Savour Borneo’s last frontier. Celebrity chefs and drug companies are venturing into Borneo’s fast disappearing rainforests where headhunters once roam. What are they looking for?

A stocky tattooed man clad in loin cloth dashes from behind the curtains shrieks as he points his blowpipe at the audience. With eyes intently on his target, he slowly raises the blowpipe to his lips. Suddenly, a loud explosion resounded across the hall as tattered balloons descended on the performance stage.

The blowpipe at seven feet long, with a metal spear tied to one end, and a dart inserted at the other tip, is still in use as a hunting weapon for wild boars and flying foxes by the nomadic Penan in Borneo’s last frontier.

Rainforest Gastronomy

In Sarawak, Malaysia Borneo, the gastronomy is closely connected to its ancient tropical rainforests, which are fast disappearing due to illegal logging and deforestation. Borneo’s rainforests is one of the six regions in the world with the highest biodiversity.

Many produce like the tasty wild paku (fiddleheads), bamboo shoots, durians – and antioxidant-rich fruits like dabai (jungle olives) and bambangan (Mangifera pajang) thrive in these jungles. Celebrity chefs come in search of exotic ingredients and pharmaceutical companies comb the forests for HIV and cancer cures.

The colourful and vibrant markets are where regional flavours and people converge – and the true Sarawakian cultural experience begins. Nestled on the banks of the Sarawak River, Kuching, the state capital is a great culinary getaway.

Global EAT-Savour Borneo's Last Frontier with Magical Langkawi
Sarawak’s gastronomy is closely connected to its ancient tropical rainforests.(Nikao Media)

Medan Niaga Satok and the MJC market at Batu Kawa are popular markets in Kuching. Visitors can shop for fresh fish and meat, spices, exotic sago grubs, jungle fruits and vegetables neatly piled among bananas (seven kinds or more), souvenirs or sample delicious cooking prepared in open kitchens.

Like most Malaysians, eating is a favourite pastime as evidenced by the number of street vendors and eateries that dot the region – serving some of the most delicious cuisines in Asia.

Be sure to sample favourite dishes like laksa – vermicelli doused in curried broth, topped with shredded chicken, shrimp, coriander, served with lime and spicy shrimp paste – and kolo mee, a delightful meal of flash-boiled noodles, garnished with minced or barbeque pork, browned garlic and shallots.

Another coveted dish is the Bidayuh (Land Dayak) delicacy, ayam pansuh – rice and chicken stuffed in a bamboo tube which is cooked over open fire. Enjoying this dish on a longhouse safari picnic by the river bank is an unforgettable experience.

Another coveted dish is the Bidayuh (Land Dayak) delicacy, ayam pansuh – rice and chicken stuffed in a bamboo tube which is cooked over open fire. Enjoying this dish on a longhouse safari picnic by the river bank is an unforgettable experience.

Pepper – The Prized Condiment

The locally cultivated pepper is rated one of the best in the world for its refined flavour and aroma. This prized condiment captured the taste buds of celebrity French chef, Alain Ducasse who recommended Sarawak black pepper as a gift item in Newsweek magazine. He added that it is great for seasoning meats and poultry. A visit to the market and pepper vine farm is a must on any culinary itinerary. Watch video below on rainforest cuisine.

Sarawak pepper is rated is one of the best quality peppercorns in the world

People and Attractions

Prior to joining Malaysia in 1963, the State of Sarawak was a British colony ceded by the Brooke family (hailed the “White Rajahs”) whose reign lasted three generations. This mysterious land once cloaked in thick virgin rainforest is home to over 23 ethnic groups including the Iban(Sea Dayak), Bidayuh , Melanau, Orang Ulu (like the Kelabit, Kayan, Lun Bawang, Penan), Chinese, Malay and Indian. Friendly locals proudly identify themselves as Sarawakians displaying a strong affiliation to their native land. English is widely spoken throughout the State.

A great way to explore Kuching’s heritage is to embark on a self-guided walking tour. Start with a visit to the famed Sarawak Museum established by Charles Brooke (the second Rajah) under the influence of renowned naturalist, Alfred Russell Wallace. The museum offers a fascinating peek into Borneo’s rich natural history and its people.

Within an hour or two outside of Kuching city, visitors can view orangutans at the Semenggok Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre, journey upriver to call on the Ibans (Borneo’s former headhunters) in their longhouses, visit the Sarawak Cultural Village for a sample of the State’s major ethnic cultures or enjoy a drink at Damai Puri or Damai Beach Resort.

Global EAT - Meritus Pelangi Beach Resort
The resort was voted one of the 2012 Top 25 Relaxation & Spa Hotels in Malaysia. (Bryan T)

Magical Langkawi

Across the South China Sea on the west coast of the Malay Peninsula lies Langkawi, a cluster of 99 islands in the Andaman Sea – the largest being Langkawi Island. Langkawi is renowned for its spectacular limestone pinnacles, white sandy beaches, lush rice fields, and breathtaking sunsets. Legend has it that a woman named Mahsuri was accused of adultery some 200 years ago. In revenge for her brutal innocent death, she cursed the island for seven generations. Her curse has since passed.

This magical island is today a flourishing tourist hub with luxury hotels lining its pristine shores including the Meritus Pelangi Beach Resort and Spa located on the famous Cenang Beach. Sprawling on 30-acres of lush greenery, the resort’s architecture resembles a traditional Malaysian village. This idyllic hideaway is centrally located and within a kilometre from shopping, restaurants and attractions.

Writes Bryan T., our reviewer who spent his honeymoon at the resort in early December 2014, “The Meritus Pelangi Beach Resort and Spa more than exceeded my expectations in terms of service and quality. The breakfast buffet was something my wife and I looked forward to every night before we retired to bed.

Their buffet caters to virtually all diet types, from Japanese to Malaysian, Thai, Chinese, European, and American. Everyone from meat lovers to vegans could have a very filling and pleasant meal.” Read more.

Kuching and Langkawi are accessible by air from Malaysia’s capital – Kuala Lumpur, and Singapore. Culinary tours to Malaysia Borneo and Langkawi are available through Borneo Adventure – a Borneo-based company, whose commitment to conservation, sustainable tourism, and contribution to the local communities have been recognized internationally.

The company recently launched a book entitled, Batang Ai – Rainforest, Wildlife and People. The 150-page coffee table book takes the reader on a visual journey through the stunning landscape of the greater Batang Ai region, one of Sarawak’s last remaining rainforests conservation area for wild Orangutans.

Links

Borneo Adventure

Sarawak Tourism Board

Sarawak Cultural Village

Tourism Malaysia

Meritus Pelangi Beach Resort