Travel Features > The Gastronome's Guide To Kuching

Food for the Eyes

Mike Reed has trouble staying focused on food at Sushi Tei

Kuching is the kind of place where new ideas catch on slowly, especially when it comes to food. Despite a relatively affluent population of almost half a million, The city didn't get its first McDonalds until 1992, or its first Italian restaurant until this year (1998). That's why I was a little sceptical when Kuching's first sushi bar opened about a year ago. Japanese restaurants are nothing new to Sarawak; the venerable Kikyo Tei has been going as long most people can remember, and Minoru and Ten-Ichi have been round for a while. However, these places have been heavily dependant on the Japanese community in Kuching, and on serving somewhat Malaysianised Japanese food, or 'fun food' like teppanyaki, to the locals.

Sushi, however, is a different matter. Raw fish is raw fish. Even umei, a famous local delicacy, features fish which is marinated in lime until it has the appearance of being cooked. In the opinion of most Kuching residents, a raw red chunk of yellowtail tuna belongs on a fishmonger's slab, not on your plate. So when Sushi Tei opened for business last year, I didn't think they'd be around for very long. How wrong can you be? A year and a half later, business is booming and half the yuppies in Kuching couldn't go for more than a day or two without their fix of buri (yellowtail) or kazunoko (herring roe) served on vinegared rice.

Part of the secret to Sushi Tei's success is probably its low-key approach. It sells sushi the same way the local coffee shops sell dim sum ­ you just look at what's on offer and take your pick. It not only de-mystifies Japanese food, though; it also sells it at thoroughly Malaysian prices. Sushi dishes start from as little as RM 3.50 (that's less than a dollar US), and the set meals (my favourite is Menu B at RM 28) are usually enough for two. That's pretty amazing when you consider that all the ingredients are freshly air-flown in the same day. If you must have steaming hot cooked food, they offer excellent udon and miso ramen for only RM 8. I dread to think how little that is in Yen. The drinks are equally inexpensive. Coffee and soft drinks are around RM 2-3 and a beer is RM 6.

The real reason for eating at Sushi Tei, however, is the location. The ground floor of Riverbank Suites has become the hangout of the bold and the beautiful in Kuching, with a few trendy bars and cafés attracting the city's finest babes of both sexes. Sushi Tei has the best location of all, with its riverside terrace offering commanding views of the neighbouring nightlifers in one direction and the promenaders of the Waterfront in the other. Put simply, this is probably the greatest people-watching spot in all of Borneo, and the scenery across river is pretty good too.

There is no pleasure in Kuching more sublime than donning your Oakley shades, washing down your sushi with an ice-cold beer, and watching the (very attractive) world go by. And if the objects of your attention should happen to stare back, don't worry. Eating sushi is cool!

Sushi Tei, Ground Floor, Riverbank Suites, Jln Tunku Abdul Rahman, 93100 Kuching.
Tel : 411118. Open 11.30 am to 11.30 pm.

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