At least I have my memories of the amazing culinary adventures from both places that I can relive as I post about them!
So here goes with the first one...
While on vacation with the fam in Sabah, Malaysia, we managed to venture off the compound of the resort to check out local flavors. We started off with a self-guided excursion through the city center of Kota Kinabalu - through all the ocean front produce and craft markets (details in separate Sabah adventures post), to a local shopping center - then rewarded ourselves with what we had truly ventured out to the city center for lunch at a place highly recommended by the travel agency guide as well as foodie bloggers: Ocean Seafood Village.
But apparently we were not supposed to enter through this entrance first, and were immediately led to the main dining room to be seated.
As with my policy with movies, with food I just like to get the general gist of reviews (good/so-so/bad) without reading details, so that I could get my thoughts together first without any bias / noise. So, I was quite surprised when our server informed us that the restaurant did not have a menu!
At Ocean Seafood Village (and other similar seafood restaurants in KK and HK), you make your dining experience the way you want it - choose your own adventure.
Basically, this means you pick the seafood you want from the tanks (literally pointing to the exact lobster
etc. or simply instruct your server on the type and weight you want and let them make the selection for you), tell them how you want it cooked, and then the dishes of incredibly fresh seafood magically appear at your table.
So the designated seafood selectors from our table (my mom and I) were led back to the tanks to 'shop' for our meal. We had an amazing time just peering into all the tanks, checking out some creatures we'd never seen before, like this giant King Lobster with tarantula-like legs - so huge it looked like it could go head-to-head with us if we tried to grab it from the tank (luckily, we would have experts there to handle that), Mantis Prawn (equivalent of Chinese Lai Liu Har, but we've still never seen the live creature before) as well as various local types of fish.
Looking to get the full local experience, for beverages we ordered a round of Pandan Coconuts in the shell. Like all the other fruit juices we've had in Sabah, it could be served a little colder, but it still tasted great - untouched by human hands except for the cracking of the shell to reach the liquids inside. Perhaps it's just challenging to fit all those huge shells in the fridge (and they did run out when we tried to order seconds).
Sabah Vege is another Sabah specialty - as there are a lot of Chinese immigrants in Malaysia, a lot of the people speak Chinese, so my parents were delighted to find that our server could explain the dish in Chinese to us. The veggie is basically "Shue Jai Choy" or potato vegetable - they simply harvest the green stems that grow with spuds, above ground. It can be cooked a number of ways, but Sabah Vege proper is with a sauce reminiscent of Cantonese "XO sauce" made with dried shrimp and chilis. I don't usually like veggies, but loved this flavorful dish and wish I could find a place that serves it back home!
Our bill with all that seafood? In Ringit Malaysian currency: 280 TOTAL, which translates to just a little over $700 Hong Kong or about $92 US!!!!! For three people!
At that point we only had one day left in our stay in Sabah - and decided we needed to come back to Ocean Seafood Village one more time before leaving. There were some other recommended local spots that we wanted to check out for a greater sampling in the area, but Ocean Seafood Village was so amazing that we decided to go back for our last meal, literally before our ride to the airport.
This dish was good, but again took a lot of work to get at the 'meat' - there is supposed to be a specific way to snap the flesh off the spine, but we weren't sure how at the time. In terms of taste, the Mantis Prawns were sweeter than the lobsters, but this dish definitely did not have as big a payoff (not much meat for all that work, and not as big of a bargain). Worth trying as a local item, but if you have limited numbers of people and can only stick to a few dishes, would recommend getting the butter tiger prawn or a lobster dish instead.
Forget Shangri-La - after those two meals, paradise for me would be to live in Sabah...or specifically, next to Ocean Seafood Village.
On a 7 point scale:
Flavor - 6.5 bites
Presentation - 5.5 bites
Originality - 6 bites
Ambience - 5.5 stars
Service - 6 stars
Overall experience - 6 bites
Price - $$ (2 bite marks)
Probability of return visit - 100%
Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia
Ocean Seafood Village Restaurant
No.4, Lorong Api-api Center 3, Api-api Center,
88000 Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia
Ph: 088-264701, 088-269701