Food Adventures in Malaysia: Day 14, Where to Eat at Kota Kinabalu International Airport
If you find yourself stuck at Kota Kinabalu Airport for half a day like I was on my way back to Kuala Lumpur from Gunung Mulu National Park, don’t get too pissed about the abundance of crap restaurants in the airport. There is a small strip mall well within walking distance of the airport full of deliciousness.
I knew that I didn’t want a filthy American burger, or deep fried chicken, or hot dogs, or hours old noodles under a heat lamp, so I took a tip from the Food Network and started asking the locals (employees of the airport in this case) where they recommended. Some didn’t understand what I was asking, others just pointed me to the food stalls in the airport, and the taxi drivers I asked recommend restaurants on the other side of town to get the highest fare that they could. But I eventually talked to a kiosk full of Malay girls selling cameras and other electronic trinkets. They were all in their late teens/early twenties, and started giggling when I asked them where they recommended. They asked, “Do you like Malaysian food?” “I love it,” was my reply. “Nasi Lemak?” “Of course!” I answered. They then pointed out the window to a cluster of windowed buildings far across the parking lot. They said that the food was really good there and was much cheaper than anything in the airport, and that it was where they and most of the other employees go to eat. I thanked them, they giggled, then told me how nice my teeth were. “Thanks?” I said. That was some pretty awkward international flirting if I’ve ever seen it.
The walk to the buildings was hot, and a bit treacherous. There were walls to scale, a 4-lane road to cross, a big irrigation ditch with some 2×4′s across it for a bridge, and another busy road, but man was it worth it! The buildings the girls pointed out were full of different little shops. Fabrics, business services, and several small cafes. Nothing was in English, and from what I was able to determine, nobody could speak it either. I let my nose and eyes be my guide, and I settled on an open air seating cafe that was the busiest of them all. Busy is usually a good sign, and it seemed the cleanest of the three as well. Great choice!
Delicious Serve Yourself Eating at Melanau Cafe & Catering Near Kota Kinabalu International Airport
When I walked into the place, everybody stopped eating and stared at me. I’m sure they were wondering what the hell some white American with a day pack on was doing in their local lunch spot. Nobody seemed to speak any English whatsoever, and none of the menu or service instructions where in English. But I saw the food bar and headed over to take a look. I quickly realized that this was a serve yourself establishment, as I watched the other patrons dishing up plates of deliciousness, and then pay by the pound. Seemed like an easy system to me, so I headed in. Of course, it was a little concerning not really knowing what anything was, but it all smelled and looked great.
I was in the mood for lite and simple, so I settled on baked chicken, jasmine rice, some curried green beans with onions, and some cucumbers. It was so damn good! The chicken was absolutely awesome. It had a great spice rub and a slight smokiness. It was some of the best chicken I had in Malaysia. The beans were perfectly cooked and had a very subtle curry flavor. It was just terrific. One of the girls working there motioned drink and pointed at their options. I selected a canned fruit drink of lime. It was so good that I ended up buying another can for my trek back to the airport. My entire lunch, 2nd can of lime juice included, was only 4RM, that’s roughly $1.30. Amazing.
The Bald Gourmet finds a great local cafe while waiting at the airport in Sabah by talking with the locals and asking for recommendations.