Global Gastronomy Gems – Sandakan

In Author's Choice

We love small towns with great food and good coffee. First on our list of highlights is Sandakan in Malaysian Borneo!

Sandakan is a small city, located on the northeast coast of  Borneo. It’s a town with a beautiful panoramic sea view and a lot of biodiversity,  not to mention it also being a perfect getaway to several wildlife conservation centers. Examples are the Orang Utan Santuary Sepilok and Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary, which are some of the most popular tourist destinations in Borneo. The city has a rich history of trading and then becoming a booming center for palm oil, and the history and thoroughfare of so many different people have left it a wide range of sights: religious relics, haunting cemeteries and beautiful colonial buildings. The waterfront area has been renovated, and so all in all Sandakan may be the best of all worlds: heritage, a bit of luxury, lots to see and some good food thrown in for good measure.

There are several choices of accommodation in Sandakan, ranging from budget-friendly homestays for backpackers to fancy luxury hotels. One of the best and most recommended hotels in town is the  Four Points by Sheraton Sandakan. It’s a four star hotel strategically  located near Sandakan Town Market, and conveniently close to the main shopping area, restaurants and food stalls. This fancy hotel also offers endless sea views since it is built facing the Sulu Sea and South China Sea. What a unique combination!


Our recommendation for food at the hotel is Wrapped, located on the ground floor of the hotel. It’s a nice open area near the entrance, and their coffee is some of the best in town. As true coffee junkies we are always on the lookout for a good coffee to kickstart our days, and we believe Wrapped should not be missed. They also serve pastries such as Sweet Danish, scones, chocolate rolls, croissants, red bean twists (an Asian delicacy), and a lot more. The café’s puff pastry (a Malay favourite with curried chicken inside) is also one of the best in Sandakan.

For lunch, you could consider something spicy such as Mee Curry Sibuga. The smell of the curry and the first taste is enough to make you fall in love with this dish. The broth is served with chopped chili and a spoonful of sambal (Asian chili sauce), and those are really the finishing touches that bring the dish to another level of flavour. The spiciness of the dish, after mixing in the chilis and sambal, combined with the other ingredients such as tofu, mussels and prawn is just perfect. This is the best curry mee in Sandakan. Drinks-wise we can recommend the Melon Green Tea Latte, which is also suggested by the Head Barista himself. It may look like green mud, but it’s very refreshing and green tea is considered very healthy!

Other places in town that are worth a try are the English Tea House & Restaurant, a beautiful British mansion with lawns, fans and wicker chairs. Given the location of Sandakan, seafood is of course the main staple, and it can’t get any fresher than at Sim Sim, which is in the stilt village Kampong Buli Sim Sim (Kampungs are always worth a visit, the fresh seafood is just the icing on the cake). Sim Sim is where the daily catch is unloaded, so pick your fish and vegetables and you’re set. Don’t write off Sandakan market for some snacks – the best food in Asia is often found at hawker stalls – a collection of stalls and stands around a seating area selling different dishes, drinks and desserts and so everyone gets to enjoy their favourite while still being able to sit together. Sandakan market’s stalls offer Malay and Indonesian favourites. And of course in Malaysia you should not go too long without some curry, maybe even some Indian curry. Habeeb is a reputable chain serving Indian curries, which make for a tasty meal.

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