The PINASAKAN Popular Dish Among The Kadazan Dusun
Pinasakan is a popular dish among the Kadazandusun, the collective name for more than 40 sub-ethnic groups that live in Sabah. Kadazandusun is made up of three main groups – the Kadazan/Dusun, Murut and Orang Sungai, and they make up about 1 million of Sabah’s population.
Back in the day, way before refrigerators came into the picture, the Kadazandusun had to find a way to keep food from going bad. One of their staple foods was fish, only obtainable from towns that had access to the sea.
They travelled into these towns, to look for fish and other things in exchange for items from the highlands where they stayed. They often carried a “wakid” – a handmade bamboo and rattan basket – on their backs that held forest products, vegetables and tobacco to barter for salt, sugar, and fresh fish from the townsfolk.
Since the trip home sometimes took days, the Kadazandusun had to ensure that the fish withstood the long journey. Preservation was key, and hence the birth of pinasakan – referred to as such by the Kadazans, while the Dusuns refer to it as pinarasakan. However, it is more popularly known as pinasakan.
While still in town, they would make Pinasakan. The idea is to extract moisture from the fish, and thus the use of ikan basung, a naturally oily fish that doesn’t dry out even after cooking. Ikan basung is similar to sardines, and is found in waters no deeper than 80m. The fish is cheaply and widely available in Sabah.
To make Pinasakan, the fish is cleaned and cooked in a pot over very low heat, with just asam keping, turmeric, ginger, lemongrass, cili padi and salt. Thanks to the low heat and its naturally oily texture, the fish doesn’t get burnt, and enough moisture is extracted to keep it cooking for about an hour. Pinasakan can be kept for up to two weeks. It is a home-cooked dish and is not readily available in restaurants in Sabah.
Though Pinasakan is not made for the purpose of preservation nowadays, the dish can still be kept for up to five days without refrigeration. It is served with white rice and sambal on the side.
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