February 18 – March 25, 2019: Experiencing the culture, nature and adventure activities of each new port of call is only part of the fun. There are also new restaurants to try, new foods to taste and traditional cuisines to discover. This post is an homage to the wide array of food and myriad of markets we found around Miri; another unexpected pleasant surprise in this unexpectedly agreeable city.
We started quite a few mornings at Moongrind Kingdom, introduced to us by our yachtie friends Will and Trish. This new little coffee shop is tucked in to the strip mall near the marina office and we soon became regulars after meeting Adi and his team, who liked to practice their latte art on our morning coffees.
From there, we’d hit the supermarkets or public markets to stock up on supplies for meals on board, marina potlucks and provisioning for our upcoming trip to the Anambas Islands. There were tons of places to choose from, but not all carried everything we were looking for, so it was always a bit of a treasure hunt especially when provisioning. If we spotted an item we liked, often imported ones like tortilla chips, granola or cream cheese, we’d stock up because it would likely be sold out when we’d go back for more. Our favourite supermarkets included GK Supermarket to the north end of town, New World Mart way, way, way beyond the north end of town, Everrise in the Bintang Megamall, and Country Grocer south of the marina.
But even more colourful and fun were the various fresh markets scattered about town. Every neighbourhood has one, but the biggest and best are all located downtown.
The Miri Central Market included the usual fresh fruit and vegetables, Chinese market, meat sections, including a separate pork market, and a seafood market across the road near the Chinese temple. While we expect to see a wide variety of fish for sale, it’s always disheartening to spot things like hammerhead sharks, baby reef sharks and shovelnose rays splayed out on the tables too. At the rate seafood is being harvested, it’s not hard to understand why fish stocks are in decline.
Even more interesting were the local farmer’s markets. There’s a big complex comprising three markets (Tamu Muhibbah, Tamu Khas & Tamu Kedayan) across the road from the visitor’s information centre. It’s best to get here early in the morning for the freshest fruit and vegetables. These markets sell a little bit of everything, much of it grown in upriver areas, and was the easiest for our everyday shops, although I had to discourage the vendors from popping every item into plastic bags.
We found the best photo opportunities and most unusual array of items for sale at the Sunday Market (Bawah Payung Market). This informal market pops up in the parking lots around the shop houses behind the visitor’s information centre. Vendors set up colourful umbrellas or lay down a tarp and set out their wares. Most of the vendors come from inland and many didn’t speak any English, so it’s not always easy to figure out what items they are selling or how they should be prepared, but that didn’t stop us from experimenting a bit. We passed on the grubs and live ducks though.
Another favourite for us was the local fish market on the beachfront north of town (Pasar Ikan Batu). This was the spot Chai took us on the tour to his cement factory. Normally the market sells whatever the local fishermen catch out front, but our visit coincided with the annual shrimp harvest, which only lasts for a few weeks in February and March. These small shrimps are a favourite of whale sharks, whose migration up the coast takes advantage of the shrimp season, and with Sarawakians, who love to turn it into belacan (the local shrimp paste). My favourite were the tasty freshly fried fritters loaded with wee shrimp, whose little black eyes dotted the fritters like pepper.
If we were working on MOKEN, most days we’d have leftovers or a sandwich on board for lunch. If we were out and about, we might grab steamed pork buns from Sau Pau Bakery or the ladies near GK Supermarket, or maybe try one of the many halal buffets. We did make a special trip one day to the highly regarded Summit Café to try traditional Kelabit cuisine. Kelabit are a Dayak tribe from the highlands of Sarawak and they are famous for their homemade salt, bamboo steamed rice, smoked meats and jungle vegetables. Luckily, the food is served buffet style, so we got to try a little of everything.
After a full day of sightseeing, provisioning or working on MOKEN it was beer time. If we weren’t having a cold one on our back deck or joining fellow yachties for sundowners, you could often find us at Captain Arpat’s container bar just steps from the marina or, on the odd occasion, at Beer O’Clock in Marina Park or the Ming Café in town. There were plenty of other places to choose from too, but more often than not, Tiger was the beer of choice.
Our evening meal is often cooked on board, but that didn’t stop us from checking out the local restaurants from time to time. Every Wednesday evening was an exploratory dinner with friends from the marina and friends from town. One Chinese restaurant had whale shark on the menu one night when we were there, which we declined to try. Apparently it had been caught “accidentally” that week by fishermen down south. Every Friday was a potluck on the deck overlooking the marina, sometimes with a theme, sometimes free form, always fun.
Let’s not forget dessert. Cakes and pastries are hugely popular and on occasion we would indulge. I was particularly enamored with the gooey baked cheese tarts and the colourfully patterned Sarawak layer cakes. Those layers cakes are definitely a labour of love. It’s incredible how much work goes into making them. You can see how they do it here:
One evening near the end of our stay, four of us packed in to the wee car for the drive across town to check out the Saberkas Night Market (Pasar Malam Saberkas). Part flea market, part hawker centre, it was fun to nibble our way around the food stalls, talking to the vendors and trying a little of this and a little of that. Actually, that sums up Miri’s food scene quite well. A little of this and a little of that…it sure makes for happy tummies.