Ambuyat: The Traditional and Exotic Food Gem

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Ambuyat, often referred to as the national dish of Brunei, is also a local specialty in the Malaysian states of Sarawak, Sabah, and the federal territory of Labuan, where it is sometimes known as linut. This traditional dish, central to the indigenous food culture, offers a taste like no other, embodying the rich cultural fabric of these regions. In this article, we will explore the origins, preparation, and cultural significance of Ambuyat.

A Glimpse into Ambuyat 

Ambuyat, sometimes referred to as “sago porridge,” is a starchy and gooey delight that makes its mark on your palate by introducing a texture that many outside the East Malaysian states may find surprising. The dish originates from the interior trunk of the sago palm, a testament to the ingenuity of Borneo’s native communities in utilising their natural resources. This indigenous concoction is not your typical meal, providing a neutral taste that acts as the perfect canvas for the vibrant array of traditional sauces and side dishes it’s often paired with.

A Culinary Adventure for the Daring

The preparation of Ambuyat is an art in itself. The sago pearls are mixed with water and kneaded to create a thick, gelatinous substance. The resulting dough-like texture is then portioned into smaller pieces and served in a communal bamboo container known as a “candas.”

To eat Ambuyat, a special utensil called a “chandas” is used. This chandas is a long, skinny bamboo stick that is skillfully twirled to capture a small portion of Ambuyat, which is then dipped into the various accompanying sauces, known locally as “cacah” and side dishes. These sauces, usually made from fermented durian (tempoyak) or a tangy mixture of sour fruits, chilli, and shrimp paste, provide a burst of flavours that perfectly complement the bland taste of the Ambuyat

Eating Ambuyat is a unique experience that can be both challenging and fun. It takes some practice to master the art of using the chandas to pick up the desired amount of Ambuyat and to balance the flavours with the accompanying sauces and condiments. While the texture might be a bit unusual at first, it’s a delightful way to explore a new culinary sensation.

Health-wise, sago is a potent energy source, rich in carbohydrates, and has a low fat content, making Ambuyat a suitable option for those seeking sustenance without excessive calories. While it’s relatively plain, its accompaniments are rich in spices and natural ingredients known for various health benefits, creating a balance between indulgence and nourishment.

Beyond the Dining Table

In Sabah and Sarawak, ambuyat holds a place of cultural reverence, signifying more than just sustenance. The dish is an edible thread weaving through the generational tapestry of indigenous people, including the Bruneian, Kadazan-Dusun, and Dayak communities. It represents a communal experience, often enjoyed in a ‘gotong-royong’ manner, a term used to describe the spirit of togetherness and communal help in Malaysian culture. Sitting around a shared pot enhances social bonding and unity, essential aspects of the communal lifestyle prevalent in these areas.

What makes Ambuyat stand out in the modern culinary scene is its sustainability aspect. In the times of overfishing and depleting food resources, Ambuyat underscores the importance of a sustainable lifestyle. The sago palms used are typically grown in indigenous territories, and their cultivation supports local economies and traditional agricultural practices.

ambuyat with other dishes
Source: Taste Atlas


Ambuyat, though simple in appearance, embodies the complex tapestry of cultural identity, tradition, and togetherness. It is a dish that invites exploration and conversation, urging you to dive into a deeper understanding of Borneo’s heartlands. So, on your next journey to the East of Malaysia, pull up a chair at the local eater’s table, grab a candas, and immerse yourself in the sticky, delightful symphony of Ambuyat.

Article curated by Himavee Jayaweera