Kuching Day 3 – Chinatown

Travelling with my brother allows me to write early in the morning as they are late risers. It means I write with tea in hand rather than beer at the other end of the day as I normally do. Let see if my style changes!

We left the flat around 10am looking for breakfast (my second after tea and cakes at dawn). Immediately across the road is a small hawker centre with half a dozen stalls of which three were open. As luck would have it, one served pure vegetarian food so I was sold and ordered a veg laksa R3.50 (AUD $1) while the others looked around.  Soon all three of us were tucking into a delicious bowl of soup served with cumquats for squeezing, again celebrating our good fortune of such a great eating option on our doorstep. As we left the building I spotted a basket containing small packages wrapped in banana leaf. After establishing they were sweet, I bought one and tasted it on the spot playing guessing games of ingredients between English and Malay with the shop owner. We walked away with three more of the white bean, coconut, sesame and jaggery morsels for tomorrows early breakfast. I’m a sucker for anything wrapped in banana leaf – I just have to know what’s inside!

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We planned to spend the day exploring Chinatown and for most of the morning wandered along Jalan Padungan.  We tasted and photographed our way along both sides of this fascinating street. A steamed bun here, a dumpling there, sesame cookies and dried cuttlefish all found their way into our mouths and our backpacks. All the while noting a selection of places to return to for a more substantial meal later in the day. I’ve been happy to see several pure veg café’s in Kuching, so even though I eat fish it’s great to mark down some eateries on the map to choose for lunches and dinners.

As we approached a busy corner I looked up and pointed to the Padungan Hotel and commented that would be a great place to stay, in the heart of all the action in this bustling street. Even better that right underneath it at street level was the most enticing nasi padang café – the “Country Kitchen”. We all agreed immediately it was lunch time. It was just before mid-day so we took a seat on the footpath and filled out plates. Not long after we were settled in eating, queues built up and the grandmother dishing rice from a large cooker couldn’t go fast enough. It seems the Country Kitchen is a popular place with office workers and 12 o’clock is lunch time in Kuching Lucky we got in early!

After lunch, we poked about in department stores, patted street cats and dogs, and chatted to shop owners about their wares and discussed Australia and the merits of Sydney vs Melbourne. Darwin doesn’t rate a mention, no-one’s heard if it!

I wanted to go a little deeper in to the suburbs and two-storey open air food court at the end of a laneway caught my eye. Soon we were sitting at a table in the Song Kheng Hai Food and Recreation Centre – me having the special Ice Kachang and the others having ice tea and coffee. We’d worked out the food part of the building but not the recreation part until we stood up to leave a noticed a very muddy footy oval below and several rows of “grandstand” style seating attached to the side. Noodle soups and stir fries are a far better option than a pie and a bucket of chips while you’re watching a game – I reckon anyway!

Across the road from the Food Centre were aging blocks of 3 storey flats complete with washing on balconies. This building must be the meeting place for everyone to hang out, play games and eat. Now we were seeing the real life of Malays in Kuching, away from the glitz and polish of the river promenade. School kids in uniform were helping to clear the tables at the hawker centre, and large groups were there to eat before heading home across the road.

We wandered these back streets for a short while, noticing some fabulous verge gardening on the corners of these blocks. Pawpaw and custard apple trees had understoreys of chilli, taro, lemongrass, pandan leaves, Asian greens and myriad of other plants spilling over into the substantial gutters. A little patch of heaven for me.

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We’d been on the go for several hours and the bags were getting heavy from our food purchases along the way so it was time to retreat to the condo for a pit stop, unload the shopping, and for some, a siesta. There were a few spots of rain and we were hoping for a storm to watch from the balcony but nothing much eventuated. Time to snooze, reflect and download the mornings photos.

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Refreshed and of course hungry again we gathered ourselves for a late afternoon walk and to look for suitable dinner place. Heading up stream this time we explored some newer renovated squares which soon gave way to run down alleys and industrial buildings. All quite interesting but not many eating options amongst them. We’d forgotten most places close at 5 pm so all the cafes we’d noted early were closed and shuttered. Still, it was a nice night for a stroll and we plonked down in a western style bar for a cold Tiger beer and a rethink on our plans.

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The sky was dark and spitting rain by now so knowing the market next door to the flat would be open for dinner we ducked for cover under the verandas, checking out the sparse eating options along the way. Several up-market tourist bars and restaurants were open but I’d made a rule which the others had agreed to – we only eat in places with no walls and no air-con.  Dashing up the stairs to the Petanak Central Market and into familiar territory, we shook off the rain, found a table amongst the chattering throng and ordered up big.

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Char Kway Teow veg style with egg and bean shoots for me, salty fish fried rice for Simon, and wanton noodle soup for Laura, several returns to the dim sum stall and a couple of Tigers later we were as happy as and wondered why we’d bothered to look for anywhere else. Except the walk and exploring more of the city was the main purpose I suppose. Waiting for a gap in the rain we rushed back along the slippery footpath to home and settled down with balcony doors wide open, listening to the rain on the river and catching up with the day’s news, heads buried in our electronic devices. 

 

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