Let’s face it, Malaysia’s biggest tourist attraction is and has always been the food. It’s a representation of the melting pot that is Malaysian culture—what with all the cuisines we’ve been influenced by, given a personal twist, and put our stamp on. When it comes to food, Malaysia truly has it all, and there are few better places to look for it than Kuching, the capital of Sarawak and one of the two states on Borneo island that comprise East Malaysia. Here are our picks of some of the best dishes and places to eat in Kuching.
The Famous Ones: Sarawak Laksa and Kolo Mee
Sarawakians really love their noodles. Arguably the most famous dish to come from East Malaysia, Sarawak laksa is a soup noodle dish made popular by the late celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, who notably called it the “breakfast of the Gods.” It comprises a robust broth made of flavourful Sarawakian laksa paste, a choice of either rice vermicelli or yellow noodles (locally known as mee hoon and mee kuning respectively), and is traditionally garnished with prawns, poached chicken, omelette shreds, a dollop of sambal and fresh lime to be squeezed. You can find this at Choon Hui Café, a classic Malaysian hawker shop often packed to the brim with locals and tourists alike. It was featured in two of Bourdain’s television shows, No Reservations and Parts Unknown, and a recent BFM documentary on Malaysian street food. They open for breakfast and brunch only and close at 12 in the afternoon, so make sure to head there early for your laksa fix.
Another favourite that serves this beloved street food is Poh Lam Laksa at Chong Choon Café, yet another unpretentious, breakfast-only Malaysian hawker centre. Should your cravings hit you when the sun goes down, however, check out Mom’s Laksa, a franchise with several outlets in various neighbourhoods of Kuching. Mom’s Laksa is popular for a reason – it’s one of the better-known halal Sarawak laksa specialists around town. Alternatively, give the dinner-only Teresa Laksa a shot. It’s one of the few laksa joints open till late at night.
One more well-loved noodle dish birthed in Sarawak, kolo mee consists of wavy dry noodles lightly tossed in a smattering of oil and fried shallots or garlic. It’s usually served with char siew (Chinese barbequed pork), minced pork, and lard, all three of which, when well-executed, combine with the noodles to give this dish its distinctive flavour. Like Sarawak laksa, kolo mee is fairly ubiquitous in Kuching, and the aforementioned Chong Choon Café is also known for their rendition of this street food. Other local favourites are Ah Chong—stall number seven of Hui Sing, an expansive open-air food court worth paying a visit to not just for the kolo mee, but for the numerous other local delicacies you’ll find there—Noodle Descendants, formerly known as Sin Min Joo, and Ta Wan Kung along Jalan Datuk Wee Kheng Chiang.
Yet Another Noodle Dish
While considerably less widespread than its counterparts, kuey chap is an alternative noodle dish for you to indulge in. Some of the best kuey chap in Kuching can be found in Woon Lam Café 1999. Kuey chap is a dish of flat rice noodles in a very dark and flavourful pork broth, complemented with generous portions of pork meat and offal. If you’re a fan of the more mainstream bak kut teh, a similar dark-coloured pork-based soup dish, you’ll likely enjoy this too, though kuey chap is generally saltier and less herbal than bak kut teh. Alternatively, if jostling with the crowd at Woon Lam Café 1999 isn’t your thing, give the kuey chap at Lau Ya Keng Foodcourt a go. While you’re at it, order a glass of umbra juice to relieve yourself from the tropical Malaysian heat. Known locally as kedondong, the juice of the umbra or ambarella fruit is primarily tangy and mildly sweet, especially when served with a sour plum as it traditionally is.
Had your fill of noodles? Lok lok (deep-fried or boiled skewers of fish, prawn, cuttlefish, tofu etc.) is classic Kuching supper fare, and can be found all over the city. The Lok-Lok on Jalan Ban Hock is a popular eatery where you can find lok lok. They also serve other traditional Malaysian street food such as curry noodles and chee cheong fun. While they don’t open for supper, Old Rex Cucur Udang Café is another place for lok lok. Besides lok lok, here you’ll find cucur udang—deep-fried prawn fritters—yet another of Kuching’s many street foods.
Kuching’s Finest Seafood and More
Besides Kuching’s abundance of Chinese street food, you’ll be able to find several Chinese seafood restaurants as well. Ling Loong Seafood, occupying stalls number six and 33 of the Top Spot Food Court, is one such location. This renowned eatery has a nearby alternative should you prefer not to engage in the fight for tables; stall 25 at Top Spot is inhabited by Bukit Mata Seafood, one more diner offering Kuching’s very freshest. While it’s far away from the more touristy Kuching Waterfront area, so is The Venue. It’s just a short drive away from the Kuching International Airport, however, perfect for a quick lunch or dinner before or after your flight. Like most of the places mentioned here, it’s almost always full of hungry patrons tucking into the homey Chinese dishes on offer, so make sure to reserve a table and spare yourself the pain of waiting. If you forgot to book a table, fret not: there’s another seafood restaurant just one more short drive away—Ah Gong Seafood, resident of the hawker centre Yes Café.
Looking to sample food from other cuisines? For a fine example of Indian food, head to The King’s Curry on Jalan Rumbia, a halal eatery where you can sample a variety of authentic Indian and mamak dishes, such as naan, roti canai and an assortment of curries. At RJ Ayam Bakar, you can get a taste of ayam penyet, a traditional East Javanese fried chicken dish often served with rice and sambal. They stay open past midnight to satisfy all your supper needs.
Have Coffee or Cake at Kuching’s Cafés
If street food isn’t your thing, Kuching is home to several cafés and more upscale restaurants too. Coffee addicts might be interested in lima.tujoh, a cosy and quiet café with rustic décor that also serves down-to-earth but devilishly delicious food to go with their Vietnamese-style coffee, including the famous Malaysian nasi lemak (rice cooked with coconut milk, served with sambal, anchovies, peanuts and a hard-boiled egg). For more cafe food, the James Brooke Café & Bistro and the Fig Tree Café are two other distinguished cafés in Kuching.
Traditional Sarawakian Food
With regard to restaurants, there’s the Lepau Restaurant, a one-of-a-kind Sarawakian restaurant promising patrons an authentic taste of recipes native to Sarawak’s indigenous Iban and Bidayuh people, in an ambience to match. There’s also the Dyak, named for the Colonial-era spelling of the Dayak cuisine it’s based on. Besides its menu of traditional Dayak dishes, have the tuak ice cream for dessert: home-brewed Sarawakian rice wine poured over creamy scoops of vanilla ice cream. You won’t regret it!
Kuih Lapis, Another Kuching Specialty
Speaking of dessert, Sarawak’s most famous dessert is layered cake, locally known as kuih lapis—a kind of cake made by layering each individually-baked, different-coloured layer of cake atop each other, before finally being sectioned, revealing the cake’s vibrant interior. These cakes come in an expansive palette of colours and can be bought at the longstanding Mira Cake House, that has expanded nationwide since its humble beginnings in Kuching and now offers more than 50 different flavours and designs of kuih lapis. It’s not to be confused with the Mita Cake House, a more traditional bakery also worth paying a visit to for its butter cheesecake and buttermilk buns.
As with any vacation, the key to making the most out of your food trip in Kuching is finding an accommodation that’s right at the heart of its hustle and bustle. That’s why Tune Hotel Waterfront Kuching is your ideal choice: affordable, unfussy and great value-for-money, it’s a mere 10-minute walk from the waterfront, and in a central, convenient location for you to go about your food adventures. Start your vacation in Kuching right at Tune Hotel Waterfront Kuching today!