Saturday, September 04, 2010

Sarikei - food bowl of Sarawak

Photos courtesy of and Copyright to NYL and Brunei Press Sdn Bhd.

By NYL in Sarikei, Malaysia

In the beginning of the 19th century, Sarikei was a sleepy trading settlement located in the lower Rejang area, named after the betel leaf (sirih). The only significant community was the Segalang (Melanau) and Chinese. Other large groups comprised Malays and Ibans.

Sarikei received its status as a division in 1973 but the existence of the town goes way back even further than its first entry in the history text in 1845 with the arrival of the First Rajah, James Brooke. In fact, the town was razed in 1856, rebuilt later and has served as a hotspot for insurgency by pirates and locals in its colourful history. It has also been acknowledged that the creation of the Sarikei division was mainly to check the threats from communist rebels who were active there during the height of the Confrontation.

Today Sarikei is an emerging town of the central region and poised to benefit from the numerous developments planned for the region. It is also the 'food bowl' of Sarawak, estimated to supply about 60 per cent of the vegetables produced in the region and is the main supplier of fruits, especially pineapples and oranges.

Sarikei shares many of the characteristics of Sibu in terms of location and food choices, both being served by the Rajang River and populated mainly by the Chinese in the town area where the main business activities occur.

As the main gateway to Sibu via road from Kuching, Sarikei can confidently look forward to greater developments, especially as a rest and recreational stop over point. Its vast hinterland is an attraction for nature lovers as they can make short excursions to coastal villages and also interesting places near the town.

A typical day in Sarikei begins early down at the waterfront and adjacent market. Along the wharf, plank-ways lead to several points where cargo boats dock, while the narrow streets are packed with shops selling everything you may need for a river journey.

A four-metre giant pineapple replica stands proudly on the waterfront right in the middle of town. Sarikei is also known as the pineapple capital of Sarawak, producing the sweetest fruits, (17 per cent sugar content) with low acidity and very few thorns on its leaves.

Opposite the town's Terminal 1 Jetty lies the social heart of Sarikei, the Rejang Market and Hawker Centre, a visual feast for visitors with more than 200 hawkers selling a wide array of wet and dry goods. Main highlights are locals selling exotic fruits, jungle produce and handicrafts.

A vibrant Ramadhan Bazaar sets up every afternoon around 1pm and operates until 7pm during the fasting month. Local delicacies on sale include various types of cakes, the ever famous ikan terubok grilled with spices and chicken cooked in bamboo known as ayam pansuh.

Sarikei Merdeka Park is one of the latest additions to the local government's effort to turn Sarikei into a more aesthetic town. Built in 2004, it consists of a central courtyard framed by two gazebos and Zen balls. The park was built on what used to be the Pasar Tamu of the town.

The Lake Garden built in 1995 has become a favourite rest and recreational area. Pleasant and relaxing to the eyes, the garden's vast stretch of water and surrounding landscape naturally makes it the choice for those seeking tranquillity and calmness.

Another favourite place is Taman Rimba Sebangkoi (Sebangkoi Forest Park), just 25kilometres from the town and served by the Sebangkoi Country Resort which provides convenient hospitality facilities for visitors.

A well-known venue is the Rentap Memorial at Bukit Sibau, which is a day's journey away to Ulu Wuak, the nearest town. This small building serves as a reminder of the great Iban warrior who fought against the first White Rajah of Sarawak during the early history of the state's march towards independence.

Courtesy of Borneo Bulletin Weekend

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