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Borneo, Sarawak

Sarawak cookbook wins world’s best local cuisine award

A SARAWAKIAN cookbook has won the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards 2011 World’s Best Local Cuisine Cookbook award!

The award was presented during a glitzy gala ceremony at the Theatre Folies Bergere in Paris, France on March 6.

Sarawak Eurasian Association president Dona Drury Wee told Parochial Sarawakian the awesome news when commenting on my earlier post entitled: Sarawak cookbook is judged Malaysia’s best at international competition in Paris.

“I am very pleased to announce that the Sarawak Eurasian Association Legacy Cookbook has won the very coveted Best Local Cuisine Cookbook in the World!

“This was announced at the Gala ceremony at the Theatre Folies Bergere in Paris on March 6th 2012. We can now carry the sticker for ‘World’s Best’!!” Drury Wee wrote in the comment.

This Sarawakian cookbook beat Finland’s Gastronomy from an Ice Cold Paradise, Terroir et Saveurs du Quebec from Canada and Lebanon’s Kitchen Halaby!

This is fantastic news for Sarawak!

Well done to the Sarawak Eurasian Association for truly putting our State on the world gourmand map!

Food has always been a celebrated part of world culture and to have Sarawakian cuisine recognised by the world — and in France too, because as we all know French cuisine is known to be among the world’s most refined — it is just such a fantastic achievement.

This small association has definitely proven that Sarawakians have what it takes to produce world class products.

Those clever people in the tourism industry can surely use this as another way to market Sarawak to the world?

The Legacy Cookbook earlier won the title of ‘Best in Malaysia’ from the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards 2011, which was also held in Paris, and then went on to compete with the best cookbooks from across the globe.

In case you didn’t know, in terms of cookbooks, the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards is basically the top competition. It is like the Pulitzer or Man Booker prize for cookbooks.

The Legacy Cookbook features the fusion between foreign dishes and local fare handed down through the generations within the Sarawak Eurasian community.

The recipes include family favourites made with local ingredients such as tempoyak, ngo hiang, meatloaf and Shepherd’s pie.

A section in the book titled Recipes of the Land features truly Sarawakian dishes with some main ingredients that can only be found here such as assam payak and paku.

Fantastic job! So proud to be a Sarawakian!

A report from The Sunday Post from October 2011:

SARAWAKIANS are notoriously passionate about food. So it comes as little surprise that the Sarawak Eurasian Association (SEA) used their members’ shared love for good food to create the Legacy Cookbook which not only contains dozens of family recipes but also narrates the (up till now) little known stories of how forebears of 23 Eurasian families came to call Sarawak home.

The cookbook was just launched in June this year but work on it began in 2009. SEA had long wanted to put together a book on the various Eurasian families of Sarawak.

However, with members representing such diverse origins, they could not find a unifying theme to collate the stories under until they hit upon the idea of asking the various families to share their favourite family recipes together with family stories and photographs.

Woven between lists of cooking ingredients, monochrome family portraits and tantalising full-colour photos of treasured family recipes are the touching – and occasionally, heartbreaking – love stories of men and women from an era long past for each other and for their families.

True to its title, the cookbook follows tales of romance between dashing young men who come to seek their fortune on exotic, foreign shores and lovely young maidens of the land, to anecdotes of daily life during colonial times, to the present day legacies these pioneering men and women left behind. This book is an intriguing read of people, places and events in Sarawak’s recent history.

The cookbook

Many of the more established Sarawak Eurasian families can trace their roots to the British colonial period which began with the reign of James Brooke, the first Rajah of Sarawak, in 1841 when hundreds of Europeans – usually young, single British men – came to Sarawak for work. Many were employed in the civil service.

For the expatriates during colonial times, it was inevitable that they would seek to recreate their favourite gastronomic delights from their country of origin as an antidote to remedy feelings of homesickness and to foster a sense of familiarity and belonging in a strange, foreign land.

Some of the expatriates fell in love with the life here, married locals and, in turn, introduced these dishes into family mealtimes, eventually resulting in time-honoured and treasured family recipes which have been handed down from generation to generation.

As more Sarawakians ventured overseas to study or work, many found their life partners over there. Upon returning to Sarawak with their spouses and families to settle down, they also brought back with them recipes from their foster country or countries which, by now, had also become family favourites.

The family recipes featured in the cookbook are mostly what people recognise as everyday dishes — just with different national and cultural origins.

It ranges from recognisably Malaysian fare such as kacang ma chicken (the Jacques family) to the very European roasted lamb shoulder (the Frostl family) to the quintessential English staple minced meat with mashed potatoes (the Clancy family).

Some recipes of local origin have been customised to suit certain palates. The Cutfield family’s daging masak hitam omits certain ingredients to cater to less spice-tolerant European tastebuds and contains prunes which is not a common ingredient associated with traditional Malaysian cuisine.

On the other hand, some recipes of non-Sarawakian origin have been given a distinct local twist with the use of local ingredients as a substitute to compensate for (at that time) difficult to obtain ingredients from the home country of origin.

It seems apt that the marriages between the young, expatriate men with local women which brought together different families with different national cultures should also result in a marriage of their various food cultures.

The cookbook demonstrates that no matter whether the people, ingredients, spices originated from the East or West, they all come together in harmony to produce family recipes which have been passed down from generation to generation.

Eurasians in Sarawak

Compared to Eurasians in West Malaysia, Eurasians in Sarawak are of more diverse backgrounds, according to Dona Drury-Wee, president of the SEA.

She pointed out that Sarawak Eurasians are a mixture of many races — from European, American, British, Australian with Iban, Melanau, Bidayuh, Orang Ulu, Chinese, Malay, Indian and other races as well; so much so that SEA potluck parties have been likened to something out of the Malaysian branch of the United Nations.

Dona suggested that it is this diversity and the Eurasian community’s successful assimilation into local society which makes the Eurasian community a good representation of what being truly Malaysian is about.

“Because we represent such a good mix and come from so many different backgrounds, we are sensitive to each culture’s differences and limitations,” she said.

Sarawak Eurasians are just as likely to identify themselves as Iban, Bidayuh, Orang Ulu, Malay, Melanau, Bisaya or Chinese rather than Eurasian. Likewise, there are many Eurasians who  carry Chinese, Malay or native surnames.

The Eurasian community in Sarawak is relatively small, currently about 1,000-strong.

The SEA was only established in 2000 following the first of many meetings at the Sarawak Club on Sept 2 the year before.

The SEA presently has about 100 registered members. Anyone who has a mixed Asian, European, Australian or American Ancestry is welcome to join the association.

In addition to providing a place for Eurasians to celebrate their proud heritage, cultural diversity and shared experience, the SEA also organises potlucks, social visits and activities to foster closer rapport between members.  Members are kept informed of upcoming gatherings and events through a regular newsletter.

Of culture and identity

Because Eurasians are a minority, they tend to get overlooked. Few people are aware of the challenges they face because of their mixed ethnicity, such as when it comes to matters of native inheritance and education opportunities.

Take for example, the fact that most Eurasians’ physical appearances are sufficiently different from other locals as to attract attention, whether for better or for worse.

As early as primary school, some Eurasian children are subjected to incessant teasing because of their looks.

“The kids will ask whether you’re a Malaysian or caucasian. Sometimes you have to go through a period of name-calling. They call you ‘half vegetable’,” said Dona, herself a target of childhood taunts.

“I was called half breed, then I punched the guy in school. He apologised after that,” she chuckled.

At other times, especially when younger, Eurasian offspring feel pressured to be on their best behaviour because all eyes were on them wherever they went.

However, Dona, who is of American-Iban origin, was also quick to point out that not having typical “local” features could be an asset at times, such as when trying to cajole good bargains from shopkeepers.

She also debunked the perception that Eurasian families are generally well off, pointing out that there were a number of Eurasian families – especially those from the interior – who were in need of financial and education assistance.

One of the reasons for compiling the cookbook is to help the SEA raise funds for its various programmes which include plans for an academic and study incentives programme which will offer financial recognition to deserving students for academic excellence and study loans for members’ children.

At the time of interview, about 500 copies of the Legacy Cookbook have been sold. A copy has reportedly even reached Cherie Blair, wife of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

The cookbook is an excellent gift for people wanting to discover more about the origins of Sarawak’s Eurasian community as well as for family members and friends residing overseas looking for a taste of Sarawak-inspired culinary delights.

The book also has a section called “Recipes of the Land” which contains recipes on well-loved Sarawakian classics such as Sarawak laksa, belacan bee hoon, Sarawak kolok mee and pansuh ayam (chicken in bamboo) which makes it ideal for homesick Sarawakian students and young adults overseas seeking to recreate a taste of home.

The Legacy Cookbook retails for RM88 per copy and can be found at major local bookstores. Alternatively, orders may also be made directly to the SEA through email at sarawakeurasian@gmail.com or through fax at 082 257172.



2 thoughts on “Sarawak cookbook wins world’s best local cuisine award

  1. Hi, would like to purchase a copy of this book in Singapore where can I find it thanks Grace

    Posted by Grace Ann Chin | August 23, 2015, 21:06

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