Gastronomical Adventure with Sabah’s Traditional Food

Sabah, renowned for its lush rainforests, pristine beaches and vibrant wildlife, is a paradise for nature lovers. Beyond its natural wonders, Sabah also boasts a rich cultural heritage, reflected in the diverse ethnicities that call this Borneo gem home. And what better way to experience this cultural tapestry than through its mouth-watering traditional foods?

For the true essence of Sabah, tasting its traditional dishes is a must, and the best part is that you don’t have to venture far from Kota Kinabalu’s city centre to savour these culinary delights. Here are a few nearby spots to indulge in Sabah’s authentic traditional dishes.

Borneo Spice, Penampang

Borneo Spice, Penampang
Borneo Spice, Penampang

Situated in the tranquil village of Pogunon, just a 30-minute drive from Kota Kinabalu city centre, Borneo Spice offers a dining experience as delightful as its serene ambience. Here, you can dine in a beautifully designed bamboo double-decker area that exudes rustic charm and makes you feel at home in nature’s embrace. Borneo Spice serves a delightful mix of traditional Sabah cuisine and creative Western-traditional fusion dishes.

If you’re a first-timer and need help deciding what to order, feel free to ask the friendly staff for recommendations. We did this, and they recommended the Siga set.


This feast includes brown rice, Ambuyat, Pinasakan, Sup Nangka Ayam (chicken jackfruit soup), Tuhau, Bambangan (wild mango), Hinava, Sambal Tuhau, Ayam Goreng Tuhau, Acar Timun, and Bambangan Sambal Chili & Losun. It’s an excellent tour of Sabah’s traditional foods in a delicious set.


The standouts from this set were the Hinava and Pinasakan. For those who don’t know, Hinava is a dish that is famous among the locals and is commonly made from sliced Tenggiri (Mackerel) mixed with bird’s eye chilli, ginger, red onion, bitter gourd and lime juice. The Hinava tasted fresh, featuring a hint of tanginess and aromatic flavour.


Pinasakan features the Basung fish (a type of mackerel), which is braised with a tangy wild fruit known as Takob Akob, tamarind pieces, fresh turmeric, salt and sometimes, Bambangan. Braising it until almost all of the liquid has evaporated gives it a slightly sour flavour that is balanced by a salty taste. It’s usually paired with either rice or Ambuyat. A perfect place for a feast and the ideal escape from the hustle and bustle of the city.

Opening Hours: 10am – 10pm (Tuesday – Sunday)
Contact: 088-710 328 / 016-839 9706
Facebook: Borneo Spice

Housia Cafe, Pavilion Bundusan


The Housia Cafe is a restaurant worth trying. Its cosy atmosphere is perfect for enjoying Sabah’s traditional dishes in a relaxed setting. What sets this café apart is its unique presentation of traditional foods in bamboo, offering an aesthetic appeal perfect for your Instagram feed. One of their standout dishes is the Tavantang set.


The Tavantang set consists of Linopot, Losun, Bambangan, Tuhau, Hinava, Fried Basung, Ikan Masin (salted fish), and Telur Masin (salted duck egg). The Fried Basung fish, Losun and Tuhau are not to be missed. Tuhau is made from wild ginger and has a strong, pungent smell that might deter those who haven’t tried it before. It has a unique taste, combining tarty and savoury flavours.


Then there’s the Losun, a wild spring onion with a less pungent taste than regular spring onions. It’s usually fried with Bunga Kantan (Torch Ginger Buds), garlic chives, white chillies, garlic and white pepper, and sometimes anchovies. The Losun tasted slightly earthy and vegetal. This cosy cafe is perfect for those searching for traditional foods and aesthetic snapshots.

Opening Hours: 11am – 10pm (Tuesday – Sunday)
Contact: 088-716 727/ 010-942 7025
Facebook: HOUSIA

My Native, Hotel No.5

Located in the lobby of Hotel No.5, approximately 17 minutes from the Kota Kinabalu city centre is My Native Sabah, a cosy ambience cafe that serves a variety of traditional foods such as Linopot set, Ambuyat set and even the famous Butod (Sago worm).

IMG_20240515_125239 crop

The traditional Linopot set consists of Tuhau, Bambangan, Hinava, Losun, Telur Masin (salted duck egg). You can also change the main toppings to Pinasakan Basungan, Sada Basungan Guring (fried mackerel), Ikan Masin Asam Limau (salted fish with lime), or Fried Tuhau Chicken while still having the same side dishes.


For those who are more adventurous, try the fried Butod (Sago worm). It’s a traditional delicacy in Sabah’s rural area, is known to be a good source of protein, and is quite nutritious. The fried Butod had a creamy texture and an egg-like taste, though the skin was quite tough to bite into. Here, you can enjoy traditional cuisine in a classy setting conveniently located near the city’s center.

Opening Hours: 6:30am – 10:30pm (Open Daily)
Contact: 016-833 2381/ 016-800 5362
Facebook: My Native Sabah
Instagram: mynative.sabah

Little Sulap, Kota Kinabalu

The Little Sulap cafe is impossible to miss with its charming pink exterior. This cosy little cafe is a delightful oasis for food lovers, offering a perfect blend of traditional Sabah cuisine and Western choices for those who prefer to stick to the familiar. Fun fact: The cafe’s name, “sulap” comes from the Dusun word for “hut,” perfectly capturing the homely and inviting vibes. This cafe serves various dishes, such as the Original Sabahan Set, Ambuyat Set, Sumandak Godoot, and Kelupis.


The Ambuyat Set consists of fried basung, Tuhau, Telur Masin (salted duck egg), Sambal, Ambuyat, and a flavourful soup. For those unfamiliar with Ambuyat, it’s a starchy, gooey dish made from sago. By itself, Ambuyat tastes bland, which is why it’s paired with a variety of tasty accompaniments and dips that add a burst of flavour to each bite.


Then there’s the Kelupis, made from glutinous rice cooked with coconut milk and served with a delectable peanut sauce. The rice is meticulously wrapped in leaves and then steamed to perfection, resulting in a delightful texture and rich flavour. Whether you are craving a taste of tradition or a twist on the familiar, this is the place to go.

Opening Hours: 11am – 10pm (Open Daily)
Contact: 011-6951 5441
Facebook: Little Sulap
Instagram: heylittlesulap

My Happy Meals, Penampang

my happy meals

Nestled just minutes away from KDCA (Kadazan Dusun Cultural Association Sabah), My Happy Meals brings a unique twist to traditional Sabah cuisine. Every dish here features the Linopot, which is rice (sometimes mixed with yam or sweet potatoes) packed and wrapped tightly in a leaf, offering a fragrant and unique dining experience.


The classic Linopot set consists of Tuhau, Fried Basung, Ikan Masin (salted fish), Sambal, Pucuk Ubi. This set is a popular dish among the locals. Fun fact: Linopot is typically served during festive seasons or traditional Sabahan wedding ceremonies. An affordable traditional meal, My Happy Meal is a must-visit on your way to KDCA.

Opening Hours: 11am – 9pm (Open Daily)
Contact: 012-929 8970
Instagram: My Happy Meals

Last reviewed: June 6, 2024

Other Recent Articles