Photo: Mackerel reading for simmering.

Taste of Borneo cooking class

Our rating:

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.

The beginnings of something good. Photo taken in or around Taste of Borneo cooking class, Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia by Sally Arnold.

The beginnings of something good. Photo: Sally Arnold

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.

Look at these beauties. Photo taken in or around Taste of Borneo cooking class, Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia by Sally Arnold.

Look at these beauties. Photo: Sally Arnold

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.

The final feast. Photo taken in or around Taste of Borneo cooking class, Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia by Sally Arnold.

The final feast. Photo: Sally Arnold

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.

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Taste of Borneo cooking class
Lot 1 Jalan Lembaga Air, Kasigui
T: (088) 251 254
Admission: 165 ringgit, includeing return transport to your hotel.

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