My Top 5 Traditional Sabah Dishes

While traveling in Southeast Asia, one city that should be near the top of your list is Kota Kinabalu, Sabah in Malaysia. Additionally, you must try Sabah cuisine.


Traveling in Southeast Asia you will find an abundance of unique and delicious foods. Regardless of your taste, spicy, tangy, sweet and sour, extreme sweetness or intensely tangy, you will find many foods you will never forget. Due to the lack of sophisticated storage systems up until recently, many in the Asian Pacific countries of Southeast Asia utilized marinates to keep food from spoiling. These marinates contained large amounts of salt and vinegar as the main ingredient to retard spoilage.


Many travel throughout Asia and to Malaysia in particular, to see the beautiful sights and there are so many, after all, Malaysia’s travel slogan is, “Malaysia, Truly Asia.” But, wherever you travel or even if you stay at home, one thing remains constant, the need to eat. Thereforse, while traveling, if you try to eat only the foods you are accustomed to from home, chances are you are going to be hungry, a lot!


I have traveled through 18 countries, mostly in Europe. Now, it is time to visit the Orient. Won’t you come with me to Sabah and try some of the state’s wonderfully delicious traditional foods?


Where to Look for these Foods


Although all of these traditional dishes are available in the most popular restaurants you will see in your travels, another choice is to visit the Tamu markets or vegetable markets and bring these delicacies back to your hotel. This will give you the opportunity to eat these little morsels with your favorite beverage while watching travel shows or your favorite movie.


  1. Hinava


This is perhaps the most recognizable traditional dish in Malaysia. It is traditionally Kadazan-Dusun. KadazanDusun resulted from an official unification of the two indigenous peoples of Sabah, the Kadazan and the Dusun in 1989. The two ethnic groups had been “feuding” since the early 1960s and this was seen as a way to preserve the customs, traditions, and dialects of both ethnicities. I won’t go into it much more than that, as it would detract from the focus of this article, which is food! If you are interested in knowing more, Google KadazanDusun.


Hinava, is a salad type dish made from shark meat, or any raw fish, bitter gourd, ginger, vinegar, lime, bird’s eye peppers, red and green onions, and salt. The meat of the raw fish “cooks” in the acid of the lime juice and the resultant flavors of sweet ginger, the bitterness of the gourd, the tang of vinegar, and spice of chili peppers is a mixture your mouth will not soon forget. That’s exactly why it is number one on my list.

Bosou or Nonsom

  1. Bosou or Nonsom


This is another KadazanDusun traditional dish made from fish; however, this recipe calls for a freshwater fish rather than a sea water or ocean fish. The fish is cleaned and salted, then rice and the spice Pangi or Pangium edule is added. Don’t worry about the rumors that Pangi is poisonous, it is, but the poison is neutralized by boiling. Rather than a salad dish, this fish is fermented or pickled in a jar for a minimum of two weeks prior to eating. Enjoy this dish with rice or fried noodles.


  1. Tuhau


Tuhau in Sabah, is a traditional dish that you will either love, hate, or perhaps never taste. Because of its poignant smell, many will never taste this Sabahan delicacy. The basic recipe includes just five ingredients and is quite easy to make using, wild ginger shoots, vinegar, bird’s eye peppers, salt, and sugar. Other ingredients, such as green onions (scallions) can be added for variety.

  1. Pinasakan


Made from a local basung fish, four to six inches long, quick fried or braised, mixed with a tangy fruit called takob akob, fresh turmeric, sliced Bambangan, and salt. Pinasakan is another preserved food that can be eaten with rice without heat or fire. This is particularly beneficial in the hot, humid weather of Malaysia.

  1. Bambangan


The Bambangan is a wild mango with a sharp, unmistakable smell. The skin of this fruit when ripe is very sweet and almost brown, where normally mangoes are yellow. It is most often picked before it ripens and used for pickling with salt and sliced spicy peppers.


Wherever you travel in Malaysia, you will find these delicacies in restaurants and markets, in jars or in prepared dishes ready to eat. So, enjoy the sights and give your taste buds a treat too!


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