SCA committee members from left to right: Marian Chin, Datin Esther Balan, Laura Bara, Datin Dona Wee and Grace Geikie.
With flour momentarily suspended like mist in the air, the beads of sweat on their brows forming lumps of dough as they were wiped off, picking up even more flour as they trickled down their faces, festival goers reveled as they tested their skills at pulling and stretching dough into traditional hand-made noodles, trying to follow Sifu Yun Ren's lead. He made it look so easy as he smacked the pulled dough on the table, whilst firmly stretching it at the same time.
Strands of noodles somehow started to form and separate. As he looked round, his 'students', most with furrowed brows, were still kneading lumps or trying to stretch the dough into some semblance of pasta.
Through popular television programmes and electronic media, tourists and travellers of today are searching for and wanting to be a part of the whole culinary experience in the places that they visit.
The “Sarawak Culinary Adventure” by the Sarawak Culinary Heritage Committee presented an array of exotic dishes, promoting traditional Sarawakian foods, not limited to ethnic delicacies but showcasing our diverse cultures including a cross section of Chinese, Bidayuh and Kayan food from some of the ethnic tribes. The Committee was formed under the auspices of the Ministry of Tourism, Art and Culture to promote culinary tourism as a selling product amongst our local populace and to introduce our rich and varied cuisine to visitors.
The “Sarawak Culinary Adventure” enhanced the total tourism experience of the Rainforest World Music Festival not just for first timers, but more importantly, for the core repeat attendees, by lending variety to the event and allowing them a true gastronomic experience of the local cuisines Sarawak has to offer.
The Chinese Farmhouse at the Sarawak Cultural Village was bustling with activity. As you walked into the entrance past the pepper vines, you immediately came upon the calligraphers, their deft strokes and a quick twist of their brush forming blossoms on a branch with elegant simplicity. The soulful ‘Er Hu’ and the gently hammered strings of the ‘YangQin’ resonating from where the Chinese traditional quartet sat, brought images of crimson lipped courtesans in flowing silk to mind.
Aunty Tay’ dexterously flip her oyster omelette as she tells you,”I am on You Tube you know! You go and look for TeoChew Oyster Omelette!” There were noodles and dumplings, lamb skewers at only RM5 (Kenny Lee: “I cant believe it!”) and chicken bak chang (traditional glutinous rice dumplings wrapped in pandanus leaf) which were a late starting hit!
Walking past the tempting woven baskets and tribal beads at the Craft Bazaar, up the wooden steps you reached the Waterfall Terrace where the ‘Kayan Longhouse’ was situated. Atracted by the lilting sounds of Desmond Emang’s sape you were drawn to stop and watch him pluck the strings of this Borneo guitar.
The array of food on offer at the Kayan Longhouse ranged from ‘Brown Bario Rice wrapped in Itun Sip’ to ‘Pansuh Ayam’ (Chicken cooked in its natural juices in Bamboo) to ‘Umai Ikan’ (raw fish seasoned with lime juice and shallots).
Here you could sit and enjoy the coolness of the waterfalls close to the terrace, and let the sound of trickling water soothe you as you rested your hot and tired feet! After partaking of the ‘stir fried mixed chillies with Red Jungle Ginger’ you could reduce some of the heat on your tongue with the fermented glutinous rice, or tapai, with ice cream.
If food wasn’t on your mind yet, you could watch the basket weaving demonstration or try your hand at making the ‘kabo bead’, a beaded bauble, usually made by threading red beads around a stick or nowadays, a straw. At the old Bidayuh Baruk, the smell of catfish and chicken smoking on the barbeque wafted across the lake to make this the most ‘rocking’ of all the food lines at the festival! There was non stop cooking action here with steaming hot pots of chicken soup cooked with terung assam (Borneo’s sour brinjal) being served up with catfish cooked in tempoyak - fermented durian! Fans of tempoyak were seen licking their chops as they savoured the sweetness of the durian offsetting the taste of the catfish. Still the favourite was the sambal sorai (lemongrass sambal) eaten with hot tupik banuak, a savoury crepe made with grated tapioca and kuchai (chives).
At the end of the Culinary Adventure at the Rainforest World Music Festival, it was the comments by visitors that brought back memories of the fare and the experience. “Italians invented ravioli because they couldn’t make noodles at first!” And Isabelle from Switzerland, (who tried just about everything!), said afterwards, “Yes! The lamb stick, the dumplings, the thing that ‘mamy’ (french pet name for granny) did the first day and we had the buffet of orang kulu (she meant ‘Orang Ulu’), everything was excellent!!”
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