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Sojourn in Sarawak

Friday, August 10, 2012


This was the saltiest dish I had tasted in a while. It was also one of the most delicious dishes I have had.
I have just come back from Sarawak (largest state in Malaysia; situated on the island of Borneo) after a three-night stay with my mother, aunt and sister. This was one of the dishes we had for lunch at the.Dyak café in Kuching (state capital; also the Malay word for "cat") on the day after we arrived.
Every state in Malaysia has its own kind of salted fish and Sarawak is no exception. While I am not unfamiliar with deep-fried salted fish, I only know it as a sort of side dish and smaller fish are often used for that. None of us – and my mum and aunt are expert cooks! – could even tell that what came to the table was salted fish until we took out first bite. No one expected it to be so salty though, but I enjoyed it. I ate most of the fish anyway!
Enjoying the beach (map, with my additions, from Damai Beach Resort)
The four of us stayed at Damai beach and swam (paddled about gracelessly, more like it!) in the South China Sea with Mount Santubong as a backdrop. I haven't had a dip in the ocean in years. The sea bed was a little rocky and the water wasn't very clear, but it was clean and warm. There weren't many people around so we had practically the whole beach to ourselves. I lost a toe-ring in the ocean – I can always get another one; a day at a nice beach is obviously more difficult to come by for me. 
the.Dyak dishes (clockwise from left): ulam raja; paku kubok gulai kechala; and jani tunu
We didn't just have the deep-fried salted Tilapia at the.Dyak, of course. 
There was also Jani Tunu, or grilled three-layer pork. To me, it looked and tasted like char siu with some belly pork still on the meat. It was served with a "special sauce", which I thought was a good blended chilli paste but again, nothing special. The dish was tasty, but not unusual.
What was truly delicious was the Ulam Raja. Translated as king's salad, it's also a plant with soft, pungent leaves. These leaves are minced and mixed with other greens, herbs and spices, and a sweet lime dressing. It was garnished with deep-fried ikan bilis (anchovies).
The other green we had was jungle ferns stir-fried with chillies. These ferns are called bilin or midin in Sarawak. In a raw salad with a similar lime dressing as the ulam raja, they make what is probably Sarawak's signature dish.
We were supposed to go to the Bako National Park the second day of our visit, but it rained heavily that night and into the morning, and our expedition had to be cancelled. We would have had a lovely boat ride through the jungle before arriving at the park, so we were pretty upset. And that's how we ended up driving the 35km to Kuching and having lunch at the.Dyak. Not to take anything away from the café and its good food, but both my sister and I would definitely have preferred spending the day in more natural surroundings.
Seduku (left) and offspring
But we did get to visit the Semanggoh Orang Utan Rehabilition Centre the next day, which was delightful. I have never seen orang utan in the wild so we were very lucky to see seven of them that morning. Visitors come at feeding times in the mornings and afternoons, but the apes don't always show themselves even when the rangers have left goodies for them. 
The oldest one at the centre is a grandmother named Seduku and we saw her first with her offspring (I didn't catch its name). Up next was a female named Delima with her baby. The rangers have nicknamed Delima "Hot Mama", not so much for her attractiveness but because of her temper. She's always the troublemaker and has even bitten off a finger of one of the rangers! Later, we saw a male and then another female carrying her two-day-old baby.
That visit was the best part of the trip for me.

1 comment:

  1. Despite the rain having cancelled part of the fun, sounds like you had a lovely time with the family and enjoyed delicious food. That fish looks amazing!


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