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Sago Grub (Butod), the Most Bizarre Food of Borneo

sago worm butod

Known as Butod locally, Sago Grub or Sago Worm is a delicacy, as well as the most disgusting food of Sabah. Junk food always look good, but it does ugly things to your body. Sago Grub is the opposite, it’s an ugly but nutritious food. However, it’s a test of bravery to put this wriggling bug into your mouth.

Edible Sago Grub is the larvae of Snout Beetle

Edible Sago Grub is the larvae of Sago Palm Weevil

Butod is the larvae of Sago Palm Weevil, a species of snout beetle that consumes sago palm during its infancy. Sago Grub can grow fatter than the little finger and looks like a giant maggot. This creamy yellow color and fat worm is rich in protein and sold at US$0.25 each (RM40 – 45 per Kg), quite expensive, but still a hot selling item in local market.

Snout Beetle / Weevil, adult of Sago Grub (Rhynchophorus ferrugineus oliver)

Sago Palm Weevil (Species: Rhynchophorus ferrugineus olivier), adult of Sago Grub, is also known as Red Palm Weevil, and Asian Palm Weevil. Locals call it Linggaung.

According to Dr. Arthur Chung, an insect expert, adult Sago Palm Weevil is also consumed in Sabah. The rusty red colour adults are usually grilled or roasted, with the hard and spiny parts, and unsavoury guts removed before eating.

Fallen sago palm

Sago grubs grow and feed inside sago palm

The best place to collect sago grubs is in sago palm, as they feed on starchy pith of decaying sago palm tree, before they are mature and transform into beetle after 2 months.

Searching for sago grubs (Butod)

Grub up some sago grubs (Butod) in Sago Palm

Just chop the sago trunk to look for butod in the spongy internal of the palm. Farmers also deliberately cut some opening on fallen sago tree, to attract female weevils to lay eggs inside. They could harvest up to 100 butod per trunk after 1 to 3 months.

Cleaning sago grubs before cooking them

Cleaning sago grubs before cooking them

Sago Grub is white. I notice it’ll turn yellowish or brownish after being exposed to ultraviolet. Sago grubs can die fairly quick under direct sunlight and dry place. Keep them in shade, preferably with pieces of damp sago wood, and they can survive for a few days.

Sago grubs for sale in native market (Tamu)

Sago grub is a healthy source of protein and fiber.

Sago Palm is an important crop of Sabah. Sago Grub is supposed to be a pest because it burrows and eats voraciously into the heart of sago palm, and cause the tree dies. However, sago grub is a highly sought after food that brings good money. You can see the statue of Sago Palm Weevil at the entrance of Rumbia Information Centre. There is no other insect in Sabah that is “commemorated” by such a big statue.

Statue of Snout Beetle / Weevil at Rumbia Information Center

Statue of Snout Beetle / Weevil at Rumbia Information Center

In Sabah, though everyone knows about Sago Grub, not many are actually eating this soft-bodied larvae. Bugs seem to be doing filthy things all the time. Just look at fly and cockroach that make people sick. So it might be a bad idea to eat bugs. Anyway, sago grub is very clean because it only feeds on and live inside sago pith.

Sago grubs feed on decaying pith tissues of the sago palm

Sago grubs make tunnels and feed on decaying pith tissues of the sago palm

According to what I read on the Internet, sago grubs have been described as creamy tasting when raw, and like bacon or meat when cooked. I wanted to try out the live and cooked sago grubs and see if it is true. Now I can tell you that the taste of both is not bad, and I can assure you that sago grub has no funny smell or taste. No, it doesn’t taste like chicken.

Cooked Sago Grubs (Butod)

Are you dare to eat this?

Tasting Live Sago Grub

Every human has insectophobia to some degrees. We can’t never be friends with bugs. Even if I love to photograph bug, that doesn’t mean I want to lick it. Anyhow, I always want to experience eating live sago grub at least once. Probably I think this is a big achievement as high as the Medal of Honor.

Eating live sago grub

It’s me first time eating live sago grub

To eat live sago grub, hold its head with two fingers, because you won’t eat its hard chitinous head, and to avoid its pincer biting you. I squeeze its head to kill it first, so it won’t wriggle in my mouth later and to suffer from a painful death. Then I take a bite at its neck and chew. You can watch the following video if you want to see action:

In first bite, the juicy worm “bursts” in my mouth, and I can feel its creamy gut flows all over my tongue. OMG, that’s so gross! I just try not to think that I’m eating a bug, or I would throw up. The taste of raw butod is like coconut milk with a bit of sweetness. The skin is tough and chewy. Though I don’t think that it’s delicious, the taste isn’t terrible at all. In fact, it’s quite bland.

Cooking Sago Grubs

Swallowing squirming sago grubs may look way too savage. No problem. You can fry, boil, or grill it, then eat it with knife and fork. Personally I think cooked butod tastes much better. It’s so easy to cook butod. You will know how after watching the video below:

According to a research by Oxford University, Sago Grub contains significantly more vitamins, unsaturated fat, and minerals, but much less cholesterol than other common meat such as chicken and beef. Therefore, Butod is an excellent alternative source of protein.

Washing the sago grubs before cooking them

Washing the sago grubs before cooking them. Female butod is bigger and darker in color

The simplest way to cook sago grubs is to stir-fry them in a pan, until they are totally dry and turn crispy. The first step is to wash and clean the butod with water.

Prepare to cook Sago Grubs (Butod)

Cut an opening on sago grub. (sorry about the animal cruelty)

Next step is quite cruel. You tear an opening on their bodies, with finger or knife, so they won’t expand and “explode” while being fried. The yellow soft stuff gushes from the cut is the fat. Butod is packed with oil like a natural energy bars. The locals believe butod oil can thicken their hair.

Pan-fried the sago grubs

Pan-fried the sago grubs

Then pour all the butod into the pan and stir fry them slowly with small fire. For better flavor, you may add a pinch of salt or MSG. If you think that is too plain, you can cook them with onions or other vegetables, basically it’s same as how you cook other meat.

Oil from sago grubs

All the oil is from the plump sago grubs

Do you see the oil in the photo above? It’s all from the sago grubs! The smoke smells really, really good and appetizing, like butter.

Fully cooked Sago Grubs

Fully cooked Sago Grubs (probably a bit overcooked…)

Researchers describe insects as “micro-livestock” that emits 10 times less greenhouse gas than farting cows. The author of “Bug Chef Extraordinaire”, David George Gordon, says, “Insects are the most valuable, underused and delicious animals in the world.” Eating bugs comes with hundreds of benefits, but people don’t eat bugs for only one reason, it is disgusting. Well, I can give men a superb reason to eat Butod. It’s good for men. *wink wink* If eaten together with patiukan (honeycombs) and tapai (Sabah rice wine), man will certainly experience an incredible aphrodisiacal erection, according to John Seet, the author of The Beliefs & Practices of the Kadazandusun-Murut (ISBN 978-0-7393-8358-2).

Eating fried sago grubs with beer

Fried sago grubs go well with beer

After stir-fried, the butod becomes crispy and taste like fried fish skin, with a hint of prawn, quite nice. It goes well with beer. Dipping it with a bit of cheese would make it more yummy (I haven’t tried that though).

Sago Festival

If you are interested in munching some sago grubs, you may visit Sago Festival (Pesta Rumbia in local language), which is held in Kuala Penyu annually.

Sago grubs to be cooked

Sago grubs to be cooked

During the festival, the ticket for Sago Buffet is available for a few bucks only. Buy one and you can try different kinds of sago food, which includes cooked sago grubs.

Cooking Sago Grubs (Butod)

Cooking Sago Grubs (Butod)

Sago Grubs as food

Sago Grubs served in Sago Festival

Tourists trying out Sago Grubs (Butod)

Tourists trying out Sago Grubs (Butod)

There are many tourists who are keen to try sago grubs. The ticket is always sold out fast.

Sago Grub Satay or Satay Butod

Sago Grub Satay

Sago grub is also widely eaten by people of Sarawak, Southeast Asian countries, and Papua New Guinea. Sago grubs are commonly sold in weekly open air market (Tamu) in rural area of Sabah.

Children learn about sago grubs

Children learn about sago grubs

However, whenever I want to share butod with my friends, 9 out of 10 them would run away, and one passes out. Actually most Sabahans haven’t tried this delicacy yet. Hope the young generations will be educated that butod is great stuff and nobody should be afraid of eating it.

Butod Products

As one of the Four Asian Tigers, Thailand is far ahead in food industry. You can buy butod in package and tin from their supermarket and even order them online! Here are some product shots for your viewing pleasure.

Salted Sago Worms

Salted Sago Worms. Photo by www.thailandunique.com

Yes, you can eat worms like snack. Do share with your friends!

Edible Sago Worm Larvae (BBQ Flavour)

Edible Sago Worm Larvae (BBQ Flavour). Photo by www.thailandunique.com

Let’s open a can of worms, shall we?

Canned Palm Weevils with Salt

Canned Palm Weevils with Salt. You can eat the whole beetle straight from the can. Photo by www.thailandunique.com

Chocolate Coated Sago Worms

Nom Nom… Chocolate Coated Sago Worms. A great gift for Valentine’s Day? Photo by www.thailandunique.com

Photos taken in Sabah, Malaysia Borneo

Rumbia Information Center, all about Sago

Sago Information Center

Do you know certain trees are “edible”? You may have tasted it too, for example, the tiny jello-like balls in famous Malaysian dessert, Bo-Bo Cha-Cha (or Bubur Cha-Cha) is from Sago Palm, an important crop for people living in south-west of Sabah. Sago is known as Rumbia locally and a kind of starch that is extracted from the sago palm.

Sago palms in Sago Information Center

Sago palms

In Sabah, sago palm was once planted extensively in the wetlands of the west coast like Beaufort, Kuala Penyu, Papar and Penampang. However, the scale is getting small now because rice has replaced sago as the main source of carbohydrate.

Rumbia Information Center / Sago Information Center

Sago palm is also called the “Tree of a Thousand Uses”. If you are on a tour to Klias or Pulau Tiga Island, you may drop by the Rumbia Information Center (Sago Information Center, or Pusat Informasi Rumbia in Malaysian language) near Kuala Penyu town.

Statue of sago worker and sago grub

Statues of sago worker (left) and sago grub (right) at Rumbia Information Center

You can check out the 4-hectare sago plantation in the Center on a boardwalk. The signage, labels and information at the Center are displayed or presented in both Malay and English languages.

Sago palm can reach up to 10 to 13 Meters tall

Sago palm can reach up to 10 to 13 Meters tall

If you are lost in jungle, finding a sago palm can save your life. Sago is almost pure carbohydrate, an energy food which also contains a bit of protein, vitamins, and minerals. One palm can yield more than 50 Kg of starch, which yields 355 calories for every 100g, and its leaves and trunk are great materials to make tools and shelter! During WWII, the locals survived from starvation by eating sago.

Sago Exhibition Hall

The exhibition hall is the first highlight of the Center. Besides reading information about Sago, you also can see variety of handmade handicrafts made of sago leaves, bark and stem.

Watching video about sago

Watching video about sago

In the audio-visual room, visitors can watch a 30-min video that introduces the uses, processing and story of sago. The narrative is in Malay language but English subtitles are shown.

Visitors can learn more about sago in Rumbia Information Center

Visitors can learn more about sago in Rumbia Information Center

Over 50 handicrafts are on display. Most items are baskets, utensils, containers, mat, hats, fishing net, farming tools, etc. and some items are made of coconut leaves, bamboo and rattan. They are not so common nowadays, because plastic stuffs are more readily available.

Exhibition about Sago and ecology in Beaufort

Exhibition about Sago and ecology in Beaufort

In addition to sago, there are many information panels and photographs about the wetland ecology and wildlife in Klias Peninsular.

Beautiful handicrafts in Sago Information Center

Beautiful handicrafts in Sago Information Center

The hall is air-conditioned. Depending on your level of interest, a tour in Rumbia Information Center usually takes only one or two hours.

Exhibition hall of Sago Information Center

Exhibition hall of Sago Information Center

The craftsmanship is so fine that I want to buy them all (a few items are available for purchase). I think they are made by Dusun Tatana, Bisaya and Orang Brunei tribes live in Kuala Penyu district.

Various handicrafts made of sago

Various handicrafts made of sago materials

Sago Information Center isn’t a well-known tourist spot, so you (or your group) would be the only visitor most of the time.

You may watch the 1.5-min video below about Sago Exhibition:

Click Here to see bigger video

The Legend of Sago

I heard a sad story about the origin of sago during my visit. During old days in Kuala Penyu, there was a woman who could feed her family very well. Even though food was scarce, she was able to bring home food every day. Her husband was suspicious and decided to stalk her one day. He saw his wife placed a nyiru (straw colander) on the ground and started shaking her sarong. Then many small white pellets dropped from her body to the nyiru and that’s the stuff he ate. He was so furious and accused his wife of feeding him dirty food.

Two species of sago palm, without thorn (left) or with thorn (right)

Two species of sago palm, without thorn (left) or with thorn (right)

Knowing that her husband would kill her, the woman begged her husband to cut her body at waist level into half, and bury them in different spots. After some times, a nypa-like tree with smooth bark grew at the spot where her upper part was buried. And a similar tree, but with thorns, grew on another spot. Both are sago palms that produce sago and are scientifically known as matroxylon sagus (no thorn) and metroxylon rumphii (with thorns) respectively.

Sago Food

At this point, you would ask, “How to ‘eat’ sago tree then? Do you cut down the tree, chop it and bite it?”

Sago Processing

NO!!!! The starch needs to be extracted from sago stem first. After cutting down the sago palm, the farmers will remove the outer hard skin and process the spongy center of the trunk. Then they crush the stem with a wooden board (garus) full of nails in sawing movement, to break the pith into smaller pieces.

Sago processing by garus saw

Sago processing by garus saw

Tool to break down sago palm

Another tool to break down sago palm into chips

Next step they will collect the sago pieces and lay them on a mat which acts as a filter. A worker will pour water on sago pieces, continuously kneading them with feet, the starchy liquid will flow into a container. The starch powder will be collected after drying the water.

Sago processing with traditional method

Sago processing with traditional method

The traditional method is very labor intensive and time-consuming. Nowadays, electrical sago processing machine can grate, filter and collect the sago starch. You can see this machine demo in Sago Information Center.

Modern sago processing

Modern machine for sago processing

The starch from sago can be used for making different kinds of delicious food such as cake, dessert, biscuit and pudding. Sago flour can be used similarly to other types of flour. It is used in baking bread and pancake too.

Sago starch powder

Sago starch powder can be stored for weeks or months (but usually consumed within days).

In Sabah, sago starch is mixed with boiling water to make the popular local cuisine called the Ambuyat, a traditional way to enjoy sago. Usually locals eat it with fishes and soup, which go well with smooth texture of ambuyat.

serving ambuyat with traditional dishes

Serving ambuyat with traditional dishes

Sago Grubs (Butod)

Sago grub (Local Name: Butod) is a “byproduct” of sago cultivation. Beetles also know the richness of carbohydrates in sago stem, and their babies (larva) grow so fat eating sago. When farmers harvest sago, they collect these juicy worms as food too. You can even eat it raw if you dare.

Sago grub (locally known as Butod) is a delicacy

Sago grub (locally known as Butod) is a delicacy

You may read this article about eating sago worm as delicacy. Sago grub is not cheap though, each is sold for RM1.00 and it’s a hot selling item in native market.

Sago Festival (Pesta Rumbia)

So, are you drooling? You can sample different kind of exotic sago food (include worms) and dishes during Sago Festival (known as Pesta Rumbia in local language) in Kuala Penyu for a few dollars only. This sago buffet is very popular. The tickets sold out fast, so don’t miss it.

Sago food tasting in Sago Festival (Pesta Rumbia) of Kuala Penyu

The buffet booth for Sago food tasting in Sago Festival (Pesta Rumbia) of Kuala Penyu

Sago is so important to the local community that Kuala Penyu celebrates Sago Festival annually (usually in July). You may find out the date of this biggest cultural event in Kuala Penyu in Sabah Tourism website.

Making Ambuyat, the staple food of Sabah people in south-west

Making Ambuyat, a sago paste with semi-transparent and glue-like texture

Sago is normally sold in the shape of very tiny, colorful balls called sago pearls. When soaked and cooked, the pearls become larger, translucent, soft and spongy.

Cake made of sago

Cake made of sago

Sago palm can grow very fast (about 1.5 Meters per year) so it is ideal as an alternative staple food.

Dessert made of sago

Dessert made of sago (white stuff)

Sago palm takes 9 to 12 years to mature. You must cut it down before it starts to flower for 2 months, otherwise the fruiting will exhaust the starch and then the tree dies.

Making roof with sago fronds

Making roof with sago fronds

It’s all about sago during Sago Festival, you can check out exhibition, sago food buffet, Sago Beauty Queen Pageant, cultural shows, handicraft making demonstration, sago processing, games, etc.

House made of sago trunks

House made of sago trunks. Isn’t it beautiful?

Entrance Fee & Opening Hours

Rumbia Information Center is managed by district office of Sabah Forestry Department in Beaufort. Apart from providing basic information on sago, it is also open to public as a tourist destination. The following is the ticket price to enter the Center (rates as of Mar 2016):

Adult Child
Malaysian RM5 RM3
Non-Malaysian RM15 (≈US$3.75) RM7 (≈US$1.75)

Walk-in visitor is welcome. You also can organize a group tour with the Center. Their staff can give you an interpretation walk and education tour for better experience. You can even try eating the live Sago Grub. You are advised to inform them a few days prior to your group trip.

Education tour in Sago Information Center

Education tour in Sago Information Center

Below is the opening hours of Rumbia Information Center:
Mon-Thu, Sat, Sun, Public Holidays: 9am – 12pm, 2pm – 4:30pm
Fri: 9am – 11:30am, 2pm – 4:30pm


Tel: +60 87-897073
E-mail: rumbiainfocentre@gmail.com
Facebook: RumbiaInformationCentre
Address: Pusat Informasi Rumbia, Kompleks Perhutanan Kimanis, KM 61, Lebuhraya KK-Beaufort, Sabah, Malaysia
GPS Coordinates: 5.496861, 115.543920 (see Location Map or Street View)


Besides exhibition hall and boardwalk through sago palms, Rumbia Information Center has other amenities and services such as conference room for rent, food catering and laundry.

Toilet (left) and signage of Sago Information Center

Toilet (left) and signage of Sago Information Center

The toilet is quite clean. Overall, this Center is quite tourist-friendly. Their staffs are very helpful and friendly too (can speak and understand simple English).

Cafe in Sago Information Center

Cafe in Sago Information Center

The cafes there don’t sell or cook sago grubs. If you want to have a butod feast, you need to arrange with the Center at least 1 day in advance.

Accommodation in Sago Information Center

Orchid Rest House, the accommodation in Sago Information Center. The Check-in / Check-Out time is 12pm

Accommodation is available in the Center and named as Orchid Rest House (Rumah Rehat Orkid) suitable for family or student group. The house has two rooms, each room has two double decker bunk beds to host 4 people. The rest house is complete with kitchen (with cooking gas and utensils), toilet, air-conditioning, fan, parking, dining table, and living room. The accommodation can be rented as RM400 (≈US$100) per day for whole resthouse, RM160 (≈US$40) per room per day, or RM40 (≈US$10) per person per day. You can call Mr. Hillary at +60 13-5462717 for booking (or ordering Sago Grubs).

How to get there

Rumbia Information Center is located next to Menumbok – Kuala Penyu highway at Kampung Kasugira (Kasugira village), about 114 KM away from Kota Kinabalu city (KK). When you reach the roundabout (which has turtle statues on it) about 10 KM before Kuala Penyu town, take the junction to Menumbok. After 1.5 KM, you will see Rumbia Information Center at your left (see Location Map or Street View).

Entrance of Sago Information Center

Entrance of Sago Information Center. Note statues of sago palm at the left and beetle next to it.

If you depart from KK, the road trip will take approximately 3 hours on asphalt road in good condition. You also can take a bus that heads to Menumbok, but to return to KK, you have to take a bus to Beaufort town first, then get another bus from there, quite troublesome. Taxi is a better choice if you have more money.

Photos taken in Kuala Penyu, Sabah, Malaysia Borneo