Travel Diary Sabah (Part 1) – Seafood

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I’d never been to Borneo, but at the end of nearly 3 weeks of gruelling filming for our Asia: Food | Travel | Mystery pilot last year, my co-presenter and co-executive producer Robb Demarest and I made a quick trip over to Sabah for 2 days.

Asia:Food.Travel.Mystery investigates the Penang War Museum.

Asia:Food.Travel.Mystery investigates the Penang War Museum.

We knew there was a lot of interest in Sabah and Sarawak as locations for the show, based on the number of fans on the Seekers Facebook page constantly asking when the crew were ever going to make it to that part of Malaysia. (Asia:FTM was a concept developed by Robb and myself, and supported by the same production company that made Seekers.)

Orang Utans in Sabah, Borneo.

Orang Utans in Sabah, Borneo.

We travelled to Sabah courtesy of Tourism Sabah and Shangri-La Rasa Ria.


To be honest I didn’t really know what to expect with Sabah – my sister Chooi’s been there for snorkelling and to scale Mt Kinabalu – I can neither swim nor is climbing the highest peak in the Malay archipelago on my bucket list.

 My thing is food, so before departing, I asked around about the food scene in Sabah. Strangely, even Sabahans had trouble telling me what food they were famous for – Penang has its Char Kway Teow and Assam Laksa, Sarawak has its Laksa Sarawak and Kek Lapis, Ipoh has Sar Hor Fun etc. – but Sabah?

Lots of seafood, I was told. That sounded promising, but no-one could give me a particular style of cooking it that made it stand out from seafood elsewhere. “Sabah vegetable!”, said someone on my Facebook fan page (sorry, I forget who).

What’s the name for it? “Just say Sabah vegetable, and everyone will know what you mean.”

 Armed with this sort of vagueness, we landed in Kota Kinabalu (KK) late Sunday afternoon and were whisked away to check out some of the sights around town by Amazing Borneo Tours. When it was time for dinner, some minor issue came up about the place we were supposed to go to, so we had the option to eat elsewhere. Our friendly tour guide asked if we had any preference, and right away, I said – of course – Seafood and Sabah Vegetable. 

Dinner spread including the famous and delicious Sabah vegetable.

Dinner spread including the famous and delicious Sabah vegetable.

I really, really wish I’d taken a photo of the restaurant frontage because I’d love to go back there. We ordered a bunch of different dishes – each one stunningly delicious, including and perhaps especially the modest looking clam broth. Robb is not a huge seafood fan himself (hence the chicken dish in the picture) but he would eat lobster. Steamed lobster with butter sauce. Which in the USA east coast means melted butter.

 And that started an intense, 5-minute discussion between us and the waiter about what “butter sauce” is. You see, in Malaysia, butter sauce means something quite different – it’s made with butter and evaporated milk, and curry leaves and sliced chillies and that sort of stuff. I knew that but I also knew Robb just wanted melted butter.

Robb is a lot of things, but being compliant isn’t one of them. He was tired, we’d been travelling all day and hadn’t even checked into our hotel yet, and he really, really, just wanted steamed lobster with plain ol’ melted butter, please. Anyhow the waiter took it all in stride, nodded agreeably, and served the lobster with, yup – Malaysian-style butter sauce. And Robb loved it so much he was practically licking the sauce off the dish by the end. Thankfully.

My Hangout-on-Air making Butter Prawns, Malaysian/Sabah style –

Click here to watch on YouTube >>



Sabah Tourism

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