Thursday, May 23, 2013

Kelabit Cuisine

The Reunion Gathering of Marudi Government Secondary School brought together all my favourite students in my brief stint as art teacher. There were many after-dinners and I was very privileged to be at a Kelabit get-together of the Paul family (Lynette, Olof and sisters Nelly and Menika), Gau Aran and relations. Gau had just driven us back from Marudi (to Miri) and we had the whole evening to chinwag over Kelabit cuisine.

The Kelabit Highlands is in north-east Sarawak, near the Kalimantan border. Bario, the main settlement is 1000 metres above sea level and has a cooler temperature (average 20ÂșC). The Higlands are famous for Bario rice, a reddish rice which tends to be slightly sticky when cooked. The Kelabit identify with the way they cook the rice as Nubag Layaq (red Bario mashed rice) cooked wrapped in green leaves called Da'un Isit.

For dinner, there were dishes that drew on what was gathered from the surrounds. We had Da'un Tedtak Soup, with pumpkin leaves and sliced fresh sweet corn shoots. Terung Dayak Taihai was a clear soup made from terung (sour brinjal) and sea fish. There was a dish of Paku (ferns) with sliced fresh sweet corn shoots. The Luwang Sinum was grilled talapia and stingray. As befits use of garden produce, wild tapioca leaves can be stir-fried, Labo Belato. Or Kerid Sawi, a stir-fry of the sawi vegetable. For flavouring, the Kelabit even produce their own salt. It comes wrapped in dried leaf and tied, and it's high in potash.

No Kelabit meal is complete without Busak Luduk (green mango and bunga kantan salad). Bunga kantan is ginger flower. A subtle blend of tastes with just a mild dressing of lime juice. The Kelabit even produce their own salt, wrapped in dried leaf and tied.

For meats, there was Labo Senutuk (dry wild boar meat) and Ayam Pansuh. Chicken is cooked in bamboo with vegetables and spices. A real treat! There was a chicken cooked 2 ways, in a curry and with kecap manis, dark sweet soya sauce. Spoilt for choice. The Urum Ubet (glutnious rice fritters) was a contrast to the Nubag Layaq.

The Bario Highands are famed for their sweet pineapple. This rounded up the meal, with dragon fruit, bananas and sweet oranges from the garden.

Another reunion dinner to remember, with friends old and new after a lapse of many years.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

In Praise of Belimbing

The belimbing tree by the house is so ridiculously laden with fruit, but no one touches it and even the birds don't feed on them. It's because they are so sour! Botanically, the Bilimbi is of the genus Averrhoa, and closely related to the carambola tree. You can't do that much with belimbing, at a pinch you can make drinks with it and it can be used in curries as it can substitute for assam.

I asked Vero to cook a dish with belimbing. It goes well with fish.The belimbing is halved and cooked with pineapple, garlic, fresh chilli (in this case chilli padi or birds-eye, the most fiery chilli of all), shallots and to make the sauce Assam Pedas is added. This is a ready made Assam Fish Sauce flavoured with Assam, Onion, Lemongrass, Chilli, Sugar, Salt and bound together with cooking oil.

Steam the fish (white pomfret or pek chio is best because it's flat). Add the Assam Pedas mix with the Belimbing and all the other fresh ingredients and add fish stock or water. The pineapple will add a touch of sweetness to the mix. Lay the fish in the sauce that's formed and heat until the sauce mix soaks into the fish. Such a perfect dish for the usually overlooked belimbing.

Mum and Dad, Vero and I sat down for lunch with this as the star dish. There were lots of loud drawn breaths, it was so chilli hot, yet is was so seductively delicious. Sour complemented by the sweetness of the pineapple, chill hot and spicy, all rolled into one spectacular dish. It makes you want to eat more rice. Vero is cooking more belimbing for dinner tonight.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Melbourne Pictorial

Melbourne's food scene is legendary. Here's a personal view.
Elliot was on the pursuit of the best coffee and Coffee Army recommended Auction Rooms, on Errol Street. It didn't disappoint and the food was even better. Top marks for presentation.

The Young Ones are familiar with great cheap eats and their preference for authentic Vietnamese has constantly led them to Pho Hung Vuong Saigon in Footscray. The pho came out steaming hot, accompanied by copious amounts of bean sprouts and herbs. Auntie Jenny would have been well-pleased.

Naked For Satan is a Spanish-style pintxo bar serving an array of vodka. Housed in a building of great character on Brunswick Street, there is a rooftop bar with commanding views.

My friend Antonia also took me to Vegie Bar,  just a block down from Naked For Satan. A veritable feast of things vegetarian and Asian fusion, with raw and gluten-free options.

The Young Ones took me to Big Mama Korean Restaurant as it used to be in their old stomping ground of RMIT and apartment. It doesn't disappoint.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Sarawak Cuisine in Melbourne

The Young Ones live, study and work in Melbourne and when their Uncle was in town, took him to sample the cuisine of home, right in the heart of Elizabeth Street.

What a pleasure it was to find specialty dishes like Kolo Mee, Kampua Mee and Sarawak Laksa on the menu. Of course I ordered the Kolo Mee, Kelly had the Mee Mamak, Lionel ordered the Sweet & Sour Pork and Addy had the Kampua Mee special. All dishes lived up to expectations and authenticity except for the overuse of oil. So much so that the late arrivals specified less oil in the cooking. Fair enough. Kolo Mee especially relies on pork fat to give it the special flavour but there is no harm in toning down the fat input and our palates and health will thank us for it.

Seeing an opening in Melbourne's crowded food scene, the owners from Sibu, Sarawak have found their niche market in the Malaysians from Sarawak. Not quite home but close.

Kitchen Inn
469 Elizabeth Street
+61 3 932852562