When you check-in at Tawau airport, you may notice a lot of local passengers carry many boxes with them. Try to get really closer and you would smell something dead. Haha, if you don’t know what it is, you miss something very, very important from Tawau.
Let’s reveal what is inside the boxes. It is the best dried seafood of Sabah. The dried seafood of Tawau is so good and famous that even people from Peninsular Malaysia and Brunei consider it’s a must-buy.
Dried seafood is sold everywhere in Sabah, but the best one is found in Tawau Tanjung Market (Pasar Tanjung Tawau in local language). This three-storey market in Tawau is more than just a dried seafood market, it is also selling rich variety of produces from neighbouring countries such as Indonesia. It is open from 6am to 5pm (or later) every day.
The love of stinky salted fishes is not only among Malaysians, other Asians share the same love too, the more smelly, the better. To westerners, dried seafood may smell like corpse. Hey, to us, your favorite blue cheese also smells like used socks unwashed for weeks. I like blue cheese anyway. Every culture appreciates different kind of stinky food.
Most Hong Kong and China tourists don’t know this place. If they do, I’m sure they will drop by to shop, before they leave Tawau after their island trip in Semporna. Dozens of dried seafood stalls are located in 1st floor of Tawau Tanjung Market.
Sabah is well-known for its seafood, so we are never short of fresh seafood to make dried seafood. We dry almost everything from the sea, for example, fish, shrimp, squid, sea cucumber, seaweed. Many dried seafood are packed nicely in plastic bag. I was very surprised that I didn’t see swarm of flies around.
Dried seafood is so important in our diet that Sabahans who study overseas in western countries will bring a lot of them. I can finish a big bowl of white rice with only a few small chunks of salted fishes. It is more tasty if you eat with bare hand and cold rice. Try it.
My favorite salted fish is the “moist” type (梅香咸鱼 in Chinese). Unlike salted fishes that are dried by sun, the fluid and freshness are locked in moist salted fish and give it a stronger smell and deeper flavor.
Pic: huge salted fishes. The taste of bigger salted fishes are usually better than the small ones. Big salted fish is a hot selling item and sometimes it is out of stock. Old customers will book it with hawker earlier.
The dried seafood here is not cheap though, but you can always bargain. Many are willing to spend hundreds because they can’t find such high-quality products elsewhere.
Dried anchovy fishes are commonly used in Malaysian food (e.g. Nasi Lemak), even tourists like it. You can fry it with sugar and eat it like snack, best if comes with beer.
In ground floor of Tanjung Market are fruit, vegetables, meat and grocery stalls, where you can find local and imported items from Indonesia. Dried seafood is on 1st floor. 2nd floor is selling apparels.
The ground floor has so many Tawau and Indonesian snacks that you may like to check out. Some items such as cashew nut is sold cheaper than Peninsular Malaysia. Other popular buy are kacipok, atong nut and tapok nut.
A snack I strongly recommend you to try is the ball-shaped and crunchy amplang cracker made from Spanish mackerel mixed with tapioca flour and special spices. Trust me, this cracker has no funny or unpleasant smell. Everyone loves it. Tawau makes the best Amplang cracker in Sabah.
Want to see more photos? Please check out my photo album below.
How to get there
Tanjung Market is in Tawau city centre, located along Jalan Dunlop (Dunlop Road) and next to the Tawau Customs, Immigration and Quarantine Complex. You may see the location map (Google Map).
Photos taken in Tawau, Sabah, Malaysia Borneo