Discovering Sabah aka North Borneo

7 Unique Dishes to Taste in Sabah

Nestled on the northern coast of Borneo, Sabah is not just a natural wonderland; it’s also a treasure trove of unique and delectable dishes. In this culinary journey, we’ll explore 7 must-try local dishes that define Sabah’s rich gastronomic heritage. From the flavours of the sea to the exotic tastes of the jungle, Sabah’s cuisine offers a mouthwatering blend of culture, tradition and innovation.

1. Ngiu Chap

Ngiu Chap

In Kota Kinabalu Sabah, Ngiu Chap is the real deal, and it’s all about beef – every juicy, delicious part of it! This incredible dish has a fascinating history dating back to Chinese immigrants, mainly from Hainan Island, who settled here. They were masters of making the most out of every bit of the animal, and so Ngiu Chap was born – a beefy celebration! The star of the show is the soul-soothing beef broth, simmered lovingly with spices and herbs for hours, creating a perfect balance of rich flavours without being too heavy. But what makes Ngiu Chap truly special is the variety of beef parts it serves up, from tender slices to meaty balls, succulent brisket, chewy tendon, and even textured tripe and tongue. And here’s the fun part – you get to pick your noodles! Whether you like egg noodles, flat noodles, vermicelli, Ngiu Chap’s got you covered. Read more here…

2. Pinasakan


Loved by the Kadazandusun tribe, Pinasakan is a dish that tells a tale of ingenious food preservation. Imagine this: they adored fish, but their highland homes were far from the sea. So, they’d swap forest goodies, veggies, and tobacco for fish from coastal towns. But the journey took days, and fridges were non-existent. So, they got creative. They used sour fruits like takob akob, wild turmeric, and salt to keep the fish fresh. Basung fish, known for staying moist even when cooked, was the star. They’d simmer it with these tangy treasures, throw in lemongrass, ginger, and bird’s eye chillies for extra oomph, and let it bubble away on low heat till it reduced by half. The result? A preserved dish that could last for days without reheating. Pinasakan is a taste of Sabah’s past, enjoyed best with white rice or ambuyat, and a kick of sambal. Read more here…

3. Tenom Chun Gen

Chun Gen

Chun Gen, a unique Hakka delight from Tenom, Sabah, might sound like your usual spring roll, but it’s a delicious twist. In Hakka, “chun” means “egg,” and “gen” means “roll.” So, picture this: it’s not a crispy spring roll; it’s a meaty wonder wrapped in a delicate egg crepe. Traditionally, it’s made with pork shoulder meat, minced to perfection, mixed with goodness like corn starch, salt, and white pepper. Sometimes, they jazz it up with fish or prawn paste, black fungus, and more. This meaty goodness is spread over a thin egg crepe and rolled into a tantalizing sausage shape. Steamed to perfection, a slice reveals a captivating yellow spiral. Sabah adores Chun Gen, serving it with noodles, fried treats, and local favourites like Tuaran Mee and Wat Tan Hor. Read more here…

4. Sinalau Bakas

Sinalau Bakas

Sinalau Bakas, a beloved dish of Sabah’s Kadazandusun people, is a meaty delight. Sinalau means ‘smoked,’ and Bakas means ‘jungle boar,’ and when you’re near Borneo’s rainforests, these wild boars become a common food source. The boar is smoked over a wood fire, infusing it with a delicious smoky flavour. When you order, you can pick your perfect cut, which is then weighed and priced accordingly. Grilled to perfection with just a sprinkle of salt, the lean yet tender meat is a treat on its own. Savour it with traditional chili and barbecue sauces. You’ll find Sinalau Bakas at roadside stalls and ‘Tamu’ markets, although their hours can be as unpredictable as a boar hunt. Read more here…

5. Tuaran Mee

Tuaran Mee

Tuaran Mee has a heartwarming origin story. Back in 1952, Madam Si opened a small restaurant in Tuaran to make ends meet, and her special touch was the eggy goodness of her homemade noodles. As the restaurant gained popularity, chefs joined the kitchen, and people began flocking to Tuaran just for a taste of this dish. The magic lies not only in the unique noodles, with their rich egginess, but also in the cooking process. They’re shallow-fried until wonderfully crunchy, then mixed with local veggies, and finally crowned with slices of roast pork and egg roll. And, of course, a dash of traditional Kadazandusun lihing rice wine adds that extra bit of magic to the flavour. Read more here…

6. Linopot


Linopot Rice is a delightful culinary treasure of Sabah’s Kadazandusun people. Made from a blend of rice and yam, this concoction is wrapped tightly in large leaves from the Tarap tree, although banana or irik/ngirik leaves sometimes make an appearance. The yam imparts a royal purple hue to the rice during cooking, while the leafy wrapping not only seals in flavour and moisture but also adds a unique fragrance. It’s like nature’s own to-go box, originally designed for villagers to take their meal to work in the farms and jungles. Often served with delightful side dishes like fish salad, pickled wild mango, or pickled ginger, Linopot Rice is a rare find these days but still graces festive gatherings, especially during the Tadau Keamatan (harvest festival) and special Kadazandusun occasions. Read more here…

7. Beaufort Mee

Beaufort Mee, originating from the vibrant town of Beaufort in Sabah, features springy egg noodles, succulent char siu (barbecued pork), tender chicken slices, and crisp greens, all stir-fried to perfection with fragrant garlic, soy sauce, and oyster sauce. What sets it apart is the use of lard instead of regular cooking oil, infusing an irresistible richness and enhancing the overall taste. For an extra punch, don’t forget the spicy chilli sauce. Beaufort Mee is now a beloved favourite across Sabah, gracing coffee shops and hawker centers, and it pairs wonderfully with a refreshing glass of kit chai ping (iced calamansi drink). Read more here…

As we conclude our delectable journey through Sabah’s culinary tapestry, it’s evident that this Malaysian state offers a wealth of distinctive and mouthwatering dishes. Whether you’re indulging in the hearty soup of Ngiu Chap or savouring the aromatic goodness of Pinasakan, Tuaran Mee, and Beaufort Mee, every taste carries with it a tale of tradition, innovation, and the vibrant cultural mosaic of Sabah. Be it the bold smokiness of Sinalau Bakas or the comforting simplicity of Linopot, Sabah’s cuisine is a tribute to the land, the sea, and the people who call this place home. Until our taste buds meet again in Sabah, keep feasting, keep exploring, and keep the spirit of culinary adventure alive!