One of the many indigenous tribes of Borneo, the Melanau tribe is from the Dayak ethnic, bear in mind that some of the delicacies mentioned are not unique to just the Melanau people. As usual, I am not alone when I say I love Borneo! I love the people, the history and culture and mostly the food! Read on to find out some of the best traditional Melanau food of the tropics you might not have heard of before…
Scattered along the Rajang River of Sarawak, the Melanau people are known as the riverine dweller. Originally the Melanau call themselves A-Likou which means, river people. Ergo, you will see that their foods are mainly bounties of the river and sea.
Yes, I’m starting this list off with worms! A popular traditional melanau food. Si’et or sago worms can eaten either alive or cooked. Its’ texture is creamy and fatty. Locals would fry them with garlic and onions or barbecue even. Si’et makes a great dish usually eaten with hot rice. From living off of whatever they can find in jungles, indigenous people of Borneo are known to eat grubs in their daily meal since long ago. Nowadays si’et can easily be found in local markets sold at around RM10 for 10-25 worms.
Sago worms are just the beginning. Lelamas are edible wild worms, it is seen eaten in rice porridge amongst the local tribes within Borneo. Depending on the host tree they feed on, the lelamas worm can fetch anywhere from RM20 – RM500 and above per kilogram. Other than used as condiments in porridge, lelamas can also be stir-fried eaten as lauk to go with rice.
Raw jellyfish marinated with lemongrass, ginger, ginger flower, lime juice and lots of chilies. Umai obor-obor is a great way to kick start your appetite or for me as a desert to end my appetite.
Raw or steamed fish salad. Almost similar to umai obor-obor, umai ikan uses fish (usually white fish, non-fatty ones) as its main ingredient. Sour and spicy, you eat it like you would a salad. For the best bite, try to get every part of the dish in one bite.
Tebaloi are sago crackers or biscuit. They are easily found sold by the locals, especially in Mukah, sold at RM1 to RM1.30 per packet for four or five pieces per packet.. They come in many flavours such as original, pandan (coconut), turmeric, Milo and strawberry. They are great snacks to be enjoyed with a cup of coffee or tea.
Slimy and sticky sago porridge. Linut is seen eaten in many parts of Borneo, it is also known as ambuyat in Sabah. One of the more simpler dish to prepare, its main ingredient is sago flour. Linut is best eaten hot, and is usually eaten like rice. Here’s an extra info you might find interesting, there is a taboo that comes with eating linut, one is not allowed to laugh or speak loosely or carelessly while eating it.
The melanau people are known as the fisherman tribe. Made from ikan bulan (oxeye herring) pipuih is a traditional dish eaten with sago or rice porridege, it is originally a way to preserve fish before the monsoon season. This boney fish is smoked on top of an open fire. Once it is dry, it is then broken into small pieces while removing its’ many bones. Pieces of the fish is then wrapped into palas palm leaf, and smoked some more over open fire, and kept in dry places. Almost an extinct tradition, due to the unnecessary need to preserve fish you can still sometimes find pipuih being sold in local open markets in the morning.
Telisih is sago and fish curry. Sometimes a little spicy, depending on how the curry is prepared. Best eaten with family, you can stop by any melanau restaurant to try this unique dish, like the Melanau Cafe and Catering at Miri Airport road.
If I’ve missed out any traditional Melanau food that is worth the mention, feel free to leave me a comment or question. To end, here are some notable Melanau dish that are also seen in different tribes:
- Pansuh: Bamboo dish (eg. chicken or pork)