Eating Culture: “Bos, ada Lada kah?” – A common question by Sabahan Diners

Written by @Lan 
Photos by


Thought of the day- “When in Rome do as the Romans do.”

Malaysians love their ‘LADA’ so much. We all understand what LADA is. LADA in general is Chili but mind you, some, who are very scientific will always regard LADA as Pepper, as in white or black pepper. Worst, the Food Experts will need you to be very specific with types of chili. In general, ‘LADA’ is best address as ‘CABAI’, especially if you are in the Peninsular Malaysia’s states. Well, if you are in Sabah, address it as ‘LADA’ and you will be perfectly understood, and only in Sabah; everyone is a bos (as in boss). Sabahans casually address friends and even strangers as BOS.


Lada or Bird’s Eye Chili, it does not matter if it’s red or green as long as it’s LADA

Now, if you are dining in any Sabah’s casual restaurant or any type of eateries (minus the 5 stars-well, sometimes they do have LADA, if you ask), and you are in need to heighten the level of spiciness (which means you need chili), well, the best way to ask for it from the staff or Tauke (Boss/Owner) is; “Bos, ada Lada kah?”. (The word ada, literally means, have. Kah is just a particle, to be used in asking questions).


Popular food in Sabah: Seafood-Prawns. Steamed or boiled Prawns is best to consume with LADA – Cut Chilies, mixed with soy sauce and lime juice

This is how we typically ask for that Lada or chili (if you are still confused). In Sabah, the word ‘LADA’ for diners, refers to any form of Chili: raw, processed, blended, cooked as Sambal, mixed with lime juice and soy sauce, just anything. The sky is the limit, as long as diners get to see some spicy element on their table.

Chilies or LADA. L-R: Blended (Perfect for Chicken Rice, Cooked as in Sambal Belacan and Purely Blended; perfect for ala carte dishes such as fried rice or fried noodles)

Try asking the question “Bos, ada Lada kah?” in other states in Malaysia. You will either be a laughing stock or being asked many questions, instead of getting that affirmative nod. ‘LADA’ is chili, well at least in Sabah. Sabahan diners expect to see that Bird’s Eye Chili, be it green or red. In regard to ‘Bos’, well, everyone is a boss in Sabah. The owner of the restaurant is a Bos (as in boss) and the diners are also Bos.


Finely blended LADA / Chilies

The staff manning the restaurant are also address as Bos. So when a diner ask the staff or owner of an eatery, “Bos, ada ladakah?”, they mean, “Do you have Chili?”. Majority Malaysians love Cabai but do know that Sabahans address Cabai as Lada.  (Cabai in the west side of Malaysia is also known as Cili Potong).


Cooked Sambal that contains Chilies or Lada, poured on Smashed Chicken. The sambal, normally spicy but ably to elevate the taste and texture of the smashed chicken. 

It’s a culture: precisely Eating Culture, an unrecognized one, academically speaking. In it, are two subs, the question “Bos, ada ladakah?” and the desire to have that capsaicin, the element that causes the hotness (or piquancy) of chili peppers. It causes a burning sensation on any tissue that it touches. While “hotness” is not a taste, zillion miles away from the term ‘delicious’, Sabahans mostly are addicted to LADA.


Another example of Sambal that is made of several ingredients with Chilies or LADA as the main star.

We (Sabahans) cannot live without it as our foods are bland without Lada. We need that burning sensation which obviously will start a physical reaction, sweating, turning red. After that, we will say “What a great meal today!”. Some will regret in over-consuming that Lada but come tomorrow and they will ask “Bos, ada Lada?”. It’s funny but at the same time it’s too obvious to not notice it.


Siput Tarik or Siput Gonggong is incomplete without that LADA! (Finely chopped chilies, mixed with soy sauce and lime juice)

The consumption is more obvious when eating indoor, at our own residence, Home if you must use the word. When we open the fridge and see no Lada, at least one will make an obvious remark, with tone describing surprise, anger, frustration, upset and whatever is that word; in search for a victim, trying to blame someone for not buying that Lada in the market. Typically the answer is “Lada Habis. Mahal Lada sekarang ni.” (“No more chili, anyway it’s expensive”). Period. Eat the food without Lada.


Consuming these type of dishes will need one to ‘accept’ the presence of LADA!

Now, we don’t obviously address our elders directly as bos (as in boss) but will use that term to point directly at the head of the family, the Dad (Father) when talking to someone else. So, if I am to bring a guest for a casual meal at my house and my guest is a big fan of Lada, you can guess the conversation between all of us at home. It goes like this:


Me: Come, sit down and eat.
My Guest: Thanks. Delicious food I see. Your ‘Bos’ cooked? (Bos: Father)
Me: No, mem did. (Mem:Mom.. Mem as in Madam)
My Guest: “Oh ok. Bos, ada Lada?”
Me: “Wait, I check.”
Me: “OMG Ma (as in Mom), no Lada Kah?”
Mom: Speaking from the living room.. “Lada Finish, hey, Lada expensive you know in Market today!!!”
Me: “Ok, never mind.”
Me to my guest: “Bos, tiada Lada” (I am sorry my friend, no Lada today)
My guest: “It’s ok Bos, no problem. Perhaps next time. Oh, you should ask your bos to take your mom to talk to my bos as my bos have a friend and his friend’s bos have a good friend who is selling Lada in the market. Perhaps your mem can get cheaper price!” (Can you figure out how many people being mentioned in this sentence?)
Me: “Ok, I will tell my bos and mem after we eat.”
Mem: Suddenly appeared from nowhere..”Hey you all, we have no chili but I cooked some sambal belacan 2 days ago. You two want it?” (Sambal Belacan is made of Shrimp Paste, at times served raw or thoroughly cooked with ingredients, main element: LADA)
Me and my guest: “Of course!”
…and my guest ate and he suddenly screamed (in a polite way)…
My guest: “PADAS nyaaaa!” (When a Sabahan say “PADASnyaaaaaa”, he or she means, “Thats SPICYYYYY”)


Chicken Rice is incomplete without that blended chilies; LADA, again!

This article is neither about benefits of consuming LADA nor the effects but casually looking at one distinct Eating Culture, the need to have Lada on the plate. The next time you hear someone in the restaurant say “Bos, ada Lada?”, you know that he or she is a Sabahan and you will know that most Sabahans are inseparable from that necessity of having LADA on the plate! If they are to receive raw Chilies, they will demand for Kicap (Soy Sauce) and Limau (Lime: for the juice). They will mix everything together and will try to squeeze the chilies, smashing it using the spoon.


You will get to see these mini containers on the tables in many eateries, cut or chopped chilies, blended garlic and soy sauce. It’s free if you pay for the food!

Wait till you hear..”Oh PADASNYA” or “Not PADAS this Lada!”. If it’s too PADAS, someone will say “NAHHHH Situuuuu tu Air Sajuk, self service kunu!”  (Oh, the Iced Water is right there, self service)

So what did you learn today in regard to Sabahans Eating is the summary:

BOS: Everyone is a bos (as in Boss). At times, bos refers to father (In working environment, bos is the superior)

LADA: Chili as in Red or Green Chili, regardless the form; processed, cooked thoroughly as Sambal, raw or anything as long as it is LADA.

PADAS: We all expect Lada to be PADAS, spicy that is, the spiciest the better!

SITUUUUUU: It means something or someone is a bit far that you need to walk a bit to get it or him or her. Reduce the U pronunciation to SITU, it means not that far.

AIR SAJUK: Iced Water or typically known as Cold Water. Don’t use AIR SAJUK if you are in Peninsular Malaysia or else you will be a laughing stock again. Use AIR SAJUK, only if you are in Sabah. In Malaysia, you may generally use the term ‘Sky Juice’ if you want but don’t expect to get juice of your preference!


Some people love having their LADA with sliced cucumber, splashed with vinegar.

First timers to Sabah, don’t get me wrong, not all foods in Sabah are PADAS (as in spicy). You are not required to consume the chilies. It’s just the local’s preference; our Eating Culture, our very own unique way to address things in regard to consuming LADA. In case you are a person who loves to add the level of spiciness in your food; and if you are in Sabah, say this to the staff at the eateries you are about to visit: “Bos, ada Lada kah?”…


Can you identify LADA in these dishes?





Galeri 2



One thought on “Eating Culture: “Bos, ada Lada kah?” – A common question by Sabahan Diners

  1. Ahhahahah this is so true. Macam nda bulih survive kalau teda lada, chili putung, soy sauce and sometimes garlic. I usually must have lada and soy sauce 😂 some ppl can’t eat without soup. Mebbe id travelling, need to pack in small tubes for seasoning purposes.

Leave a Reply