I’d been to Malaysia a few times, but had largely stuck to the KL and Chinatown circuits, granted this had provided me with ample Malaysian street food jollies, but I was excited that on this trip I would be going to Sarawak, and the jungles of Borneo, partly for adventure, and partly so I could be like that old Aussie guy Bush Tucker Man!
The first part of my trip to Sarawak had me arriving in the built-up city of Kuching, a very unmemorable city, but pleasant enough. Although I was hit with one stroke of luck I was just in time for the Kuching Food Festival
As a lover of food, and street food in particular I love a food festival, there’s little better than having hundreds of stalls serving food from around the world, but on the flip side I always find them a little fake, and lopsided into at least one dish. At the Kuching Food Festival that dish was German style sausages cooked Taiwan style, but I shouldn’t complain I also got to have crocodile, perfect fried noodles, and durian ice-cream.
But it was the next part of the trip where I would really get my foodie jollies, and overnight trip to stay in Padawan, an indigenous village in Sarawak populated by the Bidayuh people. If you haven’t heard of the Bidayuh, 100 years ago, or so they were head hunters! Thankfully they’re not any more.
The first part of our trip pretty much involved simply walking around and trying weird fruits that seemed to grow everywhere, with the “sour apple”, which was wasn’t actually an apple, and needed to be mixed with your own saliva to make it palatable.
Yet it was at night when the frivolities began, with our local hosts giving a cooking lesson that resulted in a feast that included a kind of chicken soup cooked over an open fire in bamboo. In reality, it looked better than it tasted.
Now whilst few would argue that smoking might be bad for you, I find in Asia particularly that when I smoke I get invited to hang out with people, and that’s exactly what happened. After getting invited to sit on the man’s table I was straight away presented with the non-tourist food, with the main dish I tried either being possum, or jungle cat? After some laughter, I thought it probably best that I simply didn’t know. The guys informed that were very fond of the last White Raja, a Mr. Bookes, as he introduced Christianity, stopped them head hunting, and best of all because they weren’t conquered by the Muslim Malays they could drink. The rest of the evening was spent drinking home brew rice wine, one shot at a time, in rounds style. Much better than Chinese Bai Jiu, and I slept well.
On my last day I was presented with the options of either hiking a mountain, or hanging out with my new best mate, who also happened to be the main hunter/drinker, I went for the later, and pretty soon the rice wine came out again. A thoroughly nice day that involved driving, waterfalls, a gift of fresh pepper and one last culinary treat. Durian the marmite of the fruit world is a big deal in Malaysia, and Sarawak in particular. I was told that the Padawan Durian is best eaten when it has just fallen from the tree, and the gas is fresh (and smelly). So, that’s what we did, we waited for a durian to fall, and my hunter buddy hacked it open and we ate it fresh.
I now love durian, there I’ve said it. I also really like the people of Sarawak, particularly the ones that used to be head hunters.