3 Easy Malaysian Recipes I Learned in Borneo

By Abi King | South Asia

Jan 25

3 Easy Malaysian Recipes

Cooking in Malaysia

Let’s get one or two things clear right from the start. I love cooking but I’m hardly a chef. I love food but I’m hardly a connoisseur (I still can’t tell my kaffir from my Persian when it comes to types of limes and I’ve long since abandoned knowing my Jersey Royal from my Ruby Lou when the subject of potatoes is on the table.)

But, one thing is for sure and that is that I love cooking classes.

I Love Cooking Classes

Not only do they get you out of doing the washing up (mind, so does street food, dining at Michelin-starred restaurants and eat-with-your-hands takeaways) but they also get you in to sitting down and talking with someone from another culture. They’re entertaining, educational and even if you mess up the recipes yourself then you’ll never end up hungry; you can share with someone else.

Best of all, I leave with tried and tested recipes that I can bring here and share with you. So it’s an extended dinner table, really, one that reaches all across the globe.

A Dinner Table Across the Globe

I felt a little nervous, though, as I bundled my camera and notebook beneath the monsoon skies and scurried into the class, distracted by splatters of roadside mud and the thunder of rain on tarpaulin. Food so far in Malaysia had tasted so fresh and so delicately spiced. The clear soups and sauces disguised the strength of the flavours and carried a secret I felt sure I’d never manage to learn (back home, soups come thick and chunky, with levels of colour equalling the level of taste.)

The name of the game was the “Basic Sabah Ethnic Cooking Class” run at the Mango Garden Restaurant (right next to the rather bizarre Upside Down House. A story for another day perhaps…)

Upside Down House Sabah

The Upside Down House. It’s a house that’s upside down…

But how basic was basic? In other words, was it going to be basic enough for the likes of me?

Basic Sabah Ethnic Cooking Class

Oh, cover me in eggs and flour and bake me in a banana leaf for 40 minutes, it was. Happy days! Tasty days! Not only did the whole plan come together but (bar an ingredient or two) this menu did actually look like something I’d be able to do back home.

Step aside Jamie Oliver. I’m coming home ready to impress.

Introducing three easy Malaysian Recipes for you all to have a try…Let’s go!


Malaysian Recipe Number One: Manuk Tinapah

BBQ Chicken in Herbs

Unlike the other recipes, this one is generally reserved for high days and holidays. The rich canary yellow sauce brings a splash of colour to the plate and locals usually use it to dazzle at weddings or to celebrate the end of the holy month of Ramadan. Manuk means chicken and Tinapah means BBQ in the local Bajau dialogues but, well,  you know, Manuk Tinapah sounds cooler than plain old barbecued chicken.


200g boneless chicken, 30g garlic, 30g  ginger, 40g mashed shallots, 30g galangal (root that’s similar to ginger,) 30g lemongrass, 15g turmeric, 20g saw leaves (hm, may need to resort to rocket in the UK,) 50ml coconut milk, 20ml cooking oil. Sugar and salt to taste.


  • Pound the garlic, ginger, shallots, galangal, lemongrass and turmeric together to form a chunky paste.
  • In a bowl mix in all the other ingredients, season to taste and marinate for around 10 minutes.
  • Roll the chicken and tie with string. Cook in the coconut milk until half cooked (slightly pink when sliced.)
  • Remove the chicken and put aside for grilling.
  • Turn up the heat to medium high and reduce the coconut gravy to form a sauce.
  • Pour the oil into a frying pan and cook the chicken until slightly browned and burned.
  • Slice the chicken, set it on the salad leaves and then audaciously drizzle some sauce all over it and into a fancy spiral on the plate.
  • Eat and enjoy (with rice if you need a carb hit.)Malaysian Recipe Fish in Soup

Malaysian Recipe Two: Daeng Masak Timbul

Fish Cooked in Local Herbs

Now, this dish can apparently be cooked on a boat according to its legend of creation that involves either pirates or hardworking fishermen depending upon your point of view. Either way, this Ubian delicacy from northern Sabah is super fast, ultra fresh and with the low fat combo of lean protein and mixed veg, it’s ridiculously good for you. It even looks good when artfully arranged.


200g Tuna 20g, Garlic 30g, Ginger 30g, Onion 20g, Turmeric 20g, Chilli 30g, Tomatoes 30g, Lemongrass 20g, Lemon Basil Leaves 10g, Dried Carambola (starfruit to the rest of us…) Salt to taste


  • Clean and cut the fish into large pieces (about the size of a deck of cards.)
  • Slice the garlic, ginger, onions and turmeric
  • Pound the lemongrass then cut the chilli and tomato into wedges
  • Mix everything except together in a pot of water and bring to the boil (everything except for the fish and lemon basil that is.)
  • Once the water is boiling, add the fish and lemon basil and boil until the fish is cooked through.
  • Pour into a bowl and garnish.
  • Serve hot and enjoy

Malaysian Recipe Ceviche

Malaysian Recipe 3: Hinava Sada

Traditional Fish Salad

This dish has quite a ceviche vibe (the fish is “cooked” by the citrus juices rather than by heat from over a fire.) I love, love, love this kind of combination but if you’re at all uneasy at the sight or taste of “raw” fish then perhaps this isn’t for you. I’d urge you to give it a try, though, and you can rustle it up as either a starter or side dish or even (served with enough salad) as a summer main course. If you’re short on time, this can also be prepared the day before and left in the fridge ready to go.


200g Fresh Tuna Fillet, 67g Bitter Gourd, 17g Ginger, 34g Shallots, Red Chilli, 42ml Lime Juice. Salt to taste.


  • Clean and finely slice the tuna fillet then marinate it with lime juice and salt.
  •  Slice the bitter gourd, ginger, shallots and chillies into thin, thin strips
  • Mix everything together in a bowl and leave for at least 10 minutes.
  • Toss well then serve.
  • That’s it! Ta da!

So, there you go. Three really easy Malaysian Recipes, recipes so simple that even I could make them look and taste good.

Have a go yourselves and let me know how you got on!

Cheers for now,




Disclosure: I visited the Mango Garden Restaurant as part of a project with iAmbassador, Sabah Tourism and Royal Brunei Airlines. As ever, as always, all words and thoughts and tastes and cooking experiences my own. Otherwise, there’s just no point. The pics are my own too and what’s more I made all the food myself! How about that?! 

Other Recipes from Cooking Lessons Around the World

Bajan Recipes: Flying Fish and Coucou in Barbados

Jordanian Recipes: Fattoush, Siniyet Kafta and Knafeh


About the Author

Abigail King is an award-winning writer and author who swapped a successful career as a hospital doctor for a life on the road. With over 60 countries under her belt, she's worked for Lonely Planet, the BBC, National Geographic Traveller and more. She is passionate about sustainable tourism and was invited to speak on the subject at the EU-China High Level summit at the UNESCO Headquarters in Paris.Here she writes about food, travel and history and she invites you to pull up a chair and relax. Let's travel more and think more. Welcome!

  • Harold Durie Finch says:

    My mouth is watering……..

  • Rachelle says:

    The upside down house looks crazy! That’s so cool!

    I’m looking forward to trying out these recipes. :)

    • Abi King says:

      Hm…yes. Everything in there is upside down! (As in, stuck to the ceiling.) Quite interesting – but gave me a bit of a headache!

  • De'Jav says:

    These are great recipes that look so good and easy. I will have to try.

  • I love cooking classes too! Malaysia would be a great place and I’m kicking myself for not doing it back when I was there. Next time for sure!

  • Leah says:

    These look delicious! Sadly, I’ve only done one cooking class in my whole life, in Chiang Mai. It was so much fun though and I took the recipes home and recreated them over and over again for family and friends. I need more simple dishes to add to my repertoire, maybe I’ll give one of these a try!

    • Abi King says:

      Ah, well at least you kept up with what you learnt! I have quite a stop-start mentality when it comes to cooking something new. I feel another resolution for 2015 creeping into view…!

  • Cecilia says:

    Me too I love cooking classes and learning international recipes. Looking through all of your great recipes I definitely will try the fish salad. Sounds so delicious. Thanks for sharing.

    • Abi King says:

      Dismayed to say that I STILL haven’t got around to making one of these now I’m back. But I SHALL! Buoyed on by you all perhaps :-)

  • Elli says:

    I did this exact same cooking day at the Mango garden restaurant! The chef was amazing and the recipes so delicious and fresh!

    • Abi King says:

      Aha! Small world! I agree – the chef was amazing. Your comment has just reminded me how I promised myself I would cook this when I got home…Need to get cooking!

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