eye-popping seafood treat, the rich mee udang should catch your fancy. The river prawn comes in different sizes to match your budget. The thick noodles are wonderful for slurping the thick broth. Adding in the black fungus, tofu puffs and some greens, this is a bowl to be shared by all but the biggest gourmands.

    Where to eat kampua mee and mee udang: Bosco Cafe, Tanahmas near Sibu Gateway



    Nothing is as classically Foochow as red wine mee suah, or longevity noodles in red yeast rice wine, accompanied by a piece of chicken. It’s traditionally served to women during their confinement period after childbirth, but you can enjoy it anytime in Sibu. The variant above comes with Chinese mushroom and egg.

    This dark version of ginger chicken may not be as famous as it ought to be, but it’s almost like finger food you’d want to dig your chopsticks into. The bite-sized shreds are juicy, like they were marinated for ages.

    Its English name may not make you salivate, but preserved vegetable noodle soup has just the right amount of sourness that delights the tastebuds. The pickled greens and the spaghetti-like rice noodles make this a great comfort food.

    Where to eat red wine mee suah, ginger chicken, and preserved vegetable noodle soup: Uncle Bakery, across the Sibu Bus Terminal



    Nian gao (sticky rice cake) is often sweet, but this stir-fried sticky rice cake isn’t. It’s still chewy and slightly sticky, resulting in an unusual savoury experience.



    Deceptively simple, cangkuk manis with egg was our group’s runaway favourite. The star gooseberry leaves don’t taste like your usual greens as they don’t wilt or become soggy once sauteed in oil.

    Where to eat stir-fried sticky rice cake and cangkuk manis with egg: Golden Happiness Restaurant, Sarikei



    This classic Chinese dish could well be Foochow, as sweet and sour are flavours associated with the cuisine. The sweet and sour fish we had in Sibu retains the crispiness of the deep-fried fish fingers, seldom achieved by the average takeaway.

    Where to eat sweet and sour fish: Cafe Cafe near Tua Pek Kong temple, Sibu


    THE WAY OF THE IBAN


    The Iban people comprise the largest indigenous group of Sarawak. Known for headhunting, a practice long since discontinued, they still live in longhouses, albeit now equipped with modern comforts. We visited one such longhouse and were touched by Iban hospitality and traditions.





    Perhaps the best known Iban specialty is pansoh, meat (usually chicken) cooked with herbs and tapioca leaves inside an upright bamboo stem over an open fire. Getting the pansoh out of the bamboo involves a bit of technique, but it’s quite rewarding. We also tried fish pansoh, which I found even yummier.



    My impression of Iban food is that it’s quite healthy because of all the vegetables. We were served a good assortment that included spinach and squash, steamed okra, petai (stinkbean) sambal belacan (shrimp paste), and cassava leaves with baby corn. One of the rarer veggies is midin, often stir-fried with belacan. At the longhouse, we tried a special recipe with mushroom. As the midin stays crunchy, the pairing with the chewy mushroom add texture to the dish.



    Iban kuih jala (or kuih sarang semut) is a crispy snack. How it’s made isn’t as complicated as it looks. A batter of rice flour, water and gula apong (nipah palm sugar) drips through holes in a coconut husk, over hot oil in a wok, creating the net-like pattern. Folded into half, the kuih takes on a half-moon shape.

    Special mention: Auntie Irene’s tuak (rice wine), served before entering the longhouse. The homemade brew is an object of pride for Iban women who make it with sticky rice and yeast. Our host Auntie Irene should be proud of her mildly sweet, smooth tuak. As per custom, our group had a couple of rounds sharing the same shot gloss and finished the contents of the bottle.

    Where to eat Iban food: From Sibu, a short cultural trip to the longhouse at Rh Michael Ancho, Bawang Assan can be arranged through a local tour operator

    THE MELANAU HEARTLAND

    The coast-dwelling Melanaus of Sarawak are an ethnic minority in Sarawak with a distinctive cuisine. If you have the chance to travel to the riverine towns, take the opportunity to feast on Melanau food.



    Nothing says Melanau more than umai, their take on the ceviche. Fresh fish is thinly sliced and cured with lime. It is usually mixed with a sambal of onion, ginger and chilli.

    Where to eat umai: Riverside Restaurant and at Pasar Ikan Mukah

    The staple food of the Melanaus of old is not rice but sago derived from the sago palm. This is evident in the typical spread. The paste-like linut, also known as Brunei’s national dish ambuyat, is a challenge to eat because of its viscosity. Honestly, it’s a tasteless goop. But when dipped into belacan, which imbues it with flavour, it can be quite delicious.

    Another rice substitute is the sago pellet with a starchy consistency that reminded me of arrowroot cookies. The pellets are eaten by the handful. No utensils required.



    Possibly the most memorable dish that made it to our table was sago worms (locally known as si’et) that thrive in the trunk of the sago palm. This protein-rich delicacy can be eaten raw (and squirming) or fried. The live grubs are creamy but bland. I prefer the fried ones, which are much easier to eat and so, so good.

    Where to eat linut, sago pellets and sago worms: Riverside Restaurant, Mukah



    Another traditional Melanau food, tumpik is a sago flour-and-shredded coconut pancake cooked in an iron pan. Tumpik comes plain or special (sandwiched with a salty prawn paste). You can’t go wrong with plain tumpik drizzled with gula apong. Another plate, please!

    Where to eat tumpik: Abang Hj Zaini at Pusat Penjaja Bintangor


    OTHER LOCAL RECOMMENDATIONS




    At Fisherman Restaurant near Sibu’s Tua Pek Kong, they’re proud of their signature dish that you supposedly can’t find anywhere else. It’s lokan, or deep-fried stuffed clams. When popped open, the shell is full of minced clam, onion and spices. More sweet than savoury, it’s rather unconventional and worth a try.



    If you happen to be in Bintangor, Wong Hung Ping at Gerai Makanan Islam has something of a following for its rojak. What sets this rojak apart from the rest are the sweet sauce and the large bits of crushed peanuts liberally sprinkled over the combination of tofu, jicama, sweet potato, and cucumber.



    You can’t fault Solo on 16 Bistro for aspiring to turn native ingredients into innovative haute cuisine. It’s a promising proposition. Chef Alex brings his international experience to the degustation menu that includes Norwegian salmon topped with snake fruit and pickled onions, and garnished with chive blossom.



    There’s plenty of fruit in Sarawak, but pineapples deserve a commendation. Fresh pineapples are everywhere and pineapple juice is the default fresh fruit juice of choice. Look out for the local varieties. Sarikei town is noted for its elongated pineapples, while a smaller variant called nanas sawit grows in Mukah and Dalat.
    Last edited by KucingKelabu; 01-07-18, 11:11 PM.

  • #2
    oh my..this really make me hungry

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    • #3
      Sekali seumur hidup kena test ...

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