OUR friend Annie Tan said this was one of the best discoveries of Jalan Song Kheng Hai Food Court, a drink guaranteed to quench any thirsty throat.
She was right: Coconut cham is fresh, chilled coconut water mixed with fresh sugarcane juice, served with generous slices of young coconut flesh. No sugar is added. It is thoroughly refreshing.
It did wonders for us recently after a spell of happy shopping on a hot day in Kuching, Sarawak. We wondered why such a fabulous concoction had not caught on in Peninsular Malaysia, when Sarawakians had been enjoying it for so long.
Annie also ordered belacan noodles a few stalls away. It came in a thick brown gravy heavy with the fragrance of shrimp paste and with a subtle sour tang that came from assam jawa paste. The shredded cucumber and bean sprouts gave the dish a “crunchy” feel and the brown cuttlefish pieces went very well with the noodles.
Our host Dr. Philip Kho asked us if we believed there was a Beijing Duck that tasted better than the original thing in Beijing. We thought it was rather audacious of this young man – until we tried the Beijing Duck specialty at Li Gardens Restaurant at the Hock Lee Centre.
The elderly chef, who wore a toque, gave us a kindly smile and a nod in acknowledgment to us for ordering his specialty. We didn’t argue with his extremely sharp carving knife, which deftly and effortlessly carved out thin slivers of duck skin.
The crispy roasted duck skin was already infused with its own oils and aromas, but mixed with the plum sauce and tangy spring onion head and sweet cucumber stick, it was simply superb. We had to agree with our handsome host. This was a Beijing Duck to give the Beijing specialists a run for their money.
Dr Kho said the reason the dish was incredibly delicious was because the original cooking style had been slightly modified to suit our tropical taste buds.
Our Sarawakian culinary adventure continued on the roof of Kuching town.
The venue: Top Spot Food Court, under the clear open skies several floors up. There’s an abundance of sea food dishes here. At the Bukit Mata Seafood Centre, you can choose prawns, lobsters, fish, clams, oysters, different types of shellfish... The choice is bewildering!
Jong Ah Hui and his family have almost 20 years of experience in the seafood business, and they are particular about using only the freshest seafood ingredients. Their ice-cold fresh pineapple juice is a must-try too.
In the shops, we also saw Sarawak Laksa paste being sold in packets. We decided that we couldn’t go back home unless we checked out Sarawak’s version of the laksa. We were told that the best Sarawak Laksa is at Ghong Choon Cafe along Jalan Abell.
The dish is a cross between the curry mee and Penang laksa, having both the flavour of curry and the slight sourish taste of assam laksa. Add in the red chilli paste liberally to give more “fire” to the laksa.
It was a pretty good creation, but we found the laksa served in Holiday Inn's Buffet Breakfast had a thicker, more aromatic soup with richer curry spices. Best of all, you “make” the laksa yourself by sieving the vermicelli and the raw bean sprouts in hot water, adding on slivers of omelette, cucumber, and a few fresh prawns.
Ladle in the piping hot laksa soup and – voila – a concoction par excellence!
Buy the first air ticket to Kuching; you won’t be disappointed in the food offered by our cousins to the east. W