Borneo is blessed with a rich variety of traditional food created by its many tribes and indigenous groups. They are able to turn wild plants, herbs and fruits into culinary masterpieces that will tantalise your senses. In addition, its sweeping coastlines and many large rivers provide an abundance of seafood and freshwater fish for the dinner table. Rice is a staple but in the far north, corn and tapioca are popular.
This is a species of wild mango found in Sabah’s forests. Besides being delicious, it is a versatile fruit. The seeds are used to make pickles or act as ingredients for dishes such as hinava. The flesh can be grated, dried and fermented to be eaten on its own. Other interesting local fruits include the ‘tarap’, similar to breadfruit and ‘markisa’, a type of yellow-skinned passion fruit.
Sarawak has a long-standing reputation for producing world-class bird’s nests. Popular with Chinese, local climbers risk life and limb to climb precarious caves to reach the nest of swallows. The saliva is then extracted and dried into pieces before being made into soup.
Sarawak is famous for its black pepper due to its spicy and sharp taste. Years of research by the Government have produced black pepper of high grades. Today, it is not only used as an ingredient but made into novel products like candies and perfume.
Bario Rice is grown mostly by the Orang Ulu in the highlands. Regarded as one of the finest rice in the market, it needs to be grown at elevations of up to 1,200 meters. Bario rice has a sweet taste, soft texture and a fragrant aroma, making it a world-class rice grain. Much effort also goes in planting the rice due to the nature of the terrain and its organic culture.
The Kadazan are responsible for this unique dish which is a form of sushi. Pieces of fresh mackerel, shredded ginger, mango seeds, sliced shallots and red chillies are mixed and drenched in lime juice, which acts as a ‘cooking’ agent. The result is a fragrant dish with a delicious taste.
The Muruts are famous for this popular dish, which is made by compressing wild boar meat or fish into a broad bamboo tube. It is left raw inside together with salt and cooked rice with each hollow side of the tube stuffed with leaves. The whole thing is then left to ferment for weeks, sometimes even months before being served on the dinner table with tapioca starch.
Kolok Mee is a unique Chinese dish found only in Sarawak. The noodles are made from eggs, blanched in water and then served in a clear sauce. Small pieces of beef or pork are then drizzled over it. However, you can find variations of this dish today in Kuala Lumpur.
This is a dish from the Ibans of Sarawak. Pieces of chicken are stuffed into a bamboo tube together with mushrooms, lemongrass and tapioca leaves. It is then cooked over an open fire, the bamboo preserving the taste and fragrance of the ingredients within.
Sago is a powdery starch made from the pith of the Sago Palm; found in its trunk. It is used to make a variety of edible items, such as porridge, pudding or as a thickener for dishes. Sago is also eaten on its own by boiling or baking it into a paste. Popular with the indigenous tribes of Sabah, Sago has a sweet taste and chewy texture when eaten on its own.
Salted Terubok Fish
The salted terubok fish from Sarawak is a popular edible gift for visitors to bring home to their own countries. It is simply made from a fish called ‘Terubok’ that is salted. Although it is full of bones, it is crunchy and delicious.
Sarawak’s signature dish is a soup blend of rice vermicelli, coconut milk and spices. The bowl is then topped with chunks of seafood, chicken and slice omelette. Best when eaten hot, it is available in most coffee shops and hotels in Sarawak.
This leafy vegetable was first discovered in the Sabah town of Lahad Datu by a farmer, who found a way to grow the stems into a crunchy texture and give the leaves a tender texture. Today, Lahad Datu is famous for these leafy greens.
Sarikei is famous for its pineapples which are low in sugar and acid as well as having few pickles on its leaves. The fruit also has a long shelf life.