It was the first evening in Sabah and due to the rains, our welcome dinner on the cruise had gotten postponed and we started to look out for alternatives on what we can possibly do. Just then, our guide came up with the brilliant idea of visiting the Sabah market. I had to say it was the best way to start a tour of a city. The market in Kota Kinabalu was exactly opposite our hotel, Le Meridian, and right next to the waterfront. It was a cloudy day and we set off to explore.

People walking around in Sabah market
Photo credits: Kitty Iyer

It was a busy market. Everything from souvenirs, and coffee to the local fish was sold here and we were super excited to explore more. By the end of the evening, we had learned so much about the culture of the people in Sabah. Here are some of the most interesting stories we came across.

Sabah Market: Our interesting finds

Sea Horse
A vendor selling dried sea horse in Sabah market
Photo credits: Kitty Iyer

A small boy was sitting at the side of the market and selling something that looked like a seahorse. I had never seen one before and when we enquired, he explained that it was a dried seahorse he caught off the coast of Sabah yesterday. He went on to explain that adding a dried male and female seahorse inside water and soaking it overnight and drinking the water in the morning helps in curing backaches, allergies, and in general detox. I came back to the hotel room and googled to find that seahorse is an important ingredient in Chinese medicine. According to the precepts of traditional Chinese medicine, it’s known to treat asthma, infections of the throat, insomnia, and abdominal pain. Would you go to a seahorse instead of a boring-looking medicine?

Sago Worms
A sago worm on cucumber slices - Sabah market
Photo credits: Kitty Iyer

Locally known as Butod, sago worms is a delicacy in Sabah. They are extremely nutritious and are said to be very high in protein. A little restaurant on the market had a challenge called the ‘Butod challenge’. To participate, one had to eat them live. I miserably failed at eating the worms. Being a vegetarian, the thought of a live worm inside my mouth was disgusting. Would you try this?

Also read: Never have I ever eaten a live worm before (until now)

A pearl necklace on a glass table top - Sabah market
Photo credits: Kitty Iyer

Sabah is known for its pearls that are taken off the South China Sea. More than how gorgeous they look; the interesting part here is how the shopkeepers show you the genuineness of the pearls. There are a couple of methods. They ask you to run the pearl gently along your teeth and if it feels grainy or sandy, the pearls are real. The second method is they use a knife and scratch the sides of the pearl. The scratched part comes away like smooth powder if it’s real. So when you plan a trip to Sabah, don’t forget to check out the pearls there.

Fish Market
Blue clawed crabs for sale - Sabah market
Photo credits: Kitty Iyer

It’s very rare for a Vegetarian like me to enjoy the fish market in Sabah. Being so close to the sea, the fish market was very colourful. There were crabs and lobsters in pink and blue colour. It was a very vibrant and happy place with almost no or minimal bad smell.

Snake Fruit
Snakefruit for sale in Sabah market
Photo credits: Kitty Iyer

Whenever I travel, I make sure to try out some local fruits. On a similar mission in the Sabah market, I found this strange fruit the locals called ‘Salak’ and snake fruit in English. When they opened the snakeskin-look-alike peel, the fruit tasted and looked like a version of lychee. It was sweet and slightly sour! This fruit is native to Indonesia but available only in South East Asia.

Tea Tarik
A plastic glass of tea in Sabah market
Photo credits: Kitty Iyer

After a long walk inside the market exploring all the interesting things, we got a little tired and wanted to stop for refreshment. I ordered a Tea Tarik or in literal translation, “Pulled Tea”. It is a milk-based tea served hot or cold. I had the cold version. It had tea-flavoured bubbles/jelly and was mildly sweet. The vendor added condensed milk to a black tea and artistically dragged a long stream of tea between two glasses. It was such a show to see him do it. This drink is considered Malaysia’s national drink. How can you go to a part of Malaysia and not try their national drink?

Also read: 11 Fascinating tea traditions around the world.

Rice Wine

Lihing’ is a type of rice wine that originated from Sabah, Malaysia. This rice wine is usually made at home by tribal women. It’s made with glutinous rice and natural yeast. This wine is very tasty and very potent. When you visit Sabah, take a Taste of Sabah back home with you!

Durian Ice Cream
Durian ice cream on a stick - Sabah market
Photo credits: Kitty Iyer

If you are in Sabah, having a dessert that isn’t a fruit is very rare. Almost every local meal ends with a bowl of fruits like pineapple, watermelon, and honeydew. Being a big fan of desserts, I kept searching and I found this. Say hello to Durian ice cream! Durian is a fruit that smells pretty awful but I absolutely loved the taste of this ice cream. It smelt a little durian, but it also tasted heavenly. These ice creams made by the brand ‘Taluwang Sdn Bhd’ has other bizarre flavours like red beans, purple yam, etc. These Sabah-made ice creams are a big hit in China.

Convinced? Great! Book your tickets to Sabah today!

Not yet? Check out these stunning pictures from Sabah!

So, with so many interesting things to experience isn’t it time you ask yourself #WhyNotsabah and plan a trip to this magical place?


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