Must Eat Food in Sandakan


If you have wondered what are the must eat food in Sandakan, this list will be an introduction to some of the best Sandakan local food places which can be found around the city area and its outskirts. Over the last ten years of visiting Sandakan on a yearly basis, I have been introduced to many local places, some which have closed while others still serving out the same quality from back then. 

As a travel influencer, writer or blogger, and having been a regular visitor to Sabah since 2005, I hardly write about food simply because I am no authority to claim which is the best food in Sandakan as everyone has a different taste palate and opinion to judge food. But over the years of experience and reading how food bloggers review places, I could not help but write this article. Here, I will open the doors and you be the judge of the food places in Sandakan that I have narrowed down from the last 10 years and based on many peoples opinions, usually the wise old locals rather than some new food blog or food blogger. 

Where is Sandakan? This nature city which is also known as Little Hong Kong, is located in the east coast of Sabah and is the gateway to numerous nature attractions like Sepilok, Labuk Bay and the world famous Kinabatangan River. Again, I am not a food blogger but share this information through years of experience eating at these places, and this list of must eat food in Sandakan is in no particular order below.

Must Eat Food in Sandakan
Mak Cik herself, poses at her original stall in Pasar Sim Sim, Sandakan
Ikan Bakar at Pasar Sim Sim at Kampung Buli Sim Sim

For fish and seafood lovers, Pasar Sim Sim is the most famous place to try the Ikan Bakar (Grilled Fish) and many other types of fresh seafood that is barbecued. There are two ikan bakar stalls in this mini 'pasar' which serves the same thing, just that which stall you prefer. Both stalls offer grilled fish and seafood, it is available for lunch and dinner therefore the tip is to go early to get the best selection of squid (sotong), crabs (ketam), prawns (udang) and local sea fish like Ikan Bolu, Ikan Blais, Ikan Putih, Ikan Kerapu and many others. 

Most locals come here to eat and by seven in the evening, a lot of the selection is finished. You can order rice and other dishes to compliment your feast and don't forget to ask for their local 'sambal' which is really nice and spicy. Just to add on that Ikan Bakar Mama Resepi is one of the popular stalls here and over the years, she has opened a total of three branches all over Sandakan where the younger generation tends to eat at the Mama Resepi Ikan Bakar at IJM, Mile 6, which is one of the newer branches and at a proper restaurant.

Mama Resepi Ikan Bakar Pasar Sim Sim
Pasar Sim Sim, off Jalan Sim Sim,
Kampung Buli Sim Sim, 1/2 Mile,
90000 Sandakan.
Tel: +6 016 824 8125 / +6 019 453 0484

The unique Kadazan dishes from Borneo Ethnic Cuisine Restaurant in Sandakan
Kadazan Food at Borneo Ethnic Cuisine Restaurant, Mile 4 Sandakan

This new Kadazan Restaurant in Sandakan called Borneo Ethnic Cuisine was recently opened ion early October 2016 and at Bandar Indah, Mile 4 Sandakan. The owners have brought the traditional Kadazan cuisine to Sandakan and is the first ethnic restaurant serving this unique food. They are open daily except Tuesdays and open for lunch and dinner and the highlights are the Nasi Linopot Ikan Basung Sets which are simply a must-try for anyone who is curious about Kadazan Food.

Borneo Ethnic Cuisine Restaurant is open from 10.00 AM to 3.00 PM and then 5.00 PM to 10.00 PM. Pries are very reasonable and for a cultural food experience, this is highly recommended. From Sandakan city, it takes about 15-20 minutes drive to get here and the Kadazan Food Restaurant is located by a famous landmark which is the Kenalanmu Seafood Restaurant at Mile 4. Place is closed on Tuesdays.

Borneo Ethnic Cuisine Restaurant
Ground Floor, Lot 8, Block 6, Mile 4,
Jalan Cecily North, Bandar Indah,
90000 Sandakan.
Tel: +6 019 582 0077 (Stephanie) / 019 883 3842 (Rosaline)

The delicious seafood spring noodles at Restoran 88 Sim Sim in Sandakan
Spring Noodles at Restoran 88 Sim Sim, Sandakan

This local restaurant called Restoran 88 Sim Sim at the end of the jetty of bridge No.8 in Kampung Buli Sim Sim is well known for their spring seafood noodles which come in a dry type of noodles, accompanied with a bowl of amazing fresh seafood soup. If you are a noodle lover, this is one of the must eat food in Sandakan as the noodles are purely handmade and one of a kind. They are really springy and fragrant which can be found no where else. 

During lunch and dinner, Restoran 88 Sim Sim Seafood serves some awesome seafood dishes which are quite original and old school style, unlike the new seafood restaurants. There is a lot of character when you dine here too. For the spring noodles, the tip is to come here early in the morning to have the Sandakan spring noodles as it finishes fast, especially on the weekends. They are also well known for their Cheese Prawns dish. Not to be confused, there are two restaurants at the end of the jetty and this one is on the right side.

Restoran 88 Sim Sim
Right Side, Jambatan No. 8,
Kampung Buli Sim Sim,
Jalan Sim Sim, Sandakan.
Tel: +6 012 816 3633

Seafood Bak Kut Teh in Sandakan
Seafood Bak Kut Teh in Sandakan

Without fail, this is one of the most popular food in Sandakan where you can order seafood bak kut teh, a type of pork bone soup but instead of the pork, it is replaced with fresh seafood. From what I have tried here, there are only two restaurants serving this and one of them is the 27 year old Nam Chai Seafood Bak Kut Teh located in Tanah Merah area, along Jalan Leila which is the main coastal road out of Sandakan. It is also a 10 minute drive from the city too. 

The beauty about this seafood bak kut teh dish is that the owner claims that they do not use any other herbs like how the common bak kut teh is done and instead using only the general bak kut teh spices. This tends to bring out the flavor of the seafood which makes it quite unique and a must-try when you are in Sandakan. For the meat lovers, fear not as they do have the normal bak kut teh being served too. Place is closed on Mondays and the must-try dish here, ask for the 'Lai Mang' fish which sells out really fast.

Nam Chai Seafood Bak Kut Teh Restaurant
Ground Floor, Blok D, Jalan Leila,
Bandar Nam Tung, 90000, Sandakan.
Tel: +6 089 612 603

Kueh Teow with Deep Fried Pork from the 76 year old stall at the Sandakan Market
Kueh Teow with Deep Fried Pork at Sandakan Central Market

Who would know that on top of a wet market lies one of the most oldest and famous local food stalls which serves a unique combination of kueh teow and deep fried pork pieces? This stall has been doing the 'Char Yuk Meen' since 1940 and is one of the pioneer noodle stalls where they still home make the kueh teow or flat rice noodles. 

To experience this, one needs to come here for breakfast and the stall open from 5.00 AM till about 11.00 AM and at times, the kueh teow noodles is sold out by 10.00 AM, so I would recommend you come before nine in the morning to savour this original dish.

To find this stall, you need to find the main Sandakan Market, look for the stairs where you walk up two floors and look for the stall with their sign board. It's pretty obvious as you will not miss it among the other stalls here.

Keuh Teow Deep Fried Pork Stall
2nd Floor, Sandakan Wet Market,
Jalan Pryer, Pusat Bandar Sandakan,
90000 Sandakan.
Tel: -

Sandakan's most famous steamboat, 1Malaysia Steamboat on Trig Hill
1Malaysia Steamboat on Trig Hill, Sandakan

If you love steamboat and seafood, this family run restaurant is hands down the best place to eat in Sandakan. Located on Trig Hill, just 10 minutes drive from Sandakan city, it is best to ask for directions or take a taxi here. The restaurant is called 1Malaysia Steamboat on Trig Hill which has been around since early 2000 and serving mostly locals some of the best, fresh and cheapest seafood steamboat in the east coast of Sabah.

1Malaysia Steamboat on Trig Hill is a straightforward and simple restaurant. Walk in, order for how many persons, go get your buffet and eat as you please. The price is RM30.00 per person, but when you look at the seafood buffet, you will be very pleased to know you only paid so little. The seafood is delivered daily, meaning they are really fresh. Prawns are medium to large sized, fish are seafood fillets, monster clams (kerang), average sized flower crabs and white clams.

Wait... there's more, there is a selection of fish paste, fish balls, yong tau foo, vegetables, beef, chicken, satay, soft drinks, ice cream, soup, fried chicken wings and the list goes on. Seriously, for RM30, this is a fantastic deal. The tip is to come early, by 6.00PM as they do not refill the buffet. For an additional RM10.00, you can get a grill pan to grill some of the buffet items.

1Malaysia Steamboat Restaurant Sandakan
Jalan Bukit Trig, Bukit Bendera,
90000, Sandakan.
Tel: +6 013 540 4056 / 017 817 0908

Sotong Kangkung at Bandar Kim Fong's Market is one of the famous Sandakan foods
Sotong Kangkung at Pasar Kim Fung, Mile 4

Another popular place for local hawker food is the Sotong Kangkung or Cuttlefish Salad which is found at the local pasar or wet market in Bandar Kim Fung, Mile 4 Sandakan. There are a number of food stalls here that sell a variety of local food but the Sotong Kangkung stall here is one of the recommended places to eat in Sandakan.

This stall has been here for over 10 years and the way they prepare the sotong kangkung is unlike others that we have tasted around Malaysia. The lady boss secret lies in some fresh lime that is mixed into the overall dish together with some quality prawn paste, which gives it a very fresh taste. At RM 5.00 a plate, this also results in a very interesting and new flavor compared to the usual dish. While you are here, do try some of the other stalls selling tea time snacks, cakes, chee cheong fun and also the chicken wings.

Sotong Kangkung at Pasar Kim Fung
Pasar Kim Fung, off Jalan Pasaraya,
Bandar Kim Fung, Mile 4,
90000 Sandakan.
Tel: -

Seri Wijaya Restaurant at Mile 7, Sandakan which serves some awesome Malay food.
Seri Wijaya Restoran at Mile 7, Sandakan

For Malay Food in Sandakan, there are many choices available, but not many of them stand out or have a strong reputation. The reason is mainly because that Sandakan has many types of Muslims like the Bajau, Javanese and Sundanese therefore, you will find more Muslim food related to these Muslims here in Sandakan. I personally talked to the local Sandakan Malays and even they cannot give me a popular Malay restaurant in Sandakan.

Restoran Seri Wijaya in Mile 7, Sandakan was a bonus find as they serve Javanese mix Malay food here. The owners are local Malay mix with Javanese and had recently opened this restaurant in late 2015 and opens from 7.00 AM till 12.00 Midnight. Their dishes are very interesting, freshly cooked for ala-carte and the overall restaurant is clean and hygiene.

Food taste, I have to say, totally outstanding and I recommend trying the Ikan Bawal Bakar Set or Grilled Pomfret Fish Set. Another set to to order is the Ayam Kremes Rice Set as the chicken is tender and the crispiness is perfect. Their sets come with ulam or fresh vegetables, some home cooked spicy sambal and a bowl of soup.

Restoran Seri Wijaya 
Off Jalan Lintas Labuk,
Ground Floor Block C,
Bandar Megah Jaya,
Mile 7, Sandakan 9000,
Sandakan.
Tel: -

Sandakan City
Overall, there are many other restaurants and hawkers which we tried but have not included them in this list. Many will know Sandakan for the great seafood restaurants like Ocean King Seafood which has now moved to Mile 6 and also Kenalanmu Seafood Restaurant in Mile 4, but those places are too commercial and over-rated. Other places like bakeries and stalls are popular, but on a very local level and perhaps we will feature the best bakeries in Sandakan in my future articles.

For those traveling to Sandakan, and looking for some good food to try, you should know that the main city area is a morning place and everything tends to close around 5.00 PM. A number of famous restaurants in Sandakan are located in the main city area while the others are out of town area, namely Mile 4, 6 and 7 and some even further out of the city area. It is best to rent a car and move around to explore the must eat food in Sandakan as I have mentioned that they are well spread around.

For more on Sabah food, do follow Makan Sabah on Instagram as their main objective is to promote real Sabahan food. In general, this list of places to eat in Sandakan is compiled based on credibility and real experiences in October 2016, and recommended to anyone traveling here. When travelers or businessmen visit this nature city the east coast of Sabah, one of the main questions is always what are the must eat food in Sandakan and with this, I hope that you will find a good culinary experience here. 

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