KUCHING: About seven years ago, academic and writer Anna Sulan Masing (pic) noticed that Sarawak pepper was appearing on the menus of Michelin-starred restaurants in London.
This sparked her curiosity about how the chefs heard about Sarawak pepper and how it came to Britain.
“I found that few people have heard of Sarawak and are not aware of where it is.
“It also made me realise that I didn’t know much about Sarawak pepper and therefore wanted to learn more,” said the Sarawakian.
Now, in a new podcast coming out on Thursday, the London-based Anna will share the story of pepper, from its origins and history to modern trade routes and how it is grown in Sarawak.
In 10 weekly episodes, “What is Pepper?” is the first of the Taste of Place podcast series by US-based Whetstone Radio Collective.
For Anna, whose father is former Sarawak deputy chief minister Tan Sri James Masing, the podcast is also an opportunity to explore themes of personal heritage, identity and nostalgia through pepper.
“I spoke to my late father about pepper, and on one trip to Kapit, he organised for me to meet a farmer; and my curiosity grew from there,” she said.
Anna added that pepper is an interesting ingredient when looking at colonialism.
“It was the first commodity brought into England on the first East India Company fleet.
“Pepper was a turning point in British global trade and the blueprint for colonialism. Therefore, through the story of pepper, we can (revisit) history,” she said.
Anna’s childhood in Sarawak was also peppered with the plant: “Through pepper, I am able to (revisit) my personal history which is embedded with memories of the family farm, which had pepper growing on it,” she said.
The podcast will feature interviews with experts, scientists, chefs, Sarawak pepper farmers and Anna’s mother.
“It was really fascinating hearing the different stories people had about pepper.
“I think, even in Sarawak, that people don’t think about where pepper comes from and who farms it.
“I really want everyone to have a greater appreciation of pepper and see how amazing it is, the flavours it brings and just how hard it is to grow, and therefore support paying the premium prices it deserves,” she said.