KOTA KINABALU, Jan 18 — There is a little surprise for travellers to Sabah who take the time and effort to explore the state’s beauty through its beautiful countryside.
Along the winding, pot-holed roads between paddy fields, jungles, hillsides and oil palm plantations you will no doubt come across roadside stalls offering all manner of local produce.
Sometimes these stalls hawk unusual seasonal fruits endemic to the area like tarap, bambangan and dalit, or other times more common treats like grilled corn, vegetables, sugarcane and coconut juice and wild honey.
But there is one type of stall that has gotten more attention of late.
Driving from Kota Kinabalu towards Sabah’s most iconic travel destination — Mount Kinabalu — handwritten signs bearing the words “Sinalau Bakas” (and occasionally “tidak halal”) may make no sense to some, but the big plumes of smoke are an indication of the delectable local feast to be had.
Should you explore the origins of the smoke, often coming from under a ramshackle wooden hut complete with aluminium tin roof and makeshift tables and chairs, you will find a Sabahan delicacy worthy of any foodie and cultural enthusiast.
The words “Sinalau Bakas” — smoked wild boar — would send any Kadazandusun into a salivating frenzy.
Meat from a wild bearded pig, tough, lean and chewy is cut up into large chunks, marinated simply with salt, vinegar and garlic and then smoked, or sometimes grilled, to several stages of “doneness.”
Kampung Kelawat, at the foothills of Mount Kinabalu, is home to a community of Christian natives who still hunt for the wild boar the traditional way using traps. Because of this, the opening hours of their business are irregular as it depends on what and when they get their prey.
Other stalls use wild boar hunted from around Sabah by licensed hunters from as far as Sandakan and Keningau. Supply of the meat runs out quickly as some locals may make a trip up just to buy in bulk for family gatherings. A whole boar, between 50-60 kilogrammes, usually sells out in just three days.
You can choose from several cuts; some prefer leaner meat while others who want to use the meat for stews and soups may want a fattier cut.
Some are more well cooked than others. Customers can choose to buy the meat and eat it in the comfort of their own homes, or they will heat it over the fire and slice it for consumption on the spot, served with tuhau and lime and chilli.
Do not be put off by the blackened and rather unappetising look of the smoked pork. It belies a tasty meat, well seasoned with an interesting texture and taste that can be best described as a combination of tender pork and chewy lamb.
Seasoning is minimal thanks to the natural taste of the pork from the boar’s omnivorous diet of mainly plants and fruits.
The method of smoking, the “sinalau”, dates back to the days when villagers did not have any refrigeration and by smoking the meat, food can be preserved and stored for much longer and recooked later. Prices differ but range from around RM20 per kg for cooked meat.
Sometimes stall owners just grill the meat over an open fire, which is just as tasty but without the smoky charring.
Depending on the stall, some might have a basic kitchen which can also offer wild boar soup and stew, so bring your adventurous side.
However, if you have a sensitive stomach, the exposure of the meat to roadside elements, the occasional flies and exoticness of the meat may be a bit of a shock to your digestive system, which is really part of the fun.
Stalls offering “Sinalau Bakas” can be found along the road from Kota Kinabalu to Kundasang, around Kimanis and along the road from Tenghilan to Kota Marudu. Be sure to keep an eye out for them to enjoy a truly local taste of Sabah.