Jump to content
  • Welcome to the eG Forums, a service of the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters. The Society is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the culinary arts. These advertising-free forums are provided free of charge through donations from Society members. Anyone may read the forums, but to post you must create a free account.

The Other Malaysia

Recommended Posts

Posted (edited)

Thanks, KenT. I have a couple of hours tomorrow before leaving town. Will try to find Zyrtec at a pharmacy if things don't improve fast enough.


The worst is probably over but it took a lot out of me. 6 hours have passed and I'm still in bed with pain. Thankfully I can breathe almost normally now. Had to forgo dinner tonight. Throat constriction, hoarseness, painful. I've been reading about jackfruit allergy. I have a huge chance of it happening to me. Jeez.

Edited by BonVivant (log)
  • Sad 6
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Posted (edited)

I'm 96% fine again. And now back to our regularly scheduled programming.


Had our last breakfast at 2 different places on the same street.

Big steamed bun and buttermilk bun


All the steamed buns filled with pork are the same. Braised pork, 1/4 boiled egg and 1 shiitake.


On the way to where we had to catch a van to the next destination... Not a Vietnamese restaurant but they have "Phở" and coffee.


If you must vandalise, at least make it funny. (It's a character from a horror film)


We made it to Kota Belud, a small town half way to far north of Borneo. The presence of Chinese-Malays is drastically less than in the capital. We asked the (Malay) driver to drop us off at a Malay restaurant for lunch. It was full of Malays and employees were also Malays, but the food looked Chinese. It's a local restaurant and the food freshly cooked. Chicken is king. We had no iron-rich food since we got to Sabah (I'm anaemic).




Stir-fried lettuce


After lunch we checked out the market. Noticed straight away dried fish/seafood stalls were more numerous than in the capital, and vendors were mostly non Chinese-Malays.


Betel leaves. There are stalls that sell only betel stuff. Some elderly people chew it.


Some dried fish come with sambal



I enjoyed eating this vegetable many times in Taiwan and am delighted to see it again at markets in Sabah.





Ginger flowers



Glutinous rice yeast balls hung on nylon strings


It's not fish sauce. I asked. It's local honey.


The fish section is small. The first thing I noticed was the fishmongers. Nearly all were women here whereas it's usually men elsewhere. Did not linger long, the smell was strong.




There are so many swallow nests inside that the solution is to hang big plastic sheet above the stalls.


After done checking out every row I went back to my favourite stall:



It's huge. Lots of water. I drank and drank. Took a while to finish drinking all the water.


I said I wanted to eat the flesh but had no spoon, "I'll make you a spoon". The "spoon" (a sharp piece of green otter shell) actually worked. But when a coconut has a lot of water there is very little meat. This one had no meat. You can see the inside of the coconut, the thicker the meat (endosperm) the whiter the interior. There's nothing here.


Apparently we were the town's latest attraction. Many people stared at us everywhere. Some grown people and children said "hello hello". When I bought something or asked about something and if they could speak any English at all they had questions for me. This small rural town doesn't see a lot of tourists. They only come for the big regional weekly Sunday market by the coach load (package tours) and go right back to the capital after browsing the market.


Sunset in rural Kota Belud seen from one of my room's windows.




Edited by BonVivant (log)
  • Like 7
  • Thanks 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Posted (edited)

Sat next to a young man in the mini van on my way to his home town Kota Belud whom I asked many questions about the town, durians, its food and whatnot. He said to try the town's favourite noodle soup ("Mi Sup"). So the next morning I set out to look for Mi Sup. It was not hard to find the soup, and when I found this food centre it seemed everyone was eating it.

We tried from different stalls. It's OK to sit down at one stall (you must order something here first) and also order something else from different stalls. The broth is different, obviously every stall has its own recipe. Chewy, fine (wheat?) noodles, chicken broth, topped with shredded chicken (or in small chunks with bones).




I walked through the market every day to find fruits or whatever.

This is what makes the food in Malaysia taste good... Shrimp paste.

In the old days they used something very simple to shred coconut or to obtain the milk manually. Now it's electric. The elderly man wanted me to make his photo. Thank you, mister!


Malaysia is deep-frying paradise. Seems almost anything can be deep-fried here.

A coconut a day. The coconut and the dried fish vendors share the same stall. He speaks English just fine, the young woman who runs the dried fish stall is very highly proficient, her mother as well. The reason we stopped by their stalls every day, besides buying a coconut, was to ask/talk about typical topics such as travelling in Sabah, food, customs, transport etc. When someone is happy to provide insightful information I take this opportunity to learn. The stallholders could answer all our questions, were super friendly and helpful. This small, insignificant town most tourists wouldn't even consider staying the night has most friendly and welcoming locals. We are glad we gave it a chance.


We love to drink coconut water and in Borneo it's so common and easy to find. The price varies so you must ask first. Anywhere between 2-7 ($0,42-$1,50 ringgits.


Fish flavoured crackers

Do I lick the pods? Garlic-flavoured whole peanuts in their pods.


Durian flavoured fruit concentrate



I like green mango salad and by now I have noticed only Malay/Muslim/tribal eateries have it.

And they always have aubergines in a red sauce

Hard boiled egg in sambal




We had the first river tour this afternoon. Unfortunately it didn't go well at all. Started out good, though.

This is the real Sabah. Very rural, wild, life is simple, oil palm plantations dominate the landscape, people, have little in terms of luxury, but are ready to smile at each other and strangers. As a tourist you simply don't have access to many places, especially deeply rural, wild or rugged areas. You must join a tour and fill out a form disclosing all the details. Sabah is the poorest Malaysian state but (one of) the most expensive to travel in because of the tours. On top of that, some tours' prices are higher if you are a foreigner. But in general, when shopping, if there's no price on something and you are a foreigner you will probably pay more than locals, but not always, to make it clear. I'm glad it's not as bad as some other countries, though. I really hate dual-pricing/OK-to-rip-off-the-tourists system in certain countries. I tend to shun them.






Just 1 lousy photo of a macaque a few minutes into the boat ride then it started raining.

The rain picked up the pace so fast and hard we were all soaked like swimming with clothes on (the boat had a roof but open on all sides, the wind blew the big fat rain horizontally through the boat, from front to back!). Oh well, you win some, you lose some. Nature owns you nothing. It was dry again later and we could jump back in the boat to see fireflies. So many, floating like snow in the dark.


The food included in the price of the tour: sweets and buffet dinner. I didn't touch the sweets and had only a little taste of dinner.




This mountain is on the flag of Sabah. Also appears not once but twice on the state's coat of arms.


Seen from my room every morning.


There's a swallow nest under the roof (top right corner). The chicks were so loud much of the day.















Edited by BonVivant (log)
  • Like 7
  • Thanks 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 weeks later...
Posted (edited)

Back home now but our rugsacks were not with us on the plane. Will be delivered to my address soon. Singapore Airlines sent us to KL first, then to Singapore, from there the long flight to Europe. The connection KL-SIN was super tight they failed to transfer our bags on the next flight. Had to fill out a form after landing and a customs clearance form online yesterday. Felt very strange to walk out of the airport without our rucksacs.

This is the second time it has happened to me. First time was from Santiago to Chiloe island, Chile in 2011. My small 5kg bag was delivered to my guest house the following day. Other people's carry-on bags are usually twice as big. Anyway, just happy to be getting my bag back soon.


The Sunday market in Kota Belud is the region's biggest. People from all over the surrounding areas come here to sell fruits and produce from own gardens or (someone else's bigger garden), stuff foraged in the woods and fields. (Dried) seafood, cooked food, snacks, household goods and probably everything under the sun. There's a separate livestock section but we didn't go. During high season (July-August), coaches drop off tourists from the capital and take them back after a few hours or so. The guest house is only a few minutes on foot from the market so we took our time to browse.

Most vendors sat on the ground. Check out the big leaves.


These wild mangoes are still unripe. The skin is hard. Flesh is starch white and very sour. At this stage they can only be eaten as pickles.


(Sticky) rice in (yam?) leaves

These are popular all over Sabah, I saw maybe half a dozen stalls at this market. Did try a bite of this snack when visiting the cultural village a few days earlier. It's spongy inside.



How the batter is measured

A hole is made using a long bamboo stick. Then the disc is lifted with the stick still in it and hung on the rim of the wok to drain.

Betel nuts


Interesting vegetables



Tiny aubergines

Tiny harvest from own garden. The smallest tomatoes I've seen, the size of marbles.


One of the most popular mango varieties grown in peninsular Malaysia, and Sabah also grows its own. You know it's not imported from Thailand/Philippines/Vietnam etc when the fruit is not uniform, often bruised, and definitely not pretty looking.


Blacktip shark. Commonly found in tropical waters, but their status is apparently "vulnerable".

Yes, the market is big and sprawling. We inspected every row and every stall.

There are food stalls inside this big Sunday market. They have a building to house all the food stalls in a specific area (where we ate breakfast). Soups were from different stalls.



Sticky rice with sambal ikan billis (anchovies chilli paste). Wrapped in banana leaf and warmed over charcoal.



A simple nasi lemak wrapped in banana leaf.



Moved on to 2 stalls away where I spotted this chocolate steamed bun.

It was good. We got another one and 2 more coffee. Never saw another chocolate steamed bun like this again the whole trip.


Got my last coconut at the central market and said goodbye to the 2 stallholders with whom I spoke with every day. Mother of the lovely young woman who was on duty at the stall. She insisted we took a selfie together (we did and I am not a phone user, a hater of selfie/non user of social media platform). The moment she looked at me and said let's make a photo of us 3 together.

Bought a cheap knife to eat the mangoes. Then later I watched someone eat a mango without any knife like a boss.


Last chance to eat local noodle soup in Kota Belud. This was lunch some time later.


This "dry" noodle dish is also popular in Kota Belud.


Now back at the riverside village deep in rural northern Sabah for another river cruise, but with a different tour op. They always give you this kind of fried snacks when you arrive. I gave my plate to the partner, again.

Dinner after to river tour. I barely touched mine, ate mostly fruit.

It rained again during the cruise. When I saw the jetty I thought oh no, the cruise was about to end. But then it suddenly stopped raining and my boat slowed down then got a bit closer to the trees.


The tour guide tried to point at the direction where we could see proboscis monkeys. We looked and finally spotted them. A bunch of them in the trees busy eating. These leaves are their favourite food. The more I looked the more monkeys I saw. These monkeys are sociable and live in groups. They eat early in the morning and during golden hour. The reason river cruises only go at these times of day.

It was quite some distance away but I did manage to make some usable shots of these peculiar monkeys. They are in the top 5 wildlife attractions in Malaysian Borneo. Proboscis monkeys are endemic to Borneo and mostly found in mangrove forests. That's why river tours are so popular in Sabah. This is a female. Males have huge noses. Huge.


This was our first taste of Sabah's wildlife. It got better after this tour, because we had more tours to come.

So, I saw this earlier in a shop. Haha, the world couldn't be more wrong about us. No desire to dignify absurd assumptions with a reaction. (Source: I'm 200% introverted)












Edited by BonVivant (log)
  • Like 4
  • Thanks 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thanks for doing this on such an eventful trip!!  Your flight must have been REALLY close for Sing Air and the Singapore Airport to delay your bags - both that airline and airport are the most efficient I've ever seen.  We use them all the time going to SE Asia as they have a direct flight from NY to Singapore - which I'm looking forward to in a couple days - to Indonesia.  I hope we can find as good looking mangoes as you seem to have had.  How were they?  Were they very sweet?  We've had some that looked like that and were very ripe and juicy but were completely flavorless.  I've seen the fried brown cakes in your last market visit as well when we were in North Sulawesi - over there they were made with palm sugar and had a nice spiced flavor - mostly cinnamon and some clove.


Very nice on seeing the proboscis monkeys!  I hope we see them when we're in Sabah come Christmas time.  In addition to being in Kota Kinabalu for a few days (primarily for scuba diving), we'll then head to the east side of Sabah to Sepilok and the Orangutan and sun bear rehabilitation and conservation centers.  There's also a proboscis monkey sanctuary in the area so we're hoping to be able to see them all.

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Leaving Kota Belud today. So hard to find beer in Sabah. 7-11 is the only shop where one can buy any alcohol, and only alcohol available is about 4 brands of (industrial) beer. We drank Tiger and Guinness in the evening. 7-11 does have 2 other industrial beer but they are worse.

One last look at the most "famous" mountain in Sabah.

Sabah is still primitive, it's a lot like our early backpacking days all over again. No real bus station, not many people know what time the vans or buses leave, staggering inefficiency, bad roads, old buses/vans, reckless driving, terrible traffic on narrow interstate road (the only one that connects the towns). We made it to a small town in the mountains, where most tourists would only stop for a meal or toilet break and be on their way again to the next big town 4 hours away. Our lodging here was even more basic than the previous one, which was already basic. It took twice as long to get here due to bad traffic.


First meal and coffee at 4pm at a Muslim restaurant round the corner from the lodging.


Mango salad




Nasi goreng ayam penyet (fried rice with chicken Schnitzel)

Roti telur (flatbread with egg)

We went looking for a 7-11 but found none. Then the partner spotted stacks of beer inside a Chinese restaurant/cafe. The signs look like they have been there since the 80's.


We had 2 big ice cold Tiger straight away. Owner was very friendly and polite. Spoke perfect English, too. We brought some more beer to take back to the "hotel", across the street.

And some fishy snack on the way back to the "hotel".

That was our first few hours in small, insignificant Ranau. People stared at us, some made spontaneous small talk. We have now been to 2 towns, that according to the guide book, not worth stopping for anything. It's these not worthy places where we tend to experience to real Sabah (or insert any town/country)! So thanks for staying away!

  • Like 2
  • Thanks 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

After coffee and steamed buns we had a look at the central market. It's big enough for a small town, not many fruit stalls, though. And unfortunately for me, peak fruit season starts in August. Everyone had the same stuff (dragon fruit, papaya, watermelons, avocados, pineapples, Thai and Sabah-grown mangoes etc). Some fruits in Sabah are ready earlier than on other islands. Dragon fruit on Canarian and Japan's southern islands are available from mid October.



Only 2 smooth thin skin varieties grown in Sabah.

Larger and more elongated.


That's all the fruit stalls. I chatted with a young dragon fruit vendor who informed me about Sabahan fruits and their seasons, and how to know which are imported ones. Sellers of anything are usually happy to talk with you about stuff they sell, providing information (and soon enough, ask about your travels, sometimes also personal questions). Always helpful and kind, that's the nature of Sabahans.

This is what makes Bornean food taste good...

And this super pungent paste is in a bunch of dishes, even fruit salads. To like Malay/Bornean/Indonesian food you need to appreciate shrimp paste.


Honey in bottles. Not sure if they dilute the honey, it's quite liquid-y. I've tried it.

No cover and raised stalls outside, but you probably pay less to occupy a spot.


About $4,50

Rain water is saved in this big container. Some places to eat where the plastic chairs are.


That's where we ate breakfast, facing the market.

Plain brown rice in a leaf parcel

Breadfruit and crispy anchovies

I asked for more tamarind sambal. One of my favourite sambals.


Chayote shoots and mango salad. Never had the same mango salad. It's different every time as everyone has their own recipes.


The parcel of rice before opening


In the afternoon we hired someone with own car to take us to Poring "hot spring" (and back). Not there for the hot spring but to look round and do the canopy walk. The hot spring was developed by the Japanese during the war.


It moves a lot but seems totally safe. June is not yet high season, we had the canopy walk to ourselves for some time. Otherwise it would not be fun with all the people and time waiting round till your turn, especially in this heat and humidity.

Coffee and coconut when I got back from the hot spring.

Then to this restaurant just to eat their roti telur (flatbread with egg inside). Looks like we picked a good one, all the Muslim customers ate this same thing. It was so good, no wonder. Crispy, fluffy, soft. Never had roti telur this good again the rest of the trip.


Dough balls ready to be stretched (impossibly thinly).

Now moving on to the third Muslim restaurant, across the street from roti telur. Noodle soup with chicken.

Noodle soup with tendons. Nice that I could choose, by pointing at what's on the tray behind the glass display case. There are always other offal bits.

Bitter gourd salad.


I ate the chilli on top of the bitter gourd. But there were 4 more underneath...

Last beers at the friendly Chinese restaurant.

"Snek" and more beer to take back to the room.

Earlier this morning before visiting the central market.


Always a fun adventure checking out the supermarket. Maggi sauce (top row) is produced in China. So far the only Chinese Maggi sauce to be found in Sabah. (At home I can obtain Maggi sauce produced in 3 different countries.)

I checked every supermarket for fish sauce. Not common to see more than 2 brands or 2 types. They are either on the very top shelf or the very bottom, or hidden. Probably not an important ingredient in the cuisine.




  • Like 2
  • Thanks 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites



thank you fir sharing your wonderful trips.


Such unusual and out  of the way places 


congratulations for findingthem


and getting there 


please keep it up



Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Create New...