This month, the Malaysian Food Fest takes us to Sabah, the other Malaysian state on our beloved Borneo Island. Although we were pretty much neighbours, the only experience I’d had with Sabah was a brief stopover at Kota Kinabalu airport many many moons ago. So unfortunately I haven’t had authentic Sabahan cuisine yet.
What I do know though, is that Sabah and Sarawak share some similarities in food preparations. When I saw the recipe for Hinava, a fish salad commonly prepared by the Kadazan people, I can think of another dish very similar in Sarawak: the Umai by the Melanau people. Both recipe calls for white fish flesh and lime juice as the main ingredients, and the citrus cooked the fish flesh, just like the Spanish ceviche. In fact it is possible this dish has Spanish influence, even.
Hinava is usually consumed during the Kaamatan Festival (rice harvest festival), there are some variations in recipe but many uses thin slices of raw bitter gourd. I love bitter gourd and this was the main attraction for this recipe to me. The authentic version of Hivana will usually have grated “bambangan seed”. I have no idea where to get this in KL so I’ve omitted that, apparently it doesn’t make much difference anyway.
You have to get the freshest fish available for this kind of salad because the lime juice doesn’t kill all the bacteria. I chose to have the fish ‘shocked’ by boiling water before curing it because I bought my fish from my supermarket. Even though it was cut on the same day, I thought I’d take extra precautions. Terri, a Sabahan food blogger also does it this way.
Recipe adapted from A Pepper’s Love
200g raw Mackerel (tenggiri) fish
Juice of 5-6 calamansi lime
Salt to taste
Small amount of Ginger, cut into fine strips
2 Shallots, peeled and slice thinly
2 Chili Padis, finely chopped
Thin slices of Bitter Gourd
Coriander for garnish
Preparing the fish by removing skin and bones, then cut into bite size pieces.
This is an optional step. I poured boiling water (to remove any funky taste) over the fish, and drained immediately. The fish was then set aside to let it cool completely. You can certainly omit this step and just cook it with lime juice instead, but you’ll probably need extra limes.
Add lime juice and salt to the raw fish and mix well. Then toss with ginger, shallot, chili and bitter gourd. Set aside for at least 15 minutes in the fridge or longer, until ready to serve. Garnish with coriander.
It’s great as an appetiser, or even served with rice, but guess what I did with it?
Since it’s pretty much a variant of ceviche, I ate the fish salad with some homemade tortilla and guacamole in conjunction with Cinco De Mayo! On its own, it’s super refreshing with all that lime juice. As the bitter gourd has been treated with salt, it wasn’t bitter at all and gives a lovely textural contrast to the dish. I’d love to try this with other types of fish next time (salmon, tuna, other fresh white fish, possibilities are endless). For those who dislike fish, you can also make this with prawn or squid.
So are you a fan of fish salad like this?