My ex-student/lawyer friend, Louis, celebrated his birthday recently with his family at this restaurant in Kuching and he shared a few photographs of what he had on Facebook. ah^kam_koko’ was there too not too long ago and he had a post on it in his blog as well. Sigh!!! If only we had a similar eatery right here in Sibu too as everytime I had friends from the peninsula or abroad, I would love to let them try our own local ethnic cuisine but at best, there are a few places serving the Melanau’s umai (raw fish) and that’s about it.

For one thing, it is actually quite simple to cook except perhaps, the pansoh

pansoh manok @ The.Dyak Restaurant

…which is cooked in bamboo over an open fire. Inside, they usually have chicken or pork or wild boar (YUM! YUM!!!) but at times, they may use fish or prawns instead. My missus can cook this but instead of going through all the hassle, she would just use a claypot and needless to say, even though it is very nice, it just is not exactly the same.

I am able to whip up some of our kampung (village)-style dishes but I got them mostly from my mum and I guess she got it from her mum, my maternal grandma who was a Melanau but it certainly seems that there are some similarities between our cuisines. For instance, Louis had this asam (tamarind) tilapia cooked with terung Dayak/Iban (Dayak brinjal)…

Asam tilapia with terung Dayak @ The.Dyak Restaurant

…which I can also cook…..

STP's fish with terung Dayak
*recycled pic*

…be it with fish or prawns. It appears to me like they added a lot of asam keping (dried tamarind slices) with the sole intent of making it taste more sourish. Everyone’s complaining that these days, the terung Dayak is not sour at all and that leaves us with no choice but to add the tamarind slices in the soup…and our fresh chilies, more often than not, aren’t spicy hot either. What is the world coming to, I wonder?

Other than that, Louis had their daun bandong (tapioca leaves)…

Daun bandong @ The.Dyak Restaurant

I just realised recently that when we say “Bandong“, our West Malaysian friends would think that we’re talking about that place in Java, Indonesia when in fact, it is our local name for ubi kayu or tapioca, be it in Sarawak Malay, Melanau or Iban. I can buy that sometimes at my regular Malay food stall here but I wouldn’t say that theirs is very nice. They do not pound the leaves or shred them well so that makes them hard and quite tedious to chew. I did fry that with pumpkin for my friends who came to town not too long ago

STP's daun bandong with pumpkin
*recycled pic*

…and they all enjoyed it a lot.

In fact, I also cook the leaves in a soupy dish…

STP's daun bandong with ikan buris
*recycled pic*

…with fish, prawns or chicken plus ginger, serai (lemon grass), chili and belacan (dried prawn paste).

This, of course, is no stranger to everybody by now – the paku (jungle fern)…

paku @ The.Dyak Restaurant

…which is not that popular at the (Chinese) restaurants here compared to its distant cousin, the midin. It is cooked with santan (coconut milk) at a restaurant here but we usually fry it with udang kering (dried prawns) and belacan (dried prawn paste) but I guess it is up to the individual how he or she would like it done. Not too long ago, I fried it with salted fish and a bit of chili and belacan

STP's fried paku
*recycled pic*

…and it certainly was well-received by everyone who ate it.

Of course there are many other Dayak dishes that I may not be so familiar with and there are some that I would not touch myself – like the kasam or fermented preserved meat or fish as I am not too comfortable with the smell but I do know of people who would give an arm or a leg to be able to eat that. I read in the newspapers just the other day that some Dayak women’s association is working on a book with a collection of their ethnic recipes – I am certainly looking forward to that to see if there are other such yummy dishes that I may be able to whip up myself.

But the thing is that when one has guests in town, he or she would be busy taking them around and showing them the sights and bringing them to taste the best in town and would not want to be cooped up in the kitchen, cooking away these dishes for them to sample. That is why I do applaud the effort of the people in Kuching in opening a restaurant like this there and how I wish there can be one here in Sibu as well…

A special thank you to Louis for his kind permission to use some of his photos in the above post.