One of the perks of staying in Malaysia is the diverse food and cuisines that one can experience here. There is a plethora of choices when it comes to food, be it from West Malaysia (Peninsular) or the East (Sabah & Sarawak). Since I don’t visit East Malaysia that often, I was happy to know that Hilton PJ took the effort to invite special guest Chef Jamilah all the way from Sarawak to showcase her vast knowledge and skill here. Sarawak is famed for its multi-ethnic population of Malay, Chinese, Indian, Iban, Penan, Kayan and other indigenous people, hence the culinary palate has slight influences from each culture.
Welcome to Sarawak! (Almost :))
Contrary to West Malaysian food, Sarawak cuisine is less spicy, lightly prepared and subtle but nice in taste. Due to its geographic location, fresh seafood and natural plants such as turmeric, lemongrass, ginger, lime and tapioca leaves are sparingly used in the East Malaysian cuisine. These ingredients are not only easily available, they provide another aromatic dimension, texture and freshness to the delicacies.
Selection of Appetizers at Paya Serai restaurant, Hilton PJ
Since I have never been to Sarawak before, I had to rely on Chef Jamilah to showcase to us, her Top 8 Dishes from Sarawak:
#1: Steamed Red Bario Rice
Bario Rice is regarded by the natives as the best and finest rice from the highlands of Sarawak. According to the natives, the rice is only eaten by the longhouse chief on special occasion. One thing to note is that during the planting of Bario rice, no pesticides or chemical fertilizers are used, hence it’s perfect for the health-conscious. Although the steamed Bario rice seemed easy to prepare, it had a different flavour compared to the normal white rice that we’re used to having. It’s more fragrant, soft, less starchy and definitely healthier. Oh, did I also mention that it was perfect with the Rendang? 🙂
Steamed Red Bario Rice
#2: Pansoh Nasi Ayam / Chicken Rice in Bamboo
Ayam Pansoh is a famous cooking method of the Sarawakians, where the chicken is cooked in bamboo and stuffed with water, seasonings, ginger, lemongrass and bay leaves. The bamboo is said to impart a distinctive and delicate taste to the food while sealing in the flavours and producing tender pieces of chicken meat. The fragrant of lemongrass and ginger were essential in making the chicken different from the rest, and it is best to be eaten with rice cooked with Bamboo as well. This is a dish apparently originating from the Ibans.
Pansoh Nasi Ayam / Chicken Rice in Bamboo
Pansoh Manok / Chicken in Bamboo
#3: Udang Galah Rebus Berserai / Lemongrass Prawns
Due to the geographical nature of Sarawak surrounded by the South China Sea, seafood is abundant and widely popular. Couple that with the easily available lemongrass and we were presented with a dish of aromatic Lemongrass Prawns, huge and succulent with a tinge of sweetness due to the freshness.
Udang Galah Rebus Berserai / Lemongrass Prawns
#4: Daging Masak Lada Hitam Sarawak / Sarawak Black Pepper Beef
Sarawak is world renowned in the production of black pepper, and is one of the top exporter of this ‘King of Spices’ in the world. With such a prized possession at hand, it is no wonder that many local dishes are infused with black pepper as well, including the Sarawak Black Pepper Beef. The dark-looking dish was well-marinated and pungent with the smell of black pepper.
Daging Masak Lada Hitam Sarawak / Sarawak Black Pepper Beef
#5: Rendang Daging Ala Sarawak / Sarawak Style Beef Rendang
Rendang is a common dish among the Malays especially during festive seasons. This dish is slowly cooked in coconut milk and spices for several hours, allowing the flavour to be absorbed into the meat. The slow cooking process results in meat that is not only flavourful but oh-so-tender. Among the common spices used in the preparation of rendang are ginger, turmeric, lemongrass, chillies and kerisik (toasted coconut paste). The version of Sarawak rendang that I tried here was sharp in taste, spicy but with a hint of sweet and sour. It was unlike the normal rendang that I’ve tasted before and it’s exceptionally tender and juicy!
Rendang Daging Ala Sarawak / Sarawak Style Beef Rendang
#6: Sarawak Laksa
Anyone who has been to Sarawak would never fail to try out the famous Sarawak Laksa, the ubiquitous noodle dish there. The Sarawak Laksa is spicy and largely sour in taste, with a strong hint of sour tamarind, lemongrass and coconut milk. The noodles used are the thin vermicelli or rice noodles, different from the thick laksa noodles we are used to over in West Malaysia. The soup has a base of sambal belacan, as can be seen from the ingredients below, and is finally topped with various condiments such as chicken strips, prawns, lime or omelette strips.
Ingredients of Sarawak Laksa
#7: Umai Udang
Umai Udang is a raw prawn salad dish where the prawns are marinated in vinegar, chilli, lime, ginger and lemon grass. Umai is a famous dish among the ethnic Melanaus, and is a traditional lunch for the fishermen due to its simple method of preparation that can be done on the boat itself. The salad was incredibly sour and spicy, perfect for an appetizer.
Ingredients for Umai
Umai Udang / Prawn Salad
#8: Kek Lapis / Sarawak Layer Cake
Last but not least, for something with a sweet twist, Kek Lapis is a local favourite – an elaborately baked cake with multiple and colourful layers that is not only a feast to the eyes but to the palate. The Sarawak Layer cake is often baked during the cultural or religious occasions, birthdays and weddings. This cake has a firm texture with perfectly-spaced layers and a lightly sweet taste.
Kuih Lapis / Layer cake
There you have it – the Best of Sarawak Cuisine tastefully prepared by the special Guest Chef Jamilah.
The Best of Sarawak Cuisine
For the sweet-toothed
Chef Jamilah, who is also a mother of three, has always enjoyed cooking for her family with special treats that they seldom take. Her favourite past times revolve around culinary such as baking the ‘kuih lapis’, trying out new recipes, as well as growing herbs and spices.
Guest Chef Jamilah from Sarawak
With such a dedicated Chef over in the peninsular, I am glad to say that I had a taste of Sarawak cuisine without having to fly over there. The buffet spread is available for lunch and dinner (from 7th to 28th of February 2011 only) with the following details:
Lunch (12noon till 3pm, Monday – Friday)
Child below 12 years old: RM45++
Dinner (7pm till 10.30pm, Monday – Sunday)
Child below 12 years old: RM45++
Paya Serai Restaurant at Hilton PJ
Paya Serai Restaurant
Hilton Petaling Jaya,
No 2, Jalan Barat,
46200 Petaling Jaya,
Tel No: +603 7955 9122 extn 4060