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.

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