A Night at the Seafood Market in Kota Kinabalu
Night markets are common throughout Southeast Asia, where spaces reserved for daytime parking and throughways are converted into vibrant, bustling fairs at dusk. Even with the rise of shopping malls Malaysian pasar malam (night markets) remain a popular evening outing, attracting curious travelers in search of authentic, local experiences.
In the Sabahan capital Kota Kinabalu, a number of markets are clustered along the city’s waterfront. For seafood enthusiasts, the pasar malam makanan laut (seafood night market) is pure paradise, grilling up a wide array of fresh catches daily at sunset. But it’s not always easy to navigate a passar malam if you don’t speak a little Malay. Here is what you need to know for a night out at a seafood night market in KK.
Pasar Malam Makanan Laut
At night, Kota Kinabalu’s markets are hard to miss. Situated along the water in a small parking lot between the KK Central Market – a covered, brick produce market open during the day – and the Marlin Statue, vendors at the Pasar Malam Makanan Laut start laying out their catches around 4:30pm. The market is small with food vendors grouped by type. The wet market meets outdoor eatery is the largest section, with row upon row of glistening parrotfish, snapper, lobster and other brightly colored crustaceans. Diners first choose their seafood, then style of preparation before retiring for some people watching under plastic covered tents. On the backside, the prepared food section sells pre-grilled squid skewers and whole fish with cold accompaniments like pickled seaweed, raw vegetables and fish salad. There are also a handful of grills dedicated to sausages, meat brochettes and marinated chicken wings. Prices are negotiable, based on weight in the wet market and paid in cash only. If unsure about the price, see what the locals are paying. The Longest Way Home has more on bargaining at KK night markets, as does the Kota Kinabalu Travel Guide to Pasar Malam. The night market reaches full swing around 7:00pm, when tables are in high demand and people watching is at its best.
Even with a picture menu, choosing how to prepare your seafood can be difficult without a few words in Malay. Here are some useful translations and popular seafood dishes to help navigate through the options.
Bakar – Charcoal grilled (literally “burned” in Malay)
Goreng – Fried
Halia – Ginger
Ikan – Fish
Ikan pari – Stingray
Ketam – Crab
Sotong – Squid
Stim – Steamed
Tepung – Flour
Udang – Prawns
Ikan Bakar – Fish seasoned with a mixture of chili, turmeric, lemongrass and belacan (shrimp paste), wrapped in a banana leaf and grilled over charcoal. This regional favorite is usually served with more sambal belacan on top and can also be prepared with stingray.
Asam Pedas – Literally “sour spicy,” asam pedas is a fish stew with a sweet and sour tomato-based tamarind broth.
Ketam Kam Yong – Derived from Kam Heong or “Golden Fragrance” in Cantonese, Ketam Kam Yong is a blend of Chinese, Malay and Indian influences. The dish is, as implied, incredibly aromatic and is fried crab coated in a paste of dried shrimp, shallots, garlic, chili, curry leaves and powder.
Udang Butter – Battered fried prawns topped with seasoned, melted butter and crunchy fried egg known as egg floss.
Latok – A pearl-like seaweed with caviar texture, latok is consumed raw, typically topped with chilies and lime juice and usually eaten with grilled fish.
Unsure what to order? Look around.
When in doubt, see what the locals are doing. That will quickly help to determine what to eat, where.
With rainbow-colored beverages and abbreviated names, choosing a drink to accompany dinner may also need a guide. For the tea and coffee consumers, Sabah Eats has a full list, with handy chart, of how to order coffee and tea in Malaysia. The variety of refreshing, lemon beverages is also covered in the list. Additionally, you may find the bright pink Bandung and Bandung Cincau on evening menus. The iced beverage is condensed milk sweetened with rose cordial and with, or without, bits of grass jelly – a dark, plant-based gelatin with a slightly bitter taste – known as cincau.
Up for another night market?
There are more pasar malam and street food vendors both north and south of Pasar Malam Makanan Laut. At Jesselton Point, vendors along the pier sell warm, crispy batter-fried bananas (pisang goreng), coconut pudding (puding kelapa) and other popular sweets – in addition to having its own outdoor seafood restaurant space. Just on the other side of the KK Central Market is the popular Pasar Malam Filipina (Filipino Night Market). The market has essentially everything from handcrafts, fresh produce and seafood, to more barbecue pits and food stalls.