In this list (as you can tell from the title) I’ll be bringing you some really appetising bizarre food on the tropical island of Borneo. I won’t lie, some of the foods here makes me a little squeamish. But I would give them a try anyway.. someday.. Anyhow, this beautiful Yoshi looking island of Borneo is full of exotic food to try. If you head deep into the jungle you’ll find out that the native would eat almost anything!
Favourite among the Kelabit people, kelantang is a colourful worm, used as toppings on rice porridge. The best way to enjoy kelantang is stir-fried and eaten with rice or rice porridge. It gives the mundane rice porridge a sweet taste to it. I personally haven’t had the chance to eat this dish, but I’d give it a try. Would you give this bizarre food of Borneo a try?
Yes, we love our grubs! A rare delicacy, as it is very expensive due to difficulties acquiring them. Lelamaih is eaten mainly by the Melanau native of Borneo. Usually boiled in saltwater. Lelamaih can be used as condiments to compliment rice porridge, or deep-fried to be eaten like a crunchy snack. I have yet to try them, but if you’ve had them tell me if you liked them!
A famous must-eat dish when in Borneo. Sagu or butod (aka sago worms) are very nutritious and are loved by the natives. I will admit I have a weak tummy thinking about eating them. I mean look at them, they seem really squishy! Nowadays people have come up with creative ways to cook and eat these cuddly white clouds, for instance, butod (sago worm) pizza or sushi served at D’place Kinabalu in Sabah. While some still prefer eating them the old way. ALIVE!
No kidding we truly love our grubs. Eaten no different than its’ brother the sago worm. Ulat kapang can be stir-fried or boiled with salt. Either way, it’ll taste just as fatty. Some say it’s like biting into cheese. But I wouldn’t know, because I’ve yet to try them.
If you love durian, you’ll definitely want to try tempoyak. Tempoyak is stir-fried durian (without the seeds of course). Tempoyak is usually very sweet and fatty. And a heads up, it still has its pungent smell. There are so many ways to eat tempoyak. Just to list a few, there is spicy tempoyak, stir-fry tempoyak and prawns, fish in tempoyak soup and many more! Hungry yet?
Cassava leaves also famously known as daun ubi by the natives. My personal exotic dish favourite from the island. I would sometimes eat them as a rice substitute sometimes when I’m on a diet. There are so many ways to cook this dish. The simplest way is to just boil them and eaten with some spicy sambal. Yum! The classic way is to pound them until they wither, then stir fry with local ingredients like shallots, garlic and lemongrass. A must have in every occasion among the locals. You have not truly experienced Borneo if you’ve never tried daun ubi. I know this dish looks like wet grass, but I highly recommend them!
Pitcher Plant Rice
We Asians love our rice! We never fail to find creative ways to cook and eat our beloved rice. The native people of Borneo are no exception.
The pitcher plant rice dish is one of the many fun ways to enjoy boring old rice. The Bidayuh people would cook their rice in pitcher plants adding some coconut milk to give it fatty taste and unique aroma. I consider them a bizarre food of Borneo because, who the hell came up with the idea to stuff a pitcher plant with rice? Anyway, you eat them like normal rice. But remove the pitcher plant before you do or you can eat them, your choice.
We do get bored of rice sometimes. Ambuyat/ Linut is sometimes used as a substitute for rice or to amp up your eating game. This sticky translucent dish is made from sago flour. This dish is called Ambuyat among the Kadazan-Dusun people and Linut in the Sarawak region. A tasteless dish, you can eat them with just anything! Typically locals eat them with sambal belacan (spicy fried shrimp paste). I personally only eat linut on special occasion as I prefer rice over them. This bizarre food of Borneo might take getting used to for some of you out there.
This chewy delicacy is python meat. Usually cooked in soy sauce. Ular sawa is commonly eaten among people living in the rural parts of Borneo, where they still hunt for food. You can find the python meat in open markets in these rural parts for instance in the town of Kapit, Sarawak.
After your first bite, you forget that it’s python meat that you’re eating especially when cooked by an experienced person. As the locals would say, it can easily be mistaken as chicken meat!
Once in a while, if you head to the rural parts of the island you can find the natives selling this ular ripung meat, particularly at Teresang Market in Kapit, Sarawak. Truly a bizarre food to be selling, but intriguing nonetheless.
I myself enjoy eating them. When stir-fried, the ular ripung’s meat is chewy and tough to the bite. A good little exercise for the jaws. If you’ve had stingrays, it’s almost the same but much, much tougher to chew.
Perut Babi (Pig Intestine)
Gotta make use of all of that pig, am I right? I love eating the insides of a pig. And yes I am aware how wrong that sounds. Anyway, some of my favourite is pig’s intestines. You can easily find locals selling BBQ pig intestine, or pig intestine soup, even stir fried pig intestine in almost every (non-halal) local restaurant or smoke house a.k.a rumah asap. Locals eat them while enjoying a good drinking session with their buddies.
Bayak / Biawak
These are monitor lizards also known as bayak by the natives. Bayak are usually eaten in the rural parts of the island known as kampung, where they are easily caught and a well known delicacy.
While some might prefer not to eat them, I personally really like them! Its’ chewy texture adds to the experience. Stir fried with onions, chilies and soy sauce is usually how the locals would prepare the dish. Some more creative ways to cook them is by satay or in curry. Talk about adventurous eating!
Tuak Ice Cream
Tuak is a traditional rice wine. The native of the island LOVE their alcoholic beverages. The Iban even have a saying that goes, ‘ukai iban enti enda nemu ngirup‘ which means you’re not an Iban if you don’t drink (alcoholic drink). Like most of the dishes here, this is just one of many creative creation by the locals of the island. Now you can get drunk off of ice cream!
Pekasam or noonsom usually has an odour some would describe as similar to rotten or spoiled meat. Each native tribe of Borneo has their own version of pekasam/ noonsom. The word itself means fermented. The term pekasam is used within the Sarawak region while Noonsom in the Sabahan region of Borneo. Some of my favourites are kasam babi (fermented pork) and kasam ikan (fermented fish). But there are so many versions of pekasam/ noonsom which you can find out in my other blog posts here. Unlike the commercial dried salted fish, kasam or noonsom are usually wet from being stuffed into a jar or container for weeks, with lots of salts, yeast and other traditional ingredients. Very salty, some tribes are known to eat their pekasam/noonsom raw. Eek!
Would like a beer to go with your delicious-looking chicken heads? You usually won’t find restaurants serving chicken heads here as the city folks do not find the idea of eating chicken heads humane. However, if you’re eating with the locals in a longhouse or during a weekend hangout, chicken heads can be requested as a special dish. Although not so common, enjoying barbecued or fried chicken heads are still one of the locals’ go-to dish during leisure activity.
That’s the end of this bizarre food of Borneo list. I’ll probably add some more food from time to time to satisfy you adventurous eaters out there. Feel free to suggest me more bizarre food from Borneo if there’s any that I’ve missed out in the comments below. And maybe I’ll add them here. Hope you enjoyed!
p.s. If you’ve never been to Borneo, I suggest you buy a flight ticket right now.