[Penang, Malaysia] Taste of Sarawak from π—šπ—²π—», 𝗧𝗡𝗲 π—£π—Ώπ—²π˜€π˜π—Άπ—΄π—² π—›π—Όπ˜π—²π—Ή

Day 527 since Malaysia started its Movement Control Order (MCO) back in 18 March 2020. Dining-in is allowed this week, but only for people who are fully-vaccinated - and I still don’t qualify as yet.

Since we also can’t travel inter-state yet, and visit the Borneo state of Sarawak, we thought we might as well take advantage of β€œThe Taste of Sarawak” promotion this week by Johnson Wong’s Gen and ordered our lunch in.

β€œTaste of Sarawak” by Gen this week featured the cooking of talented, Kuching-born 25-year-old Darren Chan. Of Hokkien descent, Darren was brought up by a Hakka grandmother who inspired much of his cooking. His Foochow relatives from Sibu and Sarikei also contributed to his interests in Sarawak’s kaleidoscope of flavours from the heart of Borneo.

Darren presented an exotic array of offerings, from the sea-faring Melanaus’ fish cured in vinegar, to the war-like Ibans’ bamboo-baked chicken, and a soul-lifting noodle dish inspired by the incomparable Sarawak laksa.

Desserts included Sarawak layer cake sans the psychedelic colours, but with every bit of its sinful, buttery flavours, to little pancakes festooned with crushed nuts, honeyed with gula apong and given a radical lift by whisky-injected cream. Rajah Brooke would gladly approve.

Our eat-at-home lunch today:

  1. Umai Melanau - vinegar-cured raw fish with chilis - the Bornean peoples are of Malayo-Polynesian stock, and even their cooking echoes those of the South Pacific islanders, their fellow Polynesians: raw fish were β€œcooked” in the acidity of vinegar (lime juice are sometimes used together with the vinegar, or sometimes in place of the vinegar). The raw onions provided a textural crunch whereas the sliced chilis provided the heat which Malaysians, irregardless of which race or tribe, would seek for.

  1. Wax apple ulam, ginger vinaigrette - β€œulam” refers to a β€˜raw salad’ in Malay, and light, leafy version here, with the delightfully crisp wax apple providing wisps of crunch. The ginger vinaigrette was a bit too subtle here, but I’d long realised that the Sarawakian palate has a much lower tolerance for chili-heat compared to the West Malaysians and Singaporeans.

  2. Iban-style Manok Pansoh (baked chicken in lemongrass & garlic in bamboo tube) and white pepper rice (baked in bamboo tube) - perhaps the official state dish of Sarawak: a delightfully herbal concoction of chicken pieces baked in a bamboo tube over open fire. The version from Gen here is much more palatable than the one from my first-ever taste of the same dish: during a Sarawak food festival at the Holiday Inn Crowne Plaza in Singapore back in 1991/1992. At the time, I thought it was the most alien dish I’d ever encountered - like something Klingons would serve to their guests from the United Federation of Planets if they ever dine together.

  1. Foochow β€œKoh Lu” - spicy-sour fish maw soup - a Chinese Foochow dish. I didn’t quite enjoyed this soup today, but felt it was really our own fault for not attempting to heat it up. Cold soups are a definite no-no, unless it’s gazpacho. :joy:

  2. Inspired by Anthony Bourdain’s so-called β€œBreakfast of the Gods”: baked squid pasta with Sarawak laksa sauce - quite an unusual take on the famed Sarawak laksa, but with its spice content dialed down. I’d have preferred it to be spicier and sharper in flavors. But, overall, an interesting adaptation of a traditional dish into a richer, heavier fusion one.

  1. Dorayaki with gula apong & whiskey cream - nice, but the whiskey cream was much sweeter than I’d have preferred.

  2. Kek Lapis Sarawak with Horlicks flavour, and Sarawakian black peppercorn sweets - Sarawak layer cakes traditionally have psychedelic colours. The ones here are definitely not Sarawakian, but more of an untinted Indonesian one. Disappointed.

Quite a substantial lunch at home, but I miss dining out - Gen is currently ranked 92 on Asia’s Best 100 list, and is known for its terrific plating and presentation, plus top-notch service.

I just wanted to share a bit of trivia about The Prestige Hotel, where Gen restaurant is located. I’d always presumed its name was the noun, until I was told by the hotel concierge it was named after the 2006 movie, β€œThe Prestige”! I had mentioned to the concierge earlier that its lounges, Borden and Angier, sounded French. The concierge had said, β€œOh no, they were named after the main characters from the movie, The Prestige - Borden was named after Alfred Borden, the character played by Christian Bale, whereas Angier was named after the one played by Hugh Jackman.” There was a third lounge called Cutter, named after the character portrayed by Michael Caine.

Address
GΔ“n ζ Ή at The Prestige Hotel
Unit 6-8, Gat Lebuh Gereja (Church Street Ghaut), 10300 George Town, Penang
Tel: +6012-511 3323
Opening hours: 12-3pm, 6-10pm daily, except Wed.

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You made delivery meal another level at home, so well presented, such a delight. Did you reheat the dishes?

Can you explain more this dish and the war context?

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Looks just lovely, Peter.

I’ve come across squid presented as though it was pasta in a restaurant in Spain. Certainly a clever idea that works well.

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We didn’t (to our regret), as we thought the food still felt β€œwarm” - the restaurant was only 8 miles (13 km) from my place.

But on hindsight, we should have, as the manok pansoh, Sarawak laksa and especially the koh lu soup would have tasted inestimably better when served really hot.

Traditionally, the Ibans are the head-hunters of Borneo - they warred constantly among themselves and also with other tribal groups. Head-hunting, outlawed in Malaysia, of course, has β€œfaded away”. We only hear whispers nowadays of someone who disappeared, or some headless body discovered somewhere. But the Ibans are still a proud people, very aware of their warrior past.


Iban tribesmen displaying their culture at the Sarawak Cultural Village.

β€œManok” (meaning β€˜chicken’ in the Iban language) β€œpansoh” (β€˜bamboo’) is practically the state dish of Sarawak. This recipe here does away with the need to bake the chicken in a bamboo tube:

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Speaking of Spain, I’d actually planned a trip to Madrid and Barcelona last Oct. Now, no one can ever guarantee when we can fly again.

I’m hopeful our planned annual trip to Spain in January will go ahead. Hopeful, not confident.

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