Category Archives: Food

Tamu (Weekly Open-air Native Market) of Sikuati town

Sikuati Tamu (Open-Air Market)

If you live in a developed country, open-air native market may have gone “extinct” and replaced by air-conditioned supermarkets. If you on the way to the Tip of Borneo of Sabah in Sunday morning, you may drop by the tamu (weekly open-air market) in Sikuati, a small town about 21 KM before Kudat town. The tamu market of Sikuati is open from 7am to 12pm on every Sunday.

Tamu as a gathering place

Tamu is also a gathering spot for locals to mingle around

Tamu of Sikuati

Tamu was started as bartering trade area in the past

Sikuati (GPS: 6.891364, 116.712713, see Location Map or Street View) is a very small town in northern district with only a few shoplots. In normal days you won’t see many people around here, but it turns into a busy alfresco market on Sunday.

Local fruits and vegetables for sale in Tamu

Local fruits and vegetables for sale in Tamu

The tamu of Sikuati is similar to other tamu in Sabah, which sells almost EVERYTHING. Anyway, most of the items sold here are local produces from villagers, who are mainly farmers and fishermen, so you will see a myriad of freshly harvested fruits, vegetables and seafood in tamu.

Sikuati tamu

Sikuati is a small town about 18 KM away from Kudat

To locals like me, tamu is just an ordinary thing. For foreigners, they might enjoy exploring a local market which is so different from their hometown. “Hey, why common things like apple and broccoli aren’t being sold here?” they might think. Well, enjoy your Wander and Wonder tour in tamu, Tourist. This is Sabah.

Tamu (Alfresco or Open-air Market)

Tamu means “Temu” (Meeting in Malay language)

I was probably the only “tourist” in this tamu during my visit (everyone was looking at me and smile). As this tamu is purely for local shoppers, it’s unlikely that you find souvenir and the tacky “I Love Sabah” T-shirt there lol. I like that it’s not so commercialized and touristy though.

Variety of fresh seafood

Variety of fresh seafood

Nevertheless, many Rungus people live in Sikuati. They are expert in weaving beaded work and handicraft. You can get some beautiful bead necklace and handicraft at very good price in Sikuati tamu. In fact, many vendors buy from them, then double or triple the prices in souvenir shops in city.

shop for breakfast and food in tamu

Tamu is a great place to shop for breakfast and food

You also can shop for other items such as meats, seafood, salted & dried fishes, snacks, clothing, toys, flowers, household items and even machetes in tamu. However, Sikuati Tamu is relatively smaller so the variety of goods is limited. For example, I was looking for montokou (a local wine) but the seller wasn’t around that day.

Local seafood in tamu

You wouldn’t know some stuffs are edible until you visit a Tamu market

By the way, tamu is also a good place to sample local food. Many local snacks are packed or wrapped nicely in plastic, so you can buy some home to try. Keep an open mind and be a bit more adventurous. Go try eating some fruits unknown to you, like tampoi and liposu. You can find wild durian if you visit in fruiting season.

Lambis lambis (Spider Conch) and seaweed for sale

Lambis lambis (Spider Conch) and seaweed for sale

Edible Seaweed (Sea Grapes)

Edible Seaweed (Sea Grapes)

Sometimes I can learn something new in tamu, for example, what stuffs are edible. I first discover one of my favourite food, a type of seaweed named sea grapes in tamu. Squeeze a bit of lime juice on it and eat it raw, so yummy. It’s only RM1 or RM2 (≈USD0.25-0.50) per bag.

Smelly salted dried fish

Smelly salted dried fish

The weekly tamu turns Sikuati into a bustling town

The weekly tamu turns Sikuati into a bustling town

In the past, I could find “exotic” meats and pets in tamu. Yeah, tamu was used to be the best place to buy wild boar and deer meats. Sometimes they would sell slow loris, pangolin and rare birds (Hell if I know people bought them as food or pet). Now Sabah Wildlife Department is very serious in banning game meats, so the only “wild food” allowed in tamu now is wild bee honey I guess.

Dried shrimps and fishes are commonly sold in tamu

Dried shrimps and fishes are commonly sold in tamu

The products sold in tamu is cheaper than supermarket, because there is no middleman, and the villagers also don’t bear any overhead to run a store or customer service department. They just take their stuffs to tamu, and lay everything on the floor to sell. A booth is not even required. Such market won’t be permitted in modern cities, where everything has to be “proper and licensed” or the city council will fine them.

Telescope Creeper Shells

Telescope Creeper Shells, probably from mangrove mudflat nearby

Not only that, we can buy “duty free” cigarette and wine in tamu. Just kidding. Actually these are homemade tobacco rolls (known as Sigup locally) and rice wine such as Lihing.

Live abalone for sale

Live abalone for sale

OMG the live abalone is only sold for RM20 (≈USD5) per kilo here! Cheap isn’t it? It’s a win-win, the buyers save some money and the sellers earn some side income.

flesh of mussels

Guess what it is. (Answer: flesh of mussels)

However, you must always bargain in tamu. The shopkeeper would give you an eye-roll if you ask for a discount in shopping mall, but you are expected to haggle in tamu. You know the trick. Stick to a reasonable counter offer, pretend to leave then the seller would say, “Ok ok I’ll take that!” to close the deal.

The seafood is from local fishermen

The seafood is from local fishermen

“Everyone lives by selling something.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

Tip: always bargain in tamu market

Tip: always bargain in tamu market

During the old days when there was no Internet and newspapers, tamu is also a meeting point for socializing and information exchange among people from different villages. My late grandmother was used to be a hawker in tamu. I don’t think she made a good profit by selling used clothing, but she insisted to go to tamu every week. To old folks, tamu is already part of their lives.

Photos taken in Sikuati, Sabah, Malaysia Borneo

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Traditional Food of Kuala Penyu

Tinimbuh

Kuala Penyu is a small town in south-west of Sabah, and majority of the population there are Dusun Tatana, Orang Brunei, and Bisaya people. Personally I call Kuala Penyu a “quiet corner” of Sabah because it looks like an ordinary countryside of Sabah, but they do have some special food.

Ambuyat

Ambuyat is a traditional dish of the Bisaya and Orang Brunei in Kuala Penyu district, as well as a popular traditional Sabah cuisine. It is a type of starch extracted from sago palm tree.

Ambuyat with side dishes

Ambuyat with side dishes (bamboo shoot, fishes, shell (tuntul), curry)

This translucent and sticky sago paste is almost tasteless, so the locals usually eat it together with side dishes such as fishes and curry, or dip it in sour sauce or fish soup.

Chopsticks of Kuala Penyu

“Chopsticks” of Kuala Penyu

The people of Kuala Penyu use Candas, which looks like Chinese chopsticks but is thinner and made from sago leaf stalk or bamboo stick, to scoop the slimy ambuyat.

Right way to use candas

Right way to use candas

They twirl the soft ambuyat around the prongs of candas to bite-sized, and then dip it into a sour or hot sauce. That could be a fun experience if you try this food the first time.

Bisaya girls

Bisaya girls

Ambuyat is one of the staple food in Kuala Penyu. Due to its popularity, some hotels also have ambuyat on their menu, so tourists can try it out. There is a joke that says, “If you are poor, you eat ambuyat at home. If you are rich, you eat it in a hotel.” LOL

Orang Brunei people

Orang Brunei people

Tinimbu Dumpling

With a population of 6,000, Dusun Tatana is a unique indigenous group which is influenced by Chinese culture, because there were groups of China merchants who traded and married the locals in Kuala Penyu more than 250 years ago. For example, they also celebrate Chinese New Year.

Tinimbu dumpling

Tinimbu dumpling

My first impression of Tinimbu (or Tinimbuh) of Dusun Tatana is – it looks like a miniature version of Chinese dumpling, and I also wonder if they learn this from Chinese in the past. Tinimbu is made from glutinous rice and wrapped in triangular shape by pandan (or bamboo) leaves and tied with lamba vine. Unlike Chinese dumpling, Tinimbu has no filling.

Dusun Tatana girls from Kuala Penyu

Dusun Tatana from Kuala Penyu. Some of their ancestors may have lineage of Chinese.

Tinimbu is served during occasions such as Chinese New Year. To eat, dip it in coarse sugar and enjoy the aroma of sticky rice and pandan in each bite. I’m sure children like it.

Sago Grubs (Butod)

The last and the least appetizing food is Sago Grub (locally known as Butod), which can be eaten raw or cooked. I have tried both. The live worm tastes like coconut milk and the fried butod is like dry fish skin.

Fried Sago Grubs (Butod)

Fried Sago Grubs (Butod)

Though many Sabahans struggle with eating Butod, some people really love it because it improves hair growth, increases sex drive, and reduces obesity. These health benefits are quite powerful motivations to eat sago grub (even if it tastes bad which it doesn’t).

Dusun Tatana food on display during Harvest Festival of Sabah (Kaamatan)

Dusun Tatana food on display during Harvest Festival of Sabah (Kaamatan)

There are still many Kuala Penyu food that are not introduced here. To learn and sample traditional food of Dusun Tatana, you may visit the Kuala Penyu house in KDCA Penampang during Kaamatan Grand Finale (Harvest Festival) on 30 and 31 May every year.

Traditional food of Dusun Tatana people

Traditional food of Dusun Tatana people

Or you can try these food in Kuala Penyu homestay. For more information, please contact Dr. Monih Epin (Tel: +60 19-8106786) or Ms Monica Gualin (Tel: +60 13-8517633), the operator of Borneo Kuala Penyu Homestay.

Photos taken in Kuala Penyu, Sabah, Malaysia Borneo

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