Monday, February 6, 2017

Kuching Food Recommendations from the Kuching Boy, feat. lava sweet potato balls

In case you didn't know, I come from Kuching, the capital of Sarawak, a province in East Malaysia (on Borneo Island). I've never mentioned this much because I am a little confused myself regarding my heritage. My dad hails from Sarikei, my mum from Sibu and I was born in Singapore, thus it's both a little peculiar yet also accurate that all of us now call Kuching home.

I've also never spent an extended period of my life in Kuching bar the months waiting for University to start. That said, I do have a strong feeling for this endearing little city and I am extremely impressed with its rapid development especially over the last 5 years. At this rate, within a decade, I am sure Kuching will become one of the most comfortable places to live within our region.

Despite this growth, the core of food in Kuching has not changed one bit. The food I longed to eat when I was a little boy is still what the locals eat today, everyday. Most of these delicacies are found in the increasingly-modern coffeeshops, with a focus in simple, hearty flavours. I am not familiar enough to give you details on where to eat what, but through this post, I hope to show you what you should look for if you manage to drop by.

1. Sarawak Laksa

With all due respect to other laksas, which I also enjoy to different extents, Sarawak Laksa is definitely the best. I believe the only reason it's not more widely found is because of the difficulty to obtain the authentic laksa paste. It also takes a lot of good ingredients to make a broth robust enough to present the laksa at its best, so a good bowl of Sarawak laksa is not necessarily easy to find even in Kuching.

2. Kolo Mee

A Kuching staple, the ultimate everyday food of the local. Kolo Mee focuses on clean flavours and the curly, springy noodles, usually paired with minced pork and charsiew. However, Kolo Mee condiments can come in numerous iterations, with blanched seafood being my favourite after the original.

3. Kampua Mee

More popular in a small town in Sarawak called Sibu, Kampua is a staple of the Foochows. A meal does not get simpler than a plate of Kampua, which always comes with just a serving of al-dente noodles (thicker than the standard kolo mee) tossed in lard and shallot oil plus a few wafer-thin pieces of blanched pork.

4. Teh C Peng Special

There's nothing uncommon about iced tea with evaporated milk, until it fell into the hands of the innovative coffeeshop owners in Kuching. Not only did they make iced tea "special" again, they made it look great (with some managing up to 5 colour layers in a single glass) and made it a signature drink of the city.

A photo posted by Eddie (@strangerinbangkok) on

5. Mongolian BBQ

The influx of Chinese in Kuching created a new Chinese food culture. My pick has to go to the Mongolian BBQ stands which only open from evening onwards. The lamb skewers and racks of ribs are to die for.

6. Omakase-style tzechar stalls

Omakase or "up-to-the-chef" dining is in-trend at the moment, especially among the upper class. Did anyone realize that this kind of dining might already have been around in Kuching coffee shops since a long time ago? I know of at least 3 such locations in Kuching and do give it a go if you are adventurous enough!

7. Lava sweet potato balls

For a guy who has random emails frequently from people all over the world asking for restaurant recommendations in Bangkok, I did not expect to be surprised by anything my hometown can offer, until this.

Ordinary-looking Thai Fried Sweet Potato Balls

Bite in and voila, oozy lava custard

I've always been a fan of sweet potato balls in Thailand, though I wonder why they are not as commonly found here as they should. Molten lava buns are also something I frequently order during our dim sum fixes. Putting these 2 together should be common sense, but why did it feel so new and interesting when I chomped into these crispy balls? Perhaps common sense is not that common anymore.

So there you go, my lengthy but by-no-means exhaustive amateur guide to food in Kuching. If it's your first time in Kuching and you managed to try all or most of the above, give yourself a pat on your back. It's a job well done.

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