We’ve been in Kuching, Sarawak for about 4 months now, but aside from a trip to the Damai Beach in North Kuching, we’ve not gone outside of the South Kuching metro area at all. Today was a public holiday in Malaysia (Awal Muharram – the Islamic New Year) so we decided to get out of town and take a drive to Serian, visit the market there, and see what we could see.
Serian Town is less than 60 km (about an hour’s leisurely drive) from Kuching. You drive south, away from the coast and towards the highlands and the Malaysia-Indonesia border. It’s an easy drive with lots of open space and open sky to encourage your mind to wander. Next thing you know, you see a roundabout up ahead with a big, durian-shaped monument welcoming you to Serian. (Apparently, Serian has a reputation for the best durian in Sarawak.)
Durian Monument at Roundabout Outside Serian
Going to Town
The Serian Market is in the middle of town, next to the bus depot. There are two buildings: one where you can get normal vegetables, chicken, fish and pork, and the other where you can find all sorts of native produce and products. We headed for the native section, because we were interested in the different kinds of local fruits that were available. Some of these fruit we didn’t even see at the Satok Market in Kuching (though the fruit may not have been in season then).
Buah tampoi is a golf ball-sized fruit with a hard, reddish outer covering. Cracking the fruit open, you will find many sections of sweet, yellow flesh surrounding a smooth seed. We’ll take a closer look at this fruit in another post.
Many Varieties of Banana
I am amazed by the huge array of bananas we can find here in Sarawak. From the massive pisang tanduk (horn banana) to the diminutive pisang emas (golden banana) and everything in between. Each banana variety has its own nuance of flavor. Chiquita bananas are so boring compared to these.
These buah merenti are hard little berries, slightly larger than peppercorns. Can anyone share what they taste like or how they’re used?
We found a spice vendor who was selling these whole cloves and other whole spices. Everything we need to make our own Chinese five spice powder, and then some. The vendor was selling all kinds of ground spices as well.
Bins of Colorful Ground Spices
Here are a couple more strange looking fruit that piqued our curiosity.
This one kinda looks like an immature Snakeskin Fruit. The fruit are actually very tightly packed together, attached to a central stem.
Thai Pea Eggplant
Annie calls this fruit a Thai Pea Eggplant. These fruit are about the size of a large green pea. We’ve been enjoying these eggplants as part of a native Bidayuh dish using tapioca leaves called pucuk ubi that one of our friends makes. Hopefully she’ll teach us how to make this dish ourselves so we can share it with you in another post!
Buah Dabai – “Sibu Olive”
Though this fruit isn’t technically an olive, it does bear a striking resemblance both in appearance and taste. Last month, we took a visiting food blogger (Nicholas Gilman of Good Food in Mexico City) to the Satok Market. We stayed at the food courts there that evening, where we all tried out a dish of fried rice made with the salted and dried dabai fruit. It was delicious! Hopefully we’ll have a chance to make it and share it in – you guessed it – another post.
Here are some lovely pineapples for sale. Just 3 Ringgit each for the good ones and only 2 Ringgit for the ripe ones!
Sardines and Baby Pomfrets
Okay, these don’t grow on trees or anything, but they’re still “frutti de mare” – fruits of the sea! Those baby pomfrets are tiny – barely 4 inches long. 5 Ringgit got us 20 of these babies. We’ll probably pan fry them like we did the sanddabs back in San Jose.
Head for the Border
One of our friends told us about a place further down the road in a tiny town called Tebekang where we could get some good eats. Tebekang is on the road to Tebedu, which is just at the border between Malaysia and Indonesia. All along the way, we saw many people along the roadside, selling durians and other fruit. We just had to stop.
Roadside Durian Sellers Outside Serian
Just off the roadside at this particular intersection, there was what looked like an orchard of small trees with these curious looking, purple colored pods attached to their trunks. Can anyone guess what these are?
Purple Pods Attached to Tree Trunks
If you guessed “cacao”, you’d be right! Yep cacao, as in cocoa, as in chocolate! Right here in Sarawak! Malaysia being a tropical country, it totally makes sense to grow cacao here. But I’d not heard of a cacao industry in Sarawak. Since those pods looked overripe, I surmise that cacao production is not a thriving industry here. Oh well.
I wonder if the owner would have minded if I made off with one of these pods.
There was a man there hanging up some bunches of rambutan as well as langsat.
On the ground nearby, under a covering of fern leaves, lay a pile of buah tarap. These fruit have a very interesting (and pungent) outer covering. But the flesh inside is quite nice. I’ll detail what it looks like and how you eat buah tarap in another post.
Of course, we were here for the durian. There were lots to choose from! December is the peak of the durian season so selection is high and prices are dirt cheap.
Selection of Roadside Durians for Sale
We’re not yet expert in selecting durian, so Annie asked one of the sellers for help. He played the part of “durian whisperer” – thumping the spiky fruit on the ground and carefully sniffing each one. (By the way, the durian here are nowhere near as pungent as other varieties in West Malaysia. Perhaps because they are more like to the original wild, jungle durians and less like the cross-bred varieties sold on the Peninsula.)
After the seller selected the durians, Annie asked him to open one up and check the fruit inside.
After approval, we had the sellers put the fruit in our boot. (Car trunk for all you Americans out there.)
How much did we pay for the durian? Well when we took Nick to Satok Market back in November, we brought one durian home for 12 Ringgit. This day, we paid 13 Ringgit and came home with 6 durian! How awesome is that?
We made it to Tebakang but we couldn’t find the shop we were looking for. We turned around and headed home. But we’ll be back! The views of the countryside are beautiful enough to entice us out again.
Rice Field Outside Serian