Parking lot turns open-air seafood eatery by night

It’s a seafood haven at Seafood Food Court Kota Kinabalu every night.

KOTA KINABALU: The last of the cars just left the parking lot next to the central market here, but rest assured the lot won’t stay empty or quiet for long.

And just as predicted, the area is abuzz with activity again, this time with hawkers streaming in with armloads of fresh seafood.

Working quickly with their assistants, they expertly set-up shop, putting on display a fascinating array of fish, crabs, prawns, clams, and every vegetable imaginable, gathered in bunches in the front portion of their stalls.

Fresh fish displayed in front of stalls to attract customers.

And so begins another night of frenzied feasting at the Seafood Food Court Kota Kinabalu.

This famous spot is also known as Todak Waterfront, taking its name from a roundabout nearby that features a replica of a swordfish.

This “restaurant” is essentially an open-air eatery with some 20 seafood stalls, and has become one of the best known places to find fresh and tasty seafood at affordable prices.

Sabah lobsters are sold for much cheaper prices here compared to those in air-conditioned seafood restaurants.
Fresh coconut water is one of the more popular drinks among overseas tourists.

Not surprisingly, it is frequented mostly by hordes of hungry locals and tourists from the peninsula and Sarawak looking for a hearty meal.

So brisk is business that some stalls even accept payment via credit or debit cards although most prefer cash.

The quality of service here varies. As do the prices, so if you want the best deals, haggle your heart out.

Best to bargain for better prices before ordering as most sellers are obliging as long as you buy in big portions.

As in many places near the market, this food court is also a popular hangout for beggars, mostly kids who go from table to table, holding out empty cans, asking for money.

“I’m hungry. I haven’t eaten since morning,” said one boy in a scruffy grey shirt.

As soon as he was given some money, a smaller boy appeared from out of nowhere asking for money too. Both took off when a stall worker shooed them away.

On a good day, this stall owner sells over 500 barbecued chicken wings.

Not all the stalls here sell seafood. There is also a barbecue station where the famous KK Chicken Wings operates a stall, selling chicken wings for RM1.50 each.

“In one night on average, I can sell between 400 and 500 chicken wings. On a good night, I can sell more,” said one seller.

Other than chicken wings, he also sells satay and grilled fish.

So competitive is business here that as soon as you enter the food court, you’ll find yourself assailed by eager workers persuading you to check out their stalls first.

Besides singing praises about the tasty food at their individual stalls, their sales pitch usually involves offering you cheaper prices for their prawns and crabs in a desperate bid to undercut the competition.

Crabs done sweet-and-sour style are a firm favourite with customers.

Most of them are fluent in several languages including Mandarin as more and more Chinese tourists have been coming here in the past few years.

Filipino stall worker Amin, 22 said he learned the language from friends and Chinese locals who took delight in teaching him.

“I can also speak English well although I cannot write it,” he said with pride.

The food court opens daily at 4pm and closes for business at midnight. City Hall personnel also conduct inspections here frequently to ensure the cleanliness of the place.

“The cleanliness is our responsibility. We clean the area when we close at night. We don’t want to attract pests like rats because that would severely affect business,” said Amin.

Tables are always full with customers coming and going all night long.

Local diner Dympna Pascalis, loves to eat at the stalls here but has noticed that prices have shot up recently.

“Maybe because more and more overseas tourists are frequenting the restaurant. It is a problem for locals because when tourists start coming here, the prices of goods always go up.

“I hope this will not be the case here though. I’m not blaming the tourism industry. Tourism is good for us all. But looks like this is the price we pay for having a vibrant tourism industry,” she said.