Sarawak is the largest state in Malaysia, and it sits on the mystical island of Borneo. And laksa is every Sarawakian’s favourite breakfast dish! A rich broth made from prawns and chicken, it’s served with bee hoon (rice vermicelli), plus condiments of calamansi, sliced omelette, bean sprouts, prawns and shredded chicken.
This month, January 12 to 13, you can sample a bowl of Sarawak laksa at the Asia Society Hong Kong Center. From 11.30am till 6pm, the Sarawak Culinary Heritage Committee, supported by the Sarawak Ministry of Tourism, Arts, Culture, Youth and Sports, is showcasing snippets of what a trip to the Land of the Hornbills has to offer.
Talks reveal the story of the White Rajahs, who founded and ruled the Kingdom of Sarawak from 1841 to 1946; walk you through the trails of Sarawak as studied by British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace; and detail how the craft of handweaving Sarawakian songkets (intricately patterned textiles) is being revived. You can also enjoy a live demo of how the traditional, dark-pigment tattoos of Borneo are painstakingly tapped by hand to leave a mark of bravery or remembrance on the recipient.
And then of course there’s the food! Try special highland rice from Bario served with ayam pansuh (chicken cooked in bamboo) or with terung assam a sour aubergine that only grows naturally in Borneo and Papua New Guinea. Snack on sago-based tabaloi, or Sarawak’s own bee pang (puffed rice with shallots), plus edible leaves and fruits served with a unique, ginger flower-flavoured sauce. And to finish, there’s pulut hitam (sweet black glutinous rice) served with coconut milk.
Have you seen men hunting in the jungles with just a blowpipe? Well, why not try your hand (or lips!) at it, and then stay to watch the fierce Ngajat dance of the Ibans and the exhilarating Alu Alu bamboo dance of the Melanau tribe, where a man is twisted high up in the air, balanced on the end of a piece of bamboo.
At the event this month, you can also expect photography and art exhibitions that bring the Sarawakian landscapes right before your very eyes. Baskets and beads, mats and traditional textiles are on display, plus heirloom tribal jewellery, charms and amulets – intriguing because you see the influence of ancient Chinese silversmiths etched on the belt buckles and girdles that have been worn for generations.
Sarawak has so much to offer the adventurous individual and even the whole family. You can take a river safari up the Skrang to visit a longhouse, or fly to Miri and Mulu to visit the Niah and Mulu caves – one of the largest cave systems in the world. At Semenggoh Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, just 14 miles from the capital Kuching, you can meet Ritchie, the oldest living male orangutan in residence, or watch the antics of the other younger orangutans as they play in the trees.
Should the event turn you on to all things Sarawak, this summer is an ideal time to visit, since the 22nd edition of the multi-award-winning Rainforest World Music Festival is being held from July 12 to 14. Experience for yourself the warm hospitality of Sarawak’s people, learn about their customs and revel in their music and dances.