Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Eating in Kota Kinabalu

Sun setting on Kota Kinabalu

These are the (fantastic and mediocre places) Enfant Terrible and I ate at when we were in KK in August. All places are on Gaya Street unless specified otherwise. All meals were paid in cash.

Mad Ben Cafe
Good mid-range Western food. We had the lamb pizza, 4-cheese pizza, lamb burrito, salted beef burrito, spaghetti with mussels in white wine, Oreo milkshake.

Get a table against the wall if you don't like eating under high-speed fans. It's easy to get a table here as people tend to look at the prices on the menu outside and then walk away. Service is fast and friendly.

Keng Wan Hing Kopitiam
Cheap local food. We had the beef noodles, peanut bun, chicken currypuff, beef currypuff, iced black coffee, teh tarik. Beef noodles were the best we'd ever had. ET even liked the tendon/intestines, and he's not a fan of irregular animal parts. Currypuff pastries were flaky but the filling was strangely sweet for us. Drinks were strong and good.

Manager/head cook makes sure all staff have something to do. Owner appears to be a stickler for cleanliness and having everything in its place and having a place for everything. Place is crowded early in the morning, so be prepared to share tables. Service is efficient.

Yee Fung Kopitiam
Cheap local food. We had the signature (Sarawak?) laksa, dry noodles with wonton in soup, iced coffee, teh tarik, iced teh Madras. As it turns out, teh Madras is frothed milky tea layered on top of milk, and you stir it together yourself. I'm tempted to say it's KK's idea of Sarawak's 3-layer tea, but that's a whole other animal.*

The laksa is the only reason for return visits (IMHO). The large is worth it. The dry noodles were ok; the wonton were good. Drinks were also good because they weren't ultra-sweet like we tend to find in Kuala Lumpur. Don't be put off by the crowd; tables open up as if by magic. Service is FAST and smiley.

Fong Ip Cafe
Cheap local food. We had nasi lemak with curry chicken,** toast with half-boiled eggs, teh tarik, teh Madras. The food was ok (can't really go wrong with toast and eggs), but the drinks were poor. Would only go there if everything else was closed. No crowd, as there are better options. Cashier is indifferent (you order and pay at the conter) but the server is nice.

Sabah Suria foodcourt (inside Suria Sabah Mall, Jalan Tun Fuad Stephens)
Cheap, dismal local food. Hands down the worst chicken rice we've ever had.

For some reason, all chicken rice we had in KK comes with chicken drenched in thick gluey soya sauce. Did we go to the wrong places?

The chicken itself was fine but the rice was dry and crunchy (?!). And... They used rojak sauce in the popia instead of chili sauce. (I would rather they use no sauce in popia in general, but.)

Choice Indian Restaurant (Jalan Pantai, same block as Tang Dynasty Hotel)
Cheap, decent food. Open 24 hours. Served me the prettiest and most buttery masala dosa (tosei) I've ever had in my life. Dal curry was great (they call it "sauce") ET's kampung fried rice was spicy, and they oddly used cabbage instead of the usual kangkung. Portions were generous for the price as well. Looks like a place locals hang out at.

Harbor Walk seafood stalls (opposite Hyatt Regency Kinabalu or thereabouts, Jalan Tun Fuad Stephens)
Cheap seafood. You pick a stall, pick your seafood, have it weighed and priced (and haggle or change your mind if you like), pick a cooking style, get a table, and wait. Quality varies from stall to stall (the stalls in the front were good; the second one down the row less so).

The first stall.

I recommend the prawns, which were obscenely springy and juicy. We had some jaunty looking red-orange ones that weren't anything we'd ever seen before fried in "butter basah", or creamy butter sauce, as opposed to dry buttercream shreds.

The second stall.

The recommended fish cooking style is "tiga rasa" (sweet, sour, spicy), but you can ask them to recommend a fish based on the cooking style you want too.

For greens, I'd suggest the local veg, e.g., sayur manis (cekur manis [ALWAYS have it cooked]) or paku (fern tips). The staff usually recommend kangkung belacan, which is good but contains less chili than KL folk are used to.

The setting is rougher and readier than some might like, but the stalls are clean, and service is efficient and honest (as far as we could tell).

I wouldn't recommend the coconut water because (1) at RM5, it costs more than I'm happy to pay (I'd rather have 2 ice creams!), and (2) the coconuts aren't chilled, though they'll give you a (free) glass with ice if you ask. (I'd still rather have ice cream.)

Fishing boats, moored.

I consider this place a find because we stumbled across it while on a stroll, and it shows up on no maps or guides I've looked at since we returned to KL. At the risk of generalizing, this place appears more budget-friendly than the KK Esplanade about 15 minutes up the road. I mean, no one was wearing starched chef's whites or toques at Harbour Walk, and they don't serve alcohol. I imagine they'd be ok if you brought your own though, and wouldn't charge you corkage for it.

Reflecting on the guerrilla aspects of their operations (generator-powered, no fridge, only open for dinner/supper), I imagine the operators run stalls at the adjacent fish market in the day, and sell the rest of it at these stalls at night. The boats moored at the harbour seem to attest to that, and I think they live in them too.

Esplanade KK, where people go because they don't know any better.

*Frothed milky tea is layered over condensed milk layered over palm sugar. I know.
**Curry chicken comes with little to no gravy, whereas the whole point of chicken curry is the gravy. This is an important difference.

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