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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Kota Kinabalu Foodtrip


I'm not much of a food adventurer that I must admit. You will find me most of the time ordering the usual dishes at the office cafeteria, the tortang talong at the nearby Jollijeep and on rare occasions delighting on KFC, McDonalds and Jollibee. During my travels though, I try to become more driven to sample cuisines that are popular in places I visit. Sometimes I do get to try and more than a few times, due to budget constraints I let the opportunity pass me by. Not so, during my recent trip to Kota Kinabalu. I figured the chances of coming back would be more expensive, considering travel taxes and the lack of airfare promos alike. I'm already there so might as well try to get my taste buds say hello to the dishes that are relatively served around the city.

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We arrived at Kota Kinabalu downtown at around 8:00PM, starving a bit from the trip, we decided to walk first and try to locate an affordable backpacker's inn. We stopped by an eatery hoping to ask the waitress some direction. After talking briefly with her, the wife of the restaurant owner, who has a beautiful appearance of an Indian descent talked to us and asked us if we were Filipinos. We said yes, and even mistook her as a Filipina as my friend Josh excitedly asking her aloud "Oh Filipina ren pala kayo?" even though its obvious that she  projects a Sushmita Sen appearance. She then started speaking in Tagalog and gave us a clear direction towards the street where some of the hostels are located.

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The Indian woman and like many of the residents of Kota Kinabalu have learned to speak Tagalog because of the large presence of Filipinos there, some are married to Filipinas, some employs Filipinos and many of our countrymen have become citizens of Malaysia already, due to its thriving economic and employment opportunities that provides livelihood for those coming from Mindanao, mainly from Jolo, Sulu.

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forgot what this is called
Since our stomach are already clamoring for some solid food and is near Che Guevarra-like revolutionary mode, we decided to have our dinner right there. For a start I ordered Nasi Goreng - which literally means 'fried rice' in Indonesia. This dish originated from Chinese fried rice and reached its way to Indonesia where a few alterations as to how it is prepared and some of its ingredients like sweet soy sauce and a spicier taste were added, making it a distinct Indonesian dish. My friend Josh, using a reliable technique called 'random selection' opted for a type of Mie Goreng - which is a bit similar to our own pancit canton

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Soto Special. Not Val Sotto!
Mie Goreng is a popular noodle dish in Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia. It consists of yellow colored noodles fried with onions, garlic and can have an assortment of chicken, meatballs, shallots, beef, egg, vegetables as toppings. It is mostly served with a red spicy sauce that you should not wrongly assume as ketchup. Which I did and my tongue paid a dear price.

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Watan Ho
That night we also dropped by the Old Village Seafood Restaurant where many kinds of fresh sea creatures awaits execution by frying pan or melting pot. After walking around the direction pointed to us by the accommodating woman at the restaurant we ended up at this hostel called Sensi Backpacker's Hostel. Hammered a little from all the walking and getting puzzled by the direction of the cars, which comes from the opposite side (thanks to the British inspired right lane traffic), that has us almost getting ran over a few times while crossing the street, we settled briefly on our dorm room. 

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Kota Kinabalu is a small city, you can easily explore it by walking, which we did. We walked and walked until we passed by the same stoplight, the same shop, the same corner. We ended up by the boulevard, which is a bit grander version of our own Baywalk. It has rows of restaurants and bars with tables atop a wooden built open space that affords diners and beer drinkers a stunning feel of a seafront atmosphere.

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Kofi Suso or Milk Coffee
I got my first taste of Tiger Beer there, which I must say, tastes fine but not enough to dislodge San Miguel Beer as probably the best beer in the world. A little further walk from the rows of bars can be found another stretch of food market with different variants of fried and grilled foods like chicken bbq, grilled fish, crabs, dimsum and many more.

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Our meal for the next day consists of Watan Ho, a dish that is hard to describe for a clueless food aficionado wannabe like me, but I'll take a bat at it. It looks like our own Royco Noodle Soup served with egg that makes the soup a bit thick and along with other toppings like vegetable, chicken, squids and shrimps. Its hot and heavy on the belly and brings a nice after taste that will leave you almost licking the bowl empty.

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Mie Goreng
The other one is called "Soto" we ordered the Soto Special, it is sometimes considered to be Indonesia's national dish. Now do not get confused, Kota Kinabalu is in Malaysia and we're having all these Indonesia-inspired dishes. It is like a typical Chinese noodle dish with chicken and a variety of toppings. Its' unique broth that is sometimes served as color yellow, sometimes brown depends on the cooking version is what sets it apart.

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The next afternoon, after checking out some sights such as the scenic City Mosque in Likas Bay, we went back to the boardwalk and by that time there's a much larger crowd compared to the previous night. We passed by Filipino Market near the waterfront, ate some bbq and of course stared at some beautiful women, practicing our pick up line which, unfortunately we weren't able to use - for lack of courage I think.

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Unable to meet a European backpacker girl or a mestiza and chinita looking girl, we just drank our frustrations with yet another round of Tiger Beer, served cold by a group of Filipino waiters who took a brief time out from their work to exchange stories with us. How each of them ended up in Kota Kinabalu, how long they've been there. Meeting them and running across Filipinos in Kota Kinabalu, coupled by the friendliness of the locals there, you might not actually feel being in a foreign land. It feels like being home away from home.

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The jousting of cultures among countries from their unique practices to the kinds of food served on each table,  can provide an aura of uniqueness on its own. It's what makes self discovery and regional awareness much better and what better way than to eat yourself through that barrier. From now on, I promise myself to become more adventurous, to having my taste buds delight on the many types of foods being served in every corner of the world. Till my next foodtrip destination Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand.


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