Snacks and Food of Kuching

It’s much easier for me to see the differences in food when I am in Kuching. I go with my Penang eyes anyway. Sightseeing aside, the local food in Kuching is quite different from Penang because they’re still quite traditional in many ways (read: not as polished commercialised as we Semenanjung people are). Each community has its own special food, either for celebrations or for regular consumption.

Below are some interesting snacks and food you might want to try the next time you are in Cat City!

“Bee phang” or rice cakes
According to my mom-in-law, these are eaten by the Hakka during CNY. They have various types: with sesame seeds, with peanuts, etc. I never knew this existed until Lisa (from KL!) told me she loved the bee phang from Kuching.

Bee Thor
I first tasted bee thor when my mom-in-law bought it from the local market. It is shaped like a teardrop, the size of a hand. Think of it as a flattened steamed pau – the ingredients inside can be savoury or sweet. Sweet ones have peanuts and sugar while the savoury ones include minced meat. I love the savoury versions. I can’t remember if it is a Hakka or Hainan snack!

Tebaloi or crispy sago biscuits
Tebaloi is a famous native (Melanau) food in Sarawak. It is made from sago flour and tastes nice and crispy like a thicker version of kuih kapit (which in Sarawak is called kuih sepit). It is a snack which locals don’t eat at all just like we Penang people don’t eat tambun biscuits or nutmeg unless we buy them for visiting or out-of-town friends!

Kek lapis or Indonesian layer cake
Visit any open house during CNY in Kuching and you will taste fantastic kek lapis. The beauty of this cake is not in the cake but the various designs and patterns which are revealed when the cake is sliced, eliciting awed oohs and aahs. In this regard, Sarawak Malays are creative in making kek lapis in different colours, layers and yes, designs! I have seen a whole recipe book dedicated to the making of this beautiful edible work of art. Never leave Sarawak without getting this cake. Yes, there are halal and non-halal versions. The halal version can be bought in Satok. The non-halal versions can be bought at any good bakery in Kuching.

Keropok udang with vegetable acar
It is a given that you will be served keropok udang or ikan in any Sarawakian’s house. The way to eat this is with the local vegetable acar or pickle made with julienned carrot and cucumber in a tangy base of spices. It sounds odd (that’s what I thought too the first time I heard about it) but the combination works really well. You put a teaspoon of pickle (usually served chilled) on the keropok. When you bite into the crispy keropok, you get a burst of tastes and sensations on your tongue: savoury and sweet and salty all at once. It works only with acar from Sarawak so get a bottle if you’re in any local market there. (Quick sidenote: Learn how to make instant acar from a Sarawakian friend of mine in the US.)

Kuching siew pau
Unlike the Seremban siew pau which we get here in the Semenanjung, the Kuchingites have their own famous siew pau. It is less polished, unlike its Seremban cousin, and looks ‘whitish beige’. The taste is more traditional too. But yummy nonetheless. Imagine it’s a siew pau that your grandma made – looks and tastes like that. Try the yam puff and curry puff too when you buy the siew pau. Legend has it that the two feuding siew pau makers along Carpenter Street in downtown Kuching (near Chinatown) make the same pau because one learnt from the other and then decided to open a shop next to her mentor! Of course everyone says the original pau from the original shop tastes better! You don’t have to visit the shop to buy the pau – you can get it just as easily from any coffee shop around Kuching.

“Umai” or raw fish salad
Umai is a native food made from raw fish. I first tasted this during the Rainforest World Music Festival many years ago at the Sarawak Cultural Village. I’m quite all right with raw fish since I do love my sashimi with a vengeance. According to a Kuchingite friend who works in Mukah (famous for its sago by the way and of course fat juicy sago worms!), any type of fresh fish can be used to make umai. Also, you can have two types of umai – one is shredded raw fish mixed with sliced onions, lime juice, salt, sugar and chillies or the other type which is plain sliced raw fish (akin to sashimi) eaten with a spicy chili dip. Both taste equally good, he says. This same person has also taken grilled sago worms. We asked if it tastes like chicken. He smiles and says that he can’t describe it – one must take it to know how it tastes like!

Sarawak laksa
Of course you must taste this when you are in Kuching. How can you not? The one I like is located at the 3rd Mile market, in a coffee shop which sells kolo mee too. It’s pretty addictive, this Sarawak laksa. If you start getting withdrawal symptoms, go to any Everise supermarket and grab a few packets of laksa paste. I’ve tried looking for the original brand – Swallow brand – but cannot seem to find it. I did find other unknown brands like Cap Helang, Cap Burung Bayan etc. Not tested so do not know if they’re any good. Or try getting Barrett’s laksa paste from their coffee shop at Bormill Estate if all fails. Barrett’s is the offshoot of the original Swallow brand. Don’t forget to get their sambal belacan too. Otherwise your sarawak laksa will not taste like sarawak laksa without the sambal belacan!

Pepper
If you don’t know that Sarawak is famous for pepper, you shouldn’t read further. LOL. Sarawak is the world’s biggest producer of quality pepper, for your info. Pepper is the king of spices and your black pepper steak will be awful without this spice. Get peppercorns for your friends and family because nothing tastes better than freshly ground pepper from fresh peppercorns (Especially ‘too thor thng’! Yum) Anyway, if you don’t cook but would like something peppery, try pepper sweets (which taste like mints so don’t worry). Or buy pepper perfume! Or buy pepper sauces in bottles. Where to get? Any supermarket in Kuching or any Sarakraf or tourist souvenir shop.

Salted terubuk fish
I love eating terubuk fish (American Shad) which my grandma cooks although the fish has so many bones that it’s terrifying! But the fish is lemak and lovely when braised with bitter gourd and black beans. However in Sarawak, they do the salted fish version. Sold in the Satok market, this fish is a must-buy. I have not tasted this salted terubuk though but I guess it would be like any other salted fish. Anyone tasted this and know how to eat it?

Midin or young fern shoots
Only in Sarawak you will get this at your local ‘tai chow’ or ‘chu char’ eating place. It is crispy and yummy when stirfried with garlic and out of this world when fried with belacan! Midin is a jungle fern eaten by locals. Nic says the pucuk pakis (like the ones you find in Tesco) over here is similar but NOT the real thing.

Kolok Mee
It’s a sin if I leave this out. Kolok Mee or Kolo Mee is a simple dish of springy noodles (very “Q” – a Hokkien term for extreme springiness!) with seasonings, lashings of char siew oil and slices of char siew. That’s it. So simple, so delicious! Unlike our wantan mee, it has no black soya sauce, it is not soggy, and it is not full of ingredients. It can be served dry or in a soup. Either way, the kolo mee is good because it has bite and the flavourful char siew oil gives it the added ooomph. You can get kolo mee anywhere, anytime in Kuching. I’ve become as much of a kolo mee fan as my husband. You have not been to Sarawak if you have not tasted this local dish. Yes, there are halal versions too sold by Muslims – it is topped with beef slices instead of porky char siew.

OK, this post is making me really hungry. I must stop or I’ll drool all over this PC!

Do you have any favourite food/snacks from your hometown to share?

Granted, Kuching isn’t my hometown (it is my husband’s) but I feel I know the place after so many trips there! Any Sarawakians want to add on to my list of snacks and food of Kuching?

0 replies
  1. keatdhensemest
    keatdhensemest says:

    hey dudet, HCNY+GHFC(that’s canto,lol)
    the bee phang and thor is alrite, hv not tried the tebaloi but i guess it’s gonna be bland, lapis is an imported version so i would not comment, the acar will dampen the keropok as a matter of fact and after all, the acar is quite different, it’s alrite, siewpau is quite splendid really, umai-hv not tried it, but i guess i will stick to the japs, laksa is alrite, pepper is almost the tai-tuung-siew-yi, terubuk is geli to me, midin is superb, kolok is over the rated and not very nutricious. to sum up…..err, i’d prefer those ipoh/kl/canto/klang/johor/thai fares…superb. it is highly testified babe…lol.

    Reply
  2. Kate
    Kate says:

    Dearie, I have made countless work-related visits to Kuching and tasted quite a fair bit of those food listed above. What is most unforgettable has got to be the ‘Umai’, which I first tasted it in Sibu. Each time I step foot in Sibu, I shall request my host to bring me to this quaint restaurant to taste this dish. It is not commonly found but definitely way and above over the ‘yee sang’ dish. I also like the midin fried with garlic.. especially crunchy.. not the type found in Peninsular Malaysia and a thinner version of those found in Sabah, another popular dish there which is prepared more or less like how they prepare dish in Kuching. Healthy but there was a disparaging report once on the level of mercury found in the Sabah variety.. Don’t know how true is it but so long as it is edible and ‘oiishi’… why not I reckoned?

    Reply
  3. marsha
    marsha says:

    wah….how long did you stay there??? you specifically go there for the snacks, izzit? 🙂 anyway, y didn’t you take some pictures of it and show us…more interesting, not meh?

    can never tell that you are such a food lover – you’re rod thin but eats like….what’s the chinese year zodiac already ah?

    gong xi gong xi, Krista! Luv Ya!

    Reply
  4. Mayakirana
    Mayakirana says:

    Kate: At least you’ve been to Sibu! I have not ventured out of Kuching yet! Sigh. Yes, midin fried with garlic is delicious… btw have I left any snacks and food out, you intrepid traveller?

    Marsha: Yes, photos! I have some but have yet to resize them. Ah yes, rod thin but eat like a pig. That’s me. I have this odd habit of forgetting to upload photos each time I blog.

    Reply
  5. wahlau
    wahlau says:

    ooooohhh i miss kuching food! been living in/near Kuching for 3 years+, and will never forget the food i’ve eaten over and over there…

    hmm, any recipe available ke to cook? 🙂

    Reply
  6. sarsar
    sarsar says:

    hihi
    i was looking up for a recipe on how to make bee phang & also acar and found ure website ^^ I realli realli miss the fooooooood in sibu! aiyah! i was there for cny this yr and went to go visit relatives (and get ang pow of course! :P) haha the reason why I was looking for the recipe was bcoz I’ve just finished the last of my bee phang and I can’t buy any of the real ones here! 🙁

    Reply
  7. Maya
    Maya says:

    Hi Wahlau: Yes, how about how to cook sarawak laksa? I wrote about it last Dec…. find the post at http://mayakirana.com/blog/?p=172

    HI Sarsar: Hmm. I don’t have a recipe for bee phang though. Must go and check out how it is made the next time I am in KCH. Oh for sarawak acar, you can check out The Cooking Engineer’s blog (see the blog roll on the right side of my blog). He’s 100% Sarawakian-American. 😉 It means he’s an American now but he is still defiantly Sarawakian in his eating habits!

    Reply
  8. Di
    Di says:

    Hi
    I’m from Kuching n know where to get Swallow Brand laksa paste. Go to Green Road. The shop is called Goh Say Lak. You can also go to the original makers of Swallow Brand Laksa Paste. It’s a house in Kim Kiat Lane. (Go via Poh Kwong Park from Green Road). You can ask for directions. Otherwise Goh Say Lak is the “resellers” of Swallow Brand Laksa Paste.
    A block after Goh Say Lak, there’s a kolo mee shop that sells really good kolo mee and you have to wait really long for your order, so make sure you order a few packets (with char siew oil) to go.
    For Kueh Lapis, there is a shop just next to the State Mosque. He is apparently the best kueh lapis maker/seller in town. His name is Jay, young Indian boy.
    You can also get delicious kolok mee from Hock Hai in padungan, just opposite Sky Bookstore (near the MAS building). Hock Hai also sells the best pau and siew mai in town. It’s been the best since i was little.
    If you want to eat laksa, some good places to go is Jln. Song Thian Cheok (opp. Maybank or MBF near Holiday Inn). Another place to go is Sekama. 3rd Mile (the one you mentioned) also is quite famous for its big prawns. Go early (e.g.7-8am) otherwise it won’t taste nice after 9am and they’ll be close by then.
    Siew pau (chicken puff), curry puff, and yam puff is located in a very small lane off Carpenter Street. it’s the street we like to call Coffin lane cos that lane has lots of coffin makers. It’s a small lane beside the Central Polis Station, behind Electra House. Opposite Electra House is Open Air Market. All the most delicious food can be found there at night, beef noodle to chendol to rojak, to belacan bee hoon and kangkung sotong. Just be careful of your wallets/handbags and pretend not to see the crocroaches (or rats) running by.

    Good Luck 🙂

    Reply
  9. Maya
    Maya says:

    Hi Di: Hey, thanks for the ‘delicious’ notes about Kuching food. Yummy! Let me try them all when I next in KCH.

    Reply
  10. Crys
    Crys says:

    Hey! I’m a Kuchingite who is now currently residing in Penang to further my studies. You have covered almost every must-tries from Kuching but there is two types of delicacies that I think is worth trying or rather is a must try when you are in Kuching- Tomato Noodle and Kom Pia! The next time you drop by Kuching, do take some time to try the tomato noodle especially the one in either Song Kheng Hai or the hawker stalls in Hui Sing or both! Delicious Kom Pia is also available in Song Keng Hai.

    Reply
  11. Maya
    Maya says:

    Hi Crys: Thanks for stopping by this blog. Oh yes, Tomato Noodle is mu husband’s favourite. Kom Pia – now that I have not tried. I must remember the places to buy these things. Oh another thing I like a lot is the sarawak tea (a recent discovery as I love walking about Kuching supermarkets….. lots of new stuff I didn’t know about!). Sarawak tea is smooth and does not have that awful tannin taste with overbrewing.

    Reply
  12. luke
    luke says:

    I am from Kuching and a great laksa eater. Let me recommend to you the best laksa in Kuching so that next time you come here, you can try.

    1. Mei Mei Foodcourt at Chonglin Park (same row as M&D
    motor)
    2. Foodie Goodie Coffee shop at Tabuan Laru (same bloock
    as Kuching Specialist Hospital)

    For kolomee, try the one at Tomsen Corner at Palm Road
    ( opposite the Police HQ)

    Reply
  13. ai-zhen
    ai-zhen says:

    Hi, I m locally from Kuching, and also a great food lover. Think i tasted almost all food stalls in Kuching xD .. anyway, y no one mention about “Kueh Chap” .. isn’t it also one of a kind of Kuching food ? can’t find in other places oh…

    But u gotta dare to try it.. it’s all pork. Absolutely Non-Halal. Only make up with pork stuff. the lean meat, intestines, skin, ear. .etc. also wif some Fried Tofu. u can choose what u want in ur bowl.. The soup taste real good. ^^

    Anyway, if anyone of u know a new open coffee shop or delicious stall “hiding” somewhere in Kuching, do let me know. thanx

    Reply
    • Maya
      Maya says:

      Hi Ai Zhen – Thanks for your comment about kueh chap. Nic is a big fan of kueh chap but he has never truly eaten it as much as he has eaten kolo mee! We too have a fabulous kueh chap stall here in Kimberley Street, Penang. It’s a thick hearty soup full of offal and duck meat and hardboiled egg (RM5). This street is famous for its 4 heavenly stalls – all the stalls here are 2nd generation. There’s the kueh chap stall, there’s the char kueh teow stall (which uses charcoal fire), a tong sui stall which serves yummy longan dessert and see koay th’ng and a kuih teow thn’h stall which sells braised chicken feet. The street comes alive at night, and is famous for suppers and late dinners. Roadside ambience, of course 😉

      Reply
    • Maya
      Maya says:

      Thanks Sky! I hope to try it when I am in Kuching early Feb next year. Thanks for the tip. Everything famous in Kuching gets sold out very early in the day. Now you know why I keep eating kolo mee for breakfast! It’s common, it’s available anywhere and it’s a great replacement for famous food 😉

      Reply
  14. Youtiaofan
    Youtiaofan says:

    I am from Kuching I love to eat you char kway since young.

    I tasted the famous Penang you char kway at Penang Paya Terubong but the Kuching Bee J you char kway taste even more fantastic, their you char kway also served with kaya, mayo, chicken floss and sausage.

    They started at 7th Mile, now have another stall at Expert Coffee Shop at 41/2 Mile and C121, Stutong. You should try when you will be here again.

    Reply
    • Maya
      Maya says:

      Hi Chris: Thanks for the recommendation. Interesting combinations. Ya, Penang yu char kueh is just plain ones. In fact the other exciting thing from Sarawak is the Three Layer Tea which is all the rage now here in Penang and KL. Of course F&N promotes it like crazy because it uses their evaporated milk. I will get Nic to take me to the places you mentioned when I get to Kuching! Thanks again for your helpful additions!

      Reply
  15. jacqi
    jacqi says:

    siew pao!! n the shop xiao bao wang on padungan. omg, so many others!! been away from home too long and just aching to go back!!

    Reply
    • Maya
      Maya says:

      Hi Jacqi – Yup! Siew Pao Kuching style is still very much made in the traditional style. Padungan has a nice pao shop? cool! I shall take a look when I next go to Kuching.

      Reply
  16. emmee
    emmee says:

    Pucuk pakis is different from midin 😀
    pucuk pakis tastes awesome when you fry it with chili padi pounded with little shrimps.
    Midin normally in restaurants they fry it with garlic, yes, with red wine 😀
    brings the ooopmh outta the vege. hehehe
    midin is smaller, and is less “creamy” than midin.
    normally pucuk pakis from Sabah tastes the best. Midin, well, Sarawak! 🙂

    Reply
    • Maya
      Maya says:

      Hi emmee: Oh I didn’t know that. We don’t get pucuk pakis from Sabah here but one of my to-do’s is to try exploring Sabah one of these days. Thanks for the tip!

      Reply
  17. emmee
    emmee says:

    kompiah in Kuching actually doesn’t taste that nice.
    Places where you would want to get Kompiah would be places where there are a lot of Foochows. For instance, Sibu, Bintangor, Sarikei. Bintulu oso not bad.
    Sibu and Bintangor is famous for their homemade pao, and Foochow delights.
    Must try Kampua if you go to any of these places since you have already tried kolomee. Bintangor and Sarikei are only an hour drive from Sibu. its a bit kampung bt thats the best place you can get pure pure pure Foochow delights like kampua and all the paos hehehe
    Bintangor got really cheap paos. RM0.30 for a buttermilk pao. yummy!! XD but you will have to ask the locals for the name of the place. i forgot already 🙁 its very famous. Bintangor market place’s rojak is also very famous in Sarawak. RM3 for a dish if im not mistaken. Love it to bits!
    Bintangor and Sarikei damn cheap food. Sibu oso okok. but compared to Kuching, cheap.

    Sarawak is the land of good food! hahahahha!!!
    but of course WM got good food also. haha different place different speciality.

    Reply
    • Maya
      Maya says:

      Hi emmee

      Thanks for sharing the good stuff about Sarawak food. It’s terrible to say this but I have never been out of Kuching! I doubt I’ve explored even the crooks and crannies of Kuching fully either. It’s usually difficult for us to do any exploration because of a lack of transport (unless we call for a taxi or even get a travel van or guide). I shall keep your suggestions in mind when I have a chance to explore other towns of Sarawak.

      Reply
    • Maya
      Maya says:

      Hi Greg: Yes, I’ve tried tomato mee. I found that it’s just not to my taste or liking! 😉 A lot of Kuching people seem to enjoy this nostalgic dish of their childhood days.

      Reply
  18. lia
    lia says:

    you can fry the salted ikan terubuk till crispy ( this includes scales and all which you can eat when it is crispy) it tastes great with plain rice. If you dont want to fry the whole fish can also wrap half of it and keep in the freezertill u need it.

    Reply
    • Maya
      Maya says:

      Hi Lia – Thanks for the info. I didn’t know how Sarawakians eat this fish as my mom-in-law has never bought it. I have seen Sarawakians buy this and carry back to Peninsula Malaysia on the planes! I shall buy one the next time I am in Kuching then. Thanks for your tips!

      Reply
  19. rach
    rach says:

    sounds like you tried quite a bit but apart from the ‘umai’ there aren’t much from the tribal delicacy. you should try dabai dipped in good soy sauce, tempoyak with chilli and/or anchovies (or cooked with prawns and sayur manis), pucuk ubi (fried ”properly” with sliced lemongrass), bario rice, mee belacan and etc…. so much more… ah i miss my kuching so much… time to book a flight and go home!

    Reply
    • Maya
      Maya says:

      Hi Rach: Yeah, sorry to say but yeah, mostly Chinese foods of Kuching. I haven’t had a chance to try the rest, but I have heard about dabai. Thanks for letting me know what stuff I should look out for when I go to Kuching. 😉 Much appreciated!

      Reply

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  2. […] Local foodstuff and pottery are more of our kind of shopping. […]

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