Have you ever been to an upside-down house, where you get to stand on the ceiling and have the chairs up above your head? There is one upside-down house here in Tamparuli, Sabah, called Rumah Terbalik Borneo.
It is the 6th upside-down structure in the world – the rest are scattered across the globe such as the upside down restaurant in:
- Matsumoto city, Nagano prefecture, Japan;
- the Upside Down Church and the WonderWork Amusement Park in the United State;
- Die Welt Steht Kopf (“The World Stands on its Head”) House on the island of Usedom in the Baltic Sea;
- the House-Attack in Vienna, Austria;
- and the House of Kathmandu on the Spanish island of Majorca.
Rumah Terbalik Borneo
Rumah Terbalik is situated at Mile 21, Jalan Telibong (between Shell gas station and SMK Tamparuli), about 30 minutes’ drive from Kota Kinabalu City. I first visited Rumah Terbalik a year ago and at that time, I actually missed the spot, as it was humbly nestled in between other structures.
It was a joy to see the wonders in my kids’ face seeing everything topsy turvy.
Now, Rumah Terbalik Borneo has been further improved and is standing tall with a conspicuous signage that welcomes visitors and the vast improvements make it hard to miss.
Plus, it has a restaurant serving the public, called Mango Garden Restaurant of Rumah Terbalik.
Mango Garden Restaurant
Recently, I had the privilege of lunching at the Mango Garden Restaurant of Rumah Terbalik with one of its owners, Ms Diana Chia and Executive Chef Fortunato Lowell @ Asrif.
During my visit, Rumah Terbalik was teeming with visitors and the Mango Garden Restaurant was also enjoying tables filled with groups of tourists from Semenanjung Malaysia.
Walking from the mid-day heat into the inviting atmosphere of the Mango Garden Restaurant wooden structure and its immaculate furnishings was really blissful for me, my wife and my mother-in-law.
We were welcomed by very polite waiter and waitresses who immediately seated us and then allowed us time to go through the Menu which was charmingly placed standing on top of the table.
A few minutes later, we met Ms Diana Chia and Executive Chef Fortunato Lowell @ Asrif for the first time.
Ms Diana (a Singaporean) who is also the wife of the owner, Mr Alexander Yee (a Sabahan), informed us that the Mango Restaurant started serving customers a few months ago and is now eagerly awaiting the arrival of its ‘Halal’ certification.
The Halal certification not only confirms that the food is prepared according to Islamic values, it also confirms that the Restaurant practices a high standard of cleanliness.
Looking at the Menu, we were really impressed with the owners’ interest and appreciation of the local cuisine. Together with Chef Lowell, who hails from the East Coast of Sabah, they have assembled a menu that incorporates an array of tasty and interesting dishes currently enjoyed by Sabahans of different ethnic and culture, presented artfully with the Chef’s creativity.
Chef Lowell literally went all over Sabah, learning the recipes from the people that have been enjoying them for generations and creatively presenting those recipes to us.
I really must commend the team for the excellent Menu. Not only is the Menu beautifully laid out in colour, each item offered is accompanied by a photo and description of the main ingredients.
Hinava Sada and Tuhau Miampai Daging Salai
Based on the Menu, and Chef Lowell’s and Ms Diana’s recommendations, we decided to start with Hinava Sada and Tuhau Miampai Daging Salai;
followed by Sup Tulang Bidai Lembu;
and then to savour the steamed white rice with Sotong Bakar Masak Sambal Tomato, Ayam Goreng Berempah, Oxtail Assam Pedas Ekor Lembu and Sayur Rebung Masak Lemak Ikan Masin.
Quite a mouthful, right?
Would you believe me if I say, we shared each dish among the 5 of us and still had some leftovers? Granted, our aim was not to burst our tummies, but I’m telling you that each dish could easily be shared by 2 or 3 hungry persons. 😉
Organic Herb Garden
While waiting for the dishes to arrive, we had a look at the organic herb garden just outside the restaurant.
The garden is maintained by Chef Lowell and some of the herbs even graced our dishes. I hope one day, they would offer the herbs for sale to visitors of Rumah Terbalik and customers of Mango Garden.
It would be a very nice souvenir.
We started the course with Hinava Sada (RM7.50). It is made of freshly selected fresh fillet, marinated in lime juice, shallots, ginger, sliced chillies and grated wild mango seeds (Badu). Hinava is a very popular Kadazan Dusun dish that none of us have ever eaten before.
Me, because I never had the opportunity to try it.
As for my wife and my mom-in-law, they never tried it for fear of eating uncooked seafood, in this case, the barracuda fish.
Now, doesn’t that sound exotic?
Have you ever seen a barracuda before?
Fortunately, we had an expert at hand.
Chef Lowell cheerfully allayed their fears and informed that the fish is actually cooked by the lime juice.
The citric acid in the lime juice altered the structure of the proteins in the fish, making the fish more opaque and firm, just as if it had been cooked with heat. That immediately settled the issue with my wife. And sure enough, the fish didn’t taste raw at all!
According to my wife, Hinava reminded her of the delicious Umai, a popular traditional Malanau (Sarawak) dish. A Sarawakian colleague of hers once served the whole office with umai that was specially prepared by lightly blanching the fillet with hot water before marinating it in lime juice, etc., to ease the concerns of many.
I must say, we are now definitely all over that and really love Hinava.
Thanks a million to Chef Lowell for putting our fear to rest! 😀
Next, we had Tuhau Miampai Daging Salai (RM10.50).
Also a first time for us, it consists of char-grilled sliced beef marinated with Tuhau (local ginger stem pickles), chilli, lime, lemongrass and selected herbs. Taken with the specially prepared sauce, it has a funny taste which probably would not agree with everybody.
However, it definitely is a unique dish.
Sup Tulang Bidai Lembu
The Sup Tulang Bidai Lembu (beef spare ribs soup) (RM12.50) was really sumptuous and delicious.
It came in a big bowl and served to each of us in smaller bowls. This is a dish that is usually served by my mother-in-law during special occasions and involves a trip to the KK wet market before dawn and a long cooking time.
I believe it is usual to start a meal with soup, but we are the kind that pretty much like to mix the soup with the rice and enjoy it throughout the meal. I really love the texture and the taste of Mango Garden’s Sup Tulang Bidai.
Most restaurants’ versions are very watery (unlike homemade soups) but Chef Lowell has incorporated his style into the dish and that’s what makes it so special. It’s definitely not the usual sup tulang bidai and it’s tender and very tasty as well.
Sotong Bakar Masak Sambal Tomato
Next, we tasted a dish from the Bajau Ubian tribe – Sotong Bakar Masak Sambal Tomato (RM12.50).
The marinated squid was barbequed and topped with a rich sweet and spicy homemade tomato sambal and onions. For those who can’t stand spicy food but loves red, this is a dish to try as the Sambal Tomato is not spicy at all unlike the usually spicy Sotong Masak Sambal.
Ayam Goreng Berempah
Ms Diana graciously introduced us to her favourite dish – the crispy and golden brown Ayam Goreng Berempah (RM12.50), which is actually deep fried chicken marinated in local herbs and spices. The spices are really flavourful and even the thinly sliced fried spices that garnished the plate, as you can see in the photo, did not go to waste.
It tasted very good when mixed with the steamed rice.
Sayur Rebung Masak Lemak Ikan Masin
A meal without any veggie would not be a complete meal.
We let my mother-in-law decide on this. She chose Sayur Rebung Masak Lemak Ikan Masin (RM10.50). It is basically braised young bamboo shoots cooked with herbs, fresh coconut cream and mixed with salted fish. It’s a lovely dish as bamboo shoots are sweet, but the colouring was a bit strong.
The taste was also a bit different from the usual as it had less santan (coconut milk).
Assam Pedas Ekor Lembu
Lastly, we had the rich Assam Pedas Ekor Lembu (Oxtail Assam Pedas) (RM23.50).
It is sliced oxtail, slowly cooked in delicious sour and spicy gravy. This is definitely not something to eat every day, as I was advised that the dish can really spike one’s cholesterol levels.
Sharing with another is highly recommended.
To quench our thirst, we chose coffee, Carrot Juice (RM6.50) and Kit Chai Sui (RM3.50). The Kit Chai Sui was delightful and came in a huge unique glass – like the one used for the peach tea in the menu.
Freshly Brewed Rumah Terbalik Coffee
As a coffee drinker, I just had to sample their Freshly Brewed Rumah Terbalik Coffee (RM5.50).
It’s the in-house coffee blend with 3 types of selected coffee beans (Arabica, Robusta and locally grown Liberica).
I’d say that the taste is reminiscent of Starbucks’ Americano but not as strong. Maybe next time I would ask for an extra shot for some ‘kick’.
Sweet Mango Sago
We were also treated to a host of delicious desserts. The Sweet Mango Sago (soft jellied sago with palm sugar and coconut milk topped with fresh and sweet local mango) (RM6.50) brought to mind the days when I was just a kid.
Casata with Kundasang Strawberry Compote and (did I detect a hint of cheese?) was simply sweet and wonderful. And the Berangan Banana Caramel Chocolate Cake was a pleasant surprise as you could really taste the banana.
It turned out that actual fresh local berangan banana (pisang berangan) gave the cake its unique taste.
After everything, my wife and I decided that the tastiest dish was the biggest surprise – Hinava Sada.
It’s a surprise to us because it’s not our usual fare. This shows that Mango Garden Restaurant gives its customers the opportunity to get to know and love the dishes of other cultures, which otherwise we would probably never get to taste.
I am sure the presentation of the dishes will delight Mango Garden Restaurant’s customers a lot.
The price may seem a bit pricey but considering the big portions that could be shared by 2 or 3 persons, I believe it is well worth it.
However, it would be great if the management could provide customers the options of ‘medium’ or ‘small’ servings for some of the dishes.
We were also informed that the Menu will be reviewed every 6 months to incorporate new inspiring local dishes to tempt our palate and that should keep us coming for new treats.
Honestly, we were very intrigued by the Tenom Coffee Tiramisu with Raspberry Jelly served in a jar, which unfortunately, was out. Well, not a problem, as we are looking forward to return to Mango Garden and also try out the Otak-Otak Kagong, Manuk Tinapah, Dalca Kambing, Sayur Kailan Masak Dua Rasa, etc.
But first, I must exercise a bit. 😀