Miri makes up for its lack of overall urban beauty with its quality of food. There is not a single bad place to eat; some might be mediocre but none are so awful that you'll wish you hadn't ever gone there. Many of the food joints are located handily on the main strip and if you are staying in one of the backpacker options then you are only ever a short walk away from something yummy. In keeping with its diverse ethnic mix, you will find Indian restaurants nestled between Malay satay stalls and Chinese cafes serving eye-wateringly sweet iced lemon teas.
No stop off in Malaysia is complete without a meal of chicken and rice; the chicken is served on a separate plate to the rice, which will have been cooked in chicken stock giving it a more-ish quality that should go some way in curing the inevitable rice ennui one might develop while travelling long-term in the country. Although you will find chicken rice sold almost everywhere in Miri, the best place to go is Stall 6 in Miri Central Market. The chicken is the most tender and succulent that you will find anywhere. This food stop is an absolute must in Miri. Open from 19:00 each night.
For more traditional Sarawak fare, there is of course, Sarawak laksa. You will find laksa all over Malaysia and each region will have its own variation on this spicy noodle soup. The Sarawak version has vermicelli noodles floating in a heady soup of chilli, galangal, tamarind, lemongrass and cooling coconut milk, with islands of shredded egg, chicken and bean sprouts sitting on top to add textural interest to an otherwise slippery affair. Tasty Point is locally acknowledged as the place to go for laksa and at seven ringgit a bowl; you can't go far wrong lunching here â€“ it's open 07:00 till 14:30.
Of course, when talking about traditional Sarawak food it wouldn't do to skip the panoply of indigenous food available. Head to Summit Cafe for some Kelabit food; they offer a rolling buffet of jungle ferns cooked in spicy belacan, tapioca leaves and other unusual but delicious vegetables. This is a good place to come if you are vegetarian -- but as always check with the staff for any stray anchovies.
Next door to Tasty Point you'll find Madlis, which touts itself as a satay corner though they also serve a plethora of other foods and at quite reasonable prices too -- a bowl of kolok mee will set you back from five ringgit and a satay stick will cost 40 sen, though it's all on the mediocre side. When we visited, we ordered a cucumber salad only to be presented with 4 sticks of cucumber and hunks of onion thrown sloppily onto a plate â€“ perhaps stay away from the Western menu. The real reason to visit Madlis is for their drinks menu anyway, which spans a whole A4 page. The wheatgrass tea with milk comes highly recommended; each of the three ingredients is left to float in its own layer, creating an icy traffic light of a drink. Give it a good stir before downing!
Miri has a distinctly Chinese flavour to it, from the Chinese lanterns lining the main strip to the Chinese temples dotted around the city, and this is reflected in its restaurants too. If you fancy an up market meal, head to Dynasty where a meal will set you back around 100 ringgit per head; service is so so, but I would bear 100 surly waiters for their suckling pig. This dish is arranged so that the whole pig's glistening, crackly skin dances in the flourescent tube lighting of the gaudily decorated interior.
If you're less of a flashy pig person and more of a down-to-earth dumpling person, then try Miri Taiwan. The decor will take you back to the 1960s, with its half-tiled, half-wall papered interior but if you've always fancied playing out your Mad Men fantasies then pop on your shift dress, get your beehive on and stop by for a plate of dumplings (from eight ringgit). The dumplings, either steamed or stir-fried, are a must-try. For maximum texture, I recommend the stir-fried option where the crispy shell offsets the steamy meaty filing to create a sensational steamy parcel of deliciousness. Also not to be missed here are the soft drinks, which all come with some sort of foam on top. It's quite difficult to discern what this is actually made of but most drinks are made with the aid of a cocktail shaker, so this may explain it.
Being so close to the sea, Miri naturally has a plethora of seafood restaurants and although many claim that Appollo is the place to eat it, there are cheaper and better places. One such place is Meng Chai Seafood Restaurant, just around the corner from Ming Cafe. This place is often packed and it's easy to see why, as they serve seafood at very reasonable prices. Usually a meal here will cost around 30 ringgit per person, plus drinks. Outdoor and indoor seating is offered, although outdoor seating is next to washing up, a busy road and a hopeful group of cats. If you are of a nervous disposition, claim a table inside. To order, go up to the fridge of glistening fish, tell them how you want it cooked and then go back to your table and wait. No menus required. A personal favourite are their boiled prawns and mussels with cheese.
Food is pretty reasonably priced in Miri; you can easily eat a bowl of noodles and get a soft drink for around six ringgit. One of the best places to check out really cheap food are hawker cafes. Here you will find lots of different stalls serving perhaps only one or two dishes. The etiquette here is to line up at a particular stall, order your food, then find yourself a table and sit down. At this point a waiter will come over and take an order for drinks. All of the meal should be paid for before you eat, so you can just get up and go after your meal. Two of these cafes are particularly popular with the locals. The first is in the centre of town on the main strip and is perplexingly named WZT Cafe; the best seats here are around the back and under the shade of the tree. Highlights of the menu include the kolok mee and their doorstop slices of bread slathered in kaya. They also do dim-sum and although tasty, better dim-sum can be found at Cafe 2020.
Cafe 2020 is located slightly further from town; to get there, find the bus stop outside of Bintang Plaza and get on any bus; get off at the Grand Palace Hotel stop. The journey should cost you 1.4 ringgit. From there, just ask for directions to Cafe 2020, as everyone will know where it is. Arguably the best thing on the menu here is the dim-sum; unlike at Cafe WZT, all the dim-sum here is hand-made and isn't drowning in MSG. They also do a good range of Western breakfasts, which aren't too bad. If you are heading here for lunch, try the crispy pork belly and rice. Be mindful that on the weekends both cafes get packed and you will have to wait at least 10 minutes to get a table.
Miri has one night market, and it's not much to write home about, especially if your previous travels have taken you to Thailand. It is, however, something to do in an otherwise uneventful place, with a good mix of food and clothes stalls. Sarawak layer cake is sold here and you'll get a better price than in most other Miri shops, so stock up on these intricate slabs of deliciousness here. If you're a fan of chicken, get a whole barbecued one for 10 ringgit and see if you can stop from scoffing it before you head back to Miri centre on the bus. To get there and back, pick up a local bus from outside of Bintang Plaza, take either the 1, 1A, 31, 42, 62, 66 or 68, all of which should drop you off right by the market.
If you are pining for a Western fix, there's the normal range of Western fast food chains to visit. If you head into Bintang Plaza, you'll find Sushi King's sat along side Pizza Huts, sat along side Malaysia's answer to KFC, Marry Brown. The food in these places is of varying quality but will do the job on a day when you are feeling a little bit homesick.
Miri is an odd sort of place for drinking, as there are loads of watering holes but only a few are really suitable for tourists, especially if you are travelling solo, male or female. The top places to drink are on the main strip where all the hostels are clustered.
All do offer food but the best place for drink and food would have the be Ming Cafe. They do a huge range of alcohol and often celebrate anniversaries of major brewers. This year they had some sort of Oktoberfest thing running. This bar-cum-restaurant is always full, with a good range of clientele, from families with young kids to expats out on benders. There is a good atmosphere here and it lacks the seedy feel that pervades most other bars in Miri. Particularly good are their fruit juices, which are all freshly pressed with no added sugar.
The bars next door to Ming's, Barcelona and Worldclub Station are pretty standard affairs; both have live music but remain pretty empty and soulless on weekdays, only coming alive with atmosphere and people at the weekend. Although not serving as wide a range of spirits and beers as Ming's, they both have outside decking and may be places to come if you want to go on a quiet romantic date on a weekday.
Further out is Chaplin's Bar and Cheery Berries. Chaplin's has a wide range of Western food and is mainly an expat crowd. Generally a lot of fun can be had here and it is very family friendly, often with kids running around entertaining themselves. This is further out from the centre of town so you will probably need to catch a taxi for the ride home. Cheery Berries is to be avoided; trouble has been known to kick off here and in a fatal way.
Appollo Seafood: 4 Jalan Yu Seng Selatan. Open daily 18:00-00:00.
Barcleona: Jalan North Yu Seng. Open daily 17:00-late.
Cafe 2020: 557/558, Pelita Commercial Centre. Open daily 07:00-15:00.
Chaplin's Bar: Ground Floor, Pelita Commercial Centre. Open daily 14:00-late.
Cheery Berries: Ground Floor Pelita Commercial Centre. Open daily 15:00-late.
Dynasty Restaurant: Dynasty Hotel. Open daily 11:00-14:30 & 18:00-22:00.
Madlis: Jalan Merpati. Open daily 08:00-00:00.
Meng Chai Seafood: Merbau Road, round the corner from Ming Cafe. Open daily 16:30-23:00.
Ming Cafe: Jalan Yu Seng Selatan , opposite Mega Hotel. Open daily 11:00-late.
Miri Taiwan Restaurant: Lot 1815, Jalan Permaisuri. Open daily 08:00-20:00.
Saberkas Weekend Market: Saberkas Commercial Centre. Open Thu-Sat 15:00-23:00.
Stall Number 6: Miri Central Market. Open daily from 07:00.
Summit Cafe: Centre Point Phase 1. Open daily 07:00-15:00.
Tasty Point (1): Lot 774 G/F, Jalan Merpati. Open daily 07:00-14:30.
Worldclub Station: Jalan North Yu Seng. Open daily 17:00-late.
WZT Cafe: Jalan North Yu Seng, next door to 7-eleven. Open daily 06:00-14:00.