Kuching, a city whose name literally translates to ‘cat’ in English, doesn’t actually have that many cats around. But what it does have, like all around Malaysia, is delicious, delicious food. I think that’s what makes Malaysia so unique––our culinary scene is as diverse as our cultures, and Kuching has some of the best food spots in the country.

For light snacking

Cucur udang

For Kuching-ites, crispy fried prawn fritters is a favourite staple during tea time, and some of the best in town comes from Old Rex Cucur Udang. Having been around since 1967, this food vendor’s story began where the Old Rex cinema once was; hence its name.

While the cinema no longer exists, the food outlet remains but has moved to a different location. Pair the beautifully flavoured batter with its special chilli sauce! For extra zest, top your cucur udang pieces with the crushed peanuts served.

Chef Karen’s favourite outlet: Old Rex Cucur Udang

Address: Lot 437-438, Lorong 3A, Jalan Rubber, 93400 Kuching, Sarawak
Contact: +6016 888 6700

Bandung goreng with sambal belacan dip

Another beloved tea-time snack in Sarawak, or rather Kuching, is none other than bandung goreng––deep fried cassava or tapioca batons. It is traditionally served in many households within the state but can also be found at food outlets.

One such place you can try bandung goreng is Window On The Lake, a cafe tucked inside the Sarawak State Library. Their version of this tea-time snack is served with handmade sambal belacan that will have you dipping for seconds and thirds.

Other ways to have this snack is by steaming it and dousing it with grated coconut and sugar.

Chef Karen’s favourite outlet: Window On The Lake

Address: Pustaka Negeri Sarawak, Jalan Pustaka, Petra Jaya, 93050 Kuching, Sarawak
Contact: +6012 805 9758

For starters

‘Matterhorn’ flavoured granita

Matterhorn or Metahon, as colloquially known, is a Kuching-hailed dish. This shaved ice dessert is tangy and refreshing, which is due to the combination of lemon, lime, and pineapple juice, topped with longans and grass jelly.

Want the most delicious and OG version of this? Check out Hui Sing Hawker Centre. Chef Karen interprets the Matterhorn as a palette cleanser granita.

Chef Karen’s favourite outlet: Hui Sing Hawker Centre, Stampin Road

Address: 178, 171, Q4A, Taman Hui Sing, 93350 Kuching, Sarawak

For mains

Belacan meehoon

Sold almost exclusively in Kuching, belacan meehoon is for the adventurous palette! A tea-time tide-over-to-dinner dish, served at room temperature in adaptation to a warm afternoon.

Rice vermicelli is topped with an interesting combination of brown squid and century egg slices, balanced bean sprouts, and shredded cucumber in a tangy, umami, belacan-based gravy, which is slightly sweet from the tamarind paste and gula apong; serve with a squeeze of lime and blended chilli sauce.

Chef Karen’s favourite outlets: Song Kheng Hai Hawker Centre; Swee Kang Ais Kacang

Address: Song Kheng Hai Hawker Centre – Jalan Song Kheng Hai, 93100 Kuching; Swee Kang Ais Kacang – Jalan Kulas – Haji Taha Interchange, Kampung Bandarshah, 93400 Kuching
Contact: +6014 684 0916; +6013 811 7843

Sarawak Laksa

Sarawak Laksa needs no introduction and was acclaimed as ‘the breakfast of Gods’ by the late Anthony Bourdain. Legend pins its origin to Goh Lik Teck – a Cantonese man who moved to Kuching from Indonesia at the end of World War II.

He created this noodle dish, using coconut milk but no curry, along Kuching’s Carpenter Street in 1945. According to popular belief, the thick paste used in the dish was popularised by the Tan family from Kuching, somewhere between the 1960s and 1970s.

This signature dish is characterised by its thick, spice-heavy broth with up to 36 different ingredients! Chef Karen’s adaptation is made from pure prawn stock, slow simmered with a special spice blend.

Authentically served using thick vermicelli, topped with poached prawns, moist shreds of chicken, delicate egg strips, crunchy beansprouts served with coriander, signature sambal belacan, and calamansi lime.

Chef Karen’s favourite outlets: Choon Hui Cafe; Mui Xin’s Laksa Lau Ya Keng food court, Lebuh Carpenter

For dessert

Gula Apong Ice Cream

The famed soft serve ice cream with gula apong drizzle by RG Ais Krim at Kuching old Wet Market & Hawker Centre, locally known as “open-air market”, is now found all over Sarawak and considered a home-grown pride. Gula apong is sugar syrup tapped and ‘brewed’ from the Nipa Palm, and gives this dish its distinct flavour.

Chef Karen interprets the soft serve ice cream as a vanilla gelato with gula apong syrup drizzle and crushed peanut topping for a lighter choice of a sweet end to a dinner.

Chef Karen’s favourite outlet: RG Ais Krim Gula Apong

Insider tip: RG Ais Krim sells late into the night, so you can get your late-night cravings sorted.

Address: No 11 Tower 93000, Wet Market & Hawker Centre, 93100 Kuching
Contact: +6016 891 0001

Getting in and around Kuching

Getting there: Getting to Kuching from Kuala Lumpur is pretty easy. According to Skyscanner, a one-way ticket can cost as little as RM73, and a return ticket will cost as low as RM272. Of course, Malaysia Airlines, Batik Air, and AirAsia are the three main airlines that fly in and out of Kuching to just about anywhere in Malaysia.

For the cheapest flight tickets to Kuching, we suggest flying in May and booking your tickets on a Tuesday. According to Skyscanner’s data, these are the cheapest times to fly.

Getting around: Exploring the city is pretty easy if you’re planning on walking and cycling, but for locations that are a bit further, most buses are readily available. If all else fails, like everywhere else in the world, you can count on e-hailing apps like Grab. If you want complete freedom and accessibility to venture around town, we suggest forking out a little to rent a car.

Other attractions to visit: For something that immerses you in culture, consider going on a historical tour like the Sarawak Cultural Village Tour, where you’ll get to learn about different tribes and longhouses. Another super cool thing to do, and located just 20 minutes outside of Kuching, is to visit the Semenggoh Nature Reserve, which allows you to get (sort of) up close and personal to Borneo’s endangered species, the Orangutans. There is also the Sarawak Orchid Garden, if you’re looking for a more slow-paced activity.

Nightlife in Kuching

If you’re a bit of a night owl and want to explore the after-hours, there are plenty of bars to check out for a tipple and then some. For something budget-friendly and fuss-free, make a stop at Monkee Bar Kuching. There is also The Junk, which is renowned for its delicious cocktails, and for something more upscale, Zinc or Shore should do the trick.

Best time to visit

Research has shown that the best time to visit Kuching is between the months of April to October when the weather is at its driest and hottest; though the occasional showers still occur. If you’re not one to put up with the sweltering heat then visiting during the rainy season is best, which is between November to January.

For more travel tips, read our guide on travelling to Kuching, Sarawak.

Ethnic Sarawak Night

Karen Yap’s Food Trail Series: Kuching Edition

Chef Karen’s Ethnic Sarawak Night’s Food Trail series is back this month, offering a tantalising journey through the culinary delights of Sarawak, right here in KL. Teaming up with Zafigo for this edition of the series, we’re set to explore Sarawak’s culinary and travel treasures, beginning with Kuching.

Friday, 19 April 2024
Serving starts at 7:30pm
Temu House, Section 16, Petaling Jaya
RM210 per person

This private dining affair promises a complete 5-course menu, meticulously crafted to showcase Chef Karen’s favourite dishes, blending time-honoured classics with contemporary flair. Whether you’re a seasoned foodie or an adventurous epicurean, this exclusive gastronomic experience promises to unveil the culinary treasures of Sarawak’s diverse cuisine, from south to north. Join us for an unforgettable food journey by booking your first dinner here.