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The JT Insider Food Guide: Borneo

Co-founder and vice chairman of Borneo Culinaire Association Sabah and Sarawak, chef Gerald Then, gives us his expert tips on what local specialties to try for a true Bornean culinary experience.

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A taste of Borneo

‘While Peninsular Malaysia’s food tends to be pork­ free, Bornean cuisine is laden with pork dishes that are mixed with local spices and herbs. Sarawak and Sabah have their own special dishes and the cooking style too, like cooking inside bamboo that’s over an open fire, and smoking the food with firewood over stones. Many of the herbs and spices, and items like durian flowers, that we use are only eaten here.’

‘Between Sabah and Sarawak there are only very subtle differences. In Sabah local dishes use tuhau [a herbaceous plant, only found in Sabah] and bambangan [a local type of mango], and the state is famous for its seafood. Great eateries are spread all over the little towns of both states.’

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Three to try

‘In Sarawak the top three dishes are laksa [a spicy noodle soup with coconut milk], kolo mee [stir fried noodles with garlic and soy sauce, signature to Kuching] and mee jawa [noodles with shredded chicken, bean sprouts, potato, egg and tofu, in a tomato based sauce]. Sarawak Laksa and Kolo Mee cannot be found, cooked in this way, anywhere else.’

‘In Sabah try the chicken cooked in lihing [a rice wine from Sabah], hinave [a salad with raw fish, marinated in citrus juice, similar to ceviche] and Tuaran noodles [egg noodles from the town of Tuaran, stir fried with vegetables and garnished with Chinese sweetened roast pork].’

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Blowout dining experience

‘It has to be the fresh lobster sashimi and abalone in Sabah, or the wild game like venison, boar and mouse deer in Sarawak.’

Authentically local dining experience

‘For an authentic food experience try the sago grubs in Sarawak or the chicken cooked with lihing in Sabah.’

The setting

‘In Sarawak the best setting is at Buntal seafood eatery in Kuching, Bako fishing village or at Telaga Air, which is another fishing village close to Kuching. There are many more fishing villages dotted around Mukah, Bintulu and Sibu too.’

‘Meanwhile, in Sabah you can have an outstanding view with great food at Tanjung Aru Seafood Restaurant, Sunset Bar at Tanjung Aru Shangri-­la, Sunset Bar at Nexus Karambunai and Coast Restaurant at Rasa Ria Shangri-­la.’

Tanjung Aru Seafood Restaurant, Aru Drive, Tanjung Aru. Sunset Bar, Tanjung Aru Resort and Spa Shangri-la, 20 Jalan Aru, Kota Kinabalu. Sunset Bar and Grill, Nexus Resort and Spa Karambunai, Jalan Sepangar, Kota Kinabalu. Coast Restaurant and Bar, Rasa Ria Resort Shangri-la, Pantai Dalit Beach, Tuaran.

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A chef worth checking out

‘In Sarawak, there’s ­chef John Chin at the Sarawak Club and George Ling at The Junk. In Sabah, chef Shan Songappen from Le Meridien Kota Kinabalu, chef Shawn Micheal from Le Safran Restaurant at The Peak Vista and chef Tan at Chef Tan Chinese Restaurant at The Peak Vista are all exceptional chefs.’

Sarawak Club, Jalan Taman Budaya, Kuching. The Junk Restaurant, 80 Wayang Street, Kuching. Le Meridien Kota Kinabalu, Jalan Tun Fuad Stephens, Kota Kinabalu. Le Safran Restaurant, The Peak Vista Block B, Lorong Puncak 1, Tanjung Lipat. 

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Find out more about the Borneo Culinaire Association Sabah and Sarawak on the association’s website.