Sabah is a true melting pot of cultures and races and that is reflected by the plethora of delicious food that can only be experienced here. The natives of Borneo have welcomed people of all races for more than a century to their beautiful land and this has given birth to cuisines unseen (and we think you have never tasted!) in any other parts of the world. Taste the local cuisines prepared by the natives of Borneo, namely the 5 major ethnic communities – Kadazan Dusuns, Muruts, Lundayeh, Rungus and Bajau. Their diet rich with produces of nature, filled with leafy greens, wild meats, edible flowers and medicinal herbs sourced from the forest and sea. The naturally good nature of the locals has made other races feel welcomed and in return, Sabah can now boast of its multicultural community and immense selection of authentic local and fusion food! Here is our list of top 15 must try foods in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah.
Hinava, Tuhau and Bambangan
Becoming increasingly easy to find in the city of Kota Kinabalu, these traditional dishes are some of the best of native food. Probably the most popular of all the Native’s traditional dishes and normally served as a side dish. Hinava is saliva-inducing dish that is made of fresh slices of fish, marinated with onion, lime juice, birds-eye chilli, bitter gourd, and ginger. Tuhau may be a wild ginger but when prepared correctly, it can be eaten as a condiment or on its own with just steaming hot white rice. Unlike its’ very popular cousin, Bambangan is a sour jungle mango that is dearly loved by locals and easily found in wet markets.
Touted as the must-have “pusas” (beer time snack), Sinalau Bakas literally means Smoked Wild Boar. Usually located at the roadside along the winding roads towards Kinabalu Park, Kundasang. Take a break from your long drive up towards the majestic Mount Kinabalu and sample this local favourite snack. Squeeze some zesty lime on the wild meat for some extra flavor!
Yellow noodles are boiled and then fried with your choice of topping. For something truly special, try the Beef Lihing Tuaran Mee. Chunks of beef marinated in Lihing ( local sweet rice wine) and fried with vegetables, and egg. Typically eaten in the morning before a fun day out at Tamparuli or a daytrip to Kundasang.
Depending on your preference, there are countless types of fish noodles available all around Sabah. For those who love something savoury for breakfast, try looking for a fish noodle shop that serves a clear fish broth cooked with preserved vegetables. Opt for Laksa if you like a bit of spice from chilli oil and creamy coconut milk in your meal. One may also settle for the typical local breakfast of Kon Lou Mee (dry tossed noodles in soy sauce) and a bowl of fish slices, prawns, and dumplings.
Kuih Cincin and Kuih Pinjaram
Quirky looking but oh-so-good! These teatime snacks are the childhood favourites of almost all locals. Kuih Cincin looks like an oversized flower and is made of rice flour, red palms and sugar, while Kuih Pinjaram is a teatime staple made of coconut milk, sugar and rice flour that looks like a fried UFO.
Ambuyat and Pinasakan Sada
Derived from the trunk of the Sage Palm, this starchy delicacy is eaten with prongs, or chopsticks! Twirling the gooey substance around the prongs, it is then dipped into Pinasakan which is a Kadazandusun stew made of the Basung fish broiled with Tumeric, Takab Akob (wild fruit) and Bambangan.
Sliced Pork Noodles
Better known locally as “Sang Nyuk Mian”, thinly sliced pork is blanched and served in a bowl of noodles, topped with scallions, deep fried shallots and lard. Most shops now serve it with a variety of stuffed tofu and meatballs.
Grilled Fresh Seafood
Be spoilt for choice when it comes to fresh seafood! There are countless seafood restaurants in Sabah but we like to go where the locals go! Take a walk along the Waterfront Kota Kinabalu towards the Handicraft/Fish Market during sunset and enjoy choosing your choice of seafood at the Seaside Night Market. Prepare to face a friendly crowd of vendors and please take care of your belongings!
Tawau Egg Noodles
Originating from Tawau, a plate of crispy fried meehoon is encased in a delicious egg pancake, stir fried pork,lobster balls, and fish balls are then added to the noodles and topped with gravy. Something truly different and very satisfying!
Made famous in Sandakan city, it is known in Mandarin as “cow dung tart”. This tart’s shape is similar to a UFO, a thin round slice of cake at the bottom is topped with custard and outlined with fresh honeyed cream or meringue. A sweet treat that leaves many travellers trying to bring it back home….and fail, as it has to be eaten fresh to retain its flavour.
Beef Soup Noodles
Arguably the most heartwarming of all dishes in this list. A great bowl of beef soup noodles should be served piping hot with its broth thick, fragrant, piled high with assorted cuts of beef. This dish is normally eaten for breakfast or lunch, and has many different types of noodle and broths to choose from.
Bah Kut Teh
A dark broth of herbs and marinated meat that is greatly sought after by locals and travellers alike. In the good old days, this dish was consumed in the morning before farmers went to work early in the morning. Now, it is mostly enjoyed during dinner and has a Halal version consisting of chicken, instead of pork. Bah Kut Teh is exceptionally enjoyable during cold and wet weathers as the medicinal properties of the soup will warm the body quickly.
In the Borneo humidity and heat, an ice cold Coconut Pudding is a welcomed relief. Pandan coconuts are normally used for their fragrance and sweet coconut juice. Usually paired with Satays(grilled skewered meats) and Lukan (saltwater shellfish) to complete a quick meal during a roadtrip towards Kudat, Pitas and Kota Marudu(the east coast of Sabah).
Famous for producing amazing coffee, this little town also has locals craving for their juicy porkrolls encased in thin sheets of egg. Made fresh at dawn everyday, it is sold out before noon at the town market.
Order a Pineapple Custard Bun a.k.a “Polo Pau” at a famed family-owned Keng Wan Hing coffeeshop at Gaya Street, Kota Kinabalu. Easily spotted as a long line starts forming before lunchtime and the smell of freshly baked buns permeate the air!
Of course, there is a lot more delicious foods in Sabah but these are our top picks for now! Email us at info@DownbelowAdventures.com or contact us at +60128661935 to enjoy a worry-free holiday filled with the best of what Sabah has to offer! Here’s a quick way to discover all the beautiful sights and smells of Kota Kinabalu, check out our Best of Kota Kinabalu day trip program. You can also book online too!