Much can be said of Sabah’s cuisine: Malaysia’s second largest state excels in all things food, with its mix of Malay and Chinese fare most of which is based around the region’s excellent seafood. But Malaysia’s second largest state, which is located on the northern tip of Borneo, makes some pretty mean juice too.
One of my favourites, a go-to on this visit to Sabah, is a juice loaded with calamondin (‘limau kasturi’), a mostly overlooked citrus fruit in the west but one of great significance in this part of the world, not just for its use in beverages, but also as a condiment. I’ve had calamondin juice before, mostly in the Philippines, but the twist in the Sabahan drink is the addition of dried salted plums, which give this beverage a slightly sour, yet pleasant edge. At many places, the juice can be sweetened with some sugared syrup, which is served on the side. Otherwise, enjoy it straight up.
At the Shangri-la Tanjung Aru Resort, for breakfast, there’s a wide selection of freshly squeezed juices: from watermelon juice to a healthy green drink called ‘The Elixir’, the juice bar is the best way to start the day.
In downtown Kota Kinabalu, Sabah’s capital city, I lunch at Yee Fung’s, a highly recommended noodle eatery and wash down my laksa with a cool winter melon juice. Forget that’s it’s black – it’s very refreshing.
At the Mari Mari cultural village, I’m served warm pandan juice – an indigenous specialty – which I’m told, among other things, is good for insomnia; at the end of my visit to the open-air museum, I’m given a simple and quenching juice made with lime.
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Back in KK, at the Filipino Night Market, you can pick up a pineapple juice, a mango or avocado juice, or mango and avocado juice at one of the many beverage stalls. Or, you can drink as the locals drink, and grab a fresh coconut juice (still in its husk) to accompany your meal.
Alternatively, the local juices can turn an ordinary drink into an extraordinary mocktail. At Shangri-la’s Coco-Joe’s Bar & Grill, you can enjoy a Sunset Cooler (made with red berries and grapefruit), a Virgin Colada (comprising pineapple juice and coconut cream) or their signature drink, a Kinabalu Fruit Punch.
Look past a beer in Sabah, and you’ll be truly rewarded.
What to eat: Any drink goes well with ‘hinava’, an indigenous dish and specialty of the Kadazan-Dusun people (the largest ethnic group in Sabah) comprising raw fish cured with lime juice, and served with chili, shallots or red onion and grated ginger. Think a Sabahan-style ceviche.
Also try Pinasakan (a local braised fish dish), Tuaran Noodles, claypot chicken, and of course, satay.
The writer was a guest of Tourism Malaysia and Sabah Tourism, and stayed at the Shangri-la Tanjung Aru Resort.
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