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Sabah is a state in East Malaysia’s Borneo island famous for its good food. As a native of Sabah’s capital, Kota Kinabalu, here are my Top 10 recommended foods that you should eat if you ever visit:
1) Ngiu chap (beef noodle)
Ngiu chap is a noodle dish made of beef slices and innards which have been slow-cooked with various Chinese herbs and spices. This tender, juicy and flavourful dish is served with either rice vermicelli, yellow noodles or flat noodles. You can also have it in the ‘wet’ form, where the noodles and meat are entirely drenched in soup, or the ‘dry’ form, where the noodles and soup are served separately.
2) Yu chap (fish noodle)
Quite similar to the above, the yu stands for fish in Mandarin. It is also cooked in herbs and spices over low heat and long periods of time to slowly release all the goodness and tastiness of the fish. And not only is the fish meat used, but other parts such as the stomach, head, skin and even the lips. The only difference here is that yu chap tends to be more sour compared to ngiu chap as it uses a lot of tomatoes and pickled vegetables.
3) Beaufort mee
Not to be confused with the cheese made from Beaufort-sur-doron in France, this mee (or noodles) originates from a humble little town called Beaufort in Sabah. It is different from other yellow noodles as it’s thin, pale, chewy and carries a very distinctive earthy flavour. It is usually stir fried over high heat and drenched in thick starchy gravy, laden with fresh green vegetables and a choice of chicken or barbequed pork. The result is an aromatic dish, released from the rapid high heat, while the crunchy vegetables give it a healthy twist.
4) Tuaran mee
This is another famous noodle dish found only in Sabah, which is usually stir fried over high heat with minimal sauce, save for the liquid of the noodles itself. The noodles contain its own moisture, making each strand appear shiny. It contains a faint egg aroma, and is usually cooked with beansprouts, a generous amount of eggs and topped with either barbequed pork or chicken. Tuaran mee derives its name from the district that it was created, in Tuaran.
5) Tamparuli mee
Tamparuli is a neighbouring district of Tuaran in Kota Kinabalu, and they also have their own distinct noodles. Small cottage-style productions of these noodles means that this dish is really unique, and can only be found in this small town. Is it worth the 50-minute drive from Kota Kinabalu city centre? I really think so. The noodles are slightly softer and has a smoother texture than the Tuaran mee. This dish also comes with a generous serving of egg, and just like their neighbouring noodle dishes, comes topped with either barbecued pork, chicken or both.
6) Wor tip
Wor tip is a type of dumpling that is done in a special Sabahan style. The dumpling itself is chewy but the skin is not too thick, and when pan fried in shallow oil, gives a crunchy texture and is faintly burnt around the edges. The fillings are stir fried first, and they are made out of minced meat (pork or chicken), shallots and a blend of herbs and sauce. The fillings share the same texture as that of minced meat in Bolognese pasta sauce, albeit a little dryer but packed with exotic fragrance.
7) Barbecued chicken wing
Industry experts have said that Sabah is big on chicken wings, and that at one point in time, we actually had a shortage of these chicken parts. This can be attributed to the ubiquitous stalls selling barbecued wings. Each town has a special marinade, but generally, it is sweet, savoury and colourful (from the tamarind and red ginger marinade), giving it a hint of ginger taste.
8) Steamed fish
Sabah, being an island on Borneo, is surrounded by vast seas, and it would be silly not to mention seafood as one of the top 10 dishes to try. Any seafood restaurant worth its salt would always have a row of aquariums filled with healthy swimming fish and live shellfish. Steamed fish is always popular, usually drenched in sweet savoury black sauce, a generous serving of Julienne ginger topped with chopped cilantros (coriander). The fish, depending on its size, would yield a very sweet meat and freshness can be judged by the opaqueness of the flesh.
Another seafood that is a must try would be these clams cooked in a special spring onion and ginger-garlic gravy. The flesh of the clams would be chewy and firm, while the spring onions will bring out an herby aroma that is not too strong to overwhelm the clams. The buttery, aromatic and saltiness of the gravy also brings life to the steamy white rice that is usually eaten with this dish.
10) Sabah vege
This is a dark green leafy vegetable unique to South East Asia, packed with lots of goodness. Its scientific name is sauropus androgynus, but is normally just called Sabah vege. Other names for this dish include sayur manis, which is loosely translated as sweet vegetables in Malay, or shu zhai chai, which means “little tree leaves” in Mandarin as the plant resembles a midget tree. To enjoy this dish, a simple stir-fry with garlic or with eggs is the way to go.