Sunday, April 10, 2016

Book Review - Pesta Nukenen: Celebrating The Cultural And Culinary Heritage Of The Kelabit Highlands

Pesta Nukenen is a festival that aims to promote, celebrate and preserve the food and culture of the Bario Highlands. Conceived in 2005 and launched the following year, this three-day event showcases the unique foods of the Kelabit people and also introduces visitors to the traditional games, handicrafts, music, songs, dances and stories of this community, in their original and beautiful setting.

This book offers a tantalising glimpse of all that is in store for those planning to attend the annual festival, which will next be held from July 28 to 30.

Kelabit cuisine is at the heart of Pesta Nukenen and would naturally be the main attraction for foodies in search of new and exciting flavours. The most interesting thing about the food of this highland community is the ingredients used.

Apart from the famous Bario rice, and the fruit and vegetables grown by the various longhouse communities of the highlands, a rich variety of jungle flora and fauna, unique to these highlands, are also harvested. This makes for a truly exceptional culinary experience, not just in terms of tastes, but also textures and appearances.

The book features many colour photographs of the food on offer at Pesta Nukenen, and most of the images will appear unfamiliar to most readers because of the ingredients used as well as the cooking and serving methods.

For example, there is rice cooked and served in pitcher plants (several species are found in the Kelabit Highlands), which act as very convenient, biodegradable and edible containers. Rice is also frequently wrapped in isip leaves, as a dessert or a savoury; or cooked in bamboo.

Then there are a variety of wild vegetables, fungus and mushrooms, fried, braised or used in soups; there are river sails sauteed with ginger, garlic and chilli; mouse deer in clear broth; soft-shell turtle consomme; and juicy barbecued sago grubs.