When we get homesick, the first thing on our minds is always food.
Not too long ago, East Malaysians in KL had to wait for special occasions to cook up their native dishes. Now, various Sarawakian places have opened up in the city, serving bowls of Sarawak laksa and kolo mee authentic enough to satiate homesick bellies. Uzair Sawal, a video producer from Miri, loves that Sarawak cuisine is making its way across the South China Sea. “It’s kind of like home away from home. Sometimes you need to come back to a familiar feeling,” he says.
Sabahans are less lucky. When researching East Malaysian food, I couldn’t find a single restaurant or stall in the Klang Valley that served Sabahan cuisine. And apparently, it’s not just KL. “We can barely get Sabah food in Sabah,” filmmaker and KK native Nadira Ilana muses. “Hardly any restaurants do them; they shut down almost as soon as they open.”
Traditional food is often prepared at home with ingredients gathered from the Borneo rainforest, which may explain why it hasn’t quite made the transition to restaurant food yet. But with more and more Sabahans coming to the Peninsula, we could be buying bambangan and tuhau at our local markets in the years to come.
In the meantime, here’s our roundup of Sarawak food spots in KL. Jom berambeh makan (come over and eat)!
Aunty Christina’s at Nam Chun
Aunty Christina has been serving her Sarawak laksa for about 15 years at this popular stall in a Bangsar kopitiam. Having helped the family business back in Sarawak, she learned the family recipe from a young age. Her Sarawak laksa is touted by many as the best in KL, with accurately prepared components coming together to form a mindblowing combination of flavours.
Sarawak laksa newbies might wonder what the difference is between Sarawak laksa and other laksas. Well, like other laksas, the broth is seafood based with a strong prawn stock. The spice mix has notes of black pepper (the famous Sarawak black pepper, no doubt), hints of coriander and even cinnamon, but everything comes together so harmoniously that it is difficult to discern the rest.
What results is an almost murky yet deliciously complex flavour, poured over thick bihun and topped with cooked chicken pieces, ribbons of omlette, fresh large prawns and a sprinkling of coriander leaves. We highly recommend you squeeze the lime over the noodles as that and the coriander leaves’ freshness lifts everything up, but skip her sambal as the broth is spicy enough.
2-4, Lorong Ara Kiri, Lucky Garden, Bangsar, 59100 Kuala Lumpur. Opens for breakfast. RM6 for a small bowl of Sarawak laksa.
This little stall in Taman Megah is famed for its kam lau noodles, otherwise known as kolo mee. After about eight years in Miri, the Sia family moved to KL and have been operating their stall for more than a decade now.
The kam lau noodles are exactly what packet noodles aspire to be: springy and al dente, with just the right amount of curl in them to pick up flavours in the bowl. Each bowl is drizzled with generous amounts of onion oil and soy sauce, then the springy noodles are tossed in the mix until coated evenly. It’s then topped with thin slices of char siew and minced pork, reminiscent of wantan mee. The oil in this dish may be a little too slick for some, but it’s just nice to help slurp up the noodles. A little serving of leafy vegetables on the side would have helped cut through the fat but hey, you only live once.
39, Jalan SS24/8, Taman Megah, 47301 PJ. Open for breakfast. RM4 for a small bowl of kam lau noodles.
For a more atas introduction to Sarawakian laksa in pork-free surroundings, Alexis is a pretty good bet. Their portion is incredibly generous (share it with a friend!) and the gigantic prawns swimming in the broth are the size of a toddler’s fist. Yes, it’s expensive and some may say their use of the regular thin bihun instead of the thicker variety is sacrilege, but they make up for it with their fantastic sambal. With heady hints of belacan, we could have eaten it on its own! It perked up the coconut-sweet broth and before we knew it, we were seeing the bottom of our bowls. This take on Sarawak laksa is highly recommended as a first taste for non-adventurous eaters, as the broth is more mellow than other Sarawak laksas we found.
29, Jalan Telawi 3, Bangsar Baru, 59100 KL. Opens lunch-dinner. RM23 for a very large bowl of Sarawak laksa.
This quiet restaurant off Jalan Pahang is a blessing for those looking for rare halal Sarawakian food. Opened several years ago by local actor Mahmud Ali Basha, Dapur Sarawak serves home-style bowls of noodles, the kind your grandma would whip up on weekends. Their Sarawak laksa is full of oomph, with plenty of santan to add body and flavour. We especially like their kolo mee – get the “special” with beef, chicken and prawns. Purists say that the absence of minced pork simply makes it wantan noodles, but we beg to differ. Springy, slurpable, and with a rich sweetness from the onion oil, the noodles had a great balance of flavours and textures that beat many of the other kolo mees we’ve tried.
Order the Teh C Sarawak with your meal, which comes with a layer of gula abong syrup, made with Sarawakian palm sugar. This gives the Teh C a thick, almost chocolatey flavour. Their version of the First Lady drink (also known as a White Lady to Sarawakians outside this restaurant) is also quite a treat: a refreshing mix of pineapple, milk, lemon and Ribena that tastes a lot like a blueberry drink.
During the day, they serve nasi aruk dabai, which is a fried rice made with dabai (Borneo “olives”), giving the rice a tinge of purple. They also serve bubur pedas Sarawak on occasion, an extremely complex porridge made with crushed rice and a whole host of herbs and spices – a meal that keeps you full for hours.
19, Jln Sarikei off Jln Pahang, 53000 KL. Opens lunch-dinner. Around RM10 for a bowl of noodles and a drink.
Face To Face
Face To Face is a familiar chain in many neighbourhoods around the Klang Valley. While better known for its chilli pan mee, their menu also credits the restaurant founder’s great grandfather with inventing kolo mee! The Sarawak noodles certainly lived up to an authentic reputation: they were among the best handmade noodles we’ve ever had, with just the right amount of chew and zero floury aftertaste. However, we do wish that the noodles were more generously seasoned and served with more minced meat. A little bird told us that you can tapau plain portions of noodles to go, so we’re keen to try assembling our own kolo mee at home!
Multiple locations. Opens lunch-dinner. Around RM10 for a bowl of Sarawak noodles and a drink.