Linopot of Hill Rice with traditional mouth-watering side dishes.

Linopot, the Traditional Leaf-wrapped Rice of Sabah

Rice is the staple food of Malaysians, who may see rice as something ordinary. However, rice holds a special place in Borneo. Kadazandusun people, the largest indigenous group of Sabah, believe that rice has soul because the presence of paddy spirits, Bambarayon. Linopot is rice being packed and wrapped nicely in a big leaf, a traditional takeaway of Sabah natives. The word “Linopot” means packing in Dusun language.

Left: Bobolians (High Priest) of Kadazandusun appease the paddy spirits to pray for a bountiful harvest. Right: Linopot and its dishes
Left: Bobolians (High Priest) of Kadazandusun appease the paddy spirits to pray for a bountiful harvest. Right: Linopot (Black hill paddy) and its dishes (Tuhau, Bambangan, Salted fish, Sayur Losun and Kantan, Sayur bunga betik and pucuk ubi)

In old days, before plastic food containers are common, farmers and villagers, who left home for long hours to work in farm or forest, would bring Linopot with them as lunch pack. Rice packed in Linopot can last for days without going rancid. After unwrapping, the leaf is used as an eco-friendly plate and need no washing.

Linopot (packed rice) of Sabah natives
Linopot is the traditional take-out of Sabah people, the wrapping leaf can be used as a plate.

Rice of Linopot

In traditional preparation, hill paddy was mostly used in Linopot, and the rice can be mixed with other starchy crops such as yam, to create different types of rice like the following (Note: Nasi means Rice in Malay language):

  • Nasi Gu’ol (rice mixed with yam)
  • Nasi Tawadak (rice mixed with pumpkin)
  • Nasi Mundok (rice mixed with cassava)
  • Nasi Kasou (rice mixed with sweet potato)
  • Nasi Tadong (Black Hill Paddy)
  • Takano (rice in Dusun language)
Different types of hill paddy in Sabah
Different types (colours) of hill paddy in Sabah

Nowadays paddy sold in supermarket is mainly processed white paddy. Though processed white race has longer shelf life and more pleasing to the eyes, its best nutrients are gone due to the removal of bran and germ, which contain fiber, protein, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. That’s why health-conscious consumers opt for brown rice, which retains these nutrients. The coloured hill rice of Linopot shares the similar health benefits. Moreover, the addition of root and tuber vegetables supplements complex carbohydrates that enhances the taste and nutrition too.

Left: Purple rice Linopot by Ropuhan di Fifie. Right: Linopot with traditional side dishes (Hinava, Tuhau, Bambangan, Losun)
Left: pretty purple rice Linopot by Ropuhan di Fifie. Right: Linopot (red Bario rice) with traditional side dishes (Hinava, Tuhau, Bambangan, Losun vege, Ikan Basung)

If the rice is boiled with yams or sweet potato, the colours of these vegetables would add a natural purplish or brown hue to the rice. You could add pandan leaf for extra fragrant. Once the rice is cooked, it will be pounded and stirred by a wooden pestle so the starchy ingredients are mashed to mix evenly with the rice.

Wrapping Leaves of Linopot

When the rice is prepared, next step is to pack it into Linopot with the fresh leaf of doringin, kobu, tarap, tintap, longkobung, toropoi, wonihan, or banana because their leaves are big and readily available.

Tour package to Semporna
Big leaves of Longkobung and Doringin
Big leaves of Longkobung (left) and Doringin (right). Doringin is preferred in packing Linopot because of its pleasing scent. Credit: photo of Doringin by Jnzl
Local NameCommon NameScientific Name
Doringin / RunginSimpoh AyerDillenia suffruticosa
Wonihan / WongianCommon mahangMacaranga bancana
TimadangTarapArtocarpus odoratissimus
TintapNeonauclea Gigantea
LongkobungParasol Leaf TreeMacaranga tanarius
Kobu / NyirikLerek / KelupisPhacelophrynium maximum
Lemba / RembaPalm grassMolineria latifolia
KetapangIndian almondTerminalia catappa
Pisang / PuntiBananaGenus: Musa
A list of common and scientific names of big leaf plants typically used in making Linopot
Linopot wrapped in the big leaf of Doringin (left), Banana (middle) and Wonihan (right)
Linopot wrapped in the big leaf of Doringin (left), Banana (middle) and Wonihan (right)

The aromatic leaf makes Linopot more palatable. The leaf also absorbs the excessive moisture in the rice so the food can last longer. The leaves are washed and dried before use. Some leaves need to have their hard midrib trimmed, so they can be bent and folded easily.

Making a Linopot

The wrapping is carried out while the rice is still hot, because the heated leaves are softer and easier to fold. The rice is first poured on the smooth surface of the leaf, then being pressed from all sides by both hands behind the leaf, until the rice is compressed and hold well together like a brick. Without this step, the rice will break apart and fall everywhere when we open the Linopot.

The rice for Linopot shouldn't be too dry or overcooked. Photos by Camy @CamyLinopot
The rice for Linopot shouldn’t be too dry or overcooked. Photos by Camy @CamyLinopot.

You can watch the video below to learn how a Linopot is made (spoken in Malaysia language, but you still can see how they do it):

Side Dishes for Linopot

The rice of Linopot is the main course, and to be eaten with condiments and side dishes. Basically they are makanan kampung (village food), and many are food that outsiders unheard of, for example, ferns, torch ginger flower, core of banana trunk, petiole of papaya. The villagers just harvest the food materials from their backyard, river or nearby forest.

Common food materials (Tuhau, Tulod-ulod, Jantung Pisang, Paku-pakis, Kantan, Terung pipit) of makanan kampung (village food) in Sabah
Some common food materials of Sabah kampung food (village food)

Below are some popular traditional food that go with Linopot (in English translation and description):

  • Hinava: raw fish salad made of king mackerel (ikan tenggiri), mixed with calamansi juice, sliced shallots and grated ginger
  • Bambangan (mangifera pajang): fermented wild mango, a mouth-watering appetizer
  • Tuhau (etlingera coccinea): pickled wild ginger minces with distinct smell, also served in dried floss (Serunding)
  • Losun: leaves of local wild shallots, eaten as salad or mixed veges
  • Ikan basung: Mackerel scad (Decapterus macarellus), yummy when fried or cooked in sour soup (pinarasakan)
  • Ikan masin: salted fish
  • Bosou: raw fish / meat fermented in jar with brown rice, salt and pangium seeds for week(s)
  • Pucuk betik: petiole of papaya leaf
  • Sayur tumis: stir-fried vegetables
  • Kantan: flower of torch ginger
  • Rebung: bamboo shoots
  • Kodop: edible fungus grown on fallen rubber trees
  • Terung pipit: Pea Eggplant (Solanum Torvum)
  • Mangga totok: pounded or pulped young mango
  • Liposu: a common sour fruit in countryside
  • Tulod-ulod: bilimbi, very sour fruit
Ikan Basung Goreng (fried scad fish)
Highly Recommended: Ikan Basung Goreng is Mackerel scad being deep-fried until it’s very crispy. The meat is tasty and the best part is the super crispy fish head.

The locals’ favourites are bambangan, tuhau, losun, and salty fishes. You can add anything, even hotdog and chicken wing as you pleased, but a balance diet is always encouraged. For tourists, the “safe” choices are hinava, ikan basung and vegetables. If you are on a gastronomic adventure, try tuhau, bambangan, and bosou for acquired tastes. Tip: these food are more delicious if you eat them with your hands.

Having Linopot with bare hands
Enjoying Linopot without spoon and fork

Where to Eat

Though Linopot and the food mentioned above are true Sabah dishes, most tourists haven’t tried them. Most travel agents bring tourists to fancy restaurants for seafood and other food that tastes like chicken, and reluctant to challenge the taste buds of their customers with overly exotic food.

1. Sabah Homestay

The best place to try Linopot is a vacation in homestay, especially in West Coast and Interior Districts of Sabah. You will eat the same village food with the host family. Linopot is also commonly served in local wedding of Kadazandusun people.

Linopot and side dishes
Linopot is gaining popularity among tourists who want to try real Sabah food

You also can order from the following Linopot set sellers (Delivery and Halal option available):

2. Aurora Anabella Lovelia (Tuaran and Kota Kinabalu)

Facebook: aurora.anabella.7
Phone (Whatsapp): +60 11-10305110

Linopot set of Sabah
Linopot set by Viana (@Aurora Anabella Lovelia) and My Native Sabah (@mynative.sabah)

3. My Native Sabah (Kota Kinabalu)

Facebook: mynative.sabah
Instagram: @mynative.sabah
Opening Hours: 11:30am-8:30pm (Mon-Fri), 11:30am-6:00pm (Sat), Closed on Sunday
Phone (Whatsapp): +60 16-8332381
Location: 1st Floor, Plaza 333, Penampang, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia
(Note: they also have another outlet “Native Cafe” at Hotel N5)

4. Camy Linopot (KL & Selangor)

Instagram: @CamyLinopot
Phone: Whatsapp (Cassandra)

Linopot set
Linopot set by (left) Camy (@CamyLinopot) and (right) Ropuhan di Fifie

5. Other Outlets (Kota Kinabalu)

Outskirts Eatery, Little Sulap

The longest Nuba Tingaa (Nasi Bungkus) line (308.95 Metres) in Malaysia Book of Records, created by Lundayeh people in Sabah.
The longest Nuba Tingaa (packed rice) line (308.95 Metres) in Malaysia Book of Records, made by Lundayeh people in a longhouse in Sipitang of Sabah. Linopot is also called “ludtak” in some places.

The blue-coloured Nasi Kerabu is a well-known Malaysian dish. Linopot deserves to have the same reputation, consider it’s such a remarkable cultural heritage. Just look at the video channel of Li Ziqi (李子柒), one of the most famous social influencers who features traditional culinary skills that attract tens of millions of fans. This proves that many foodies do appreciate classic cuisines. What Linopot needs is just more exposure to national and international audiences.

Linopot with Green Tea Rice
Creative Linopot with green tea rice by Sabah Tea. Photo courtesy of Martin Kong @ Sabah Tea Resort

Photos taken in Sabah, Malaysia Borneo

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