The 2nd leg of my recent overseas stint involved a tour through the Sabah region of Borneo. I learnt something while I was away. Borneo is divided into 3 areas: the portion owned by Indonesia, the portion owned by Malaysia and the part that's Brunei. The Malaysian part of Borneo has 2 states: Sabah and Sarawak.
Marc and I flew from Singapore to Kota Kinabalu, which is the capital city of Sabah. We spent a night there before heading to Gayana Eco Resort, which is an island retreat off the mainland, before returning to start the Intrepid tour.
I didn't really know how to categorize the food I tried on my journeys since they weren't really at proper/famous restaurants so I thought I'd roughly segregate the experience as urban/rural with a separate post for what we ate at Gayana. To be fair, there isn't a huge distinction between the food we had in the cities vs the food we had in 'rural Borneo' (quotations because I'm not even sure what I'm defining as rural; I guess, just 'not city').
Anyway... this is my best effort!
I'll walk through a few things we discovered.
Our first hotel in Kota Kinabalu was out of the way. I booked it because I thought it was conveniently located in a shopping centre but you don't want to be in a shopping centre if that means you're away from the CBD. You want to be near the CBD! By that I mean around The Jesselton, Central Markets, KK Plaza et al. We were staying about 15min drive north of there and found ourselves cabbing it in for food/drinks/entertainment and so on. AVOID THAT BY JUST BOOKING IN THE CBD. Then you can walk everywhere. Seriously.
Food tips for Kota Kinabalu:
1. On the first night, we caught a cab to KK Plaza in search of a nightclub (that wasn't actually there; I misread the website) and stumbled around the streets until we came to the waterfront.
Central Market at night for local street foood
We were drunk at the time so I can't be 100% about location but I think it was around the Central Market area (my guess is based on the fact that Shenanigans Fun Pub is down the road from there and that's where we headed to after). There were all these stalls with plastic outdoor seating and fresh seafood out the front. We got hailed in by a guy telling us he could cook the food however we liked it. That sounded good enough. Neither of us were in the mood for seafood but we gave him some specific requests ("noodles with lots of sauce and chicken and veggies" and "rice that's really, really spicy") rather than look through the menus and waited to see what turned out.
Stir-fried chicken and vegetable noodles
The noodle dish I got remains as one of the best things I tasted all trip. It was piping hot, to start with, having been freshly fried on site. The sauce was just so slurpy and yummy. It was exactly what I wanted!
Extra spicy seafood fried rice
Marc's 'really, really spicy' request received a few 'are you sure?'s and he insisted so the guy laughed and brought out an innocent-looking plate of fried rice that ended up bringing a tear to his eye. It came with a side of chili sauce for extra fun and what do ya know he used that too.
Mango juice and avocado smoothie
We also had some fresh fruit juice to wash it all down. This meal cost peanuts and I just loved the experience.
Perfect late night feast
It was totally casual and our waiter/the owner/whatever was so friendly and it felt like we could've requested anything we wanted to eat, within the realms of possibility. Unfortunately alcohol was not served on site but it was a cool place to eat anyway. It was local, streetside dining so be aware of the risk of gastro...
2. When we got back from Gayana, we checked into the first hotel of the Intrepid tour and set out to look for lunch. Again, we were drawn to the waterfront but this time furthur south, along Anjung Samudra (aka The Waterfront).
Seafront Cafe at the Waterfront
There are HEAPS of restaurants along here - more Westernized and 'clean-looking' than the other place, which as I said is more like a night market. We had a nice lunch at Seafront Cafe by the water and came back later that night for drinks at The Cock and Bull.
Fish stew at Seafront Cafe
Char Kway Teo at Seafront Cafe
Grilled fish of the day with creamy caper sauce and chips
The grilled fish was part of the Western menu and I was surprised by how delicious it was! The sauce and chips were excellent too but the fish itself had a lovely charred flavoring and it was just fresh and succulent.
3. This isn't really a food tip but Centre Point is the main shopping centre in Kota Kinabalu CBD and it's HUGE.
The rest of my photos are a smattering of other meals had either in Kota Kinabalu or at The Seaside Inn, which is where our tour ended (about 20min out from KK). I also included some food we had at Sandakan, which is another large city at the opposite end of Sabah, on the Eastern Coast. My food tip for Sandakan is also: head for the waterfront. It's a less developed city than Kota Kinabalu so I think it's safe to stick around there and you still get plenty of food options.
Cappucino from Sandakan airport
This picture was to remind me and warn everyone else that it's nearly impossible to get coffee in Indochina without sugar. Not only was this cappucino sweet to start with, it's heaped with a mountain of cocoa/sugar grains. Most places don't do Western coffee like lattes etc but they'll do 'kopi' and variations thereof. The variations basically differ in how the kopi is sweetened and whether it contains condensed milk or evaporated milk.
We tried some Indonesian dishes at several locations. The green plate of beef rendang in a rice meal is from Seaside Inn near Kota Kinabalu (our last dinner as part of the Intrepid tour). The other meal is another beef rendang and possibly a chicken curry of some description. We ate that at Jesselton Ferry Terminal whilst waiting for our boat ride to Gayana resort.
Iced coffee and mango juice
Papaya smoothie and taro frappe
These photos of colourful beverages showcase the fact that Asian dining isn't just about the food but about the drinks too. And for once, I don't mean alcoholic drinks. At one waterfront restaurant in Sandakan, the menu literally contained 2 full pages of different beverage options. That's 2 pages of text in small font! There were all these different flavors of fruit, milky things, ice-bended things, smoothies and so ong. Sweetened iced coffee is almost always available and what's great about most fruit-based drinks is the use of real, fresh fruit rather than syrups or powders.
Aftermath of 3 appetites being fullfilled
This final photo is from lunch at the Sandakan waterfront restaurant (mentioned above as having lots of beverage options). I took this picture when we were nearly finished with the meal. Three of us ordered blindly because everything sounded good and cheap. When the food was brought out, we found ourselves facing a ginormous serving of seafood fried rice, sweet and sour chicken, beef curry and a tofu claypot. We thought there was no way in the world we'd be able to finish that yet... as you can see, we were proven wrong by our own greedy selves. The rice was my favorite part. I hope this post did some justice to the wonderful food we enjoyed in the cities of Sabah, Borneo.