Best Buys of Borneo

Shopping in Kuching is quite a tricky thing. Modern malls are becoming a way of life but we tend to go for the other type of shopping when we’re here.
Local foodstuff and pottery are more of our kind of shopping.
First, pottery and ceramics are unique because Sarawak-made pots, mugs, lamps, decor items and vases have patterns which are distinctively Borneo.

Handmade vases from Sarawak, Borneo
Handmade vases from Sarawak, Borneo

We usually buy our table lamps when we are here in Kuching. They’re much nicer and cheaper than Semenanjung. The cool thing is you have the option of checking in your table lamps if you prefer not to hand carry them into the plane. Rest assured that these ceramic factories are old hands are wrapping up your ceramic pottery. The items are packed tighter than elephants in a phone booth and there’s nary a scratch or crack when you arrive at your destination.
Ceramic table lamps without lamp shades
Ceramic table lamps without lamp shades

Next, food. I like wandering in the aisles of local supermarkets here because by looking at what the locals eat, I get a definitive idea of the unique flavours of this verdant land.
Sago biscuits made from the pith of the sago palm tree
Sago biscuits made from the pith of the sago palm tree

Of course you cannot leave without some famous Sarawak pepper (black pepper and white pepper). You can get them in various denominations – coarse grind, fine grind, whole corns, in a sauce and in whole kilo bags.
Great gifts for everyone - famous Sarawak pepper!
Great gifts for everyone - famous Sarawak pepper!

You can also get them as pepper sweets which taste very much like peppermint sweets. Nic used to buy me pepper perfume but they smelled like regular cologne. It’s a novelty though.
Then there’s a local herb called Motherwort or what locals call Kacangma. It’s usually cooked with chicken for mothers undergoing confinement to get rid of ‘angin’ but it’s also a dish that many locals love. I’ve grown quite fond of kacangma but I only get my supply of this dried green herb when I come back to Kuching. I found some instant kacangma paste recently but have yet to try it.
Tradition goes upmarket - kacangma paste for people in a hurry.
Tradition goes upmarket - kacangma paste for people in a hurry.

Then there’s Sarawak tea. It’s not too bad though I think it lacks processing finesse. It’s not as fragrant as Boh tea but then again we cannot compare Sarawak tea, a lowland tea, to Boh which is a highland tea. It is worth a try though. (Did you know that Boh also has a lowland tea plantation in Bukit Cheeding, Selangor? Hah, betcha didn’t know that. Well it does. I wonder if what we term as Boh highland tea, with the romantic illusion of tea and scones, is actually mixed with lowland tea from the unglamorous Bukit Cheeding?)
Tea leaves grown in Borneo becomes Sarawak tea
Tea leaves grown in Borneo becomes Sarawak tea

And lastly, I never leave without buying some Sarawak laksa paste. Yesterday I saw instant Sarawak laksa paste! Cooking the laksa gravy is a tedious affair so I think having instant paste is godsend. But I also think anything that’s instant probably has MSG in it. Well, I bought some to try anyway.
Instant Sarawak laksa paste!
Instant Sarawak laksa paste!

I also saw some jelly sweets made from pegaga, another local herb. Didn’t buy that because I don’t want to load myself with too many things to carry home to Penang. After all, I still need to buy some kolo mee, kuih more-more, keropok and achar, fish chips and the list just goes on.
I’m Malaysian after all and food is my greatest indulgence!

20 thoughts on “Best Buys of Borneo”

    • Yes, thanks for the link to your blog/shop. Interesting food – I never had the chance to pack home ikan terubok masin though. In my family, fresh ikan terubuk used to be braised with bittergourd and black beans. It made a tasty dish even though the fish is full of bones. My grandma used to make this dish but no more. For those who have yet to taste terubok, it’s a very lemak fish, flavourful and distinctly different from other types of fish. Its meat is a little rough in texture with bones that are Y-shaped and tiny.

      Reply
  1. Dear Maya,
    Do you know where can buy the Sarawak ceramic table lamp at Semenanjung Malaysia? I means in Klang Valley?
    I need it urgently. Please tell me if anybody know about it.
    Thank you very much.

    Reply
    • Hi Elaine – Tough one. I usually buy mine when I go back to Kuching. You can try looking for them at the shops in Central Market. Or contact Sarawak Tourism Board and ask if they have KL branches/shops selling Sarawak arts and crafts?

      Reply
  2. Dear Maya,
    I planning to have a trip to Kuching, Sarawak. Can you please suggest me the famaus place i must to visit? And please also let me know exactly name of the place i can buy the ceramic table lamp and vase?
    Thank you.
    Rgd,
    Elaine

    Reply
    • Hi Elaine: For ceramic vases and items, you can go to 4th Mile. There are a few shops which are near to each other so you can take a look. Each one produces the ceramic vases in different patterns so take a look first before you buy. They can pack it easily for you to check in at the airport. For famous places to visit, you can go to Sarawak Cultural Village. Even Chinatown in Kuching and the Waterfront are lovely places to check out. You can pick up a tourist booklet when you get to the Kuching airport. If you want more adventurous stuff (jungle etc), talk to any Kuching tour agency and they will be able to suggest day trips and such for you. Hope this helps!

      Reply
  3. Hello Maya
    I came across your blog looking for Laksa paste from sarawak. I was born there and now live in kerala. I was wondering if you had any idea if these laksa paste were available online please?
    Thanks and regards

    Reply
    • Hi May
      I am not sure. Usually the best and freshest Sarawak pepper is from any of the supermarkets in Kuching. Are you looking to get them for commercial purposes or just for your own household use?

      Reply
  4. hi maya, i am just wondering if u ever find the kacangma herbs from kuching in the package with label for sale? i need to contact the company. i need to buy the kacangma dried leaves for cooking. thx before

    Reply
    • Hi Kany
      Unfortunately, I think the kacangma processing in Kuching or even Sarawak for that matter is very much a cottage industry (i.e. a lot of it is done on a small scale basis from home) and hence, no labels. I often get mine from the shops at 3rd Mile in Kuching when I go back to visit my mum-in-law. All of these kacangma packets don’t have any labels of the company either. Where are you located, by the way?

      Reply

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