When visiting a new place, it’s a great idea to get clued up on what to eat. This Kota Kinabalu food guide will tip you off on the dishes to seek out. If you need to get energised after an active day’s diving, or just want to enjoy a relaxed meal with friends, we’ll tell you what’s great. So whether you’re a dedicated foodie or a practical refueller, food here in Sabah will get your tummy rumbling!
What exactly is Bornean cuisine?
It’s all about multiculturalism here. The important thing is that dishes that have evolved here make the most of natural provisions. And secondly, it’s beautiful. With carved crudities and edible flowers, even the most basic dish is as pretty as a picture. Although similar to other Malaysian locations, such as Penang which share similar histories and cultures, Kota Kinabalu is a coastal city. As such, it has been strongly influenced by its long association with the sea and its indigenous population.
What kind of diner are you? | Kota Kinabalu food
Sometimes it’s hard to know where to start, though! A Kota Kinabalu food guide must cover all bases. We all like different things and eat in different ways. Especially when you’re on holiday, it’s a great preparation to find out which dishes you should look out for when you’re browsing the local eateries.
So are you a…
Love all things seafood? You’ve come to the right place! Kota Kinabalu is rich in all types of seafood. So from restaurants to markets, you can revel in the taste of the sea!
With a huge variety of fish noodles on offer all around Sabah, you can be picky about your preferences. A fish or seafood Laksa is a great choice for those who like a bit of chilli spice mixed with creamy coconut milk. Let’s not forget breakfast! Try a clear fish noodle broth cooked with preserved vegetables. Or maybe a typical local breakfast of Kon Lou Mee, which is dry tossed noodles in soy sauce. Ocean it up by adding a side of fish slices, prawns, and dumplings.
Fish on the grill
If you want to buy fresh fish or take your pick of fishy street food, the market is the place to go! Head to the Waterfront Kota Kinabalu as the sun sets for every delicacy you can imagine. The Seaside Night Market offers a friendly crowd of vendors and an authentic eating experience.
Bits ’n’ Pieces Lover
Maybe you like a little bit of this, a little bit of that… You just love to try different things and variety is the spice of life! Go for a selection of traditional dishes to get the authentic Sabah experience.
Hinava, Tuhau and Bambangan
These dishes are the pick of native cuisine and are found all around the city of Kota Kinabalu. Hinava consists of fresh slices of fish, marinated with onion, lime juice, birds-eye chilli, bitter gourd, and ginger. Tuhau is wild ginger eaten as a condiment or with piping hot white rice. While Bambangan is a sour jungle mango beloved by locals.
This snacky dish is smoked wild boar. Enhanced if you like with a twist and squeeze of fresh lime. You’ll find it as street food around Kinabalu Park. So it’s a great way to refuel on long excursions! It’s also built a bit of a local reputation as a favourite drinking snack!
Tenom Pork roll
These juicy pork dumplings are encased in thin sheets of egg and are a speciality of Tenom. You’ll find freshly made pork rolls at Tenom town market – but be quick as they will be all be snapped up before midday!
Signature Dish Connoisseur
When you travel around the world, maybe you seek out the real signature dishes of an area. The absolute ‘must-try’ options. Or maybe you’re a return visitor who loves the familiarity of local classics.
Tawau Egg Noodles
This is a plate of crispy fried meehoon noodles, which are encased in an egg pancake. Already pretty appetising! Add to this stir-fried pork, lobster balls, and fish balls. Even more scrummy! Then top the lot with flavoursome sauce. This combination of lots of things you’ve probably tried is truly different and extremely satisfying!
Bak Kut Teh
This is a southern Chinese influenced signature dish. It is made by simmering pork meat and offal in a broth of star anise, cinnamon, cloves, Chinese angelica, fennel and garlic. It cooks down for hours, giving this dish a very tender consistency and many layers of flavour.
Boiled and fried yellow noodles topped by whatever you like! Try Beef Lihing Tuaran Mee; diced beef is marinaded in sweet, locally produced, rice wine called Lihing. It’s all fried together with the noodles, vegetables and egg. This will set you up for a busy day of diving or walking.
Is it all about deserts for you? You can rely on Kota Kinabalu for some sweet treat dishes that are truly unique!
Pineapple Custard Bun
Otherwise known as “bo lo bao” and famously offered at Keng Wan Hing coffeeshop on Gaya Street – featured in many a Kota Kinabalu food guide. Buns sold here differ from those you will find elsewhere since their filling actually contains pineapple! The name normally refers only to the pineapple-like cross pattern on the surface of the bun, but in these, you will find a creamy pineapple custard filling.
Kuih Cincin and Kuih Pinjaram
These are traditional teatime snacks that form childhood memories for most locals. They’re fried biscuit-like treats. Kuih Cincin is a flower shape made of rice flour, red palms and sugar. While Kuih Pinjaram its a mix of coconut milk, sugar and rice flour that looks like a fried spaceship.
Lemon Coconut Jelly
This is ideal after a day out in the sun since it’s so refreshing. It’s not actually jelly, but more a dessert broth. Lemon and coconut are combined with lychee, ice, and lemon slices. Devour while it’s still cold!
Don’t forget that when you get to Sabah, your best Kota Kinabalu food guide will be the locals themselves. Chat to your tour guides and get recommendations on where to go. Your fellow travellers will have some great tips too. This is a great place to dine as well as dive, so get stuck in!