Must-try local Sabah food

Sabah is known for many things – from the majestic Mount Kinabalu, to its phenomenal marine life in Sipadan Island, Malaysia’s land below the wind is a state blessed with nature’s wonders.

Most travel to Sabah for the above reasons but if you spend a little more time there and wander into the nooks and crannies of the local hangout spots, you’ll come across a myriad of scrumptious Sabahan food hideouts that the average tourist wouldn’t be aware of

Be it seafood, unusual meat, or local takes on the usual Malaysian breakfast – there’s something in this local Sabah food list that will satisfy every foodie’s craving.

For more things to do in Sabah, check out these articles:

1. Sang nyuk min at Jia Siang Sang Nyuk Min

local sabah food

Sang nyuk min translated from Hakka is literally “raw pork noodles”, but this Sabahan favourite is served with fresh pork meat slices, innards, and pork balls. Originating from Tawau back in 1979, sang nyuk min struck a chord with the Sabahan palate so much that it’s easily found in every corner today.

Jia Siang Sang Nyuk Min is particularly well known for their rich pork soup and tender meat. You can choose between dry noodles mixed with dark sauce and pork oil, or the soup version (both RM7.50).

Their restaurant is always packed with diners even during non-peak hours, but rest assured that the service is fast. Orders will usually be served within 15 minutes.

Address: Lot 1-0, Lintas Plaza, Lorong 3, Lintas Plaza Ring Road, 88300 Kota Kinabalu, Sabah
Opening hours: 24 hours, Daily
Telephone: 013-830 2435

2. Laici Kang at Jia Siang Sang Nyuk Min

local sabah food

To wash down your sang nyuk min and end it on a sweet note, you should order Jia Siang’s Laici Kang (RM6). 

It’s a refreshing concoction of fresh milk, black jelly stripes, crushed ice, and lychee. The milk gives the drink a pleasant creaminess, while the lychee fruits add a tinge of sweetness to the entire dish.

Address (same as above): Lot 1-0, Lintas Plaza, Lorong 3, Lintas Plaza Ring Road, 88300 Kota Kinabalu, Sabah
Opening hours: 24 hours, Daily
Telephone: 013-830 2435

3. Tuaran mee at Ranau Hakka Food Court

local sabah food

When in Sabah, you’ll come across a restaurant or kopitiam stall selling Tuaran mee at least once. Tuaran mee is a famous, traditional Sabah dish originating from its namesake – Tuaran. 

It’s basically handmade egg noodles fried and served with roasted pork belly or pork slices and vegetables. The noodles should be crispy on the outside, but soft on the inside.

Tuaran mee can be found in most parts of Sabah, but if you’re in the Kundasang area, do stop by the Ranau Hakka Food Court for a wide array of Chinese cuisine.

Address: Jalan Ranau Tambunan, Road, 89308 Ranau, Sabah
Opening hours:
6AM-11PM, Daily
 016-918 1518

4. Pork innard noodles at Wah Juan Coffee Shop

local sabah food

Known for their fresh and fragrant pork innards served with springy handmade noodles (RM7.50) mixed together with the innards’ gravy, Wah Juan Coffee Shop is packed every morning with locals hoping to get their breakfast fix.

Many have remarked that Wah Juan Coffee Shop remains a favourite because they clean the intestines thoroughly to get rid of the smell, and broil them until the meat is tender and easy to chew.

They’re usually sold out by 10AM and you would have to wait for at least 10 minutes to get a table, so be sure to head there early to secure a spot.

Address: Jalan Lee Thau Sang, Pekan Tanjung Aru, 88100 Kota Kinabalu, Sabah
Opening hours: Tue – Sun 7.30AM-10PM

016-830 6160

5. Ikan bakar at Wah Juan Coffee Shop

local sabah food

The same Wah Juan Coffee Shop that has people queuing for their pork innard noodles by day attracts another batch of queue by night for their ikan bakar and rightly so. The fish is grilled perfectly – crisp and lightly-burned skin with soft fish meat on the inside. Topped with tangy lime and spicy shrimp paste, it’s best eaten with white rice for a fulfilling meal.

The price is calculated based on weight, but it’ll usually rack up to around RM35 per fish.

Address (same as above): Jalan Lee Thau Sang, Pekan Tanjung Aru, 88100 Kota Kinabalu, Sabah
Opening hours: Tue – Sun 7.30AM-10PM

016-830 6160

6. Polo buns and traditional pastries at Keng Wan Hing

local sabah foodImage credit: @hiromi_i256

Keng Wan Hing is a familiar household name in Sabah. Locals usually flock there for their tea break as they serve a variety of pastries such as egg tarts, siew pau, buttermilk buns, traditional Chinese biscuits, and steamed paus with both savoury and sweet fillings including BBQ pork, chicken, black bean, and peanut.

Their signature creations are their polo buns (RM1.50) that are unlike traditional polo buns, as theirs have a pineapple filling in the centre.

For those who prefer a savoury meal prior to a sweet snack, Keng Wan Hing also serves beef noodles, dry char siew noodles, pork noodles, fish paste noodles, and curry noodles priced at around RM7 each.

Address: 80, Jalan Gaya, Pusat Bandar Kota Kinabalu, 88000 Kota Kinabalu, Sabah
Opening hours: Mon – Fri 5AM-5PM | Sat – Sun 5.30AM-1PM

016-849 4708

7. Satay at Yuit Cheong Coffee Shop

local sabah foodImage credit: @fullburi 

Those looking for a satay fix can head over to Yuit Cheong Coffee Shop where you’ll see a satay kiosk operating from 11AM onwards serving juicy, well-grilled chicken satay for RM0.60 per stick, and beef satay for RM0.70 per stick. 

Yuit Cheong first opened in 1896 and is the oldest coffee shop in Kota Kinabalu. They’re a family business run by 5 generations, and also known for their simple toast bread and kaya (RM1.60).

Address: 50 Jalan Pantai, 88000 Kota Kinabalu, Sabah
Opening hours: Mon – Sat 6AM-5PM | Sun 7.30AM-5PM

088-252 841

8. Fish curry at Jothy’s Fish Head Curry Banana Leaf Restaurant

local sabah food

No matter which part of Malaysia you go to, there’s bound to be a recommended banana leaf place. For Kota Kinabalu, their pride lies with Jothy’s. 

They serve authentic South Indian cuisine, specialising in their fish curry (RM12). Made with their own special mix of herbs and spices, it’s spicy, thick, and goes extremely well with their banana leaf rice set (RM7).

local sabah food

Another chef’s recommendation is the rava dosai, made of semolina flour, ginger, and a mixture of Indian spices served with chutney. Not like the usual dosai, this one tastes savoury with a crepe-like texture.

Address: Block 1, Lot G1-0, 9, Api-Api Centre, 88000 Kota Kinabalu, Sabah
Opening hours: 10AM-8.30PM, Daily 

088-261 595

9. Curry laksa at Yee Fung Laksa 

local sabah food
Image credit: @francis_ahfei

For those craving a piping, hot bowl of curry laksa, Yee Fung Laksa will have you slurping with satisfaction. Their seafood curry laksa (RM15) is served with fresh, big prawns and shredded chicken accompanied with a flavourful, moderately spicy broth. The secret behind their delish soup comprises around 20 ingredients including red chilli, onion, ginger, and cinnamon, with the rest remaining a classified family recipe.

local sabah food
Image credit: @huhtaste

If you’re dining with a group, you can try another of their signature dishes – the claypot chicken rice (RM7.50). The chicken is marinated with oyster sauce, soy sauce, sesame oil, ginger, black pepper, and Chinese wine for just an hour to achieve a succulent texture.

Address: 127, Jalan Gaya, Pusat Bandar Kota Kinabalu, 88000 Kota Kinabalu, Sabah
Opening hours: Mon – Fri 6.30AM-6PM | Sat –  Sun 6.30AM-4PM

088-312 042

10. Smoked wild boar meat (sinalau bakas) at Kampung Bongol

local sabah food
Image credit: @ cyphrus92

For those curious to try something out of the ordinary, smoked wild boar meat (non-halal), also known as sinalau bakas in the local language, is a Sabahan delicacy that you shouldn’t miss out on. 

There are a few roadside stalls in the kampung areas, but there’s a particular one on Jalan Tamparuli on the way to Kundasang operated by an indigenous man and his wife from the Dusun tribe that is always busy with customers.

Priced at RM12 for 500g, each portion of meat is cooked on the spot with wood fire upon ordering.

Because there’s only one cook, you can expect to wait up to 30 minutes for your order to arrive but it will be worth the wait when you savour the roasted meat fresh off the wood grill. You can expect wild boar meat to be tougher than your everyday pork, but it’s easily chewable with a hint of smokiness to it.

Address: Kelawat Tamparuli, Jalan Ranau, 89259 Tamparuli, Sabah
013-731 6822

11. Seafood at Lobster King Seafood Restaurant

Image credit: @gamtan_goto

Sabah is synonymous with mouthwatering seafood, especially if you’re in their coastal towns. You’ll be spoilt for choice in the capital city of Kota Kinabalu itself, but a good place to start is Lobster King Seafood Restaurant. Depending on the season, there are periods where they will cook up crabs for just RM29. 

As with all seafood restaurants, they have the usual gravy options such as kam heong, sweet chilli sauce, steamed garlic sauce, and the like, but their salted egg yolk gravy is highly recommended. The crabs are generously coated with salted egg yolk flakes that provide a robust flavour. 

Address: Lot 5, Block A, Warisan Square, Tun Fuad Stephens, Pusat Bandar Kota Kinabalu, 88000 Kota Kinabalu, Sabah
Opening hours: 11.30AM-11.30PM, Daily

016-849 0861

Guide to local foods in Sabah 

Sabah’s culinary reputation may not be equivalent to Penang’s food paradise, but there are plenty of hidden gems and unassuming restaurants that cook up unpretentious, simple, and wholesome meals. 

Without gimmicks, tourist traps or Insta-worthy plating, Sabah’s local foods are meant for those who just want to enjoy the flavours and soak in the taste. 

For more restaurants on our yum-list, check these out: 

Cover image adapted from @ cyphrus92 and @hiromi_i256

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