I love Kuching. I love food. And those two statements are not mutually exclusive.
The state of Sarawak seems to have its own gastronomic solar system, independent from the Peninsular and with the entire Borneo as its garden. And Kuching is quite possibly one of the largest planets orbiting around it, and definitely with the strongest gravitational pull.
After a wonderful Iban/Dayak wedding with copious amounts of Tuak (i.e. local rice wine), I needed something spicy and hearty to wake me up. And I had to go for Sarawak Laksa. All my Kuching friends tend to diss the other laksas across Sarawak, and its time to see what’s the hubbub all about!
Lau Ya Keng
First, we headed to Lau Ya Keng, which is a food court located at the very classic Carpenter street, between a Chinese temple and an ancient theater stage. There are different food vendors that operate throughout the day, and most of them serve up very decent grub (except for the Kuey chap, which I was not a fan of).
The Sarawak laksa served here was definitely richer with a healthy dose of coconut milk, topped with surprisingly large slabs of chicken breast meat and shrimp. Everybody has their own preference of Laksa, and this version definitely tickled my tastebuds. It was rich and packed with flavour, and just what the doctor ordered for the inebriated West Malaysian who had trouble holding his drink with the seasoned Sarawakian pros.
Location: Lau Ya Keng. Carpenter Street 93300 Kuching, Sarawak. Foursquare
Nyan Shin Cafe
Next, just down the road is a local Hakka noodle joint which serves hand crafted noodles. I’m starting to see the trend of Kolo mee in this part of the country, which seems to be more about highlighting the quality of the noodles, and furnished with very simple components e.g. lard, char siew (the dried out reddish versions), minced meat, fried shallots, and spring onions. And that’s about it, really.
We tried the classic Kolo Mee, as well as the Lao Su Fen (Noodles shaped like “mouse tails”). I definitely preferred the latter, as the texture of the noodles was a very pleasant al dente, plus it seemed to absorb the sauce more readily than the former.
Location: Nyan Shin Cafe. Jalan Carpenter 93300 Kuching, Sarawak. TripAdvisor.
I’m not a big queue-ing kinda guy, especially at overrated hawker stalls in certain neighbouring countries *hint*hint*. But apparently, this one is really worth it. And I mean really worth it!
And just to manage your expectations, there’s a specific protocol to be observed when eating here:
- Queue up with the other patrons;
- Once it’s your turn, move directly to the table which becomes available;
- Sit down and wait for the servers to come to you. DO NOT holler or call them;
- And once again, DO NOT holler at them (Can’t repeat this enough);
- Initially, the drink servers will ask for your beverage;
- The noodle lady will come you when they’re ready, and order your dish. I highly recommend the pork broth with the Kolo mee on the side;
- Wait patiently until the food arrives, preferably fiddle with your smartphone or bring a book/kindle.
Estimated Duration = 45 – 90 minutes
A bloody long wait for a bowl of noodles and pork broth. And was it worth it? Hell yeah!
If you’re a true aficianado of pork and offal, this is truly the place to be. Most pork broths I’ve had in Kuala Lumpur thus far tend to be really rich and heavy, but this version was actually quite subtle and almost elegant in its structure. It is laden with a plethora of pork guts, some of which were unidentifiable to me. But each piece was had a very pleasant texture, as well as being cleaned perfectly with no residual stench. The broth also contained some seawood and pickled vegetables, the former of which gave the soup its umami flavour.
As far as pork broths go, this was surprisingly sophisticated, if there’s even such a thing. But in either case, you’ve got to experience it at least once while you’re in Kuching.
On the other hand, the noodles were hand crafted, doused with Chinese black vinegar, and garnished with a flurry of fried shallots. Despite the rather simple preparation, it was actually very much edible on its own. The noodles had the perfect bite in terms of texture, and the black vinegar added a nice acidity to the dish. A surprisingly complex flavour profile.
Lau Ya Keng (Revisited)
After a pleasant city tour courtesy of my wonderful local friends, an afternoon snack was in order. Fortunately enough, we ended our tour back at Carpenter Street and right by Lau Ya Keng. I was definitely aching to try out the highly recommended Pork Satay. The store itself was manned by some rather seasoned aunties, and luckily for us, churning out their last batch of satays. We promptly ordered ten skewers. The satay were surprisingly tender, and glazed with a light sweet sauce of sorts. A very satisfying bite indeed.
Unfortunately, the fish ball noodle vendor had sold out. But I suspect I’ll be back in this city soon enough, so there’s hope yet!
I’ve been to this city only thrice in my life, and barely scratched the surface of its culinary scene. I’m by no means an expert in the local food, but I’m starting to get an inkling about what it is, and what it can be. There are plenty more to explore and experience in Sarawak, most of it is probably foreign to clueless West Malaysians like me. In any case, food is probably the most apt starting point, as it is a gateway to understanding the local culture, and can be enjoyed by pretty much everyone.
There’s definitely plenty to offer in this part of the world, and its absolutely overdue for some love.