Kuching Day 1

It’s amazing how much Mandarin, Foochow and Hokkien can get dredged out of the cobwebbed crevices of my mind, but what is more spectacular is the creative license I have taken to butcher all three languages with great abandon. Luckily, it appears that my relatives can understand my ‘rojak’ (salad) Chinese, so with that, it’s time to taste Kuching!

Being the first day of Gawai (Harvest festival for the Dayaks), and a State holiday, a lot of places were shut. The first place my aunt and uncle took me to (home of great popiah and laksa) was unfortunately closed, so we swung by a famous giant ‘pau’ (steamed bun) place instead.

Helpful drinks menu taped to wall

There’s a good reason why there were queues, and waiting customers quickly snatched tables up. The pau was soft and chewy, with a great ‘skin’, – the pork mince was tender and marinated beautifully. One pau will set you back RM$2.80 (NZ$1.15) and is plenty for breakfast, especially when drowned with a mug of Teh-C peng (iced tea with evaporated milk).

Before we knew it, it was time for lunch. Aunt had cao cai (preserved vegetable) bee hoon, a traditional Foochow dish, but said it wasn’t anywhere close to the real stuff that you would find in Sibu. Mine consisted of stir-fried noodles with cangkuk manis (a local leaf vegetable known for its sweetness) and ais kacang cendol. I thoroughly enjoyed my noodles, though the cendol was just ‘eh’. This is a food court after all…

We dropped by Everise supermarket and the Boulevard Mall so I could check out the largest supermarket (known as a ‘hypermarket’) in Kuching. I have a fascination with supermarkets everywhere I go; – there is nothing better than wandering aisles of foods. Some great stuff I found, – boil-in-the bag lemang and ketupat, (coconut rice cake), fresh curry pastes and a special strainer for traditional beverages. Wow!

Fresh noodles

Ingredients to make your own air batu campur dessert, – jelly, cendol, red beans and cin cau (grass jelly)

Local vegetables, – cangkuk manis (middle) and asparagus beans (bottom

Tropical fruits, – pomelo, guava, papaya (below), bananas, pineapples, watermelons and melons

Jambu madu (honey guava)

Fresh curry pastes

And then to a local bookstore so I can pick up local cookery books for myself and Lat comic books for Lil Bro. Lat is the veritable genius cartoonist who commented on Malaysia’s social and political situations using both humour and wit.

For dinner, friends took me to Sushi King, an incredibly popular chain of Japanese restaurants which introduced the novelty of conveyor sushi (sushi train) to Malaysia. The popularity is unwarranted; –  the rice did not hold together well, was cold and was not seasoned properly (I make my own sushi and the rice is paramount). The tempura batter was heavy and somewhat greasy. The saving grace was their udon noodles, which was chewy, smooth and came in a well-seasoned soy-sauce broth. In their defense, their young daughter loves this place and is a picky eater, making it an easy choice especially given that their initial option, SideWalk Cafe (a popular western restaurant) was shut for the holidays.

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