For Kuching people, it sometimes seems like everything is far. It is far to park anywhere further than right outside your destination; it is far to travel across town; it is certainly too far to travel across river!
But if there’s one thing guaranteed to motivate people on a mission out of their comfort zone, it’s food! Every expedition out of town demands a favourite refueling station and, in some cases, that may be the primary reason for going in the first place! So here we go with our pick of the best food adventures worth travelling for…
The Red Dragon – Bau/Sematan junction
As you hurtle up the road towards Sematan, rising up on your right, is a simple structure topped, rather incongruously, with a striking Welsh dragon, red as the name suggests; the legacy of an actual Welshman! The unexpectedness doesn’t end there. At first glance, this is a coffee shop, filled with an unpredictable crowd – truck drivers, day-trippers, local folk. In actual fact, this is the place with the best British fish and chips in Sarawak! Golden brown, crispy beer batter and even chunky chips, served with salt and vinegar as standard – though you can opt for chilli sauce if you prefer local style! Far? Not at all! Who needs to travel to the UK when Bau is just down the road?!
Bantian Bistro, Puncak Borneo
The first visit here, it seemed like a long way to go for food. Drive down past 10th mile until you reach the prison; turn right; go past the CMS clinker until you reach Kampong Petag. Once there, you can’t miss it. Would anyone drive this far for a meal? The couple at the next table answered the question – two students from KL, studying in Kuching, who had come on the recommendation of a friend from Malacca! What’s so special? This is the product of the marriage between a Bidayuh therapeutic masseuse and her Chinese husband from Perak. The place is pure kampong, atap roof, bamboo structure tacked onto the side of a modern building that also houses, rather surprisingly, Bantian Health Care Centre. The pace too is pure kampong – waiting time is up to an hour, as you are serenaded with tunes from the sixties and the lady boss passing periodically to ask you to be patient! Then the food comes – Chinese with a twist. Tilapia from Telaga Air, smothered in their signature sauce of bean paste and green apples; deep-fried crispy squid and delicate steamed chicken. A road to nowhere, maybe, but a destination in itself!
The Beach Seafood – Santubong
Many favour the rustic charms of Buntal itself for their Santubong peninsular seafood fix, but The Beach is also a bestseller! The weather-beaten sign is unmissable along the main drag to Santubong. Once inside, a strange series of ramps leads you onto a giant jetty, where the restaurant comes into its name, soaring above a windswept curve of beach and sea. This beach is apparently famous for razor clams and flocks of birds, though sadly detritus from the nearby kampong is also very much in evidence. In the restaurant itself, tanks of lazy fish and other somnolent seafood line the walls and they can be served up to you in any style imaginable. Try the crab poached in coconut water – the delicateness of the sauce lets the fresh crab flavour really shine through. Just take your time and enjoy a lazy evening at the beach.
Beratok Hawker Centre, Kuching/Serian Road
This one at least is an easy drive along the best stretch of road in Sarawak – the Kuching to Serian road – certainly the road with the greatest number of streetlights, arguably in the world! Beratok itself isn’t much to talk about; its most famous moment in history is as part of the ‘protected zone’ during the emergency. But it is the former heartland of the Hakka smallholder and near to the home of the agricultural college in Tarat. The result? The best veggies, arguably in the world! Take your pick of the garden – sticky okra, crunchy beans, butter soft aubergine – deliciously healthy. Many opt for the coffeeshop staple – Bihun Mani Chai – stir-fried with, arguably, the tastiest cangkok manis in the world! Also, consider the deer, dear? Thankfully the curfew has been lifted!
Food Valley Seafood – Batu Kawa Old Town
Everyone knows the famous mee stall near the temple in Batu Kawa, but hidden in a dingy back alley is a gem definitely worth the trip – turn right before the lighting shop as you come into the old town and you’ll find it on the corner. You can find dishes here that are not on offer anywhere in Kuching. The pumpkin chicken is a revelation – crunchy caramelized pumpkin coated chicken! Order double or there might be a fight. Other gorgeousness includes the Hakka stewed pork and bitter gourd with salted egg. Actually, don’t leave without trying the cangkok manis. They are likely to trot out into the tiny garden next door to harvest it, and when it comes out, it is positively creamy, I swear! Even closer than Beratok! Definitely worth the hunt!