We found the staff to be friendly and attentive while the food was awesome. This restaurant is definitely on the shortlist for the frigglive annual awards.
Nestled just next to Tune Hotel at the Taman Sri Sarawak complex and facing the Kuching Hilton, it celebrates the unique food, farming, forest and cultural heritage of the Bario Highlands – one of the last surviving intact traditionally farmed and forested highland watersheds in Sarawak and East Malaysia.
In order to fully appreciate the Tribal Scoops dining experience, a little history and geography lesson is in order. Bario is a village located in the centre of the Kelabit Highlands in the north east of Sarawak, very close to the international border with Indonesian Kalimantan, and 3280 feet above sea level. It is the main settlement in the Kelabit Highlands.
The Kelabit, at approximately 6,000 people, is one of the smallest ethnic groups in Sarawak. Like many other indigenous communities in Sarawak, the Kelabit live in longhouses in the Bario Highlands. It is estimated that only 1,200 Kelabit are still living in the highlands.
The community’s main economic activity is agriculture, mainly growing Bario rice. The cool climate at an average 20℃ enables the residents to cultivate citrus fruits besides rice. Bario is also famous for its high-potash salt and the refreshing, juicy Bario pineapple.
A chat with Tribal Scoops’s owner, Esther Balan-Gala, revealed that as she was unable to find readily available traditional Kelabit food anywhere in the city, she decided to open Tribal Scoops Restaurant to cater to that craving.
Her aim is to promote authentic ethnic food which is healthy and organic yet affordable, while also promoting Sarawak’s rich cultural heritage through the unique and authentic products being sold in her outlet, including Kek Lapis, ethnic headbands, Bario Highland salt and cinnamon, ethnic artworks and crafts, CDs of ethnic Sarawak music and recipe books.
This charitable lady reveals her soft side by allotting space on the walls to showcase artworks by talented but handicapped local artists, and never fails to encourage her customers to support them.
With that rather long introduction, let’s get down to the business of food. We opted for the buffet line instead of Ala Carte, and came face to face with Nubaq Layag which is mashed rice, either red or white, wrapped in a fragrant Isip leaf.
Before we could inquire, Esther explained that in the old days when people went to the farm, they didn’t have plates. So they used leaves for plates and even scoops for soup. We also use bamboo to bake fish and meats, and use them as serving dishes, cups and spoons, she said.
Next up, the Manuk Pansuh which is chicken cooked in bamboo had the wafting aromas of ginger, tapioca leaves and lemongrass, and was seasoned with organic Bario Highland Salt and had the distinct flavor of bamboo. This dish is also known as Pansoh locally.
More tapioca leaves were to be found in the savory Udung Ubih, which was stir- fried with tangy lemongrass.
Tribal Scoops boasts many other ethnic cuisines which are a must-try, such as A’beng (deboned fish), Pa’uh Ab’pa (jungle fern) fish cooked with Dayak brinjal, cucumber and black fungus soup, Labo Senutuq (shredded beef/serunding style beef), stir-fried bamboo shoots, bunga kantan salad and many more delicious dishes all cooked using organic ingredients and flavored with local herbs and spices as well as the mineral-rich Highland organic salt.
Esther stressed that they don’t use MSG in their cooking, their greens are all organic, and that all meat and fish at Tribal Scoops are obtained from Halal suppliers. No pork or lard is used in their cooking.
Tribal Scoops offers free Wifi, and caters for private functions and events. They can also arrange for activities like rice wrapping demonstrations where participants will learn to wrap their own rice.
Tribal Scoops Restaurant and Snack Bar is located at No.10, 1st Floor, Block H, Jalan Borneo, Taman Sri Sarawak. Tel: 082-234873.
[photo credit: Veronica Ng]