Hunting for food in Sabah's seafood towns, Sandakan and Tawau

  • Travel
  • Friday, 28 Dec 2018

The famous UFO tarts from Sandakan.

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You will not be disappointed at the Ikan Bakar Pasar Sim Sim in Sandakan, Sabah.

Planning to go on a food trail? Consider making a trip to Sabah, particularly in the east coast, to hunt for delicious fare.

In Sandakan, perhaps the most famous place to have seafood is at the Sim Sim water village. There are several restaurants there, and opinions vary on which one is the “best”.

But all you need to do, really, is to pick one and you would still enjoy your food. The seafood is fresh – you can even choose your fish or lobster from the tanks – and the staff is more than happy to recommend some cooking styles for you based on the type of seafood you order.

Also at Sim Sim (but not on the bridge) is a market that’s famous for grilled fish. They also have other seafood like squid and prawns.

Sandakan town is small so it’s very easy to navigate. It also makes it easier for tourists to look for something to eat as every other shoplot is a kopitiam or food centre. The market is another good place to try local dishes too.

If you’re in the mood for something not so local, then head over to the famous English Tea House & Restaurant, where you can get scones and finger sandwiches with your Sabah tea or coffee. It is located right next to the historical Agnes Keith House, which you can visit to learn more about the author’s life and work. Both buildings are on the Sandakan Heritage Trail, an official tour package offered by many travel companies there.

The famous UFO tarts from Sandakan.

Meanwhile, for those looking to get their hands on pretty UFO tarts (a Sandakan specialty), check out San Da Gen Kopitiam. It’s actually a hipster joint, with designs and props that are perfect for Instagram.

Apart from the UFO tarts, the shop also offers other interesting dishes like Sambal Konlou Chicken Chop and Nasi Lemak Slipper Lobster.

Once you’ve had your fill in Sandakan, take a short flight to Tawau for its famous “nasi kuning”, a regular breakfast meal for many locals.

Restoran Haji Tamrin (House of Nasi Kuning Tawau) is said to be where this dish was first created in 1979.

Stop for tea at the English Tea House and Restaurant, which is adjacent to the Agnes Keith House in Sandakan, Sabah.

If rice is too heavy for you for breakfast, look around for coffeeshops that sell “mee tauhu”. It’s basically just fried noodles with a side order of stuffed tofu, a popular breakfast for many Sabahans.

As Tawau is also a coastal town, seafood is in abundance here, and fresh too. Ikan Goreng TNT is a good place for lunch; for dinner, look for Kam Ling Seafood Restaurant. Order some deep-fried softshell crabs, salted egg squid and butter prawns if you’re unsure what to try.

End your Sabah east coast food trail at the morning market for some yummy souvenirs. Tawau’s Pasar Tanjung has a large variety of dried seafood products for sale. You can find crackers (either ready-to-eat or raw), salted fish, dried squid, dried anchovies, prawn pastes, homemade sauces and more here. If you let the vendors know that you’re bringing them home as souvenirs, they might be able to pack them nicely for you.

AirAsia flies from Kuala Lumpur to Sandakan 21 times weekly, one way; and from KL to Tawau 38 times weekly, one way. For more information, go to the Sabah Tourism Board website.


Local snacks make great souvenirs for friends and family. Head to the Tawau Tanjung Market for a wide variety of goodies.



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