Serving up unique Bidayuh cuisine

Candy Nyomui preparing linut  (glue-like sago paste).

Candy Nyomui preparing linut
(glue-like sago paste).

BORN and raised at Kampung Sudoh, Singai in Bau, Patis Misid developed a passion for Bidayuh cuisine at a young age when she would help her mother cook for the family.

When she grew up and got married, she not only pursued her passion for cooking and preserved some of the original Bidayah cuisine but also produced Bidayuh recipes of her very own. And Patis has since been using these recipes to cook for her family everyday.

She prides herself on the quality of her cooking and strives to serve up the tastiest Bidayuh Singai dishes.

Her signature dishes include free range chicken soup (ayam kampung masak sup), fried fermented durian (tempoyak goreng) with pork and lemon grass condiment (sambal serai).

The free range chicken soup is cooked in a clay pot, stuffed with, among other ingredients, ginger, red onions, garlic, turmeric, lemon grass and turmeric leaves — plus seasoning. The clay pot is said to maintain a distinctive and delicate taste to the food. It seals the flavour and produces tender chicken meat, made different essentially by the fragrance of the lemon grass and ginger.

Most Sarawakians know and love fried fermented durian which is quite easy to prepare. It may be fried with a combination of chili, onions, garlic and anchovies with the optional addition of any meat. However, Patis’ signature tempoyak goreng is non-halal.

In any case, the best thing about fried fermented durian — including the one that is halal — is that it is not easily spoilt and can last for several days. But it must be kept in a container in a fridge.

Patis’ signature dishes were exhibited and sold at the recent Ethnic Food and Music Festival held at the Association of Research and Development Movement of Singai Sarawak (REDEEMS) Centre.

Her offerings are said to be so popular with the local community that she is sometimes requested to cook for events and gatherings.

“I do catering occasionally on request for birthday parties or meetings — mainly involving fewer than 100 guests. I use my own recipes,” she told thesundaypost.

Her two daughters — Edelweiss and Estrella Lemy — said their mother is not only good in ethnic cuisine but also some modern Chinese and Malay cooking.

“She likes to cook and we all love her cooking, especially her ethnic dishes,” Edelweiss enthused.

Her sister Estrella, standing next to her, concurred, saying they were lucky to have a mum who could prepare tasty Bidayuh foods.

“I’m proud of my mum who keeps our ethnic recipes not just for us but also the community at large,” she beamed.

The siblings helped their mother operate her stall during the Festival.

Sharing culinary prowess

One Bidayuh grandmother, too, has been interested in cooking — even as a little girl.

Lositina Jukien would spend time in the kitchen with her mother and she soon developed a strong passion for cooking — from Bidayuh to Chinese dishes.

The 66-year-old, who manned a stall at the Festival, confessed cooking for her loved ones and friends brought instant gratification.

Some of her recipes have been handed down from one generation to another — and she is now ready to share her culinary prowess.

“I am privileged to have this opportunity to share my cooking with you and the public,” she said as she invited me to taste some of her dishes.

At her stall, Lositina exhibited her signature dishes — sup ayam masak terung, fried fermented durian and lemon condiment and other side dishes. Her sup ayam masak terung had stuffings of ginger, lemon grass, turmeric and terung Dayak — plus seasoning.

Lositina, also from Kampung Sudoh, said she catered to orders for her signature as well as Chinese and Malay dishes on request.

“At times, I cook for family gatherings like birthday parties — or meetings. The menu depends on the customers’ taste. Most times, it is a mixture of the Bidayuh ethnic and Chinese cooking,” she explained.

Visitors trying the linut dish.

Visitors trying the linut dish.

Unique Bidayuh delicacy

One utterly unique Bidayuh delicacy which even the young generation of Bidayuhs hardly know about is the sago dish. At the Festival, visitors had the opportunity to learn some of the traditional ways of eating sago.

A few of the common sago dishes among the Singai Bidayuhs are rotung (sago cooked in bamboo), kubar (sweet sago pancake), linut (glue-like sago paste) and hot soup.

Riwin Jupa, a teacher, said the recipe for sweet sago pancake was inherited from their ancestors.

According to the 54-year-old, the sago dish is not only nutritious but also easy to prepare and nice to eat.

The sweet sago pancake is usually stuffed with grated coconut and a bit of salt before being fried in the wok, containing a bit of cooking oil.

Riwin said to prepare linut, the sago flour is diluted with a little water before adding boiling water.

“It is then stirred until it becomes a sticky paste. The soup is usually stuffed with fish or meat, shrimp paste (belachan), fermented durian (tempoyak) and chili — plus seasoning.”

Linut is normally sliced and eaten, using chopsticks. The traditional way of eating linut is scooping it up from a boat-look container, made of sago bark or skin.

The Bidayuhs though are not the only native community who eat sago as part of their staple. The other communities are the Melanaus and the Penans.

Ethnic Food Festival participants commended REDEEMS on the initiative to organise the event, saying it provided a good avenue to promote not just Bidayuh cuisine but also those of other ethnic groups. Indeed, on the left and right sides of the REDEEMS Hall were seen various ethnic Chinese, Malay and Javanese foods on display and for sale.

The sago pancake ready to be eaten.

The sago pancake ready to be eaten.

Rare nasi ambeng

Although Sarawak can be considered a food paradise, nasi ambeng is difficult to find or hardly heard of. I only knew its existence at the festival. It is a popular Javanese food, often eaten in parts of four or more and traditionally served in large trays.

Nasi ambeng specialist Supia Mainol said the recipe was handed down the generations and she got it from her sister-in-law.

“It’s not my recipe. I learned to prepare this food from my husband’s sister,” said Supia, a Malay married to a Javanese.

It is believed a person needs in-depth knowledge or background of Javanese cuisines or ancestral link to Javanese families before they can cook Javanese food properly.

Aside from nasi ambeng, Supia also sells Javanese foods such as sambal pecal and sambal keluban.

Sambal pecal is a traditional Javanese salad, consisting of mixed vegetables in peanut sauce dressing, usually served with steamed rice or sometimes with lontong or ketupat (compressed rice cake). Its ingredients include boiled or blanched water spinach, long beans, cucumber and cassava leaf, poured with peanut sauce, made of ground fried peanuts mixed with water, salt, palm sugar, tamarind juice, chili pepper, galangal, kaffir lime leaf and garlic.

Additional side dishes might be added to a pecal dish, such as fried tempeh and tofu, perkedel kentang, bakwan jagung (vegetables and corn fritters) and crispy peyek peanut cracker or krupuk. As for sambal keluban, the ingredients include stew fern leaves, stew long beans, salted fish, peanuts and boil eggs.

Although held for the first time, the Ethnic Food Festival was not lacking in tasty dishes for both meat lovers and vegetarians. The foods exhibited and sold could be either a mild or spicy mix of vegetable and meat, soup, traditional cakes, biscuits and crackers (keropok).

The REDEEMS Ethnic Food and Music Festival (REFRMF) was jointly organised with the Bau District Office, the Bau District Council and Nestle Product Sdn Bhd, the main sponsor.

The objectives were to promote the various ethnic foods to both locals and tourists and make the event a tourism product.

Cooking competitions for the various ethnic groups were also held.

Assistant Minister of Industrial Development Datuk Peter Nansian said he was happy with the response.

“Since the first event has been well-received, we will make it an annual affair and propose that it be included in the State’s tourism calendar,” he said during the opening ceremony.

Nansian, who is Tasik Biru assemblyman, added that the Ethnic Food Festival could be considered a cultural festival.

“During the festival, visitors, including tourists, were served traditional foods in a different atmosphere — very relaxed and authentic,” he noted.

Patis (centre) with her three daughters and a relative (right) and her Bidayuh ethnic offerings. Edelweiss is at left while Estrella is second right.

Patis (centre) with her three daughters and a relative (right) and her Bidayuh ethnic offerings. Edelweiss is at left while Estrella is second right.

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