Just like countries like the US, Malaysia is one of those countries that is rather unique in a sense that every place that you visit changes drastically as you travel from city to city, especially across the different states. No two cities in Malaysia are the same. They each have their own identity influenced by the local culture and history, which also transcends into the food you get in each city.
You'll know what you mean when you travel from cities like Kota Kinabalu (which is where I'm from) in Sabah, to other parts of Malaysia like Penang, Melaka and Kuala Lumpur. Fortunately, this is what I got to do this last year with some good friends of mine when we embarked on a Food Trip around Malaysia.
What I love most about my quaint little hometown of Kota Kinabalu (KK) is that it's still got a very old town charm to it. Not a lot of corporate ladders to climb over here, and a lot of people still lead very simple lifestyles. A far cry from a metropolitan city. This is why I still consider myself as a small town "kampung" boy at heart.
There's so much more to Malaysia than the big cities like Kuala Lumpur, which is sadly the only place most tourists experience when they visit Malaysia thinking that it represents all that the country has to offer. I always highly recommend my Aussie friends or visitors to try and make a visit to the East to see a very different side of Malaysia which I'm sure they would enjoy. There's all the islands, mountains and jungles which is loved by tourists and locals alike. It's also got the most beautiful sunset and more importantly, an ABUNDANCE of the freshest seafood you can find.
What I also noticed from my previous food trip is that more than half the food you get in KK is almost unbeknownst and unheard of to the rest of Malaysia. To give you all a little introduction, coffee shop serving soups/noodles are HUGE in KK. And this can be mainly subcategorised into either Pork/Beef/Fish noodles (as illustrated below).
Besides that, there are lots of different specialty noodles named after the towns where they had originated from such as Beaufort, Tamparuli and Tuaran. All of which, is like nothing you've ever seen or tasted before. Each so distinct from one another in texture and flavour. THIS, is one way to truly enjoy the local food that KK people have been eating for decades. Lastly, it's the SEAFOOD. There's SO much seafood that you should try when you're here that I don't even know where to start.
I guess it's easier for me to talk you through in pictures. Here's a snippet of some of the things that I love to eat every time I'm back in KK. All pictures were taken when I recently went back to Malaysia for a month in Winter. Here we go...
A special handmade egg noodle originating from the town of Beaufort, heavily charred (as you can tell) and served with local vegetables, sliced pork, ham and char siew.
"Shen Rou Mien" or "Pork Slice Noodle Soup"
A huge favourite among the locals. Soup flavours enriched with pieces of fried pork lard or "zhu you zha". Trust me, you won't be sorry for having the fats
"Niu Zha" or "Mixed Beef Noodles"
Packed full of hearty beef flavour in the soup and enhanced with the taste of Chinese herbs
"Yu Zha" or "Fish Noodle Soup"
One word: FRESH. Nothing is frozen all made with the local catch. Fleshy meat, thick gelatinous skin, this really is what KK is all about in a bowl
My last visit at my fav fish store before flying back. As you can see, I went overboard (again). Here, I ordered fish fins, fish lips, fish skin and "yu fu" or fish omelettes. The good stuff because people who really enjoy fish are the last ones to order your regular fish slices.
"Dou Jiang Yu Bian" or "Soy Bean Paste Fish Fins"
My family always prefers the meat of the fish from the fins. And this is a crazy delicious fish stew that you have to try
"Shu Zhi Chai" or "Sabah Veggie"
A leafy veggie that is grown and eaten locally in Sabah. Delicious with dried shrimps and lots of egg
"Dou Gen" or "Bean Curd Sheets"
A specialty dish so tasty that should ONLY be eaten in Supertanker restaurant, a family owned restaurant where the husband still cooks in the kitchen and the wife still takes your order every night. This place has been around for almost 30years and still just as good as ever.
"Pei Pa Ya" & "Mi Zhi Ji" or "Crispy Skin Duck dish" & "Honey Chicken"
The duck is flattened until it resembles a Chinese instrument, called the "Pi Pa" and served with rich sauce
Stuffed Crab Crawls
A dish I've loved since I was a boy. Chunky and sweet prawn paste lightly dusted with flour after frying. YUM
Steamed Cod Fish
Another dish our family normally orders on special occasion, also only in Supertanker Restaurant. I LOVE steamed cod because the flesh is so white and has the smoothest, silkiest skin compared to other fishes. Also rich in fish fats, delicious
"Beef Soto and Prawn Ball"
This was actually eaten when I visited my mum's hometown of Tawau. Soto is originally from Indonesia but have been adapted by local Malays. Essentially their version of beef noodle soup normally served with a squeeze of lime. The prawn balls here were FANTASTIC. Smooth, chunky meat that was really sweet and made with local prawns.
Also eaten at Tawau, this was at an amazing place called Indo Cafe. Freshest mango dessert I've ever eaten. Saw a massive fridge filled with local mangoes near the kitchen and they didn't skim. Very sweet and natural. Even sago was made with mango you'll smile eating this
"Pisang Goreng Keju" or "Banana Fritters with Cheese"
Also at Indo Cafe, never had banana fritters with cheese but these were the BEST fritters I've ever had. Even my mum (who really knows what she likes) agreed. The batter was absolutely perfection and who knew dusting it with raw brown sugar was such a good idea too
Finally, it was great being back because we got to celebrate Mum's milestone birthday. One of the things we've always wanted to eat whenever we ate at Seafood restaurants were the live lobsters. Unfortunately, the price was always too expensive and could never bring ourselves to order one because our family's always quite thrifty even though we've always really wanted to try it. Priced at RM280/kg and this lobster weighed at 2.6kg, it costed us RM728 or AU$240.
Way too much for us but we loved our Mum very much and thought that we should order it for her birthday, because she's worked so hard over the years and deserves nothing but the best =)
The insane variety of seafood typical in any seafood restaurant in KK. Price can range from cheap to VERY expensive, depending on what you order. All fresh and live, nonetheless
Our family always gets this guy to pick out our seafood whenever we eat at Ocean Seafood Restaurant. He knows that we love fleshy seafood with lots of roe and always chooses the best for us
Mum's birthday present =)
Love you Mum!!!! Glad you could finally enjoy your lobster. Memorable birthday indeed!!
What better way to taste the sweetness and chewy texture of the lobster than to eat it raw. The antennae was still moving at the table
Lobster Yee Mien/Noodles
A simple but delicious way to have lobsters. I've never eaten so much lobster meat in my life, what a treat for the family
My beautiful family (L-R): Mum, Sis-in-law, Big Bro, Me and Dad. Only person missing was my Sister who was in Adelaide and could not make it back to KK during Winter. She certainly was missed! =(
So I guess that pretty much wraps up my time in KK. Sorry for the lengthy post but I hope that it was was fun for you to read as much as it was fun for me to write. Will be going back to posting recipes/reviews as usual in a few days, so stay tuned.