Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Food Adventures in Kuching

My hometown, Kuching is located at the heart of Borneo Island, which is separated from the rest of Peninsular Malaysia by the South China Sea. It is only natural that the food found here would be different from the usual encounters in West Malaysia. Typically people rave about Penang and Ipoh food but when asked if they have tried Sarawakian food, many of my friends have not even explored the beautiful Kuching, which is only about an hour and a half flight time away from Kuala Lumpur. Therefore, in this particular short trip back to my hometown, I had one goal, to eat as much as I can and to share photographs of glorious Kuching food with you beautiful readers!

I was travelling together with Jason Lioh (once a popular food blogger known as Jasonmumbles) a friend hailing from Malacca, and this was his first proper "food trip" to Kuching. Joining us was Jian, a super famous comic blogger who has successfully published two books. Jian was our driver and guide throughout the whole trip.

Kolo Mee
Kim Joo at Carpenter Street. 


Perhaps the most popularly known local dish from Sarawak is Kolo Mee, plain looking dry noodles served with slices of char siew (BBQed pork). There are many variants of Kolo Mee, but they all share similar qualities: dry noodles drenched in dressing made of shallot oil, pork lard and vinegar. Typically Kolo Mee is served in a bowl with minced pork and char siew. Kolo Mee is so common and available everywhere at any time in Kuching, can be eaten for breakfast, lunch or dinner. To me personally I love to eat Kolo Mee as supper. This Kolo Mee above was found at Kim Joo at Carpenter Street, Kuching. 

Ais Kacang And Cendol
Ah Yong ABC Ice Kantong, Wayang Street, right off the Main Bazaar

While shaved ice desserts are probably not the powerhouse of Kuching food, there are some interesting variants of popularly available dishes at other locations. The differentiating ingredient is the cendol, which is a lot more springy in texture and has bolder green color. Also, the red beans used for the Ais Kacang are the smaller ones, not the super large round ones used in Malacca or Penang. This was the perfect finish for our lunch on a hot Monday morning. 

Jason Lioh, experiencing Kuching food, hope they were good enough for you man!

Jian Goh, who was generous to sacrifice a part of his super busy schedule to bring us around and feed us. A true local hero, Jian is. Please visit his comic blog here. 

Belacan Bee Hoon
Song Kheng Hai Food Market, Padungan
After a quick stop at Jian's place to refresh ourselves, we continued our food hunt at Song Kheng Hai food market, a place known particularly for tea time food, operating only at 2.30pm onward, and ending at about 5pm. Belacan Bee Hoon may not be the first dish to recommend to aliens who are new to Sarawakian food, as the pungent belacan smell may put anyone unfamiliar with it off. However, Jason grew up in Malacca where belacan was pretty much an integral part of many delicious food there, so he was ok with the Belacan Bee Hoon.  It is a spicy, sweet and tangy noodle dish and usually served with cured cuttlefish and century eggs. 

Kompia
Song Kheng Hai food Market, Padungan
Kompia is a Foochow food, and is common all around Sarawak. The best Kompia can be found in another city, called Sibu. However, according to Jian, the Kompia in Song Kheng Hai food market can be considered the best Kompia that can be found in Kuching city. Kompia is typically made with lard, onions, salt and flour. Meat is often used as a filling in the bread.

Sunny Hill Ice Cream
There is this legendary ice cream place in Kuching, called Sunny Hill Ice Cream. This ice cream shop has been around for decades, and has a sweet spot in the hearts of Kuching people. They are tightly associated with Seventh Day Adventist Church, hence the proceeds of the ice cream business funds the charitable activities of the church. The ice creams and the breads are made fresh every day, I ordered a small cup with nuts as toppings. 

Sunny Hill Ice Cream
Jason had his ice cream served with fresh bread slices. 

Midin Fried In Belacan Sauce

Jian drove us all the way to Siniawan, Night Market. Unfortunately it was raining cats and dogs, and we could not explore that beautiful old town much. We did make a quick pit-stop at a nearby local restaurant, and ordered a plate of Midin, friend in Belacan sauce. Midin is a type of fern that grows in the wild, and has become a highly sought after vegetable dish in Kuching. Midin can be served in a healthier "salad style" or fried in flavourful belacan. 

Pork Satay
Hui Sing Food Garden
For dinner, we went to Hui Sing Food Garden, where there were plenty of food options available for us to choose from. This place is only open after 5pm onward, and will end quite early in the evening, usually by 9pm. Surely who would resist satay? Jian shared with us that the satay meat in Kuching are usually lean and free of fatty parts, unlike the ones found in West Malaysia. And those Pork Satays were so yummy we ordered a few more servings. We probably should have ordered more. 

Tomato Fried Kuey Tiaw
Hui Sing Food Garden
My most favourite food, and something that I must have every single time I return to Kuching is Tomato Fried Noodles. This dish is just so unique that you cannot find it elsewhere, and not that easily replicated as well. Fried kuey tiaw drenched in tomato based gravy, how can anyone say no to that? Apparently Jason did not like this at all. You weird Malaccan boy. 

Fried Kuey Tiaw
Hui Sing Food Garden
Since Jason disliked the tomato sauce variant, we ordered a normal fried kuey tiaw for him. Actually we had a few more food in Hui Sing, but I was not sure why I did not take shots of some of the food, and I also screwed up some of my photos. Metahorn is a famous dessert drink, found here in Hui Sing Garden. 

Sarawak Laksa 
Chong Choon Cafe, Padungan (next to City Inn)
Sarawak Laksa is another signature Sarawakian dish, that is a must try for anyone visiting. This laksa is unlike any other laksa you have tasted before elsewhere, it has its own uniqueness and awesomeness that I often proclaim this to be the best breakfast ever. Sarawak Laksa uses rice vermicelli, added with shredded omelette, cooked prawns and strips of chicken all floating in an aromatic broth, with sambal and lime served on the side. The broth is prawn based with plentiful of other ingredients, completed with thick coconut milk (santan). There are many competing Laksa locations in Kuching, but my personal favourite goes to Chong Choon cafe in Padungan. Other popular locations worth noting: Golden Arch in 3rd mile, Fat Cat at Tabuan Heights and Choon Hui Cafe at Ban Hock Road. 


Kolo Mee (Red Style)
Sin Lian Shin,  Green Road
Kolo mee comes in a few styles, one of the popular variants is having the noodles soaked in the "red sauce". The red sauce is the oil dripped from the Char Siew (BBQ Pork), hence this somehow increased the unhealthiness of the noodles ten-fold. Well, great food rarely are healthy any way. Usually I do not opt for red style kolo mee, but for visitors to Kuching, the red style is a must try too. The sauce adds a twist to the kolo mee, making it a little sweeter and smoother. 

Kolo Mee (Red Style)
KY Cafe, Sekama
I left Jason and Jian after breakfast on the second day, and spent the rest of the day with other friends for lunch (Jee and Lance, both photographers who exhibited together with me earlier this year), and of course, a birthday dinner celebration with beloved mum in the evening. I rejoined Jason and Jian for supper, and we decided to have kolo mee again. You can never have too much kolo mee in Kuching. Never. This kolo mee at KY Cafe is famous for night patrons, and they are usually open till late. 

Sarawak Laksa with Drumstick
Random Kopitiam in Padungan
I got separated from the group again in the last morning of our trip, because I wanted to have breakfast with another friend, Allen Ang! The laksa here was not really worth mentioning, as there was nothing much to shout about, but that extra piece of drumstick did add a nice touch. 

Green Kolo Mee
Chong Chon Green Noodles, Central Park (3rd Mile)
For lunch on our final day, we went for green kolo mee. Basically this is kolo mee, but the noodles were special made, and the green color was due to the addition of spinach. Instead of using the common char siew slices, the Chong Chon kolo mee has chunks of roasted chicken meat. 

Teh-C-Peng Special
Fresh Food Court, 7th Mile
This 3 layer Iced Milk Tea originated from Kuching, and we went to the exact point of origin, a shop in 7th mile. The food court was called Fresh Food Court. 

Ngo Hiang
Fresh Food Court, 7th Mile
Penang people call his Lorbak, we call it Ngo Hiang (roughly translated from Hokkien as 5 spices). And yes, in our version of Ngo Hiang, the taste of 5 spices were much stronger than the ones found in Penang. 


Tomato Friend Mee
Fresh Food Court, 7th Mile
Another variant from the Kuey Tiaw as shown before, this one has the noodles deep fried, and drenched in the tomato gravy. 


Kolo Mee
Hui Sing Food Garden
Just before we left Kuching, we managed to make one final stop, again to Hui Sing Food Garden. I ordered another Kolo Mee. This is Kolo Mee one two many. But I still love it. 

Char Kuey
Hui Sing Food Court
Singaporeans call this Chai Tau Kueh. We call it Char Kuey. Basically this is fried radish cake with eggs. There are two versions available, the salty type, or the sweet type. This version was the sweet one. 

There you have it, my food adventures during my short trip back to my hometown, Kuching. Hope you guys have some idea of what to eat and where to find the good food the next time you go to Kuching. 

Obviously, I did not cover everything there is in Kuching, and there are so much more great food. Jason and Jian did explore the Dayak food during my absence, which is a must try if you visit Sarawak. 

Have you been to Kuching? Tell me your food experience!

14 comments :

  1. What camera and lens did you use mostly for food Robin?

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    Replies
    1. Hi Leonarce,
      E-M1 Mark II and 25mm F1.8

      Delete
  2. You are making me so hungry! I have never been there, but it certainly is on my bucket list now! Food is so much more than just energy to get us through the day. For so many of my trips, the food is what makes me remember the trip! Good, bad, indifferent. But many times, its goes something like "remember that jerk chicken we had at the little shack when we were in Belize? It was the best!" So nice of you to share some awesome spots for us to try out.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. No worries Jerry. and do not hesitate to email me again if you are coming anywhere near Malaysia. I shall update you with the latest food information the best I can!

      Delete
  3. Hey Robin,

    I always love your food posts, they do make me feel hungry though :)
    Would belacan be like terasi? I love terasi when making sambal.

    The other day, I saw some laksa cubes in our local 'toko', but it was the curry kind. I'm still hoping to run into Sarawak Laksa here, your photos make me want to try it so much!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hey Cathelijne, I have no idea what terasi is! It is a type of sambal, yes. You must try Sarawak Laksa when you visit Kuching.

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    2. Cathelijne,

      terasi (Indonesian) = belacan (Malaysian) = fermented shrimp paste
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shrimp_paste

      thanks for the nice report Robin
      maybe next year I want to visit Kuching

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    3. Thank you @Paul! I checked my terasi, and it is actually Thai shrimp paste. I always thought there are local differences, but I honestly couldn't tell/smell/taste the difference between the Indonesian and Thai stuff, other than that terasi is often sold in blocks here, and the Thai paste is packaged in a small plastic jar. Just as well :)
      @Robin I am saving up to travel to Asia next summer. And then... Kuching, why not? One of the things I like about travelling is the local food, and yours looks amazing! I already love belacan dishes :)

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  4. Looks tasteful! BTW Terasi is shrimp paste.

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  5. Great article, as always great photos. But now I'm hungry!!!!

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