Sarawak boasts one of the greatest arrays of vegetables - some imported, some adopted, some indigenous - that any state could have to offer, matching the wide array of cultural groups that make it their home. Midin has long made its mark on Sarawak cuisine. Unusual in appearance and versatile in flavour, it has crossed over from Dayak fare onto almost every menu in multi-cultural Sarawak, whether sautéed, with sambal or simply ulam. But hot on its heels are a host of other peculiarly Sarawak greens (or yellows!), from nutty paku, tart terong Dayak, to nourishing daun ubi (tapioca leaves), all increasingly common staples across the cultural board.
The genuinely home-grown, however, have an edge in the modern kitchen. With Borneo’s rainforest estimated at over 130-million years old, older than the Amazon, it has given birth to incredible bio-diversity, providing forest- dwelling Sarawakians with sustenance for centuries – little wonder that the indigenous people often refer to it as their supermarket. Many of these unique veggies are still exclusively foraged, though some have crossed over into cultivation, and so these jungle ferns, shoots, leaves, gourds and roots, straight from the wild, are pesticide free and simply brimming with nature’s goodness. These were the ultimate in organic, long before the term became a fashionable buzz-word and marketing gimmick in the latest health revolution. Yet, despite the popularity of midin and friends, much of Borneo’s bounty remains unknown outside of its local environment. Kelabit cuisine, foraged from the cooler climes of the Highlands, reveals produce unknown even in Southern Sarawak. In a century where the quest for the exotic ingredient has become something of a culinary obsession and the idea of organic creates equal excitement, Sarawak’s jungle offerings could well be the next big thing, giving us yet another reason to preserve our supermarket, as if we needed one. So, if you want to be ahead of the food fashion pack, jungle green is the colour of the season.
LANAU is called the ‘Bario asparagus’ by the Kelabits, an Orang Ulu ethnic group in the well-known Bario Highlands of Sarawak. It is a tuberous herb that grows along riverbanks. Preparing lanau:
1 Pick the young shoots.
2 Remove the leaves and trim off the old leaves from the shoots.
3 Stir fry with garlic, onions and/or with slivers of chicken.
4 As an ulam (salad), boil or steam and served with sambal. As it tastes like the classic asparagus, western recipes would also work well with lanau.
Mina Trang preparing the letup found near her house
LANAU WILD "ASPARAGUS"
is often seen in gardens as an ornamental plant. But the young leaves make a excellent vegetable dish. Simply pluck the young tender leaves and prepare in the same way as any leafy vegetable.
is a weed that grows under and inbetween large plants. Found in abandoned gardens, bunga Istana is like the local kangkong. Stir fry or blanch for ulam.
They inhabit every corner of the earth. In Kuching, the common birds, sing, chirp, and fly into our hearts, in gardens, parks and along city streets. The splendid Magpie Robin, in its formal black and white attire and chirpy song, along with the elegant Eastern Crimson Sunbird, dressed in striking red, enticed me into the world of birding when I saw them in my garden. For newbies, I suggest starting in your garden where birds are generally easy to see and identify. Then move onto the birding hotspots – in the Kuching area visit Kubah National Park for forest birds or Buntal for coastal species.
The Abang grows up to sixty centimetres tall and is found in heavily shaded areas. Pound the minty pith of the plant with young ginger and stir-fry. Alternatively, bunch up the stalks and barbeque, sprinkled with salt.
Young Beker Iyep leaves can be stir-fried with added pork crackling for crunch, or simply served as a soup. The mature hardy vines are used as hand net frames.
Letup WILD PASSIONFRUIT
Wild Passion Fruit
creepers, locally known as letup, are found in abundance along forest paths and bushes. Soak the tender leaves and vines in cold water and crush gently. Discard the foamy water and repeat till water is clear. Stir fry with onions, garlic, anchovies and chillies. The young green furry fruit can be added just before the dish is cooked. The ripe fruit has a similar taste to classic passion fruit.
Timun 'Tikus' Wild cucumber
Miniature wild cucumber and bitter gourd are prepared like the regular size market vegetables.
Wild Bitter Gourd