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A recent trip to Kuching, Sarawak (Oct ’14)

12 Oct

Kuching, where I’ve family, is a place I’ve visited quite a few times. In my most recent October visit, I tried Sarawak laksa for the first(!) time, and opinionated. In no particular order:

  1. Kuching is the largest Malaysian city on the island of Borneo (the only island in the world divided between three countries), but still feels a bit sleepy. It is less connected than Kota Kinabalu (KK) in Sabah, with the only international flights are to Singapore, and an Indonesian City of Borneo. In contrast, KK has flights to Japan, China and Australia. This is probably because KK is next to a beach, and Kuching is next to the muddy Sarawak River.
  2. It is hard to avoid a sense of decline in Kuching, because (1) the weekly flight to Australia got axed (not enough volume?) and (2) the River Cruise that runs on the Sarawak River has shifted from a full dinner to light refreshment (cost-cutting).
  3. The Sarawak river is muddy and polluted, probably because of timber-logging.
  4. Spicy cornflakes with ikan bilis is a thing.
  5. Avoid Susi Air (in Indonesia), they don’t have flight engineers on their planes, and their pilots are inexperienced.
  6. The Mormons in Sarawak seem less aggressive in proselytising than a couple of years ago.
  7. Selling bikinis in the Spring Shopping Mall seems oddly incongruous with Kuching’s geographical fundamentals (i.e. it’s in the middle of a jungle, far away from a beach)
  8. Mt Singai, converted to a Christian place of worship, is actually a rather beautiful and restive spot.

And now, on to the food.

1. Swee Kang Ais Kacang

  • Address: Ground Floor, Lot 176, Jalan Haji Taha, Kuching, Malaysia

Most places in Kuching are what we’d call “coffee shops” in Singapore, by which we mean a large open-air area, with 3-6 stalls, owned by a proprietor. I was brought here to try Sarawak laksa and ice kachang, and it did not disappoint.

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Sarawak laksa (5/5)

  • Fresh and crunchy prawns, not the mashy cotton textures from inferior prawns (what’s the point of adding them), gave it nice texture.
  • The lime and chilli was essential, I dumped the whole lot in. It became a sour-ish tang, a satisfying soup that did not feel heavy, as with the curry-based Singapore laksa, which I dislike.
  • A full-bodied broth, hearty, and sour from both lime and tamarind. Quite, quite delicious.
  • Laksa in Sarawak is very different from Singapore laksa or Penang laksa. It has no curry, and the soup is tamarind-based.

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Rojak (2.75/5)

  • Alright. The sauce was too cloyingly sweet. Would have been better with jicama.

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Ice Kachang

  • Deliciously coconut-y (cold coconut milk), you could add your own gula melaka (brown palm sugar) within. Always great on a hot day, which is always.

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Char Kueh (4/5)

  • A dry form of fried white carrot cake.

2. Good Taste Cafe

  • Address: 306-311 Lebuh Lb Sekama, 93300 Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia

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Sarawak laksa (3,25/5)

  • Alright. This place uses inferior prawns, and the soup was thinner, and less full bodied than the one at Swee kang

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Kolo Mee (3.25/5)

  • Alright. Kolo mee is primarily based on lard, and can be cloying if you use too much, or if the fat isn’t cut by sour vinegar. Here it was more cloying than delicious. Also, shoe-leather char-siew.

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Kampua Noodles (3.25/5)

  • Supposedly a Foochow variation on Kolo Mee, but it’s basically the same thing.

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Tau huay AKA beancurd (4.5/5)

  • Now I thought this tau huay was worth remarking about. The best in Singapore is at a place called Beancurd City near Little India. While this beancurd didn’t quite match the silkiness of Beancurd City’s tau huay, it was a close second that would put 80% of the coarse beancurd fare Singapore hawkers are now serving up to shame.

3. Somewhere with No Name

  • Address: Somewhere near Lorong Kempas 4

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Fish fillet mee hoon with fish maw (4.25/5)

  • A hearty breakfast that I enjoyed very much. Sour tastes (a trend) with the fish made for good eating, and the alcoholic pour of red rice wine (ask at the counter) made the dish very fragrant.
  • This stall is famous for fish fillet mee hoon, so it shouldn’t be too hard to find.

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4. Ah Tan Ais Kacang

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What better way to end off the afternoon, than with another bowl of Ice Kachang? Here you choose your own adventure – milk vs coconut milk, and what kind of ingredients you want.

Minuscule differences – but while Ah Tan was good, the best bowl of Ice Kachang probably still goes to Swee Kang Ais Kacang.