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Food, Fun and Laughter on a Heritage Street

IF YOU HAVEN’T BEEN TO THE SARAWAK CULINARY ADVENTURE hosted by the Sarawak Culinary Heritage Committee in conjunction with the Rainforest Fringe Festival event on the 6-8th July at India Street Pedestrian Mall, you’re missing out on life! It is a real adventure if you stay long enough to talk to people, watch the engaging live demonstrations at the KINO Live Heritage Kitchen performed in different native languages and talk to vendors to find out why they do what they do. It is a captivating experience, where you can catch the culture, heart, diversity and unity of Sarawak that is hard to describe in words.

So what is this event about? The event is a celebration of food showcasing over 90 heritage cuisines, crafts, arts, dry goods, beads, baskets, plants, music, dance, and a Kino Live Heritage Kitchen with entertaining demo workshops. It truly was a brilliant three nights, leaving you wanting more of these events here in Kuching! I have never seen the India Street Pedestrian Mall so lively at night.

How did this event come about? It was started by five enterprising foodies namely Datin Dona Drury Wee, Marian Chin of KINO magazine, Datin Esther Mujan Bulan (who organizes the Nukanen Festival in Bario), Laura Bara Sim, a qualified chef and Gracie Geikie, affectionately known as the ‘Mother of Sarawakian Festivals’, supported by a team of dedicated friends who saw the need to infuse culinary heritage into Sarawak Events to remind ourselves of how unique Sarawak’s culinary heritage, traditions and folklores are. This event started with the RWMF in 2016 and 2017 and was a huge success, becoming highly popular with festival goers.

I think it is amazing that this event allows social and small entrepreneurs to showcase their craft in Sarawak Cuisines and products, creating a platform for budding startup businesses. It is a special sight to behold; a melting pot of locals and tourists alike sampling ethnic foods not easily available unless you visit villages of tribal communities in rural areas. It is a one stop place to try new food, learn about different cultures, purchase arts and crafts, and watch performances. I have heard of Linut, a Melanau dish but I was not sure what it was until my second night at the festival.

The three nights were a multidimensional experience where to get the most out of it, you needed to experience it with all five senses. The beautiful ambience, the sound of music and performances, the heavenly smell of food from the KINO Live Heritage Kitchen where different individuals were so willing to demonstrate and share their knowledge and skills, the diversity of stalls, the variety of food with which you could tantalise your tastebuds, and touching things like sago grubs – there is nothing quite like it!

This event was made so much more lively with the distinctive sape music by Julien, Chinese ensemble of the Teo Khiaw Club of 150 years, Iban chanting of Bejawang, Thaali Bangra Dance Crew, Kuntau Melanau Martial Arts, Sape Stars Sarawak, Alu- Alu Melanau Dance and music and so much more! There were arts and crafts of all sorts ranging from locally written books, bags, necklaces, handmade dolls to other handcrafted items. And what would this event be without the seemingly endless array of glorious, colourful cuisines from Sarawak?

I love innovation and entrepreneurial ideas. One of the stalls which stood out for me was Moure’s with its contemporary packaging. Calvin Sim, the founder whose enthusiasm is contagious, was happy to share his story. You can now take away Roselle and pineapple preserves to have on bread in a different continent. Similarly Bario Kelabit Food also stood out for me as one of the friendliest stalls with the famous Sanape (Glutinous rice in Daun Isip). Have you ever heard about a salt water spring in Bario where salt is made? I have never, prior to this event! Mina and her brother, such gentle and hospitable people, have a knack for making you feel like you are home. Min and Mohd Catering had quite a selection of Melanau Cuisine namely Linut, Leluai, Tabaloi Golong and other treats made by such a friendly, down to earth couple- a dynamic duo with entrepreneurial spirits!

Concentration YAB Datin Patinggi Dato Hjh Juma’ani trying her hand at making Kueh Bongkol

There were also a number of vendors keen to make a difference in the community including The Ten Ringgit Club, selling baskets and bags as a fundraising effort to help marginalised children in Miri. Another stall that struck a chord with me was Heart Treasures Sdn Bhd, a social enterprise selling artisan earrings and crafts to help people with different disabilities,and train them to become independent Artisans. Supporting these two vendors were the Sarawak Culinary Heritage Committee’s way of helping local social enterprises. There were also three young men from the Lions Club of Kuching Centennial who donated all of their profits to a rural school project they are supporting. It is heart-warming to have people with such big hearts in our city.

I also really liked Pina Tuaq with their variations of Aged Pineapple and Persimmon Tuak, a slightly different twist from the traditional Tuak. There were too many other interesting stalls to mention here, but there was something to offer every individual who participated!

Some common themes from my conversations with tourists and locals alike were how friendly people were, how great the food was and how much they loved the performances and live demonstrations on how to cook ethnic food. I loved watching the interaction between vendors and visitors, and the different engaging questions from the floor during cooking demonstrations taught me new things.

There were many fun moments, one of which was the chapati making challenge with ten contestants. You had better pay close attention to Chef Jasbir because one chance is all you’ll get. There is absolutely no pressure with a crowd behind you, breathing down your neck, as curious eyes await to see if you had made chapatis or frisbees. When you’re given a hot frying pan, flour, water, a rolling pin and five minutes to make chapati, every second counts. The verdict: If I had a mother in law, she wouldn’t have been impressed. I’ll stick to writing, thanks!

Another unforgettable experience involved sago worms! What can I say? Never in my wildest imagination would I have ever thought I would eat a grub, or in this case, two! I am fairly adventurous, having skydived, gone white water rafting, etc but to eat a wriggly grub? It never made my bucket list. Who cared if I were a true blue Sarawakian?! At the KINO Live Heritage Kitchen, Grub 3 ways by Robin Junang and John from the Melanau Association was enlightening. You can eat the sago worms three ways: chopped up and raw, (watching the preparation had caused my stomach to do at least 10 somersaults and any hunger pangs I had had before were LONG gone), pan fried or barbequed on a skewer. I surprised myself and tasted the latter two. How did I do it? I had to psyche myself up and pretend it was anything but a worm, so having a bit of imagination helped! What did it taste like, you ask? It tasted a bit like corn, a little bit crunchy, creamy and slightly nutty. In all honesty, there is something liberating about facing your fears. I have officially used up my ‘do something you fear everyday’ quota for the month.

While we are on the worm topic, I was very impressed with the efforts of Worming Up, an initiative whereby 20 tonnes of food waste is collected and processed from Kuching every month. The food waste is composted using insect technology to prevent it from adding to our landfills. Leftovers are welcomed, such as chicken bones and egg shells. I am so thrilled that this could be the start of a trend for food fairs to dispose organic waste properly- exciting times ahead for Sarawak!

I have always loved Sarawak but I feel that this three day experience has enriched my life in more ways than one; I have fallen in love with Sarawak once again. I feel as if I now understand better the different food, people and its culture. I feel a new sense of pride welling up for being a Sarawakian. We forget how much we have until unity brings us together, in a historical area of Kuching, and it creates magic. If you missed out on this event this year, make sure to mark it in your calendars for next year and look out for the Sarawak Culinary Adventure as part of the Rainforest Fringe Festival!

The inspiring part about stepping out and taking risks is that the pioneers have been invited to Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur to promote Sarawak – well done to this history making team! What does the future hold for Sarawak Culinary Adventure? I think it is going to be huge and hard to fit in a box. It is going to be a mega, exponential and limitless exploit as they push the boundaries to make Sarawak famous.

Soo Sian is a free spirit and idealist. She is a newly published children’s book author of “Best Dressed” for 4 to 8 year olds. She is passionate about making a difference by writing books about positive values and life lessons. She has travelled widely—nomadically living in six cities. Soo Sian currently resides in the best city in Borneo and is busy making her dreams come true.

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