Visiting Sarawak as a Japanese Intern | Food Adventure

I am a 21-year-old Japanese student visiting Sarawak, Malaysia, for the first time in my life. A beautiful state filled with optimistic/respectful residents and full of nature. I have spent half of my life in the U.S. and never experienced life in Asia outside of my home country, Japan. Even though Malaysia and Japan are in the same region, the experiences are very different within the two countries, which makes it crucial for first timers visiting the country. However, growing accustomed to the life in Malaysia, I have encountered many wonderful people that are making my stay in Malaysia a wonderful experience. Here are some of the tips I have for foreigners coming to Malaysia for the first time.

Tip 1: One way of greeting in Sarawak/Malaysia is “Sudah Makan?”

In Malaysia, the most common/popular way of residents greeting each other is by asking “Sudah Makan?”. At first, I thought this meant, “How are you?”, or something similar to that. Finding out what it meant, I was surprised because greeting someone by asking them if they have eaten was really unusual for me. However, after a while, I started noticing that in Malaysia, food culture is a key of communication and is one of the main reasons why people in Malaysia have the ability to become friends with each other in an instant.Japanese intern on food1

Tip 2: More than 3 meals per day?!Japanese intern on food2

Throughout my life, breakfast, lunch and dinner has been the main meal in a day. However, in Malaysia, it is not unusual for a person to eat around 5 meals per day including brunch and teatime. In my opinion, the reason for this is that the food courts and café are open from morning until midnight for people to enjoy the gourmets being served. Also, with the proportions being served per plate being small in quantity, it is likely for one to eat more than the 3 main meals.

Tip 3: Enjoying the System and Food

One thing I enjoy and respect about Malaysia is that the word “trust” can be seen anywhere and everybody being laid back about everything. Some food courts have systems that foreigners will never understand, where you take the food without the price being on display. In this case, you pay the cashier and the cashier will name a price (usually being cheaper than expected). Other times, you end up paying for the food you ate after you’ve already ate the meal. In this case, you have to inform the cashier what food you ate even though you have an empty plate in your hands. When I went through this experience, I was very shocked by the way the cashier trusted me with the payment. With a smile on my face, I left the food court with respect towards the culture.

Japanese intern on food3

Tip 4: Take out

In Malaysia, take-outs are available for any kind of food on display. One of the take out menus that might seem rare for a Japanese intern like me was the Laksa. Whenever you’re ordering take-outs for noodles, they tend to separate the noodle and the soup in two different bags. What was surprising for me was that bags for take-outs were more common than cups. Who knew bags were actually more convenient and stable than using cups!

Tip 5: Food Courts

When walking in the streets of Kuching, you tend to encounter food courts/Café at every block. The way you order food over here was extraordinary that it felt like I was a kid going out on his first shopping trip by himself.

Here’s what happened at the food court on my first trip…I stood by the buffet counter not knowing how to order so I observed the other customers and noticed that everything was self-service. The only problem was that I had no idea of the food that was on display so I ended up getting the same thing that the customer in front of me was getting resulting in a plate filled with mystery and concern. When I was about to reach for my wallet, the customer before me left without paying and sat down on the table. I didn’t know what to do so I stood at the spot looking like a lost child for about five minutes. Thankfully, one of the locals was able to speak English and told me to pay at the table.

For me, this was so unusual that this experience became one of the most memorable experiences during my visit in Malaysia.

So…for the first timers coming from Japan or any other country, I advise you to search up how the system works beforehand when visiting a food court. Otherwise, English is another option since most of the residents can communicate with the language, but there are some food courts where Malay or Chinese is being used.

Tip 6: Until your body gets used to the food/spices, don’t be too adventurous despite the curiosity.

When visiting other countries with different food culture, we are filled with curiosity and try out things we don’t have in our country. I mean, you only live once so why not right? Being born in Japan and spending half of my life in America, I thought I could eat anything without being sick. However, in my case, this was my downfall. My first week being here, I was so hyped up about the cheap meals that I probably ate everything that my body desired. Honestly, I was satisfied and had no regrets about the meals, until a huge stomachache hit me so hard which lasted me about two weeks. After some searching, I learned that some of the spices and ingredients here need some getting used to for a foreigner’s digestive system.

With this experience, my advice is to be careful with what you put in your mouth. Its good to be adventurous because it usually leads to finding delicious gourmets of Sarawak, however, supplements and medicine can become your best friend when doing so.

Japanese intern on food4


毎日職場に着くと、スタッフとの会話には「Sudah Makan?」と聞かれます。マレー語が苦手な僕は、着いた当初は、「元気ですか?」のような意味合いをもつ挨拶だと思っていました。後から調べてみるとこれは、「ご飯食べた?」という意味だと言う事がわかりました。日本やアメリカではこのような挨拶の仕方などなくびっくりしました。だけど、他民族が住むマレーシアでは食がコミュニケーションの中心だということもあり、このような気遣いだけでも会話が広がり、友情が生まれることがあります!











Written by: Kenta Kojima