Best Food to Try in Kota Kinabalu: Sago Worms?
A comprehensive guide to the best of Kota Kinabalu’s food — the list ranges from the super good to the super weird (100% recommended by the locals).
There are a few things Kota Kinabalu is known for — its sunsets, its proximity to Sabah’s highest mountain (Mount Kinabalu), but the one thing that keeps us coming back for more is its wide variety of yummy and affordable cuisine. From traditional coffee shops to modern minimalistic cafes to noisy night markets, KK is definitely a place to bring out your inner foodie.
1. Kedai Kopi Fatt Kee (Our Top Recommendation)
Kedai Kopi Fatt Kee signboard may be hidden. Look out for Ang’s Hotel instead as it is located right below the hotel.
This has got to be our one true love — Fatt Kee was recommended to us by at least 3 different locals, and we were not disappointed. This is not to be mixed up with Fatt Kee Hilltop Restaurant which we heard is famous for its seafood instead (there's also a branch in Suria Sabah Mall).
Try their oyster sauce chicken wings and herbal pork knuckle — you will come back for more.
Their most famous dish is none other than their oyster sauce chicken wings — think wings drenched in a sticky garlicky savoury sauce YUM. However, the winning dish in our heart was the herbal pork knuckle — the tender meat that falls off the bones, the soft gelatinous fatty skin, the homemade herbal sauce, everything was on point.
Local tip: This place is SUPER popular amongst both locals and tourists alike so get there early (before 6.30pm) — it’s free seating so just approach any table that looks like it’s finishing up and stand behind the table to wait your turn! You could also ask to share a table if you are in a small group!
Kedai Kopi Fatt Kee
Getting there: Fatt Kee is located conveniently in the city centre. Fatt Kee is right below Ang’s Hotel so look out for both signboards (Ang’s Hotel has a white signboard, Fatt Kee has a yellow signboard)
Opening Hours: 5.30pm till late
2. Sin Kee Bak Kut Teh
The one chef serving up dishes efficiently and quickly.
Bak Kut Teh (directly translated to meat bone tea) is a popular dish amongst all Malaysians and Singaporeans. It typically exists as a flavoursome soup filled with herbs and garlic, but the must-try here is the dry Bak Kut Teh.
Must-try: Sin Kee Dry Bak Kut Teh.
Here the pork ribs are served in a claypot, coated in a sticky, sweet and salty, dark soy sauce which gives the ribs a caramelised richness. Also, try their Teh C special (special iced milk tea) — the gula melaka (coconut sugar) and cendol pairs extremely well
Local tip: There is usually a queue here but don’t be tempted to go next door – they look like they serve the same food but it really isn’t the same quality!
Sin Kee Bak Kut Teh
Opening Hours: 4pm to 11pm daily
3. Kedai Kopi Seng Hing
Kedai Kopi Seng Hing is the perfect place to try traditional local dishes. Try their Tuaran Mee — a dish of fried egg noodles that is difficult to find in any other regions of Malaysia — the one in Seng Hing is special as it includes lihing (the local rice wine). It definitely makes it a lot more aromatic. We found the noodles slightly salty but nothing a good cup of tehbing (iced milk tea) can’t solve!
Another unique selling point is their Tom Yum Beehoon. When we heard “Tomyum”, we expected the sour and spicy soup of Thailand. Instead, the Sabah rendition is a thick, creamy, and flavourful seafood broth, nothing like what we expected but satisfying all the same.
Kedai Kopi Seng Hing
Opening Hours: 7am to 4pm daily
5. Welcome Seafood
Welcome Seafood now occupies 10 shoplots, testament to how popular it is.
With KK located right at the coastal areas, seafood is a must have. When we asked for good and cheap seafood places, we were pointed to Welcome Seafood. Take your pick from the tanks of fresh seafood — fishes, prawns, clams, crabs —you name it, they have it.
With only two people, we couldn’t order much — all we had was a plate of seafood beehoon and a steamed fish.
As promised, the steamed fish was fresh and good. It didn’t need much extra seasoning apart as it was sweet enough as it is. The seafood beehoon (whilst slightly salty, a common trait among KK dishes) was extremely affordable at RM9 (USD$2.21) and was more than enough for both of us (not to mention they were really generous with the prawns and sotong).
Our only grievance was the long waiting time. Don’t take our word for it though, it could have just been a bad day as we were told they usually serve dishes very quickly.
Welcome Seafood Restaurant (Asia City branch)
Opening Hours: 12pm to 10pm daily | Website
6. D’Place Kinabalu
Modern twist to a local delicacy, the larvae of a sago worm.
Worms on a pizza? Sushi worms? When we heard of this place, we knew we had to go. Butod, also known as sago worms, are a local delicacy said to be rich in proteins.
How do you eat it? We were told to grab it by its head and bite the body off.
It took a bit of pep talk before we finally bit into the sago worm — on the first bite, there was a juicy explosion before we chewed into what resembles closely the tasteless version of unrendered fats in a steak. Perhaps we should have gone for the pizza…
Watch us eat the sago worms here: https://www.facebook.com/seeksophie/videos/2133563873363620/
Local tip: If you are only interested in trying butod, go during lunch. Their dinner menu includes a mandatory buffet featuring a variety of Kadazan-Dusun cuisine (Kadazan is one of the indigenous groups of Sabah) — food was good but we didn't think the hefty price tag of RM45 was worth it. Instead, consider getting authentic Kadazan cuisine elsewhere for a lower price (we recommend Punya Sedap at A’Square Container Night Market).
Opening Hours: 11am to 4pm, 6pm to 10pm daily | Website
Bonus: Breakfast Spots
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day — check out these recommendations we had!
1. Yee Fung Laksa
Laksa for breakfast? Trust us, that was our first reaction too. Thankfully for our stomachs, the laksa wasn’t as spicy or creamy as the ones in Singapore or even in Kuala Lumpur. Instead, it tasted closer to a mild curry soup. If you’re the kind of person who can handle extreme spice in the morning, go ahead and help yourself to the chili paste provided on every table — it adds an extra dimension to the broth!
We heard good things about their Ngau Chap (beef noodle soup) too! We didn’t get to try it but we would love to hear your reviews!
Yee Fung Laksa
Opening Hours: 6.30am - 6pm (Mon - Fri) | 6.30am - 4pm (Sat, Sun & Public Holidays)
2. Keng Wan Hing
These fluffy buns are baked fresh daily.
Apart from laksa, we asked for other traditional breakfast food and were recommended Keng Wan Hing, famous for their pineapple polo buns. There were three different types of buns: the typical baked buns, fluffy steamed buns, and their famous polo buns (pineapple buns). Polo buns are termed this way not because of its ingredients, but rather its appearance — the crust’s criss-cross pattern resembles that of a pineapple (which is 'polo' in the local dialect).
In a tongue in cheek fashion, Keng Wan Hing decided to put pineapple jam in their polo buns (the only actual pineapple polo buns we know of).
Unfortunately, we found the pineapple polo bun a tad too sweet for our liking. Apart from that, Keng Wan Hing delivered — the bun was so soft, fluffy and warm, it was like eating a little cloud (this may be a hit or miss depending on your preference).
Keng Wan Hing
Opening Hours: 5am - 5pm (Mon - Fri) | 5.30am - 1pm (Sat, Sun) | Website
3. Fook Yuen Cafe and Bakery
We tried both the steamed and toasted kaya toast.
Another breakfast place to consider is Fook Yuen, known best for their kaya toast. Unlike the ones in Singapore or other parts of Malaysia, these ones aren’t served with two half-boiled eggs at the side. Perhaps that’s the reason why we weren’t particularly impressed with the kaya toast here! We would absolutely come back for their coffee and tea though — they were some of the better kopi pengs and teh pengs we’ve had!
Fook Yuen Cafe and Bakery
Opening Hours: 6.30am - 1am (Mon - Sat) | 6.30am - 12am (Sun)
We hope you find this compilation useful — we thank all the friendly locals we've met for being so generous with their recommendations! Stay tuned for our guide to the cafes and night markets in Kota Kinabalu!
To find out about the cafes and night market in Kota Kinabalu, read this article!
Other foods that locals have recommended and we haven’t had the chance to try:
- Beef noodles @ Kah Hiong Ngiu Chap Hilltop (15 mins from KK town)
- Seafood @ Suang Tain Seafood Restaurant (KK town centre)
- Fresh fish noodles @ Fatt Kee Hilltop and Fatt Kee Suria Sabah Mall
Did we miss any must-tries in KK? Let us know and we will be sure to try them out one day!