May 24 2013
Hugely diverse Sarawak is home to rural indigenous peoples as well as city-dwelling yuppies, with a whole range of subcultures in between. This makes for some very interesting cultural dialogues and nowhere is this more apparent than in the Sarawak’s food. Here’s a rundown of foods you should try while in Sarawak.
Sarawak laksa is a deliciously spicy noodle concoction laced with galangal. In Sarawak you will find thin vermicelli rice noodles floating in a soup base of sambal belacan (shrimp paste), sour tamarind, coconut milk and lemongrass with perhaps shredded chicken and shredded omelette or prawns on top. The sour, savoury flavour taste is entirely different from other laksa variants from Singapore and Peninsular Malaysia, which are curry based and use thick rice noodles, or Penang laksa, which is distinctly fishy and fruity and again comes with thick rice noodles. Word on the street is that the best Sarawak laksa is to be found in Kuching but this does not mean that you should rule out eating it elsewhere; each town will claim that their laksa is the original and best.
Another favourite is kolok mee, another noodle dish, but this time dry. Heaped into a bowl with slivers of roasted pork and sprinkles of chive and garlic flakes, this can be found anywhere and makes for a brilliant breakfast, especially if you are suffering from the night before. More adventurous palates should try adding some pickled chillies into the mix — it will clear your head and might even perk you up more than a coffee.
A good foodie souvenir to take home is kek lapis Sarawak, or Sarawak layer cake. This intricate cake is made up of many different layers of coloured sponge, all put together to create different designs. Each colour is supposed to have a different flavour, which makes for an interesting taste melee when you get a particularly sophisticated cake. My advice: eat the ones made up of one or two colours and admire the patterned ones from a safe distance.
If you end up in the interior you will no doubt eat some indigenous cuisine. The most common ingredients in this style of food are jungle ferns and wild boar. Although these can be bought in the cities, the freshest and best will always be found in remote areas. The local Iban cook their food in bamboo over an open fire, giving the dishes a tender and singular taste. Do exercise a little caution when in the interior — you don’t want to end up eating an endangered animal.
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