No trip to Sarawak is complete without trying the quintessential Manok Pansoh (Iban for chicken cooked in bamboo). This iconic ethnic delicacy is a must-have for the Iban and Bidayuh community as one of the key celebratory dishes served on their end-of-harvest-season festival Gawai Dayak. The origin of the dish is unclear, although one could assume that it resulted from a lack of modern-day kitchen essentials like pots and gas stoves. Bamboo, used as a cooking vessel in making this dish, gives the pansoh gorgeous aroma and flavour that make it an instant hit with those who taste the dish for the first time.
Although there are several variations of this dish – some add bungkang (Syzygium polyanthum) leaves, torch ginger flower and galangal as optional ingredients – you can never go wrong with just the basic ingredients required to cook the dish. Chicken meat and aromatics are stuffed inside a bamboo stalk, which is then placed over an open wood fire (some use charcoal embers). Traditionally, free range chicken (ayam kampung) is used for this dish, lending it a sweeter flavour.
It’s not at all that difficult to make this dish yourself at home. And don’t worry if you can’t find any of the optional ingredients, because Manok Pansoh tastes amazing prepared with just the essential ingredients. That said, we include here a recipe that you can follow to make your own Manok Pansoh at home. Note that this is the Bidayuh version, which they call “Siap Tenok Yang Bruuk”. It is soupier and simpler than the Iban version of the dish but just as aromatic and delicious!
WHAT YOU’LL NEED
- 1 Medium sized bamboo stalk
- 500g Chicken (Chopped into pieces small enough to fit into the bamboo easily)
- 3 stalks Lemongrass (Bruised)
- 50g Ginger (Crushed)
- 350ml Water • Some tapioca leaves • Salt to taste
- 2 stalks Tepus [Etlingera coccinea] (Bruised). Tepus can be omitted if you cannot find any.
- Mix the chicken together with the ginger, lemongrass, tepus, bruised tapioca leaves and salt. Remember to leave enough tapioca leaves for use as seal.
- Stuff the mixture into the bamboo stalk and add water.
- Seal the mouth of the bamboo stalk with tapioca leaves.
- Place the bamboo over wood fire and leave to boil. Remember to turn the bamboo to keep it from burning.
- Once the pansoh comes to a boil, cook for a further 15 minutes.
- Take the bamboo away from the fire, remove the seal and pour out the contents into a serving bowl. Add more salt if needed.
- Serve with piping hot steamed white rice.