Photo: Very under rated.

Eat and meet

Not content with being the most charming place in the whole of Malaysian Borneo, Kuching is also one of the top spots for eating. From high-end Western food to budget-minded cafes, food is of a disarmingly high quality wherever you go.

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As with most cities in Borneo, Kuching is by the sea and while it is possible to get good seafood elsewhere (such as Kota Kinabalu), it can definitely be argued that the best value stuff is to be found in Kuching, where a largish seafood meal will cost around 30-40 ringgit per head, including the occasional alcoholic beverage. We’re talking prawns the size of your forearm and fish so large you’ll be eating leftovers for days. The place to eat seafood in Kuching is called Top Spot, and the name is apt for two reasons: it’s the best place to eat seafood and it’s on the top level of a car park. Here you’ll find a hawker stall set up and you go around picking the type of fish you want, with prices varying depending on the season. Then you sit and wait for your steaming piles of seafood to arrive.

Needless to say, Chinese food is divine in Kuching and the great thing is, it’s cheap. It’s possible to eat out every day here and spend only 15 ringgit a day on food, and that’s eating in actual shop lots rather than off the back of someone’s bike. The Chinese Food Court or Lau Ya Keng Food Court on Jalan Carpenter is popular with everyone, especially for their fishball soup and their rice congee -– expect to wait for a table at lunch time. Another great food court to try is the Old Bazaar Cafe, where they serve good sized portions of Chinese food and also indigenous dishes.

For higher end Chinese food, try Blah Blah Blah. We particularly like the decor in this place -- it’s more Bali, less Beijing if you ask us but a great place for a romantic meal for two, and if your budget doesn’t quite stretch to 40 ringgit per head, come here for a digestif or two.

It absolutely would not do to not talk about laksa when talking about food in Kuching, the birthplace of Sarawak laksa. It would also not do to skip trying a bowl of this morish dish when in Sarawak, and there is none more morish than the Sarawak laksa made at Choon Choon Cafe -- the neverending line in the morning is a testament to this. Often, you’ll find yourself sharing a table with other hungry people in the morning; don’t be shy, say hello and remember, EVERYONE slurps their noodles.

There is some conspiratorial talk of better laksa at a place called Golden Arch Garden Cafe at 3rd Mile Roundabout outside of Kuching. We can’t corroborate this and we would find it difficult to believe that any other laksa could be better than at Choon Choon, but in the interest of balance we have included it here just in case you let your laksa taste buds dictate your travel plans.

Although there is a relatively small Indian population in Kuching, there are quite a few Indian places serving the normal roti and South Indian food found all over Malaysia. What’s special about Kuching is the abundance of North Indian cuisine. The cream of the crop of this lot is definitely Dhaba Tandoori and Curry Cafe, perhaps the only place serving hai in the whole of Malaysian Borneo. Their Tandoori chicken is pretty outstanding too, with just the right amount of char on the outside, and the insides remaining tender and juicy. This paired with their house-made naan may well constitute our favourite meal in Kuching.

Head to the.Dyak restaurant for some Iban food. It’s a little bit out of town (around a 15 ringgit taxi ride) but absolutely worth the time and effort if you want to try something ’native’. Try their ginger chicken, cooked in bamboo with their unpolished rice. And don’t miss out on Iban homebrew, or tuak.

Drinking in Kuching is an absolute pleasure -- the same cannot be said for the rest of Sarawak. Where elsewhere in the state you’ll find seedy, UV-lit karaoke bars with scantily clad hostesses and a menacing looking clientele, in Kuching, you’ll find young hip bars, often run by native Iban, serving tuak in atmospherically lit, well decorated bars.

More often than not, on the quieter nights, they’ll have sape (traditional stringed instrument) nights. While sitting surrounded by handicrafts and antique photos, sipping your tuak, you can easily imagine yourself being in a longhouse somewhere along the river. We liked both Ruai and Langgak but felt that Ruai had more atmosphere and we enjoyed the shisha on offer here, too.

Various other bars serve alcohol in less traditional surroundings, and both Bistro 21 and Bistro 56 are popular, serving all the usual beers and some spirits. They are very popular in the evenings and it’s quite easy to make friends with locals here. Leave your shyness at your hostel and prepare to be bought interminable rounds of drinks.

Bistro 21 64 Jalan Padungan, Kuching
Bistro 56 Lot 113, Sec 29, KTLD 56, Jalan China Hulu, Kuching
Blah Blah Blah 27 Jalan Tabuan, Jalan Wayang area, Kuching
Choon Choon Cafe Jalan Tunkul Abdul Rahman, Kuching
Dhaba Tandoori and Curry Cafe 36 Jalan Tabuan, Kuching
Golden Arch Garden Cafe Third Mile Roundabout, Kuching
Lau Ya Keng Food Court Jalan Carpenter, Kuching
Ruai Ban Hock Road, Kuching
The.Dyak No. 29, Ground Floor, Panovel Commercial Complex, Jalan Simpang Tiga, Kuching
Top Spot Jalan Padungan, Bukit Mata Kuching, Kuching

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Where to next?

Where are you planning on heading to after Kuching? Here are some spots commonly visited from here, or click here to see a full destination list for Malaysia.

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