WHEN Malaysian-born Ping Coombes came out with a cookery book, Malaysia, after winning MasterChef UK in 2014, a fan remarked that she should include East Malaysian cuisines of Sabah and Sarawak to complete her repertoire of Malaysian recipes.
Point taken, she makes it her mission to embark on a culinary adventure to Sabah and Sarawak.
After a five-day foodie road trip in Sabah, she arrived in Sarawak with her husband Andrew Coombes and her two daughters Alexa, aged 6, and Luna aged 2, hosted by Sarawak Tourism Board in conjunction with their Visit Sarawak Campaign this year.
It was an eye-opening gastronomic adventure into the world of local and ethnic food culture of Sarawak, totally alien to Ping.
She was enthralled and amazed by the variety of ingredients especially the jungle produce used in the recipes by the various ethnic groups.
Sarawak Tourism Board laid on a showcase itinerary of the best that Kuching and surrounds had to offer.
There were visits to Siniawan, a once forgotten miners’ settlement, 45 minutes’ drive from Kuching, where it awakens from its day slumber into a carnival of food fest of street food and music when night falls over the weekend.
A visit to Semenggoh Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre for orang utans was the highlight for the Coombes’s children. It was followed by a trip to Saloma Village Stay in Kampong Sadir to observe the resident Bidayuh cooks demonstrating the art of cooking chicken and rice in giant bamboo stems and recipes for cooking jungle produce from their own backyard.
Back in town, Ping attended a cooking class with Joseph Daniel at Bumbu Cooking Class where he taught her to cook Sarawak Chicken Curry, Sambal Midin and Tako pudding after a visit to a fascinating market at Kubah Ria to shop for the ingredients. www.bumbucookingclass.weebly.com
The culinary highlight for Ping was cooking sessions with the amazing ladies of the Sarawak Culinary Heritage and Arts Committee where the bevy of talented chefs cooked up a storm of an extraordinary array of ethnic and local food featuring jungle and local produce.
Their passion for preserving the Sarawakian food culture reflected in the sumptuous feast they prepared which overwhelmed Ping. She was touched by their warmth and willingness to share the recipes.
No visit to Kuching is complete without a visit to the Sarawak Cultural Village where Ping and her family enjoyed visiting the various native abodes of the people of Sarawak.
Lunches at the seafood restaurants at Muara Tebas and Buntal Village were another insight into the innovative flavours of the fruits of the sea by the coastal chefs.
Ping intends to create recipes inspired by the dishes she has learnt in Kuching using similar ingredients available in UK as most of the local herbs and vegetables here are not found in Britain. This will put Sarawak cuisine on the map.
Ping and family have fallen for Sarawak and its charming people and vowed to return.
She said, “Sarawak has so much to give in terms of its people, culture and food. The people are warm and genuine, it is rich in culture steeped in history but preserved and encouraged by the new generation.
“I have met some incredible individuals who are so willing and proud to share their culture with me. They welcomed me and my family unconditionally and I felt I have gained more than just experience and memories, I have a family.”
Watch this space for the return of the Malaysian Master Chef UK Champion 2014 for another gastronomic adventure next year.
You can follow Ping Coombes on her Instagram @pingcoombes Facebook Catherine Coombes.