Start them young, says Kadazan food enthusiast
Published on: Sunday, September 25, 2022
By: Lorena Binisol
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Evelyn teaching young women how to make Hinompuka, a Kadazan dessert.
THERE is never-ending discovery when it comes to one’s culture. Be it in cuisine, way of living, ethnic dances, cultural belief, attire and so on.

The Kadazan culture has great diversity when it comes to authentic food preparation. Each Kadazan family holds their own values, re-creating own menu based on “recipes” passed down from the previous generations.

As for Evelyn Annol, a Kadazan food enthusiast, she said there are many ways to remember one’s culture and traditional food is one of them.

However, she said if one is really eager to promote indigenous food to the younger family members there must be great effort to start it from home, the family must make the move first.

“The family should expose their children to eating all the traditional food, especially the authentic ones while they are still young.

“They select a day for the special menu, whereby all the typical Kadazan food are spread on the table, or even better the exotic ones. I used to do this with my children while they were growing up.

“Whether they like it or not, is another story,” said Evelyn.

She was thankful that her efforts in bringing up the children to have fondness for local delicacies paid off today. All her grown-up children would look forward to come back home (from overseas) because they miss eating the original food, the home-cooked food.

She said her great influencer had been her mother who introduced to her the home-cooked authentic dishes and passionately used to cook for the family every single day.

She was grateful her mother taught her all the “secret recipe”. 

“Well, actually there is nothing so secret about our authentic food. In fact the ingredients are easily found and quite basic, except for certain items.

“What makes our food so significant is the story behind each food, the culture that comes with it.  It is instrumental, and this becomes somewhat valuable for our legacy,” she said.

She was, however, sad by families who took for granted and expecting the younger ones to know their local foods via books or from social media.

“Ask any of them if their children can eat Soko (bamboo shoot) or Sopong (a type of catfish found only in small stream) or pickled raw fish and so on.

“Hardly! I believe exposure while they’re young is so important to understand the family values, culture, way of life and our original food.  These carry our own identity so that our legacy remains with us for as long as the Kadazan population exist in the world,” she said.

Hinava is raw fish made into salad, a popular Kadazan appetiser. 

Hombiding, a wild vegetable, is hardly recognised by young people.

 ‘Many youngsters do not recognise local fruits like Bambangan.’

She was glad that some families took efforts to provide cooking classes (either official or impromptu) showing how to prepare the local food, such as Hinava (pickled raw fish), Pinasakan Sada (fish simmered in sour fruit) and some others.

“By showing how to cook them, it encourages the younger ones to sample and cook for themselves too. This kind of activity should continue as it fosters closeness among them, emulate good example and also they could remember better when they see the action before their eyes,” she said. 

She said patience and passion would lead to goodness if the family took extra efforts in promoting their ancestor’s food.

Pickled salted vegetable, or popularly known as Hamchoi by the locals, is an easy homemade food. 

Not many youngsters nowadays could prepare Bambangan pickles (a type of sour fruit) where it used to be done by the older generations, said Evelyn.

Phoenix Abigail, 22, was glad she learnt the skill from her family.

“In case I do not land any job in future, I have this skill as capital for starting a small business, we never know. So for now, I am learning to cook food inspired by my late grandmother,” said Phoenix.

Peter Tobob, 24, who could speak fluent Kadazan, thanked his parents Ireneus Kondu and Jovinia Yahee for their efforts in imparting the mother tongue to him and his sister, Donna.

Peter said when it comes to Kadazan delicacies, he has no qualms at all. He too opined that lacking of exposure leads to many young people disliking or having no interest in local food but instead prefer western food.

Phoenix recently learnt how to make pickled Bambangan. 

Donna said her parents helped her appreciate authentic Kadazan food.

“I remember when young, my sister Donna and I were frequently having all kinds of local food in the family meals.  

“Now we have no problem at all sampling anything from exotic to authentic, everything is adaptable by my palate,” he said.

On preparing the food, Peter admitted he is not into culinary but more on promoting the food for the sake of legacy.

He also said if the Japanese could penetrate the market in Sabah of their authentic Japanese cuisine, there is no reason why Sabahan authentic food could not do the same.

“It is all about how passionate and how creative we are to style or re-‘design’ our food to entice the eyes before sampling it.

“If foreign food could come into our market, I don’t see why we can’t have ours into their market.

“However, first and foremost we must know our own local food, having interest in it, loving it and we know it is part of our culture and legacy.

“Only then, we are proud to introduce our culture to foreign visitors, right,” he suggested.

Peter’s sister Donna is well trained in speaking her mother tongue, said she has always enjoyed eating local food. Hinompuka, a dessert is her favourite for tea time.

On preparing the food, Donna would make efforts to cook whenever she has time. She was thankful for her parents who had imparted important lesson to her and brother, Peter.

Phoenix said learning a skill was a confidence boost when it comes to food preparation. 

Nick and his cousin Clifford sampling Hinompuka, a popular dessert among the Kadazans. 

“I speak Kadazan fluently and eat our local exotic food due to the exposure from my parents when we were still toddlers,” she said.  

Ireneus Simon Kondu is a proud father having both his children eating exotic Kadazan delicacies such as Nonsom Sada (pickled raw fish) and wild vegetables, he said he has done his part rightly.

“If we don’t expose them about our origin and identity, who else will. It is our responsibility to educate them, instil in them the importance of knowing our own culture through our daily food, it is actually easy and all we need is to have extra efforts in doing it,” said Ireneus.

Another skill Phoenix learnt is making salted pickled bitter spinach, although it was influenced by the Chinese community, local Sabahans had longed practised making ‘Hamchoi’ ever since Chinese migrants were in Borneo island in the early days.

Phoenix confided that there are many local (wild) vegetables she could not recognise. 

Homiding, Lalansa, Sundip, Solimpogun are some of the wild vegetables not many could identify nowadays.

“That is why exposure is really important in this aspect,” said Evelyn.


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