The Malaysian part of Borneo is an ethnic melting pot of Chinese, Malaysian, and indigenous peoples who have coexisted on the island for centuries. The result is a spectacular variety of spices and flavors that influence the local cuisine. Borneo cuisine staples include grilled fish, barbecued prawns, fried rice, noodles, and local vegetables seasoned with garlic, ginger, and rich sauces. The rainforest provides many of the locals' favorite treats, including bambagan (a giant, mango-like fruit) and the rambatan (a juicy, sweet fruit similar to a lychee). Fish and chicken based soups with noodles cooked in a hot clay pot are very traditional. One of our favorites is the jaruk, a mouth-watering dish made from wild boar or fresh river fish that is put into a bamboo tube together with rice and salt. After a few weeks of fermentation, this savory Bornean delicacy is ready to be enjoyed!
Make sure not to miss Kota Kinabalu’s nightly fish market, held on the waterfront near Jesselton Point. Fishermen bring in their daily catch and you can choose your fish (or prawns, crab, or fresh vegetables), your side and your sauce and the chef will prepare your dinner just how you like it. Join locals at a shared table and feast on the fish of the day! This is a truly authentic Bornean experience. Practice saying, "Lazat!", which means "Delicious!" in Malay.
Here are a few popular Sabah dishes that are sure to get your taste buds tingling:
- the most popular dish in Sabah. Perfected by the Kadazandusun community, Hinava is made of fresh tenggiri (mackerel), which is filleted, mixed with sliced chili, ginger, diced red onions, grated Bambangan seed, salt and set with a few teaspoons of lime juice.
Sometimes, slices of raw bittergourd are also added. Have it with white rice or on its own as a salad.
- known by locals as Pinasakan, is a traditional Kadazandusun (the largest indigenous group in Sabah) dish of grilled basung fish and takob akob (a wild fruit prized for its tangy skin), fresh turmeric, and salt. You can find Pinasakan at most local restaurants.
Clay Pot Soup
- ingredients vary from fresh prawns, cuttlefish, squid, thinly sliced whitefish, vegetables, tofu, noodles…..but whatever makes it into the pot, you can be assured it will be delicious! The clay pot soup is baked at high temperature, creating a thick, savory sauce with enticing aromas that waft out onto the street. The clay pot will be served to you straight from the oven, usually sizzling all the way to your table!
Char Siew Fan
- Sweet and tangy slow-roasted pork served over a bed of fresh white rice. This dish is immensely popular with locals and tourists alike, so it’s a good idea to get your order in before 1PM. Remember the phrase “ka liao,” which means “big portion,” because this is a delicacy that will leave you wanting seconds!