Cover The Kota Kinabalu cityscape (Photo: iStock)

Where and what to eat and drink in the exotic gateway to Sabah

Located on the northern tip of East Malaysia, Sabah has everything an intrepid adventurer could ask for. From mountain climbing to scuba diving, the state is a veritable paradise for nature lovers. And its capital city of Kota Kinabalu (KK) is the ideal place to fuel up on good food before embarking on your exploration. 

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Start your morning with a bowl of pork noodles at Kedai Kopi Melanian

Partake in local breakfast at Kedai Kopi Melanian for what the locals call sang nyuk mee, which translates to mean raw pork noodles but rest assured all the meat is cooked properly. An iconic Sabahan dish that originated from Tawau, you have a choice of having the noodle tossed in dark soy sauce or in a broth enhanced with tiny pieces of pork lard for a deeply satisfying umami flavour. Apart from minced pork and pork balls, you can also have the offals like pork liver and intestines. Order the tofu stuffed with minced pork to go with your meal too.

Kedai Kopi Melanian | 6, Lorong Lintas Plaza 1, Lintas Plaza, 88300 Kota Kinabalu | +6012 803 2022 | Monday-Sunday, 6:30am-4:30pm

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For a hearty seafood meal, no place like Welcome Seafood Restaurant

No trip to KK is complete without having seafood and Welcome Seafood Restaurant is popular with both locals and tourists alike. Queue generally starts as early as 5pm for dinner. It has three branches with the closest to city centre being the Asia City branch. Highlights on the menu include kam heong crab (crab cooked in a blend of dried shrimps, curry powder and leaves, shallots and garlic), steamed prawns and stir-fried chilli clams. For dessert, the coconut pudding is an absolute delight.

Welcome Seafood Restaurant (Asia City branch) | Lot G 18, Ground Floor, Kompleks Asia City, Phase 2A, Jalan Asia City, 88300 Kota Kinabalu | +60 8844 7866 | Monday-Sunday, 12pm-11pm

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For a truly exotic meal, head to Little Sulap Café

Little Sulap Café is owner Chrisboy’s way of preserving, sharing, and appreciating Dusun Tatana recipes passed down through generations. Its baby pink exterior is hard to miss.

Choose from among the platters, designed for one person and complemented with rice and an array of dishes. We recommend the Ambuyat Set and the Original Sabahan. The former is served with ambuyat, a white, sticky sago paste, while the latter showcases indigenous brown rice. These platters also highlight local vegetables as well as the famous Ginuring Basung (fried fish). Another must-have is Sulap’s Chicken Wings.

Little Sulap Café | No. 3A, Garden Hotel, Jalan Dewan, Austral Lane, 88000 Kota Kinabalu | +6011 3380 8184 | Monday-Sunday, 10am-10pm

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Knock back a few drinks at Biru Biru

A café by day and a bar by night, it's a charming place inside an old building and furnished in old school furniture and décor like parasols and old photo frames. The colour of the exterior is painted in blue, like its name which means "blue" in Malay. Local bands perform every Monday and Wednesday.

Biru Biru Café | 24, Lorong Dewan, Pusat Bandar Kota Kinabalu, 88000 Kota Kinabalu | +6012 272 7116 | Monday-Sunday, 12pm-12am

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For fine dining, book a table at Oitom

Featured in Malaysia’s Tatler Dining Guide 2022, Oitom is helmed by chef-owner Raphael Jay Peter Lee, who is part Kadazan and elevates local ingredients like buah kulim and spices to create unique contemporary dishes. Its revolving tasting menu showcases the best produce of each season throughout the year.

Oitom | Lot J-1-1 1st Floor Block J Lorong Pusat Komersil 88/1 88 Market Place Jalan Pintas, Lorong Sri Kepayan, 88300 Kota Kinabalu | +6014 329 9375 | Tuesday-Sunday, 6pm-10:30pm

See also: Asia’s Best Food Cities According To Tatler Editors

Don't leave without a bag of Yit Foh Coffee

Did you know that Sabah is known for its coffee? The oldest coffeemaker here is Yit Foh Coffee established in 1960 by Yong Loong Vun. The factory grounds in Tenom, about a two-hour drive from KK, was expanded in 2017 to include Yit Foh Coffee Park in Tenom consisting of a café and a retail shop. If you're a coffee lover, you will love the aromatic smell of coffee beans being roasted wafting through the air.

Yit Foh Coffee Park | 3km, Jalan Tenom-Sapong, Kg. Chinta Mata, Tenom, 89900, Sabah | +60 8773 7737 | Factory: Monday-Saturday, 8am-5pm; Café: 11am-9:30pm; Beer Garden: Sunday-Thursday, 2pm-11pm, Friday-Saturday, 3pm-12am

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