Food, culture and a happy tummy
Published/Last edited or updated: 9th November, 2016
One of the very few disappointing things about a visit to Sabah is the lack of opportunity to eat genuine Sabahan cuisine. It includes many delicious dishes and one way to ignite your tastebuds is to get into the kitchen at a "Taste of Borneo” cooking class.
The best home cooking is made with fresh local produce, so the class begins with an informative shopping tour to the Donggongon tamu (local market). Here our guides and cooks, Marianna and Rosalyn, led us on a discovery of the wonderfully bizarre oddities of the fruit and vegetable world that are unique to the jungles of Borneo: bambangan, a local wild mango that is an unappealing brown colour yet deliciously sour, and a type of wild banana flower that looks like a giant asparagus, to name but two.
They happily answered all sorts of questions and offered us tastes along the way. After a short drive to “Momma’s” (Mariana’s) house in the suburbs of Kota Kinabalu, it was time to roll up our sleeves. The class is held in a pleasant open-air location — under the converted carport of the family home surrounded by the somewhat overgrown garden.
Morning tea with local cakes was served before we began the chopping, grinding and stirring — this is a very hands-on class, not one where you sit back and just observe. The most interesting dish we prepared (can’t say cooked, as there was no heating involved) was tuhau — a traditional appetiser made from a long thin type of wild ginger, minced and mixed with chilli, lime and salt. We can see that this tangy, sour, pungent and rather smelly dish may not be to everyone’s taste be we found it rather appealing. It was the only dish we made that can’t be replicated at home with substitute ingredients. As we cooked, Rosalyn and Mariana suggested alternative methods to achieve similar tastes. The pinasakan bosungan, simmered mackerel with bambangan fruit, can be reproduced with alternatives to bambangan like young starfruit, tamarind or unripe regular mango. Obviously not exactly the same, but we have since cooked it successfully.
We also cooked a fragrant chicken soup with wintermelon, and two local vegetable dishes — pakis, fern tips (that can be substituted with asparagus), and sayur campuran, literally mixed vegetables, but not of your carrots and cabbage variety—this was ginger flower and losun, a local mild spring onion.
As we prepared the main meal, Rosalyn whipped up a storm in the background and made a sago dessert, the only dish we didn’t have involvement in making, but she did explain how it’s done. We enjoyed the relaxed informal pace of the class; not only did we learn about Sabahan cuisine and ingredients, our hosts shared stories about their life in Sabah and gave us an insight into the local culture. We then enjoyed the fruits of our labour, and sat, not only with our hosts, but their extended family, and were made to feel very welcome.
This is a fun way to spend half a day, and even if you are a disaster in the kitchen, it’s a great opportunity to enjoy some local flavours, and you get to take home a simple recipe book, some stories, and a happy (and full) tummy. Recommended.
Address: Lot 1 Jalan Lembaga Air, Kasigui
T: (088) 251 254;
Admission: 165 ringgit, includeing return transport to your hotel.
Sally spent twelve years leading tourists around Indonesia and Malaysia where she collected a lot of stuff. She once carried a 40kg rug overland across Java. Her house has been described as a cross between a museum and a library. Fuelled by coffee, she can often be found riding her bike or petting stray cats. Sally believes travel is the key to world peace.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
Our top 10 other sights and activities in and around Kota Kinabalu