Cooking course in Kuching – Cooking like the Dayak

"Men and women, according to our belief in cohesion, always prepare their food together.", with this sentence the friendly cooking teacher Joseph lured me in.

One afternoon I and my better half spend with Joseph in the cooking school in Kuching and learn how to cook authentic food. Just like his ancestors and his family who belong to the Dayak population group. These are the oldest inhabitants of Borneo.

Joseph runs his cooking school because he wants to share his culture with the people, and he does this with a lot of passion. He takes plenty of time to answer questions, shops with participants at a local market, and then cooks with his students. The groups are never larger than 8 people. We are lucky and there are only two of us at the cooking course.

Cooking course in Kuching – Cooking like the Dayak people

Bumbu Cooking Class – The Cooking School

The cooking school has the most unusual but appropriate setting I have ever seen. We cook amidst antiques and furniture from the longhouses, the traditional housing of the Dayak and other indigenous groups. Joseph also sells antiques and only those that were actually in the longhouse and were made by the inhabitants.

Cooking course Borneo

If there are new handicrafts in the Longhouse, Joseph brings the old furniture into his store. Each part has its own story, which he likes to tell. After the cooking class, we spend a long time in the store, listening to Joseph's enthusiastic stories.

Shopping at the market in Kuching

The cooking course starts with a visit to a market a bit further outside of Kuching where only local food is sold. Joseph attaches great importance to this. It smells like fresh citrus fruits, because the local small bitter limes (Kasturi) are in season at the moment. We buy ingredients for a chicken curry, as well as for a dish with the native jungle vegetable midin, a fern that grows in the mangroves of the jungle.

Cooking course Borneo Shopping at the market

cooking course Borneo shopping fish

We wander through the small market alleys and discover all kinds of exotic fruits and vegetables. At some stalls fresh coconut milk is made and again other sellers make curry paste according to their own wishes. The variety of ingredients literally overwhelms us.

Why the ingredients are called what they look like

Along the way, Joseph explains why the ingredients we buy have their names. The Dayak, have simply named the ingredients as they look too. Very simple or?

The fruit Soursop, which looks similar to the Durian, is called by the locals only Dutch Durian. Why? In colonial times, many Dutch people always asked if the fruit was the durian. This is how the ironic name Dutch Durian came about.

Cooking Course Borneo Shopping Vegetables

The local beans are called "wing beans" because they have a shape similar to wings. The round little eggplants we know are called eggplant and not eggplant, because the shape is more like an egg.

Packed with ingredients, we make our way to the cooking school and leave the colorful and impressive market behind us.

Cooking like the Dayak

Back in the cooking school it is now time to get down to business. We cook today after old family recipes of Joseph and his family. We prepare an authentic chicken curry and the vegetable midin. The preparation is fairly divided between me and my boyfriend, because when you cook together, you can't blame anyone for the taste. Great idea!

Cooking course Borneo shopping market

Sarawak Chicken Curry – Recipe of the Dayak people

Joseph bought the meat for the chicken curry before we arrived in the early morning, because then it is freshest on the market and the flies are not so active. We marinate the meat with sugar, salt and curry powder. Then use a mortar to make a paste of lemongrass, galangal, ginger, garlic and shallots.

This paste is sweated and boiled with curry paste, potatoes, anise and cinnamon, and canned milk. Then add the chicken. The chicken still has bones, because these serve to recognize when the meat is cooked. If no more blood comes out of the bones and the skin pulls back on the bone, the meat is cooked.

Cooking course Borneo Curry

What is Midin?

Midin is Borneo's jungle vegetable par excellence. On every corner you read it on menus. This is a fern that grows in swampy areas. There are different levels of ripeness. The young fern is crunchy and has a lot of flavor. The older one is softer and has a slimy consistency. Depending on your taste you can choose.

We prepare young midin and make a paste of chilies, shirmp paste, dried shrimps and scallions. In this paste the vegetables are fried and get flavor.

The taste of Midin is difficult to describe. It tastes like a hint of green asparagus, spinach and very mineral. If you have the chance to be in Borneo you must try midin.

Borneo Midin Cooking Course

What is Tako?

Coconut is one of the main ingredients for local dishes in Borneo. For dessert we make our own coconut milk from fresh coconut flakes. For this we soak the coconut flakes in water and knead the whole thing. Then the mass is squeezed out in small pieces over a sieve. Quite sweaty for so little milk.

The coconut milk is then boiled with green beans flour and sugar and gets a jelly-like consistency. From pandan leaves we have previously made small containers, in these we fill the mass and wait until it is solid.

Typical seasoning ingredients

The local and traditional cuisine is really only limited to regional ingredients. The spices are mostly very aromatic and dominated by lemongrass, garlic and pepper. These are the spices that change in Sarawak. The colonial era brought more unusual spices, such as star anise or cinnamon to the island.

Often seasoned with dried fish as well. It takes a little getting used to but very tasty when well dosed. In Sarawak, cooking is rarely spicy, but always with a hint of spiciness.

By the way: Sarawak is the place for pepper par excellence. Everywhere there are farms and the pepper variety is huge.

Borneo Spices Cooking Course

Conclusion of our cooking course

We really enjoyed the morning with Joseph and learned a lot about his culture. Joseph is very passionate about his work. You can see his enthusiasm to pass on his knowledge to others. Such an attitude is easily transferred to the participants, in this case both of us.

Joseph's cooking school is located in Kuching, in the middle of the popular Carpenter Street, a few minutes from the Waterfront and the Main Bazar.

Here you get more information about the cooking course:

This article is part of a series about Borneo. Here you can find more articles:

Do you have any questions about the cooking course in Kuching??

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