A Night at the Kota Kinabalu Seafood Market
I didn’t know what to expect from Borneo’s food scene. Quite frankly, I hadn’t even considered it a thing. We were going to the jungle island for the nature, for the quiet. Whatever they fed us was what we would eat. This all changed when our tour ended and we needed to find some meals. Luckily, the recommendations were simple: find a night market.
Night markets are popular throughout Southeast Asia, both among residents and curious travelers. There are a number of pasar malam (night markets) in Sabah’s Kota Kinabalu, clustered along the city seafront. One such pasar, the Waterfront Seafood Night Market, is a paradise for seafood enthusiasts. But it’s not easy to navigate without a little Malay. Here’s what to know when going pescatarian in Kota Kinabalu.
Pasar Malam Makanan Laut
The Waterfront Seafood Night Market, or Pasar Malam Makanan Laut, is in a parking lot between the KK Central Market and the Marlin Statue. In the front is the wet market, where diners pick their seafood before retiring to people watch under tents. In the back is the prepared food section, with a handful of grills cooking up bites like squid skewers and pork brochettes. Prices are negotiable and based on weight. And bring cash because vendors will not accept cards. 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.
Pasar Malam Makanan Laut opens around 4:30pm and is in full swing by 7:00pm.
Terms in Malay
Even with a picture menu, you may want a few culinary words in Malay.
- 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
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 sambal belacan on top and can also be prepared with stingray.
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. It’s fried crab coated in a paste of dried shrimp, shallots, garlic, chili, curry leaves and powder.
Battered fried prawns topped with seasoned, melted butter and a crunchy fried egg known as egg floss.
A pearl-like seaweed with caviar texture, latok is usually eaten with grilled fish. It’s consumed raw and typically topped with chilies and lime juice.
With rainbow-colored beverages and abbreviated names, deciding what to drink may also need a guide. Look for the bright pink bandung or bandung cincau. The iced beverage is condensed milk sweetened with rose cordial and with or without bits of the grass jelly cincau. Tea and coffee lovers should check out Sabah Eats. They have a full list of how to order coffee and tea in Malaysia.
Up for another night market?
If you’re not yet full, there are more food markets north and south of the Waterfront Seafood Night Market. At Jesselton Point, vendors on the pier sell crispy batter-fried bananas (pisang goreng), coconut pudding (puding kelapa) and other popular sweets; in addition to having its own restaurant space. The popular Pasar Malam Filipina (Filipino Night Market) is on the other side of KK Central Market and has everything from handcrafts to fresh produce and seafood.