So there I was, finally, eight months after we booked our (super cheap!) flights to KK on Air Asia, with the “Macau group” – the friends I went to Macau with this exact same weekend last year. We had had such a wonderful time then, that we vowed to do a trip together every year.
Kota Kinabalu, or KK, is the capital of the Malaysian state of Sabah and is located on the coast of the island of Borneo. It is named after South East Asia’s tallest mountain, Mt. Kinabalu, a massive granite dome of molten rock popular with mountain climbers everywhere. Because KK is surrounded by a wealth of natural wonder, we decided to experience the best of both worlds by staying 2 nights downtown and 1 night at the Shangri La Rasa Ria resort 45 minutes away.
Our home in the city, Le Meridien, was conveniently located across the Waterfront where most of the city’s best restaurants and bars are located and within walking distance to the markets. On our first night, we ate out on the boardwalk and ordered our food from the Oregano Café. The food was excellent. We had tom yam soup, steamed mussels, nyonya spicy crabs, fried rice, sambal prawns, sweet & sour fish and tons of fresh baby kailan. We ordered practically everything on their menu!
We were stuffed and needed to do what we could to aid the digestion process. So we strolled along the boardwalk past coffee shops, hip bars, english pubs, satay stands, massage stations and other restaurants. Each place pulsed with it's own unique sound and vibe, with varying smells wafting from invisible kitchens, intermingling with that of their neighbors, as locals and tourists occupied both their indoor and outdoor areas. It was after all, a Friday night.
Before retiring to our hotel, we checked out the sprawling central market located just beside the Waterfront esplanade. We walked through stall after stall of vegetables and fruits, some of which were unrecognizable. They had a fish market towards the rear near the water, and a large section with tables and chairs surrounded by stalls of cooked food, chicken and fish on the grill and all sorts of native sweets. It was already 10 pm yet the market was in full swing.
guava with plum powder
The open-air Sunday market on Gaya Street is open from 6 am until 2 pm. They sell pretty much everything here: pets, vegetables, antiques, orchids, fruit, clothes, shoes, name it. It was hot and crowded with tourists and locals but not stinky or dirty. I hadn't had breakfast so I bought some donuts and lemonade. My favorite food item was the mini pancake sandwiches (middle picture below)with assorted fillings of chocolate, peanut, kaya, butter and cheese.
The food. Omigosh the food! There was lots of it. Malaysian cuisine is a perfect representation of the multi-cultural aspects of Malaysia. It is strongly influenced by Chinese, Thai, and Indian cuisine. Like in most Asian countries, rice and noodles are staples together with Indian-style bread such as roti and naan. The dishes are colorful and flavored with a tantalizing mix of spices and herbs that include lemongrass, turmeric, nutmeg, pandan leaves,kaffir lime leaves, cumin, fenugreek and of course garlic, onions and chili paste. Malaysia is like disneyland for the tastebuds! Here are some of the meals we enjoyed:
tom yam soup, chicken satay with peanut sauce and compressed rice, roti canai with egg
curried chicken, lamb kebab, nasi goreng
Nasi Lemak is is a hearty meal of rice, sambal (a thick chili paste), boiled egg, cucumber and peanuts which is usually enjoyed for breakfast. The breakfast buffet of both hotels had a DIY nasi lemak station with all the condiments. It was my first encounter with nasi lemak (it is nasi goreng I am most familiar with) and I thought it was pretty good. Another favorite of the group was the laksa, a tangy soup dish of noodles, shrimp, lettuce and fish.
Another first for me is teh tarik . I becamse an instant fan! It is tea sweetened with condensed milk. They serve it with a nice layer of froth which is achieved by pouring the tea from mug to glass repeatedly with outstretched hands. It's so good, I would have it as dessert.
Next: Kinabalu Park and canopy walk