Dispatches from Kuching and Sarawak in Malaysian Borneo

So where were we? Oh yes, the blog turned 8, I got salmonella poisoning (separate incident!) which unfortunately is still lurking, and then I had a birthday too. A significant birthday, no guessing, lets just say it warranted a very big celebration and a long one. What better than to skip off to Borneo and spend my last day of the year before the significant one (a-hem) with orangutans, then spend my birthday itself eating laksa and satay and all sorts of other wonderful Malaysian things.

Sarawak is the other Malaysian province of Borneo. You will remember that I have already been to Sabah, and I loved it. I liked Brunei a lot too. I especially fell head over heels for long haired ginger men of the forests (gasp! no, that means orangutans whose name literally translates as that). I was so lucky this time, I saw so many, which is very unusual. This is because it isn’t fruit season so they tend to come to the feeding platforms to eat.

I saw Saduku, a 44 year old very relaxed orangutan grandmother who wandered among us, Ritchie, a 34 year old alpha male, and lots of unruly teenagers in the trees. At one point, Sadamia and Ruby, a wonderful 14 year old mother and her baby came by to eat. Divine. Orangutans are endangered and they need our protection, you can read more about the work at Semenggoh Nature Reserve to rehabilitate and return orangutans to the wild.

Sarawak has a food culture of its own, all while being Malay. The produce is different there, midin (jungle ferns) are in season right now and we ate them every day. Think fiddlehead (video of me foraging them in Canada here!), but much smaller and more delicate. Like fiddleheads, they are the young fern picked just as they peep out of the ground.


Sarawak is also renowned for pepper, and so the Sarawak laksa has a pepper punch. Lots of fresh green peppercorns grow there and are sun dried to create black pepper or soaked for 2 weeks before removing the skins to produce aromatic white pepper.

There are many native tribes, 40 ethnic groups in all, all with food cultures of their own, mainly Iban, Chinese & Malay. Our guide in Sarawak was wonderful Caroline Artiss who was raised in London but whose mother is Chinese Malay from Sarawak. Caroline is a chef with a terrific youtube cooking channel, and single mom guides too. Caroline and her family brought us to their favourite places to eat which included Chinese Malay and Malay places.

There were so many highlights, seafood, laksa, satay, jungle ferns and those wonderful Malay breakfasts. Lets tuck in!

Lim Hock Ann Seafood serves terrific vibrant seafood, all local and very fresh. There were lots of new dishes here to try including bamboo clams (like small razor clams) and local mud crabs cooked in salted eggs, curry leaves and butter. An oyster omelette was gorgeous, like a pancake studded with small pert oysters and battered squid with fried garlic, chilli and spring onion, while not specific to Sarawak, was so good we had to order twice.

Sarawak Cultural Village may not seem like an obvious destination for food obsessives, however in each tribal house there is a showcase of how they make traditional foods, which you can buy too. Everything from sago to rose cookies. We also had a cooking class where we made umai (often called Malay ceviche) and a wonderful lunch featuring different ethnic foods of Sarawak. Food aside, there is lots to see, including heads left over from the days of when the people of Borneo were head hunters. Note the cash in front, which people leave as offerings for the spirits when they are in need.

A visit to Satok Weekend Market in Kuching is a must for an insight into local food and also to grab a bite. I wandered and watched people make coconut milk from fresh coconut meat, stack ginger flowers and laksa leaves, sell long sticks of fragrant cinnamon and other spices, chief among them the Sarawak pepper. There is also a wet market with lots of fish and meat. On the side there are people making apam balik, a wonderful dense pancake with peanuts, coconut and a little sugar.

After we popped to the food court and had some laksa and mee kolok (a beef noodle soup). There is lots on offer here and I didn’t see one other tourist in the market or food court.

My birthday rolled in – huzzah! – but I was compromised by an intense karaoke session where there may have been some wine the night before (yes, I love it, I really do). To heal, and to start the next year right, we headed to Uncle Tongs / Four Happiness Cafe for some foochow chicken mee sua (red wine chicken long life noodles). We also had kaya toasties (kaya is a wonderful coconut egg jam) and beef noodles. 

A stroll through Kuching (which translates as cat city) revealed lots of cat statues (and don’t you love that?) and some orangutan street art. I die. For lunch we had the best Sarawak laksa of the trip opposite the temple on Carpenter St (it doesn’t have a name but the temple is very easy to find). The pork satay was excellent too, cooked over charcoal and liberally brushed with marinade as it cooked.

We finished with a hands on cooking class and dinner at Telang Usan Hotel where we made several dishes including one with jungle ferns and chicken cooked in bamboo. I even had a birthday cake, a local kek lapis, a local layer cake, mine was prune flavour.

It would be remiss to not show you the wonderful skies and electric sunsets (taken from Damai Beach Resort and a cruise on the Salak river).

Sarawak is a special place.

My trip to Sarawak was sponsored by Malaysia Airlines, who are the only carrier to offer a twice daily non-stop A380 full service link between the UK and Malaysia. UK passengers can also take advantage of frequent onward connections to destinations across Malaysia, Asia and Australasia. Economy class return flights from London Heathrow to Kuching via Kuala Lumpur International Airport start from £817. Business Class from £3167 (prices including taxes and charges). To book visit www.malaysiaairlines.com or call +44 (0) 871 4239 090.



Written by Niamh
Cooking and travelling, and sharing it all with you.