Steamed crab with Thai herbs and glass noodles
Following our failed trip to the islands outside of Kota Kinabalu and our ho-hum visit to the eco-park, the hubby and I were determined to turn our day around and have a good lunch somewhere. This turned out easier said than done when the sky opened up, and buckets of tropical rain dumped on us. Not to be deterred, we threw a rain cover on the Gravy Baby’s stroller and scurried along the waterfront drag in search of some local seafood.
Left: the larb gai, or minced chicken salad; above right: the hubby holds a bowl of tom kha soup with the tail end of a fresh tiger prawn sticking out
We settled on Mai Yai, a Thai restaurant that overlooked the water. A quick look back in the kitchen showed bins of fresh seafood, which satisfied our only requirement. We ordered the poo ob woon sen, a steamed crab with glass noodles and herbs in a clay pot, a tom kha (coconut milk) soup with fresh tiger prawns, and a larb gai minced chicken salad (which is one of my absolute favorite spicy Thai salads). By the time we placed our order, all three of us were a little soggy and downtrodden, and even though we’d tried not to let the day get to us, we weren’t our normal shiny, happy selves. Once that crab arrived, though, everything changed. I cracked a claw open and succulent, tender meat fell out in flakes, and the hubby and I gasped with delight. The glass noodles turned out to be the perfect medium to soak up the rice wine/soy sauce percolating in the bottom of the clay pot, and the herbs (what were they? who knows?) added just the right amount of spice and freshness to the dish.
The coconut milk hides the goodness lurking underneath: tiger prawns, scallions and fresh oyster mushrooms
Our moods turned even sunnier when the soup arrived shortly after the crab (the order of dishes presented in Southeast Asia is sometimes a bit haphazard, but we’ve learned to roll with it). Oh, that soup. I wasn’t expecting there to be anything revelatory about this soup, which I’ve had countless times before. Prior to tasting it, I really viewed the soup as a conduit for me to have some really fresh tiger prawns, but, as it turns out, the soup was the perfect delicate balance between sweet, spicy and sour, and the prawns became the medium by which all these wonderful flavors were absorbed. The hubby and I perked up, slurping our soup and crab and toasting our good fortune to find such a lovely place after such a series of mishaps. And in the days since we’ve been back, every once in awhile one of us will bring up a part of this simple yet restorative meal. There were healing powers in that soup and that crab. Trust me.
Mai Yai Thai | Waterfront, near the intersection of Jalan Dua Pulu and Jalan Tun Fuad Stephens | Kota Kinabalu | Malaysia