The D’yak – Kuching Sarawak
Indie is a cool umbrella to sit under, especially in the zapping heat haze of Borneo. Edgy and different, never becoming part of day to day vernacular. A truly Indie food experience is getting few and far between in our homogenised world. There has been uprisings of singular originality, but anything really popular gets sucked in, bought up and sold out. Food trends come and go, all that’s left of the macaroon, whoopie and cupcake kitsch of the last few years are merely the crumbs on our chins and a generation of children nagging to lick the coloured icing – buyers regret spurted from many a hungry mouth. Guerilla food vans lurk in lanes teasing via social media to try their pulled armadillo in brioche. The ‘food van’ concept is tres cool and have experienced some exceptional signature dishes over the years. In my travels, a truly original food experience is craved, and here in food mad Malaysia those cravings are met. When I say ‘food experience’ I don’t mean endangered species or macho rites of passage, one just needs a break from the processed world that we are sadly duplicating – that repeated name brand ad nauseam of alpha cities.
Kuching in Sarawak Malaysia is definitely not an alpha city by any means. The hawker stalls are still a vibrant part of daily life. Ramly burgers, charcoal cooked satay, steamed buns from roadside stalls are still easy to find. Overheard conversations about food in English are just as regular in Bahasa, as my rudimentary ear picks up on key words and I see the passion on their faces. It is a capital that bustles with business, and tourism, and besides real local food centres and hawkers, I wanted to see what the more upmarket Kuching had to offer. One place I found would have any Michelin starry enthusiast swoon. The restaurant and its cuisine so unique, the host boasts that there are ‘no other on the planet’, and I believe him – this food seems from another galaxy, flavour combinations of the extreme kind. Being a river city, seafood is paramount – done simply, cooked light. Local river fish Tilapia Lempis, gently steamed with wild ginger flower and tumeric leaf is typical Dayak style, earthy and subtly sweet. Sweet potato leaves stirfried with coconut, garlic, chillies and belacan all texture, crunch and zing. Bamboo shoots thinly sliced with homemade chilli, simple & perfect. Their philosophy is local and seasonal, often running out of a dish, but who cares when your in Kuching. They will always have something else for you to share. It is the side dishes and vegetables that can wig out your taste buds and sometimes you really don’t want to find out what’s in it. Durian & Anchovy, two of the most pungent ingredients on the planet battle with chilli and sends your head spinning, tongue salivating – it is so wrong, but so right and attacks all the senses. The best part of this restaurant is the owner and his family story. The tradition, love and respect he has in sharing this and the food he grew up with and although you will find this hospitality in many restaurants in Kuching and it’s environs, it’s the balance of modernity and tradition that sits so well in this part of the jungle.