5 OF THE BEST
5 OF THE BEST
‘Fast food’ in Malaysia is a whole different concept. Elsewhere in the world, speed comes with standardisation: millions of McDonalds pumping out identikit meals at an industrial rate, exactly the same from Sydney to San Francisco. But here, where most food is pretty fast, variety is the order of the day. Also known as economy rice or nasi bungkus (wrapped rice), Malaysian fast food is a smorgasbord of home cooking where choice determines customer satisfaction. It is a buffet for the masses, priced to your portion. Lying at the opposite end of the spectrum from the vast hotel spreads where you need to stretch your stomach to allow for the expenditure, this version is affordable and individual.
This is how the locals eat, at home or outside: simple curries, stir fried ferns, stuffed tofu, beansprouts with salted fish or even slices of crispy spam and endless eggs, sunny side up. Whatever ends up on your plate, you pay for, you eat, you go; or else, you opt to take it to go and eat elsewhere, whatever your choice, as thousands of portions of wrapped rice get unwrapped across Sarawak every lunchtime. You can eat every day and not run out of options or enough dough for a hearty home-cooked meal. Options abound at hawker centres across Sarawak but here is a choice of the fast food possibilities.
BEWARE: fast food is often
a dish served cold!
Country Kitchen is small and sparse, save for the jaunty purple sign that announces itself to Jalan Padungan. But come lunchtime, there are queues spilling out onto the street. Take your place, take your order, take your food, take away or take a seat (if you can find one), and watch the turn over. This place has been dishing out hundreds of packed lunches every day for town centre workers for decades and can probably turn a profit on the tapau trade alone. With a kitchen out the back, the dishes keep coming and the choices are invariably delicious. Country Kitchen just keeps on delivering.
THE MANDARIN EXPRESS
The Mandarin Express is a cut above most economy rice options. Twinned with the Mandarin restaurant, the elegant new banquet hall in the trendy new ICOM Square development, it is all sleek design serving a young, hipster office crowd. Yet, with over 30 dishes on offer, different every day, the prices remain pretty much the same as most coffeeshop fast food alternatives. Scrupulously clean, the array of options is displayed on matched chrome plates, shining behind an immaculate glass screen. This is fast food at its fanciest but fundamentally unchanged; just served with a little style.
KHOO HUN YEANG STREET
Ignore the outside. Ignore the inside. It isn’t pretty. Just focus on the food. Jumbo café has a jumbo menu and has been turning out trays of delicious fast food for years, so they really know what they are doing. This area was once the beating heart of Kuching’s hawker food, just across the way from Tower Market and just next door to All Joy Bakery, and it is a tiny step back in time. But one thing hasn’t changed in that Kuching folk prioritise flavour and Jumbo continues to deliver, day in day out. If you are eating in a group, social distancing permitting, then ask for sharing options. Portions for multiple people can be plated in the centre of the table and each can enjoy more choice, Jumbo style.
AH CAI FAST FOOD 越昌
A tiny coffeeshop under the eaves of the Hainanese Association building, this place is a cast of characters. The Towkay and his family are a Carpenter Street tradition, and each takes their trade very seriously. For a place so small, the output is enormous. Noodles and other hawker favourites out front, cakes and tarts famous across Kuching on the five foot way, and fast food from a stall at the back. Ah Cai is the name, both of the fast food enterprise and the number one son of the house, and the trade is brisk. The stall itself is small, but copious dishes are balanced overlapping on almost every available surface. Find a seat nestled under the auspices of the rooftop temple and wait for a familiar face to pass by. Sooner or later, one invariably does.
JALAN GREEN HILL
A relative newcomer in this more established fast food firmament, Melanau café is more of a place to linger. The halal choice within the group, it is high on fish and hot on curry; it even does a good line in liver. Sample the ulam, the Malay ‘salad’ served with spicy sambal belacan. Sup a fresh fruit juice in the slow hours of the afternoon. This is fast food at a slower speed and somehow all the better for it. Right in the centre of the Golden Triangle, it is affordable, easy and high on options. Melanau makes fast food at a more leisurely pace – less haste, more greed!