Eating in Kota Kinabalu (Part 1): Cultures Crashing

The food of Kota Kinabalu has elements of the familiar mixed in with the novelty of new flavors. Perhaps this is so because our similar roots, and that the climate and topography is also quite like ours, their ingredients are quite like the ones we use ourselves.

Kota Kinabalu has a strong Chinese community, with many restaurants carrying Chinese dishes alongside the Malay and Indian ones. They have European influences too, particularly British, as the Malaysia was a colony of the United Kingdom for a long time.

Food was not something Shabby and I planned for on this trip (then again, not a lot of it was really planned). Like our activities, where and what we eat was done on the fly, and was mostly based on the recommendations of our hosts. We went to places that the locals particularly liked, and more often than not, it was almost always packed.

Day 1
Our first meal in Kota Kinabalu was at this small kedai kopi (which I believe translates to “coffee shop”) place near our hotel. It was open 24 hours, so it was a good spot for us to grab something to eat when hunger pangs striked. The food was laid out carinderia style, but you can always order rice meals off the menu on the wall.

First meal in KK

I don’t remember the names of the dishes that we ate. We had noodles, hainanese chicken, some cold cuts, and a dish of pork innards that went really well with the noodles. For drinks, we immediately got teh tarik, the famous pulled tea that Malaysian food is well known for. Over ice, it was refreshing.

First meal in KK

Of course, no one really told us that the area we were stayingin had a somewhat seedy reputation, which was probably why some people looked at us funny when we went there for a midnight snack. Anyway…

Tanjung Aru Beach
According to our friend and erstwhile guide, Tanjung Aru Beach is the to-go place for everyone who grew up in KK. Think of it as that resort everyone has to go to at least once in their lives. We went there to complete a mission for Ingress, but as it began to rain we decided to hang out for a while and let it pass.

Tanjung Aru Beach 1

Tanjung Aru has an area filled with food stalls that sold a lot of barbeque foods and fruits. Since we just had lunch, we decided to order some drinks (red bean green tea shakes), while our friend ordered this dessert of crushed ice, some jelly, and a lot of different cut-up fruit on top. I do not know what it was called, but it sure looked good.

Tanjung Aru Beach 1
Papaya, dragonfruit, grapes, macopa, guava, apple, mango, watermelon… just among the few fruits I can recall.

He also ordered some crispy fried fish. Used to be, this was the best place to get chicken wings satay, but now everyone served it so it wasn’t so special anymore.

If we have 50s Diner, Kota Kinabalu has Upperstar. It’s a popular food place for the locals, and it serves a mix of Western and fusion foods, as well as a lot of Malaysian food. The decor is pretty neat: a lot of American memorabilia, guitars, and even paintings.

When we arrived, one of the waiters seated us at one of the tables outside. Our friend was surprised because the table apparently was reserved for an uncle who frequented the restaurant, so we relocated to the resturant’s second floor. We skipped ordering the standard Western food, and instead had nasi lemak for local flavor. I was entertained by the decor and the interesting darts tournament on TV.

What is supper?
We Filipinos have breakfast, lunch, merienda, and dinner. Malaysians have breakfast, lunch, dinner, and supper. It confuses the heck out of me, but the guys said that supper is sort of a light meal, or midnight snack, before retiring for the night. Considering that during our stay we would adjourn around 12 or 1 AM, supper would definitely be welcome.

Fook Yuen Cafe & Bakery along Gaya Street was packed even at that time of the night. Our hosts ordered a variety of dimsum for us to try. I surprised them by naming nearly each one, even sharing that my grandma used to cook chicken feet with black beans. This prompted them to ask if I were Chinese, and I launched into a mini lecture of how the Philippines is also strongly influenced by the Chinese. Someday should these guys visit, i’ll bring them to Binondo.

Restoran Nountun
We woke up around 10 AM, so by the time our friend came by to pick us up, we were ready for lunch. He initially wanted to take us to Yee Fung along Gaya Street, but it was packed with tourists, so we headed further out to Nountun Industrial Estate to eat yee fung ngau chap.

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The soup of this dish has been boiled for several hours. It usually is sold out by lunch, so we were lucky that we got to try it. We ordered iced black coffee to go with it, and I loved it. Normally, i drink my coffee sweet and creamy to cover the bitterness, but this one was perfect.

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In the afternoon after going around town for some portal hacking, we stopped by Kedai Kopi Hui Chow near Ujana Rimbana Tropikana for some refreshments. We were given a glass of kitchai ping, a drink made of local limes (or kalamansi). I love kalamansi juice, but this was different because it had pieces of kiamoy.

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The sweet-sour preserve actually helped balance out the sour-bitter taste of kalamansi. The serving we got was too small, as I could easily gulp down several glasses of it.

Continued in Eating in Kota Kinabalu (Part 2)

Disclaimer: As always, please ask for my permission if you want to use any of the text or pictures here. Thank you! 🙂