I’ve never visited Southeast Asia. I know. Shocker. It seems like everyone has gone to Thailand over the past three years. Me? I’ve just never had the opportunity to and traveling there wasn’t very high up on my list. Let’s just say I’m not a huge fan of hot, humid weather. But when my cousin suggested going on a trip while I was out in Korea, my first thought was Southeast Asia. Why? It’s cheap, it’s close to Korea, and I know folks who have been through there before. Since the trip was so last minute, we decided to go with Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia. It’s a popular destination for Koreans (flying in from Korea), which meant direct flights there and inexpensive airfare. Done.
Honestly, I’ve never heard of Kota Kinabalu and I didn’t know a thing about Malaysia, besides what my mom had told me about her trip there. She told me it was boring and that I’d have nothing to eat. Uh. Boy, was she wrong. I ate so much.
The cuisine in Malaysia is a mixture of a bunch of different cultures, including Malay, Chinese, Indian, and Thai. The state religion is Islam, so the food is mostly halal. On a very basic level, think less beef and more seafood with a bunch of varying spices thrown in. MMM. Plus, to American and Korean standards, the food is VERY VERY cheap. According to one of my tour guides though, the Malaysians wouldn’t consider a 7 RM meal cheap… Perspective. 1 RM = 0.23 USD.
Note: the following photos are shot on my iPhone 6s.
WHERE I ATE:
THE WORKSHOP KOTA KINABALU
This spot is mainly for boujee (bougie?) backpackers. We went here our first day, in search of coffee, not knowing at all what to expect of the food. We found eggs benedicts, cappuccinos, and free WiFi. Fun discovery while eating some SUPER traditional Malaysian food: most Malaysian people speak fairly good English. I definitely felt more comfortable speaking in Malaysia than I did in Korea. Who would have thought.
KEDAI KOPI YEE FUNG
Recommended by our Airbnb host, Kedai Kopi Yee Fong is a super popular laksa spot for locals. I’ve never had laksa before and, honestly, I’ve always avoided any dish with coconut milk. I just don’t like coconut milk. Being on an island though, it was unavoidable. So in I went and tasted this laksa noodle soup. Ooooh it was tasty and perfect after a long day of island hopping. I am now a laksa fan. Not a coconut milk fan, but a laksa fan.
This is also where I discovered Teh Tarik. Oh my goodness. It’s like the traditional Taiwanese bubble tea, but so much better. Another thing I’m not a fan of: boba balls. And Teh Tarik is absent of them. It’s only filled with black tea and some condensed milk. Yissssss. I miss you, iced Teh Tarik.
SINSURAN NIGHT MARKET
Every night, the Sinsuran Night Market comes alive with halal seafood to satisfy you for days. And every dish you try is inexpensive and fairly fresh since the port is right nearby. We tried some grilled shrimp and squid with some rice.
Some of the vendors provide cutlery, but we just went in with our hands (it’s what the locals do). Our table had water to wash your hands after. Not a thorough wash, but enough to get the sauce off of them. Throughout Malaysia, I’ve noticed that every bathroom, no matter how grungy it appeared, had soap and running water. Props to being better than most public restrooms in America.
FOOK YUEN CAFE & BAKERY
A popular cafe for dim sum, teh tarik (YAAAAS), kava toast, and other baked goods. We went here a few times during the trip. It was just fast and convenient and centrally located to everywhere we were trying to get to. Popular in Malaysia, kava toast is two toasted brioche slices with coconut jam in between. I don’t know how to describe it, but let’s just say I’m now a fan of kava toast. Still not a fan of coconut.
THE ROYAL COCONUT
Had some coconut ice cream. It was all right.
FATT KEE SEAFOOD RESTAURANT
Their seafood tom yum noodle soup was my favorite meal of the trip. Again, recommended by our Airbnb host, who we randomly ran into during our food hunt. Fatt Kee Seafood Restaurant is located southwest of the downtown area, so it’s a bit inconvenient to get to, if you’re not using Uber! Seriously, Uber was the best in Malaysia. And so cheap. Back to the tom yum. I could kiss the chef. The soup was so delicious and spiced to perfection. The shrimp was big and cooked perfectly. And the noodles were just right. Also found out that this place is mega famous. Thanks Airbnb host.
GAYA STREET (SUNDAY MARKET)
If you’re able to take a later flight out on Sunday, check out the street market on Sundays on Gaya Street. It’s lively and worth checking out. We grabbed some fresh fruit to try. Most of the fruits weren’t in season, but the pineapple was delicious.
TBH, we wanted some food we were comfortable with a few times during the trip. One of those comfort foods was sushi. So we decided to “indulge” a bit and nommed on some Japanese food: udon and nigiri sushi. Nothing special, but it was a nice change from the local cuisine.
We just had to try the fish filet. Since Malaysia is mostly halal and all… figured the fish filet was good. And it was actually pretty tasty and another “comfortable” food. And hey, the locals eat here, too.
SIN KEE BAH KUH TET
They’re famous for their Bah Kuh Tet, which is a pork rib dish cooked in a broth stewed from Chinese herbs. Wasn’t a huge fan. It just reminded me of “han yak,” which is a Korean herbal tea that my mom forced me to drink whenever I got sick. No. Thank. You.
Overall opinion? Food wasn’t too bad and I definitely had a cultural adventure trying the local cuisine. I gravitated towards the dishes that had flavors that were familiar to me. Hopefully I’ll have another opportunity to venture back to Malaysia and try that tom yum again. Ermahgerd.