Kuching is the usual entry point for travelers wanting to explore the Malaysian state of Sarawak in Borneo. Boasted as one of the cleanest cities in Asia, Kuching has just the right amount of tourism. The food in Kuching is excellent, while prices are yet to be inflated by the tourist masses.
Borneo's isolation and unique tribal history have produced many delicious foods that are difficult to find elsewhere. Clean waterways, rain forests full of life, and an average of 247 rainy days a year mean that fresh, healthy food is always on hand!
Food in Kuching Not to Be Missed
Kuching often lends its own unique twist to traditional Malay, Chinese, and even Indonesian food.
Sarawak Laksa: The local Sarawak laksa is a creamy, spicy, local variation of Malaysia's ubiquitous soup-noodle bowl. Jumbo prawns, fresh lime, and coriander lend a unique flavor to the broth which is thicker than that found in most noodle bowls - heavy but delicious. The noodles are usually made from thin vermicelli. Read about other types of laksa.
Tomato Kueh Teow: Signs around Kuching advertise this local noodle dish in a myriad of different spellings. Wide kueh teow noodles are stir-fried with pork and vegetables in a special tomato soup originating from Kuching. "Tomato mee" is a version of tomato kueh teow served with thin, deep-fried noodles rather wide noodles.
Midin: If you try only one unique, local food in Kuching, make it midin. Pronounced "mee deen", midin is a green jungle fern that grows in Sarawak. Unlike other greens that get soft when cooked, midin remains crunchy giving it an enjoyable texture. The thin, curly shoots are a delicious and healthy alternative to noodles and rice. Midin is often stir-fried with garlic, ginger, or optionally shrimp paste and chili.
Kolo Mee: Consisting of boiled egg noodles, kolo mee is the favorite noodle dish of many locals. The broth is usually made of vinegar, pork or peanut oil, and is flavored with garlic or shallots. Minced pork or beef is often added, although you can request the dish without it. Char siew is thinly-sliced BBQ pork added in strips on top of the noodles.
If you happen to be in Kuching during the fasting month, be on the lookout for these Ramadan foods.
Kuching is filled with interesting places to eat that fit all budgets. From luxurious, open-air bistros on the waterfront to steamy food courts serving delicious cheap noodles, you will want to try them all.
- Top Spot Seafood Centre: Set atop the Taman Kereta "hill garden" near the Hilton, this clean, spacious food court is a favorite with local families wanting delicious seafood. At first glance Top Spot can seem intimidating - if it crawls, swims, or lives in the sea, one of the restaurants will have it on display! Choose from a staggering variety of seafood, order by weight, and it will be cooked to order.
- Open Air Market: Contradictory to its name, this large market is actually covered. Located nearby to the bus terminals, mosque, and India Street, the Open Air Market is actually set in a large roundabout - look for the red tower protruding from a tin-roofed building. Local favorites such as kolo mee, tomato kueh teow, and other noodle specialties can be sampled for under $2.
- Little Lebanon: Set inside the beautiful, white colonial building just opposite Carpenter Street in Chinatown, this open-air restaurant serves up local and Arabic foods. Portion sizes are larger than usual and dishes come with a little effort put into presentation for prices that would suggest otherwise. This is a great place to try mee mamak (Indian curry noodles) and umai, a native raw-fish salad flavored with chili, lime, and herbs.
- Aha Organic Cafe: The Aha Cafe on Jalan Tabuan is an upscale yet not overpriced place to get tasty organic food made with no MSG and cooked without oil. Portion sizes aren't the largest, but the food and setting are enjoyable. The owner actually grows a lot of the food on her farms. Try the porridge made with pumpkin for around $3.
- Life Cafe: Conveniently located on Carpenter Street in Chinatown, this new, stylish cafe serves up unique and traditional favorites for unexpected prices considering the environment. Free Wi-Fi, vegetarian options, and a large selection of tea make this cafe a great option in Chinatown.
Kuching Layer Cakes
One of the first things that people notice while walking along the Main Bazaar in Chinatown are the tables of colorful cakes sold in plastic boxes. Known locally as kek lapis, the layer cakes are edible art and come in a huge variety of flavors including coffee, sweet-and-sour, cheese, and assorted bizarre flavors you would not normally associate with a dessert.
If a whole cake - usually sold for about $3.50 - seems daunting, try buying just a piece for 50 cents in either the Sunday Market or from a bakery; the vendors selling cakes from tables will not cut them.
Coffee and Tea in Kuching
Known locally as kopi and teh, people in Sarawak love their coffee and tea. A slightly-confusing system of getting what you want in cafes has developed. If you do not specify how you take your coffee or tea, the default is to load the drink with milk and sugar!
- Kopi: If you just ask for coffee, expect sugar and sweet, condensed milk.
- Kopi-C: Pronounded "see", this coffee comes with unsweetened, evaporated milk.
- Kopi-O: Pronounced "oh", this removes the milk from the coffee but possibly not the sugar.
- Kopi-O Kosong: Simply black coffee, served hot and strong.
The Bhasa Malay word for sugar is "gula"; the word for milk is "susu".
- Read about teh tarik and other unique Malaysian tea drinks.