KOTA KINABALU — Ever wish you could order coagulated sago, two-week-old fermented river fish and “live” wriggling sago grubs for dinner?
Although they are not exactly comfort food for most people, these are staples in Sabah’s native villages and the star attraction at a restaurant here.
Tourists and even local residents who are looking for a taste of indigenous food now have an easy alternative to trekking through Sabah’s vast lands to find these delicacies.
Sandra Paut, a 24-year-old banker turned chef, got the idea of sharing her Kadazandusun culinary heritage with everybody.
Her restaurant, D’Place Kinabalu, serves traditional Sabahan food, and they’re not just for the novelty factor.
Bringing native Sabahan food experience to the forefront
Food like pinasakan (braised big-eyed scad locally called basung); ambuyat (sago starch powder used as a carbohydrate replacement), and hinava which is not usually available except on special occasions, are staples at her restaurant.
Sabahans throng here for a taste of their childhood, while tourists are grateful for the chance to savour the dishes at their convenience.
Executive chef Paut, who always had a love for cooking thanks to her mother and grandmother, first ventured into the business after working as a credit loan officer.
At 21, she ditched her cushy job at a bank to invest in a restaurant that was doing a mix of Asian, Filipino and Western cuisine in a suburb of the city.
“But one day, some Australian tourists who were looking for a taste of local food came by, and I happened to have some local vegetables in stock, so I whipped up some of my favourite childhood dishes.
“They loved it, and posted photos on Facebook, and soon, more people were asking for the dishes,” she said.
The self-taught chef soon redesigned the restaurant menu to focus on just native food, and it became a popular hit.
Recently, she and her business partners took the venture to new heights by moving to Plaza Shell, right smack in the city centre and within walking distance of major hotels and businesses.
“As much as I wanted to bring the experience of my childhood to everyone, there’s a big difference in recreating that in the city, as opposed to eating in a kampung, but the restaurant can still bring it to everyone,” she said.
A stark contrast to the modern building the restaurant is in, D’Place is decorated to feel like a traditional hut, with plenty of bamboo and palm leaves.
The food is also presented family, or local style, with banana leaves.
“My specialty, or advantage is that I source my ingredients from villages. Growing up there, I know the traditional methods and ingredients, even without professional chef training,” she said.
Labels: Kadazandusun, Sabah Cuisine