The lack of a fine dining destination is arguably to Kota Kinabalu’s (KK) advantage, as there are many authentic eateries to discover and enjoy in Sabah’s capital.
In the shadow of Mt Kinabalu some 90 kilometres away, KK is one of the fastest growing Malaysian cities with a population of almost 500,000 people. With Malay, Chinese and Indian nationalities, as well as the indigenous Kadazan people, the Sabah capital is a small and relaxed place that is the ideal size to navigate and discover the cultural and gastronomic delights of Sabah’s biggest city.
While seafood is a Sabah specialty, there are also many quality Indian, Chinese and Malay places to stumble upon with Hainan Chicken Rice a KK favourite. I did not try bird’s nest soup, an Asian delicacy where edible bird’s nests are dissolved in water. Bird’s nests are harvested from caves around Sabah and Borneo and are exported to destinations such as China and the USA and can reach quite a price.
Other local delicacies to try include tarap, a wonderful fruit native to Borneo with a creamy, juicy flesh. If it’s hot, three-layer juice is the ideal drink to refresh. Featuring dragon fruit, avocado and mango, it might seem like a bizarre combination, but it is a delicious mixture that is the perfect drink to enjoy while watching the sunset on Tanjung Aru Beach.
PLACES TO EAT
Lido Square: A massive air hanger-like shed full of hawker stalls with local delicacies although it is best to skip some of the takes on western food you can find here (especially the pizza). Full of locals, there were little tourists on the night I arrived.
A BBQ seafood station is your best bet where delights such as stingray and slipper lobster are fantastic. Open from 12pm-12am, Lido buzzes with hundreds of people in an open-air setting, perfect as the delicious aromas of the food from the multitude of stations are barbecuing around you.
Welcome Seafood Restaurant: One of the city’s most popular destinations, the ever-increasing restaurant serves a whole lot of seafood cooked fresh. This would have to be one of the best seafood restaurant’s I’ve ever visited and is an ideal first port of call when you arrive in KK to get a taste of the local food. Nasi Kandar Anak Nami: A 24-hour Indian restaurant that serves simple Indian food for a small price where you can catch soccer on the TV while enjoying a delicious curry with a roti boom (Indian flatbread). Kak Nong!: Serves traditional Malay delights from morning to night just outside of the city centre.
Worth a visit for seemingly simple fare such as chicken with rice as well as high tea, which includes an array of buns such as coconut, peanut and red bean paste. Wiya Nasi: Similar to Adelaide’s Chinatown Café with its specialty Hainan chicken rice, as well as dumpling soup, this two-storey Chinese restaurant is the perfect place to stop for an authentic Chinese lunch. Le Meridien: The five-star hotel has just welcomed a new Italian restaurant Favola while its main dining room, Latest Recipe, contains chef stations (including traditional local food, Japanese and Chinese) with an interactive chef cooking fresh to order.
The local food station is the best of the bunch. Nagisa: If you want to escape a food hall, the Hyatt Regency’s Japanese restaurant is a very decent place to enjoy Japanese food in a beautiful space with a sushi counter, teppanyaki tables and private rooms.
The writer was a guest of Sabah Tourism