The small coastal town of Sandakan might be more famous for its surrounding nature and wildlife attractions, but that doesn’t mean it’s short of delicious food – in fact, it’s quite the hidden foodie gem!
So if you’re in Sandakan, we highly recommend that you explore the town and do a bit of food hunting. These are the top foods locals will recommend to you:
1. UFO Tart at San Da Gen Kopitiam
This sweet Sandakan specialty can actually be found in a number bakeries across town, but we had several recommendations for the one at San Da Gen Kopitiam next to NAK Hotel, and we were not disappointed.
UFO Tarts are made from a thin butter sponge cake base topped with a smooth, eggy custard and finished with a piping of fluffy meringue. San Da Gen’s had just the right amount of each, so you’ll probably order more than one.
Fun Fact: In Cantonese, it’s known as ngau si dui, or cow dung pile. 💩
San Da Gen Kopitiam
Lebuh Dua, Pusat Bandar Sandakan, 90000 Sandakan.
Open daily | 8.00am – 5.00pm
2. Soto Special at Coto Makassar Haji Alimuddin bin Indala
Located on Jalan Pryer and just a short 5-minute walk away from San Da Gen Kopitiam is Coto Makassar Haji Alimuddin bin Indala, a small soto stall tucked in Hap Shing Kedai Kopi.
Serving up hearty bowls of soto, it’s a popular spot for breakfast and lunch. The broth is thick and packed with spices, while the chunks of meat and cubes of nasi impit are aplenty. Order a Soto Special and you’ll get a mix of all the meat they have available, including beef, chicken and tripe.
Coto Makassar Haji Alimuddin bin Indala (located inside Hap Shing Kedai Kopi)
Jalan Pryer, Pusat Bandar Sandakan, 90000 Sandakan.
Open daily | 7.00am – 7.00pm
3. Grass Jelly Milk Tea at Kedai Yap Syn Kee
Famous for making the best Leong Fun (grass jelly) in town, Kedai Yap Syn Kee has been in the business for over 50 years and still operates from an old wooden sundry shop. They serve slurpable cubes of homemade grass jelly in two ways: with syrup and shaved ice, or with evaporated milk and shaved ice. Cold, sweet and creamy, it’s the perfect thirst-quencher for a hot, sunny day.
Set on Jalan Cecily, the shop is a 10-minute drive from the town center. The shop opens at 12pm, so you better be there or be square (and without any grass jelly), as they run out fairly quickly – within an hour if it’s peak tourist season!
Kedai Yap Syn Kee
Jalan Cecily, 90000 Sandakan.
Open daily | 8.00am – 5.00pm
4. Coconut Pudding at Ngee Lee Coffee Shop
Some come to Kedai Makan Ngee Lee for their roasted meat (non-halal), but most come for the coconut pudding, a well-known Sabahan dessert. Made from coconut milk rather than coconut water, it’s served in an actual coconut.
Ngee Lee’s take on coconut pudding is smooth and rich; it’ll slide down your throat and have you using your spoon to scrape up every last bit of the pudding! You can find the shop in Bandar Nam Tung off Jalan Leila, just five minutes away from the town center.
Ngee Lee Coffee Shop
Block A, 5-G, Bandar Nam Tung, Sabah, 90000 Sandakan.
Open daily | 5.30pm – 12.00am
5. Afternoon Tea at English Tea House
Enjoy your afternoon tea at English Tea House, a charming English-style tea house, complete with a breezy verandah and lush garden. Located next to Agnes Keith House, one of Sandakan’s must-visit attractions, you can rest your feet and savor a cuppa after your tour of the house.
In addition to the scrumptious afternoon tea set, the tea house offers a lovely view of Sandakan town and the bay. If you’re looking for something lighter to nibble on, you can opt for a single scone (which was larger than the palm of my hand) and a pot of tea. The warm, buttery scone didn’t make my teeth squeak – having your teeth squeak means they put too much baking powder – and was the perfect complement to the clotted cream and strawberry jam.
English Tea House and Restaurant
2002, Jalan Istana, 90000 Sandakan.
Open daily | 10.00am – 9.00pm
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