While reviewing a patch that desired to load cross-wiki configuration for sister search it occured to me we could use an api call rather than the forking that we do today. We already have an endpoint for this, although the whitelist would probably need to be updated.
Proof of concept: P4820
Testing this in mwrepl on an app server takes 50-100ms to load all the sister wikis. Still not great but better than our current solution. Even if we don't use it for sister wikis and only for the textcat interwiki search, this might be a reasonable solution