Eating Labuan.

When it comes to Labuan, I regret to admit that I do not know much about the island that is half the size of my hometown. All I know is that it is a place where people only go for business regarding the oil and gas industry. Oh, and of course, some duty free shopping.

However, my better judgment told me that there has got to be more to Labuan than money and cheap vices. So, I decided to get to the bottom of things, ask around the locals on where and how to experience some good ol’ Labuan cuisine.

So, we decided to spend a day at the Labuan Weekend Market, perpendicular to Jalan OKK Awang Besar and Jalan Perkhidmatan. And it was here I found all I need to know of Labuan’s local delicacies.

There was a row of stalls selling almost the same kinds of kuih-muihs at the market. They were as cheap as RM1 a pop. We found a stall selling the most variety of cakes and pastries, paid for our food, which were probably nothing over RM10 in total, and sat down to enjoy them.

Lamban is like little fingers of goodies. Although they may be small, they are still able to fill up your tummy. Made from the pulut rice, lamban tastes like the Malay’s ketupat or the Chinese’s rice dumplings. This was probably the most favourite out of the ones I tried, and I was kind of sad when there were no more left when I finished all four little sticks.

Firstly, the rice is steamed before wrapping into little cylinder forms of coconut leaves, and then put through the steaming for another time. The sweet lamban is eaten with a dip in the peanut sauce that creates a small spicy kick for the taste palettes.

Another common local food in Labuan is the Punjung. Made from rice flour, they are little cone-sized desserts with green jelly-like fillings wrapped in banana leaves. At first bite, it felt pretty much like the kow chang kou (multilayer pudding) I used to eat when I was younger, whereby I would peel off layers by layers and eat them slowly.

The making process may be simple – I mean, what could be harder than making the batter and filling them into the coned banana leaves? – but it is not. Apparently, the batter has to be of the right texture; if it were too soft, it will just drool out of the leaf before hardening.

Wrapped in lined nipah leaves are bundles of sin in the littlest forms – Jelurut. A delicacy derived from Brunei – known there instead as selurut or celurut, it is made from rice flour, sugar, coconut milk and other basic ingredients. Jelurut is the fattiest and sweetest local food of all the Labuan dessert spread. I did not really enjoy this one, though. Got jelak for me after a while.

A tourist, like me, would be ignorant and just peel the leaf off the filling and sink my teeth into the jelly texture. It is only later when I found out that the right and more fun way to eat jelurut is to twist the flat bottom to squeeze out the food. Jelurut is usually green in colour, but has picked up other kinds of flavours through time, such as durian and yam.

Tapai is quite a common delicacy found even in the Peninsular Malaysia. It is alcoholic dessert made from pulut rice, water and ragi, a fermented ingredient that is the most important in making tapai.

Because of the ragi, tapai has an alcoholic taste to it. Rice plus liquer: not really my cup of tea. Or, plate of rice.

The making procedure is fairly simple, but tapai is one of the local delicacies available that has the most superstitions revolving around it. Apparently, tapais can only be made by individuals, instead of groups, and it is best made in the middle of the night, when everyone is asleep, and the maker has a lesser chance of being disturbed.

Even a question as simple as “ah, you’re making tapai?” could ruin the outcome of the dessert! Ancestors believed that when you speak, spits of your saliva might end up in the mixture, which might make the dessert go sour.

Also, tapai makers have to be in the ‘purest’ form before attempting to make the dessert. Women having ‘that time of the month’ are not allowed to make tapai, in fear that the food would turn out red! And one must ‘cleanse’ oneself before making the food, such as taking a thorough shower or something as simple as cleaning your hands with soap.

There are also other titbits you can find in Labuan, such as the sweeties like Telapam and Wajik, and the spicy Pulut Panggang and Pais Udang. You can probably find these food scattered throughout the island, but if you are a little clueless as to where to head to, just stop by the Weekend Market.


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2 Responses to “Eating Labuan.”

  1. chiefeater Says:

    wow, such conviction in making tapai!

  2. Junnie Says:

    More salivating news of Labuan..tsktsk, this is bad, tempting me now to go further and find a labuanian husband to settle down..hahahah

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