I knew very little about Sarawak food except from a Facebook pal that the “must try” local street food is Kolo Mee and Sarawak Laksa. I went out with my partner, wondering the streets of Kuching in search of the local street food. We came across a very busy place at Carpenter Street across from a Chinese temple. It is an open space hawker centre with very high metal roof sheetings. There were no ceiling fans. It was hot. I could see 3 Chinese stalls – Kolo Mee, Pork Satay, and a “Leong Tau-Fu” stands. I thought to myself it had to be good as the place was completely full, and I was excited that I have found a Kolo Mee stall. Everyone seems to be ordering the dried Kolo Mee and satay. I went along with the crowd and did the same.
I had to say that my first impression of the Kolo Mee was it looked plain and simple with little ingredients. My partner and I took turn to taste the dish. Unfortunately, we both were not impressed and thought the dish was quite plain and tasted of MSG. I decided to order another bowl but with minced pork balls to see if there was much difference. It tasted about the same with slightly more vegetables and pork.
Next, we tried the pork satay. It seems to be very popular with the crowd. I ordered six sticks. The meat was a bit tough and overdone. It does not have the smoky charcoal grilled flavours like the version in Penang. I was surprise that the sauce was served over the satay rather than separately. It had too much liquid, rather than the thicker version in Penang.
Overall, my first impression of the hawker food in Kuching was a bit disappointing, compare to what we can get back in Penang. Across from the hawker centre was a fritter hawker stall selling banana and sweet potato fritters. My consolation – it was hot, crisp and delicious. The batter was good. A nice little after snack.
Later that evening, we went to an open air Seafood Center. A short stroll from the hotel. I have read and heard about this place, and had to try it. The place is called “Top Spot” above a public carpark building.
There were several seafood stands to select. Some stands seem to be more popular than the others. The stands sell almost the same thing with different operators and cooks. When we first arrived there, my partner was approached by the first stand and ushered to a table. Little did he knew that each of the stands was different. I was not going to be pressured by the charming young girl who tried to get us to order the food. I told her that I wanted to walk around first and look at each stand before deciding where to sit and eat. I was glad that I managed to get us out of the “selling tactic” of the first stand.
I chose stall 25, “Bukit Mata”. It seems to be the most popular with a small cashier counter in front of the stand. The lady boss stood out from the rest of the staff, dressed in traditional Sarong Kebaya collecting the payments. I told myself this was the right choice. I ordered five dishes – two giant mantis prawns grilled with garlic butter sauce, a grilled squid with black bean sauce, a deep fried fish in sweet and sour sauce, garlic stir fry “tau mew” and a fried rice. All for MYR$55, which was cheap. The best part, all the dishes were delicious and great! It was the right choice, and worth the visit to Top Spot Seafood Centre.
In day 2 of our trip to Kuching, there was a coffee shop that I walked past the first day. It had more stalls including one that sell Sarawak Laksa. We went there for lunch. We ordered food from 3 different stalls – Sarawak Laksa, Mutton Soup and Mutton Curry (in claypot) with rice and dried noodles, and 2 vegetable dishes from an “Economy Rice” stand. I couldn’t remember how much we paid for all, but they were cheap. Cheaper than eating in Penang. I enjoyed all the food we ordered. Both mutton dishes were packed with flavours and meat was tender and just melt in the mouth. The Laksa was nice and interesting. A different version from the Penang Curry Laksa. It tasted like it had more curry spices flavour, a bit more stronger and pungent, and not as rich, sweet and creamy as the Penang curry laksa.
Next to the coffee shop is a vegetarian restaurant, and next to this restaurant is another restaurant called “Hong Kong Noodle House”. We went to the later for our dinner. It was cheap, but the food was a bit disappointment. We ordered 4 dishes – a salted fish fried rice, a stuffed beancurd dish served with crab sauce, a stir fried beansprout with salted fish and my partner had to order a chicken dish with onion rings which I had a bad feeling just by reading the name. The bill came to MYR$35. The only dish that we both like was the salted fish fried rice. Even that, it was quite plain. And, the beancurd dish had too much flour and didn’t taste like beancurd. The worse dish was the chicken, which was tough and dry. It tasted like precooked chicken chop which was frozen, defrosted and re-deep fried. Even the beansprouts were not dehulled properly.
Fortunately, our last meal in Kuching was on a high note. It was the best food we had in Kuching, and the most memorable one. It was a bit more expensive, but it was a big surprise and a must for any food lover visiting Kuching. It was stylish, modern, creative with a fusion touch. The ambiance was “zen-like” with nice soft music from “Buddha Bar CD” and some blues and jazz. The lighting was subdued and moody. There was water feature, plants, candles and a large Buddha head. There was exposed brick wall with a bit of rusticness in the main seating area, and plenty of colourful cushion for those who cannot sit too long on the hard wooden chairs, metal chairs and long wooden bench. It was indeed a rare and surprise find in Kuching, in a row of shop houses, which from the outside it looks like nothing special. I am talking about “Bla Bla Bla…”, an unusual choice of name for a restaurant. I guess it works.
The service was friendly. The menu looks interesting. We ordered the soft shell crab, eggfloss halibut fish and midin salad. They were large dishes. The midin salad was served cold. Midin was a local vegetable, apparently only found in Sarawak. It looks unusual, almost miniature fern like with a curl at the tip. Tasted slightly crunchy and by itself probably plain and flavourless. But, mixed with fresh slices of shallots and chilies and dressed in a mixture of lime juice and sesame oil made it an interesting salad dish. The soft shell crab covered with some kind of salted floss (the waiter said it was a fish floss. I wasn’t too sure) and topped with julienne salad with mayonnaise and side dish of homemade chili dipping sauce was divine. It was one of the best soft shell crab version I ever had. The deep fried halibut fish cut in half and served with salted eggfloss was similar to other version of salted egg king prawns, mantis prawns and soft shell crabs that I had in other restaurants. But, never had I tried this style of cooking with a fish, and it worked and was an excellent dish. The total bill came to MYR$223, including a bottle of red wine for MYR$110. It was not cheap, but it was worth every dollar we paid for an excellent night and great food to end our trip to Kuching.