Posted by: Borneo Adventure | October 1, 2010

A Field Guide to Street Foods of Kuching

Breakfast in Kuching is a highly social event, beginning at the crack of dawn, which starts with daybreak at about half past six, peaking at half past eight and finally tapering off by about half past ten. Breakfast is not only just for taking the morning repast but is also a time to discuss business and to catch up with the goings-on in the city.  The sound of simultaneous conversation imparts a definite buzz and frisson in the many “coffee shops”, also fondly referred to as “kopi tiam“, that are dotted all around the city.

While the food described in this guide are to be found mainly during the morning hours, some of these food may also be available over the lunch period, and though not as readily available during the evening may nonetheless be found at selected outlets.

Kuching is essentially a Chinese and Malay city and it is the entrepreneurial Chinese with the many different dialect groups from Southern China that dominate the food outlets; this means that there is a wide offering of regional Chinese specialties. Over the years, these regional cuisines have come under the steady and heavy influence of local ingredients and taste and have evolved into a flavor that is unique and special to Kuching. Considering that the local ethnic Indian population is negligible, Indian food is also popular and available and there are many restaurants and eateries that offer up excellent Indian style dishes for the discerning palate.

We will start off with the essential guide to ordering your hot drink. Apart from bottled water and canned drinks, hot drinks are available at all coffee shops. Here’s how you order your Kopi (Coffee) or Teh (Tea) in the local dialect and how you would like it prepared.

If you say: This is what you will get:

Kopi (or Teh)                            Hot Coffee (or Tea) with sweetened condensed milk
Kopi (or Teh) ‘C’                       Hot Coffee (or Tea) with evaporated milk
Kopi (or Teh) ‘O’                       Hot Black Coffee (or Tea) with a large spoonful of sugar
Kopi (or Teh) ‘O’ Kosong        Hot Black Coffee (or Tea) without sugar

As a rule, sugar is normally added to drinks; for drinks without sugar, add the word kosong (“empty”) to your order. And so, Black Coffee without sugar is Kopi O kosong; and Tea with evaporated milk (milk in a can) without sugar is Teh C kosong.  “Kurang manis” (less sweet) is the request for less sugar in your drinks.

However, if you prefer a cold beverage then you just need to add the term ‘peng‘ at the end of your order. The term “peng” is actually “ping” which is Mandarin for ice. For example, to order Iced Milk Tea just say Teh ‘C’ “Peng”. Asking for Kopi ‘O’ “Peng” will result in a glass / cup of iced back coffee if that happens to be your cup of tea, pun intended.

Kuching style drinks are varied and there are some shops that carry their own signature concoctions of the humble kopi and teh. If it’s available, you must try the Teh ‘C’ “Peng” Special which is iced milk tea with a thick layer of brown sugar syrup (Gula Melaka) at the bottom of the glass, which will thicken the drink slightly, making it sweeter and richer. In some cases, however, there are certain shops which substitute the layer of brown sugar syrup with Wheatgrass.

Teh ‘C’ Peng Special @ Madam Tang’s

A popular alternative to the normal milk tea is “teh-tarik” which literally translates to “pulled tea”. Milk tea is poured and “stretched” between two cups several times and this serves to give the beverage a foamy texture and a different taste to normal milk tea. You can order “teh-tarik” hot or iced.

A drinks’ vendor making teh tarik

Teh Tarik Peng @ Madam Tang’s

Next, we will touch on a topic close to every person’s heart. Food!

We will get the ball rolling with a Kuching favorite and definitely one of our signature offerings.  Come back soon to find out what it is. Until then, bon appétit!


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