If you look at Kuching on a map, we are close to getting as far East as you can, leaving the rest of the East to the West of us. But that central part of the East, from Turkey all the way to India, has been creeping slowly towards us, especially in the cuisine department. Of course, several staples from the Indian subcontinent have themselves been consumed into Malaysian culture, but now the original delights of Pakistan, India and the Middle East (no sign of Turkish yet though) are making their way into Kuching’s consciousness. After all, it is food from another hot region and, more importantly here in Malaysia, halal. Many of the flavours are so far unknown in Sarawak, but that looks set to change!
Beemer’s Kopitiam – Jalan Simpang Tiga
Beemer’s is an unassuming coffee shop nestled up against Swinburne University – a good location if you are going for a student crowd and this place is making the most of it and mostly because of one stall, drawing international and local students alike. As unlikely as it seems, there is a real live Syrian here, selling the most succulent shawarma and flavoursome falafel this side of the tropic of Cancer. This flatbread wrapped around either lamb or chicken, roasted on a rotating spit, is a Middle-Eastern classic, with tangy garlic sauce and a hit of chilli. With only a hawker stall to work with, he rotates his meats and falafels on different days, so you’ll have to plan your days well if you want to sample his full range. But they are all delicious, so set a week aside!
King’s Curry – Jalan Petanak
A bit further east than the others is the Indian Subcontinent. Indian food is everywhere – Bombay Spice, Bombay Masala, Bombay kitchen. But these are mainly Malaysian interpreted while King’s Curry is the real deal. The premises used to be a British pub (with a terribly British name – the King’s Arms) and there is a vague hint of it remaining in the décor with its wood panels and bars everywhere. However, the curry is reputed to be the UK’s number one takeaway so somehow it works. Especially when it comes to the food, churning out juicy meats and toasted naans from its tandoor, this is authentic Indian from India cuisine. There is even paneer, served a variety of ways (but try it with the spinach!), the famous Indian cheese – one of the main reasons why the cow there is sacred!
Al-Yemeni – Riveredge Commercial Centre, Kampung Bintangor
This one proudly declares itself to be the first Arab restaurant in East Malaysia! Actually, Little Lebanon for one pre-dates it but there remains some debate as to whether the Lebanese are officially Arabs. But, with Al-Yemeni, you can’t get more Arab than this – from the mock Bedu tent at one end to the giant camel transfer on the window. The flavours are all Arab too – tender lamb shank sliding off the bone, creamy hummus and stuffed vine leaves, famous all around the Mediterranean. They even serve Kuching’s largest flatbread! The Yemeni owner is really importing the whole experience, including a delicious mint tea that you can sip while looking out over the river – the best of the Yemen desert and the Sarawak landscape combined!
London Kebab – Riveredge Commercial Centre, Kampung Bintangor
The kebab is not from London but it has become a late night London institution – giving that perfectly balanced grease and protein hit for drinkers returning from a late night out. But here in Sarawak, right behind Al-Yemeni, is London Kebab remade. Why London? It seems that this place is modelled on London – chips with everything! Of course, they have the kebab and they even have the hummus, but served with French fries, and those fries can even come with fish! So, for a Kuching kebab via London via Turkey, this is where it is at!
Arab Rice – The Spring Foodcourt
This is one of the earlier examples of Arab food in Sarawak, slap bang in the middle of the Spring (not the Arab Spring!). It is exactly as it sounds, gently spiced rice topped with a large chunk of meat. This one comes with a yoghurt sauce over a crispy Arab salad – though it must be said that Arabic food seems to favour mighty meat over vitamin-rich vegetables; must be the desert! As an early adopter and Malay-owned, the flavours may not be as authentic as some, opting instead for a more fusion Arab/Malaysian approach (there is even a biryani on the menu) but its longevity in the market stands for something.