6 Famous Traditional Sabah Food You Must Eat

Posted on March 4, 2015 · Posted in Blog, General, Personal

Contrary to popular misconceptions, travelling is not just about the destination. Travelling is also about taking in parts of the travelled into the traveller. It is about satisfying the gourmandizing spirit.

So wherever you may go, EAT!

Travelling in Sabah means eating the food—traditional food, that is. Sabah has plenty of simple yet delicious dishes which are mainly pickled or preserved. This is mainly due to the Sabahan partiality to all things tangy. At the same time, it also dates back to the olden days when there were yet to be refrigerators to keep the food in. Nonetheless, the cuisines continue to remain synonymous to Sabah’s unique cultural identity.

Here’s a list of what you should look for when you’re feeling Sabahan 😉



Bambangan is a type of wild mango that comes with a distinct and sharp smell. Unlike the normal mango, Bambangan has a thick brown skin. While it is delicious when ripe, Bambangan is normally harvested raw to be pickled using salt mixed with grated Bambangan seed and slices of chilli.

Bambangan can be found at most tamu market or vegetable markets. Pickled Bambangan goes really well with plain white rice and deep-fried fish. Want to know a secret to a more delicious meal? Eat with your hands!



Pinasakan sada, otherwise simply known as Pinasakan, is a traditional Kadazandusun dish of braised basung fish mixed with takob akob (a tangy wild fruit mainly harvested for its skin), fresh turmeric, salt and slices of Bambangan (optional). Pinasakan is another type of preserved food and is good to be eaten sans heating for days at a time. You can find Pinasakan at most traditional cuisine restaurants.

Pinasakan goes well with white rice or ambuyat and a dash of sambal.



Ambuyat is a traditional Bruneian dish that is derived from the interior trunk of the sago palm. On its own, the Ambuyat is simply a bland starchy blob which is similar to the tapioca starch, but it goes well when eaten with tangy, spicy or salty accompanying dish such as the Pinasakan and Bambangan.

Ambuyat is prepared by mixing the sago starch powder into boiling water. As the sago starts to coagulate, use a pair of bamboo fork or wooden chopsticks to roll the starch around the prongs, dip into accompanying dish and munch. Be sure to have a glass of water handy!



Hinava is most probably the most well known traditional dish in Sabah. Popularized by the Kadazandusun community, Hinava is made of fresh raw tenggiri (mackerel fish), which is filleted and thinly sliced; mixed with sliced chili, ginger, diced red onions, grated Bambangan seed, salt and set with a few squirts of lime juice.

Sometimes, slices of raw bittergourd are also added. If you don’t like fish, you can also substitute the mackerel with either prawn or squid. Hinava can be found in most traditional Kadazandusun restaurant, but of late, it has also been making its way to hotel buffet tables or served during special events and functions. Have it with white rice or on its own as a salad dish.



Most people, even locals, would have a love-hate relationship with the Tuhau due to its distinct pungent smell, which is not unlike that of a stink bug. However, once you’ve tried it, you may easily overlook its unpleasant smell.

Originating from the interior parts of Sabah (Tambunan, Keningau and Ranau), Tuhau is made of a type of wild ginger that is thinly diced, mixed with diced chili and diced scallion, and pickled using salt and vinegar. Tuhau makes a great accompanying dish for anything and everything. You can find it at tamu markets or vegetable markets all across Sabah.

Nonsom / Bosou


Another popular traditional Kadazandusun preserved dish is the Nonsom, or sometimes known as Bosou. It is made using raw fresh water fish mixed together with rice and pickled using salt and pangi (a type of local herb). After the mixing, the mixture is stored in a glass jar and marinated for two weeks. Like most preserved traditional food, the Nonsom / Bosou is salty and tangy in flavour. It goes well with white rice or even fried beehoon.

For a nicer aroma, sauté the Nonsom / Bosou together with diced garlic, a dash of pepper and olive oil—de-lec-table!

-sabahguide.comNatural memory enhancer